Growing Up Is Hard to Do

by | Oct 3, 2005

Grown ups need to deal with relationships with people who are in one way or another dependent on them, especially people who are supposed to be grown ups themselves.
As the oldest of eight children, I found having things reasonably together and being reasonably reliable to be useful stepping stones to constructing an identity, gathering a certain amount of personal power, and making the world safe for Molly. This strategy started to go south on me as early as my teens, when, in the wake of my father’s death, my family pretty much blew apart. I’ll spare you the gory details; the point is that I could have chosen to go down the rathole “saving” my family; instead, I moved to Seattle,
That points to another strategy closely related to dependability: self-sufficiency. Put those strategies together, and you have someone who is an expert at finding ways to get others to rely on her while avoiding the necessity of relying on them. It’s an exhausting way to live, and by and large I’ve gotten over it. Still, every once in a while these ways of being sneak back into the control booth, usually when I am under great pressure or stress.
One of the difficulties with having done a good deal of growing up is that the developmental challenges get subtler. Just when you think you finally know something, you discover that your knowing has blinded you to something else. At least this is how I explain being ambushed by old patterns. Perhaps it’s something like antibiotic-resistant super-bugs. I can’t actually eradicate an aspect of my being, so as I get develop more effective ways of being, the old patterns morph, finding ways to survive, lurking in the nooks and crannies of my life until my immune system is challenged, at which point they can pounce. Suddenly I’m sick, and I would have sworn I was healthy as a horse.
Today I picked up a couple of voice mail messages from one of my siblings. The first one was a birthday greeting, the second a request to call her as she needed some support. My chest contracted, my belly retreated, and suddenly I realized why I have been so tempted to check out for the past six months. There are so many people in my immediate circle who are in crisis or recovery from crisis that part of me wants to hide until it’s over.
I’m so relieved to have this information. I’m a great proponent of letting things unfold, of attending to the process in the present moment, yet there has been a whiff of addiction about my blissing out, a sense that I’ve been checking out rather than letting go. I have not been able to put my finger on the reason for this, and since I know that gutting it out or sucking it up just don’t work anymore (I think I broke the switches a long time ago), I’ve grown accustomed to being dazed and confused a good deal of the time.
I’ve had some good explanations for my state. I’m in menopause (sorry, that may be too much information); I’ve assumed that I’m in one of my periodic work transitions; and I have imagined that I’m undergoing some spiritual passage or other (always a convenient explanation. I’m not spaced out, God is messing with me). I suspect that all of those are true to one extent or another, but none of them quite accounted for the persistent longing to check out.
The lesson I draw for grown-ups similarly faced with inexplicable avoidance, distractibility, and vagueness is, in retrospect, obvious: find out what you are avoiding, then deal with it. But that is not as simple as it might sound. I thought I was avoiding my business, and I was, but I was doing it reflexively as part of a larger and subtler shrinking away from the needs of family and friends. I didn’t notice that, because I kept giving to them. It’s as if by shrinking my work and spiritual worlds I was protecting myself against ongoing demands. If I did not generate more energy, income, and well being, no one could reasonably ask me to give more than I was already giving.
See what I mean about one level of understanding blocking another? I’ve learned to be aware of dependency in my relationships, so I just assumed that everything was okay there. I’ve learned to trust the process, so when the process seemed to lead away from work and spiritual practice, I played along.
I’d love to draw a succinct lesson from all this for all of our sakes; however, I don’t believe there is one, at least not one that will be as useful as I would like to imagine. There just isn’t a place called grown up where we can rest on our laurels, confident that we know how to do Life. Damn.