“Get off the cross, we need the wood.” is an adage used by some of my saltier friends in recovery. It’s an appeal to the martyrs of the world to move away from the extremes (carrying the weight of the world), get back to basics, and focus on themselves. It’s a reminder that we can do countless good deeds, but that we can do them quietly, without undue sacrifice, and without seeking excessive attention for our efforts.
In much the same vein, I frequently tell well intentioned folks to put away their shiny armor and get off their white horse. You’re not going to save the damsel in distress. In fact, you’re not going to rescue anyone. With the help of those who went before you, you can save your own ass, and you can be of service to those willing to receive it. There are countless ways in which the power of your example and the small deeds you do can be valuable to others.
They’re just not all that exciting, nor do they contain the romanticized notion that you’ll achieve happily ever after by loving someone out of their sickness and into health.
The struggle for many of us is living in the belief that we are not worthy of love and so we seek ways of trying to earn it. I am at a place today where if it’s not free/unconditional, then I don’t want it. The people who love me today…choose to, and not because of what I do, but rather, because of who I am.
I choose to remain a work in progress is because I will never forget how to do all of the unhealthy things I’ve ever done.
I know how to earn things that should be freely given. I also know that you don’t get to store them up and keep them. Conditional love is something to be earned anew each day. Conditional love asks, “What have you done for me lately?” It expects us to take ownership of problems that are not ours. It demands that we deny our own needs, and focus solely on the desires and feelings of others.
Conditional love is never a two-way street. You bake it a cake and it shares the crumbs with you. And you think, “That’s ok. Crumbs are all I deserve. I’ll try harder and give more. They’ll come to understand that I want them to do for me as I do for them.”
To this day, I find it difficult to read Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. It’s a story of sacrifice that’s based in the selfishness of conditional love. I have lived at the opposite extreme – selflessness. To be selfless is to live without identity. It is the most extreme form of codependence. It’s silently conveying, “Just tell me how you want me to be so that you can love me.”
But of course, conditional love is full of resentment – because you don’t love me for me. You love me for who I pretend to be. It’s the ultimate set up: a game played by chameleons who feel an ever present emptiness and seek to fill it with all the wrong things.
It’s not only drugs and alcohol that we use to fill the emptiness. It’s persona and pretending. It’s sex, lust, and a whole lot of romantic notions that only work in Lifetime movies. It’s false friends and maintaining reputations. It’s status and work and money and things and anything, anything that keeps the emptiness at bay.
It’s what my friends in recovery call a “God shaped hole.” It’s not that faith alone will fill the emptiness. It’s that connection to a Higher Power provides better options: genuine people, kindred spirits, true friendships, chosen family, and in time, a life, “second to none.”
So, climb down off your high horse, white horse, or any soap box you happen to be on and be a real person. Be a mess if that’s what you are, but be a real one. Cuz maybe you’re like me and people like me really, really, need to know real people who love in healthy ways.