Recently, I have had to deal with a family member that has always brought out the worst in me, pushed all my buttons, and has been able to make me feel completely inadequate and unloved since my teenage years. This family member contacted me about a week and a half ago via text, and because of the situation, I was obligated to respond. That led me to over a week of non-face to face interaction that I didn’t want or need. Last night the interaction came to a head, and she baited and baited me, trying to get me to engage in an argument. It all felt so familiar, it was a dance that we have done a million times before – she baits, I react, she gets defensive, I attack, she uses passive aggression to put me in my place, I feel guilty and cry and wallow in self-pity and self-loathing. It would’ve been so easy for me to jump right in and start dancing the way we used to. This time, though, I refused to get on the dance floor.
But it wasn’t easy. In fact, it was pretty damn hard. Changing the way that I think about and react to things like this has been a slow process. I have always been quick to anger and hurt, with guilt and shame following closely behind. Those first, almost instinctual, feelings come up now, but I am quicker to realize what’s happening and I can sometimes work through things before the guilt and shame set in.
As I sat and read the hostile, accusatory and just plain mean texts, I felt angry. Very angry. It took every ounce of restraint that I had to not react the way I always have – by reciprocating with sarcastic insults and laying guilt trips of my own. Sentences that I could text and that would cause the most amount of harm went through my head. I even said some of them out loud to my husband. I went so far as to type one into my phone, but in the end, I deleted it without hitting send.
Along with all of the possible confrontational scenarios that were going through my mind, one rational thought kept stopping me in my tracks – “what is the right thing to do?” That was new. Where did that come from? As I sat there thinking, I realized that was doing something that I hear about all the time in meetings, I was pausing when agitated. Not only that, but I was trying to figure out what the right thing to do was. I was trying to figure out how to handle the situation without setting myself up to have to make a new amends. How should I respond? I didn’t want to end up volleying mean comments back and forth, but I didn’t want to just roll over either. Holy cow! That sounds like I might have actually been thinking about setting some boundaries. Another new thing!
I was still in fear though. Not engaging was uncomfortable. After all, I knew those dance steps. I didn’t know how to do these new ones. Have you ever seen someone learning a new dance? When they’re a couple of steps behind the instructor, confusion and concentration easily visible on their face? That’s how I felt. Out of my element. Fumbling and clumsy.
The tools that the program has taught me were clearly helping me to think and not just react. But where was I to find the courage to behave a different way than what was comfortable? I know the outcome of my old way of doing things, and that seemed easier even though I also knew how it would turn out, and that wasn’t a pretty picture. And then it hit me. I don’t have to be in charge of this. I don’t run the show, because when I do, I screw things up. God runs the show for me now. I know it, I believe it, I have faith in it. So, if I have faith in God’s will for me – and that keeps me sober, gives me hope and feeds my soul – couldn’t it also give me the courage to step outside my comfort zone and behave differently?
Yes! It could. And it did.
It was my faith in God and the gospel that allowed me to answer questions and express myself without malice, and without feeling guilt or shame. It gave me the strength to set a boundary and cut off the conversation when it was no longer accomplishing anything, even though I was still being baited. I reacted with grace, and because of that, I don’t owe anyone an amends. If you ask me, this bad situation couldn’t have ended better. There was no resolution really, but I have no reason to feel badly about it, and that is a step in the right direction. For that, I thank God.
I know that I will hear from my family member again, there is more to be done. But I know that when she steps out on the floor, she better watch out….I’ve got some new moves.