That’s how it works, isn’t it? Whenever I have an expectation, and it doesn’t turn out like I want it to or like I think it should, I get angry. Instant resentment. And you know what? I know better. I have been in recovery long enough to know the sayings about expectations (like the one above), and my favorite story in the Big Book is Acceptance is the Answer, which talks about accepting things as they are, and not having expectations. Yet I still find that I often have unrealistic expectations of others and of myself. And usually when that happens, the outcome isn’t so great.
When it comes to others, I have to be really careful about what my motivation is for doing something. I have to ask myself why I’m doing it and what I am expecting in return. Is it recognition that I’m looking for, a pat on the back? Or is it sympathy? Validation? Agreement? Am I doing it because of self-righteousness? Believe me, I ask myself a lot of questions, but the questions about my reason for doing something often prove to be the hardest ones to answer. I like to think that I’m a caring, compassionate person, and that I do things out of the goodness of my heart. Sometimes that really is the reason, I do nice things just because I’m nice. But, if I’m honest, that is not always the case. So if I am doing nice things for someone because I am looking forward to the “thanks, you’re so great,” am I doing it for the right reason? I don’t think so. There have been many times that I have done favors for someone and not been thanked. And I become resentful. I have to remind myself that if I am doing something nice, it needs to be for the sake of doing something nice, not because I expect kudos for it.
That is especially hard for me when it comes to my job. I know that, at times, I express that I am overwhelmed with work because the typical response is, “I know Jami, you work so hard, we couldn’t do it without you.” That atta-girl bolsters my ego and helps me to work harder, to press on. Or so it seems to me. The truth is, I would probably get more work done if I quit complaining, and then I wouldn’t be so overwhelmed. Ugh. You see, I know what the right thing to do is, it’s just doing it that’s hard. And what happens when I don’t get the response I expect? I get upset. I feel resentful, under appreciated, ready to throw in the towel.
When I got out of rehab the first time, I expected everyone in my family to meet me with open arms and to tell me how proud they were that I had gotten help. That didn’t happen. They had already written me off. Having had that expectation, and being disappointed by their reactions, I went spiraling downward. I got angry. Shocker. And ultimately, I drank again. Another shocker. It was only when I was able to accept that their reaction to me was completely out of my control, and that I couldn’t have expectations about their behavior, that I was able to find any peace about it.
My expectations don’t just stop with other people though. I get equally frustrated with myself, because I don’t live up to all of the expectations I set for myself. I think that I should be able to do more, sleep less, be a better wife, be a better friend, have a cleaner house, fold the last dryer-full of laundry instead of leaving it to wrinkle, write perfect blog posts, return all of my emails, always be on time…the list goes on. And when I’m not able to do all of those things, I’m disappointed and resentful toward myself.
So, what’s a girl to do about all of this?
I find that checking my motivation works. When I do things for the right reasons, without a specific expectation, it’s so much easier to accept whatever the outcome is. And acceptance is the answer, after all. I also find that doing a 4th step inventory of my resentments, and talking it over with my sponsor helps me to see what my part is. Often my part is simply having unrealistic expectations, and changing my perspective is the solution. Ultimately, when I remember that the thing that can screw me up the fastest is having an idea of the way things should be, and instead I choose to practice acceptance, patience, and honesty, I have more serenity, more hope, and much more joy.