Money is money. And time is money. But my attention is worth more than gold.
Twice now in the past three days I have had to speak up for myself. I have had to say no and stop.
It’s always an experience to see where I resist this. My “Good Girl” is a bit of a die-hard, it turns out.
Although it is not all about being a “Good Girl.” There is a line many of us walk. That line between self-care and egotism. I sometimes have a hard time distinguishing that line. I know that living my life generously is a gift back to myself. But taking care of, and responsibility for my own needs is also a gift to myself.
My mother and I were talking not too long ago about money. She said that my whole life, even when I was a child, if I “lent” somebody money, chances were I would never get it back. Because I never made it a priority. In some ways that was generosity, and in some ways it was a lack of self-care.
The truth is that while I like money, I don’t love it. It does not motivate me or thrill me. Losing it does not scare me. But over the past several years, as my self-care has become ever more important, I have done very little “lending.” And more often than not, if I am going to give you money, I am going to gift it. I don’t want there to be expectations. This also makes it easier for me to say no. If I pretend that I might get it back, I might feel like I “should” say yes. If I know that once it leaves my hand, it is gone, I can better gauge if I am willing to part with it. It’s a kind of Jedi-mind-trick. But it works. And brings me peace.
But what I had to do this week was not about money. It was about time, sort of. But really, it was about something else. It was about access to my attention. It was about allowing people in. And this is a line I have a very hard time walking.
My first reaction is to keep everybody out. I spent my life building fortresses and hiding within them. When I was actively in my addiction, I lived in a fortress of fat. That I fortified with isolation. I would hide away and eat. I would sit alone for long stretches and binge. I would eat all day until I passed out in a sugar induced coma. And I would wakeup fatter and more “protected” than I had been when I came to from the previous night’s passing out.
But I also have a history of doing things I don’t want to do because I “should.” (There’s that word again. I hate that word…) Things that I thought I would want to do if I were a good person with a pure heart and an honorable soul. I have a history of being a “Good Girl” and resenting the hell out of the people I was being “good” for.
The first boundary I set this week was a long time coming.
I am part of a group. A group I like and love and enjoy. We meet once a week on a video conference call. And it is important to me.
Several months ago, I was asked to help a couple of people to get set up on their computers. Make sure they had the proper accounts and software. And I did that. Even though I don’t like computers. Or interacting with strangers for that matter. And then it became expected. And for months, the expectation was that I would help everybody and their brother set up their computers. And even the few times I said no, I didn’t stick to it and ended up doing it in the end.
Part of this was my “Good Girl” who could not bear to say that my time and attention were too important to help somebody else. And my ego that told me that I had let it go on so long that it must officially be my job and that I would shame and dishonor myself by saying anything about it after all this time. And part of it was my arrogance that insisted that if I didn’t do it, it was not going to get done. And that that somehow made it my responsibility.
And I got more and more resentful. And as time went by and my resentment grew, the level of responsibility that I grudgingly and hatefully took on grew. Until this week I got a message from a complete stranger, saying that somebody had told her that there was some sort of meeting on the internet for our group and that she should get in touch with me.
First I boiled with rage!
And then I said no. I said that they should refer back to the person who referred them to me for help.
And then I wrote a message to the group and I said no again. To everybody. I said that I was not available to help people get on the group any more. That if people wanted people to join us, they were going to have to take some responsibility for it. And I am so grateful to have said it. I am so relieved.
Resentment feels awful. It feels dirty and itchy. Plus it’s exhausting. You would think that I would recognize right off the bat that it is not something I want in my life. That if a behavior of mine is cultivating it, that I should stop that behavior. Immediately.
But it can be so hard. It can be so easy to second guess myself. And this is coming from somebody who works at exactly this every day. I’m not some schlump walking through life blind. My only ambition in life, besides being an amazing girlfriend and partner, is to grow spiritually. To be an amazing friend to myself. And I can still harbor a resentment for months and months.
And then two days later the next one happened.
It was late at night (for me. I happen to be incredibly lame.) I got a PM on Facebook from an acquaintance. She wanted to ask me about something and told me that for that purpose, I needed to accept her friend request.
Now you should know that I have a hard time with Facebook and friend requests. I already have many people on my friends list that I have hidden from my news feed. If you share a lot of pictures of cakes and brownies and various foods I do not eat, chances are I have hidden your posts. If you share a lot of weight-loss/diet articles with pictures of skinny women in yoga pants, chances are I have hidden your posts. If you share a lot of violent stories and pictures, chances are I have hidden your posts. Or just generally, if what you share upsets me or makes me uncomfortable, chances are I have hidden your posts.
But there is also another aspect to being Facebook friends with somebody. It gives them license to comment on your life. When you say yes to a friend request, you are saying, I care if you “like” what I post. I am willing to hear what you have to say about what I have to say.
And guess what? If we are not friends or family, I don’t give a shit what you think.
Now the reason this was particularly poignant for me was that this is not the first time that this person has sent me a friend request. The first time, I told her no very clearly. I even gave her a brief explanation. Which I did not owe her. I do not owe people explanations for the choices I make. (And no, I did not say that I did not give a shit what she thought. I was clear but diplomatic. In case you were wondering.) And shortly after that, she sent me a Facebook message that said she did not know how to get in touch with me since I wouldn’t accept her friend request. Of course I responded, without noting at the time that she was, in fact, being in touch with me.
A few months ago I got yet another friend request from her. By then I had realized that if you just leave the friend request there, you don’t have to reject the same person repeatedly. So her request has been sitting there since then.
And last night it happened yet again. Her PM said that there was something that she needed to go over with me, but she didn’t know how to get in touch with me if we weren’t Facebook friends.
Now I was angry.
And I took a few deep breaths, and I wrote her immediately. Sure, sometimes I believe that communication should be slept on and considered. When I need to disentangle what part of it is my BS and what part of it I need to address with the other person. But there was no doubt in my mind what I needed to say. It was obvious. It was simple. It was “Respect me.” “Respect my no.” “Stop it.”
When I was eating compulsively, I ate difficult conversations. And sugar made me high enough to make the uncomfortable feelings go away. And not feeling the uncomfortable feelings allowed me to convince myself that a conversation didn’t need to be had. Or a statement didn’t need to be made. Or a boundary didn’t need to be set.
But the farther I get from the food, the harder it is to sit in the discomfort. And I will say this. I have been keeping my commitments to water and meditation this week. And it has occurred to me that it is perhaps no coincidence that I have had a little breakthrough in saying what needs to be said. Perhaps it was hard to sit still and be with myself when I was itchy and gross with resentment. And perhaps forcing myself to sit still has made not saying what I needed to say unbearable.
I don’t know. It might be a coincidence. But then again, it might not…