After 14 years in Alanon and 3 years in CoDA, one day I hit a point where things felt like they were falling down around me. I was getting the cold shoulder from people at work, and it felt devastating. My people pleasing – a lifelong habit – had really dealt me a blow this time. I had tried so hard and so consistently to make others like me, and it had all backfired. Being shunned by my colleagues at work felt like my whole world was falling apart and all kinds of hurt feelings were triggered. Nothing was explicitly said, but because I am a people pleaser I filled in the silences with, “I’m worthless, no one likes me, I ruin everything I touch.” My fragile ego felt like it was freefalling without a parachute. My stomach sank, and depressive feelings, which go back a long way, started to return. I was in pain.
I imagined being fired, embarrassed, ostracized, or all three. The moments over the following weekend when these thoughts ran around my head were agonizing. My daughter, wife and I filled our weekend with gymnastics classes, shopping, and dinner out. I shared my feelings with my wife, and I am grateful for her sympathy, but it didn’t directly affect my problem.
On Monday I simply could not continue with these tortuous feelings of worthlessness. I’m not one to quit, but instead grin and bear things with a haggard, empty appearance. This habit I wouldn’t have gotten through childhood without. So, I didn’t call in sick, but instead I was forced to let go of my need for acceptance and affirmation from coworkers. I didn’t want to let go of this character defect – my pain forced me to.
I see now that people pleasing is absolutely toxic. One Alanonic commented that it doesn’t please anyone – neither others nor us. Another said in an insightful talk that it is a kind of manipulation. We act in certain ways so that others will like or accept us, or at least not reject or humiliate us. This is manipulation. It makes sense that others resent it – I would – and most people can sense fake and pretend pretty well.
So, it made sense that my colleagues were avoiding me and looking askance at me, and I couldn’t blame them. And yet I was angry. I’m still processing this anger. I feel like I’ve worked hard to protect myself, to get through my days as a father, husband, and teacher, to do what is asked of me. I’m angry that I’m rejected for this. And yet, in asking my higher power if this pain is actually his will for me, I got the answer: yes, it is; and the pain I am feeling is a message from my higher power, even a gift. It’s only pain, and nothing more. It’s not life-long suffering or eternal damnation. And the point is that I’ve been seeking peace and acceptance in all the wrong ways for most of my life, and maybe it’s time to stop. There is in fact an emptiness to my life, a stale air in my office at work, a stillness and quiet in conversations with others that I don’t like and wish were filled. There is a certain bleakness in the hills I see on my walks. But instead of trying to fill this empty feeling with affirmations from others, or from my other vices – sugary baked things, large meals, sex – I am trying to accept things as they are and let my higher power’s love in. This quiet struggle is the fruit that my recovery has born, and I am grateful for it.
John A. 7 October 2022