How to achieve emotional sobriety

Strength is something on which I’m often complimented. I exude confidence, and generally am fearless when it comes to what I want in life. I haven’t always been this way. And I will cry more often than I’ll admit, and I’ll admit I cry a lot. I’m strong because I have to be, but it has taken a lot of experience and painful situations to get me here… and I still don’t think I’m as strong as I would like to be. One of the things I’m experienced at is walking away from things that no longer serve me. Much to my chagrin, I’ve become good at it. Because, better than walking away from things that don’t serve me, I’m twice as good as walking towards and into things that are detrimental to me. If you know me in real life, you’re nodding and agreeing right now. I’m queen of trying out relationships that might not be great for me. I blame this on my curiosity for the human spirit, being a Gemini, being a theater person, and my need to have good people in my life.

Many times relationships work out in my favor, or at least I adapt to them. Adapting to relationships is also a trait I’m good at—but that is another blog. However there are times when relationships just don’t work out. Timing is wrong. Timing starts out right, but then life intervenes and pulls people apart. Sometimes the things that attract us to people turn out to be the thing that tears us apart. Sometimes you just have to walk away from relationships, like I touched on in Growing Out of Friends.

I’m often asked how I’m so strong in these situations. My reply is usually: because I have to be. Honestly, I’m strong because I continually tell myself that I’m worth much more than the way I’m being treated. Or if I don’t see it, I’ve surrounded my self with strong friends who remind me that I’m worth more.

In my recent frustration, I became close with someone who originally seemed to not be able to get enough of me, we will call this friend Mr. Green.  Conversations flowed, text messages filled my days, we continually made plans to hang out and saw each other once a week—which in New York City time is like daily anywhere else. (In New York City, unless you live with someone, or are dating them, you are lucky if you see friends more than once a month.) Anyway, Mr. Green and I both worked to make it happen. After several months, it seemed like I was the only one who was making it happen. Mr. Green seemed to disappear and I was upset because it seemed like I was the only one who was doing the work.

Years and many relationships gone south, I have had a vast array of advice. My favorite comes from my friend Melissa, who compares any relationship to a football field. You start out on the 50-yard line, and you give and take; sometimes activity is instigated on their side, and sometimes the action is on your side. Many times I like to give so much that I find myself sitting, just hanging out on the other person’s 80-yard line—which is frustrating. Retreat to your own 40-yard line, or even farther back, Melissa says, when you’re feeling like you’re not being treated well. And you have to stay there until the other person comes to your side. In other words, you have to stop allowing yourself to give too much in a relationship, and you have to back up and let them come forward.

Sometimes its a person.  Sometimes its a lifestyle–like LL wrote about Letting Go a few weeks ago.  I’m not going to lie—this is hard; this is painful; this takes time, and makes you want to tear your hair out while trying to make sense of it all. If you’re like me, you create stories and excuses for the other person, and try to make yourself believe that sitting and waiting is the absolute wrong thing to do. But it’s not. You have to back off to show someone your worth. Your heart may want you to dive in and move forward, but your brain says that you’re worth waiting for. Here is the truth: Your brain always knows better than the heart.

I’ve been watching a lot of Elementary  lately, a show based on Sherlock Holmes. For those who aren’t familiar with this version of the legend, this Sherlock is an addict, who in season three is questioning his continual upkeep for sobriety. I’m a big advocate in the thought that we are brought to things and ideas when we need them. I don’t want to be so gauche as to say that staying my emotional state is like maintaining sobriety—but it is. Staying emotionally sober is a difficult task. Not wanting to “use” or reach out to a person or situation that makes you devalue yourself is a difficult task. It’s so easy to pick up your phone and send an “innocent” text. But that one text will send you into a spiral that isn’t easy to get back out of. Like a diet, you have to stick to the steps, and that one chip or one candy bar will only lead to more. Just don’t give in.

How do you maintain your emotional sobriety? You have to make a plan for what to do and what not to do. A friend, we will call her Ms. Peacock, is going through a breakup at this moment, and both people in the relationship are trying to hold on, and to reel each other back in to the relationship. It’s a spiral. Its psychotic. Ms. Peacock is stronger than this and deserves better. We sat down on my sofa and I outlined what she can and can’t do. A breakup is like a diet, if you make guidelines, its easier to follow an stay on track.  And just like a diet, you have to cut out all of the things that are bad for you at the beginning, and then you can build things back in, if you have the willpower.

1) Tell yourself you’re worth more than the behavior you’re receiving. Take a look at how much you’re giving to the relationship, and realize that you need to step back for a while, if maybe step away completely.

2) Get yourself a buddy, or a couple of them. Use them as TaB’s whenever you get the urge to text, call, or reach out.

3) Make yourself a plan. For me, when I do a diet, I have to give myself a little bit of a cushion. I cut out something completely, but allow myself a little bit of a “treat” or a “leash.” In other words, give yourself permission to do a little of something. The permission that my friend and I allowed her in this current break up:

–she can text twice a day in response only and she has to TaB first.

–she can talk to him as much as she wants to at work.

–If out, and he shows up at a bar or a location she is at, she can stay for 30 minutes and then she leaves (so that way she isn’t tempted to go home with him, and this way she can’t drink too much and make poor choices.)

4) As a friend to be a sounding board—you need an outlet and you need to be able to voice your feelings.

5) Remind yourself to be strong. Whether this is from other friends or from sticky notes you put on your mirror, remind yourself. You CAN do this.

6) Know that if you relapse, you have to start over. But every day you stand strong, you’re closer to it being easier, and the pain to be gone.

Maybe your relationship will rebound—mine did. I waited and Mr. Green realized it and started to reach out and even made plans. However, it doesn’t always happen–Ms. Peacock moved on in life without that significant other, and is out and dating, sadder but wiser–but definitely on the mend. Sometimes you get your person back and other times you don’t. No matter what, know that you’re worth being treated well.   A good relationship will acknowledge that.


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