I was told four years ago by a mental health professional that perhaps a future goal of mine should be having “appropriate relationships” with people. Say what?
This meant behaviors like blackmailing friends to do what I want, co-dependently controlling those around me and defaulting to martyr people pleaser mode would have to stop. Also getting the heave-ho in this quest for appropriateness? One night stands, relationships built on substances and friends acquired because of their status.They would have to be replaced by giving to others without wanting something in return, not dominating conversations with overblown emotions and generally being more considerate. This all seemed pretty difficult especially not letting emotions steamroll my whole life. When you grow up in alcoholism land, explosive crying, insane rages of anger and non-stop arguing are just kind of the norm. I learned it early and practiced it all throughout my 30s. Emotions, either of the crazy variety or the extreme repressed flavor, could become weapons in relationships and I wasn’t afraid to use them to get what I needed. Also, when you’re high and drunk for a couple of decades, the concepts of normal and appropriate become incredibly warped. You mean not everyone throws electronic devices at their boyfriends? My bad. So re-learning how to be a better friend, husband, brother and son has been a journey just like my recovery. The biggest thing I’ve learned and have to relearn pretty regularly is that not everything is about me.
Hard to believe but it is true. Dominating situations with emotions, personal drama and personal wants is the oldest of old behavior and something that needed to go. Teenage histrionics were something fitting at the time but in my late 30’s they were just pathetic. I’ve learned this isn’t about ignoring how I feel. Quiet the contrary. It’s about breathing and honestly assessing situations before I let emotions drive my bus into the Grand Canyon. The other thing this mental health person told me was I had to remember that no one could make me feel anything. What. A. Revelation!!! If I was in charge of my emotions, I could no longer blame others for making me feel certain things and therefore escape accountability for my actions. Again, this was another tall order. But if I wanted relationships built on love and honesty, I had to knock it off.
Today, being the married man I am, I have lots of opportunities to practice (and forget) these lessons. While my small group of friends and I indulge in the occasional bawdy, inappropriate conversation, I’m proud to say these relationships are appropriate. Free of guilt, ridiculous expectations and questionable motives, my friendships are simply allowed to be fun, supportive and precious. In my day job, I do a lot of social media marketing for clients on Facebook, Twitter and the like. I recently had to explain to a client the difference between ‘personal’ and ‘social”. Social is a lively Facebook thread about something timely from pop culture, for example. Personal, and therefore maybe not the kind of thing you should post, would be things like posting photos from a recent neck boil operation or the details of your divorce. As we discussed this delicate art of being able to express personality and humor without crossing into inappropriateness, it dawned on me I was the one being asked for advice on this kind of thing. Me, the former master of disaster relationships! Talk about a change. My friend the mental health professional would be so proud.