Saturday, September 10, 2016

Keeping Expectations Real

The topic at the meeting I was at tonight was expectations. And I was given to understand again that unmet expectations are at the core of not only most people's addictions, but of a whole lot of problems that human beings with one another. I first had this insight many years ago, and keeping expectations realistic has been a major, major factor in being able to stay clean for a long period of time. I have learned to temper expectations in the workplace, with my children, with other people, with just about everything. And the result has been  a degree of peace and manageability that eluded me for the first four decades of my life.
And yet.. no one does life perfectly. And I have always had a hard time keeping expectations realistic in relationships that matter to me--chiefly but not exclusively romantic ones. I remember talking with someone back in my first summer clean, and the lightbulb flashing in my head that the reason relationships in early recovery are not a good idea is that every relationship has expectations attached to it--and it is vital, even imperative, in early recovery to learn to keep expectations in our lives to a minimum. Even the most-adjusted, mature, and good-natured people expect fidelity, kindness, and considerate behavior from people they are in relationships with, and most people certainly can add five or ten or twenty more things that they expect when they are involved with someone. It's human nature, and I've come to accept that they are inevitable. The trick is keeping them realistic.
What has proved to be more difficult than my own expectations on others is realizing that expectations run in both directions, and that my partners over the years have had expectations on me. Some have been realistic. Some have not, and the results were predictable. I chafed under others that perhaps were realistic but that I was not terribly willing to meet. And at the core of almost every fight or conflict within relationships is a perceived unfairness or hypocrisy--of one person being held to standards that the other person does not hold themselves to.
And it is almost besides the point whether those perceptions are accurate or not--because they are held deeply within the hearts and souls and minds of us all. Part of the issue and anguish I have been going through the last few days is my having a very difficult time understanding why a very basic expectation that I have had on Somebody is not being met. I simply cannot comprehend, on a meaningful level anyway, how she can go back to something that brings her to the ground every time. That we are no longer romantically involved does not lower the expectation, because she is always going to be significant to me on some level. As someone else put it eloquently in the meeting tonight, "I don't want you to die." When all the broth is boiled off, that's what it comes down to; I cannot understand why I seem to care more than she does about her quality of life and, indeed, whether she even continues to draw breath.
But what had largely escaped me until tonight were the expectations that she has on me. We are not a couple any more--but I have no doubt that I am the most significant figure in her life to this point, and she has told me so. She has made it clear that my faith in her as a woman, that my belief in her essential quality, and that my not walking away from her as a person even after all the times she has not met my and her own expectations means a great deal to her. She has told me fifty times if she has told me once that she has felt "abandoned" by every person she has ever cared about--until me. She expected me to bail on her a dozen times over the years, and I never did. Until recently. Yes, we have patched things up to a point, are speaking again, even have eaten lunch together.
But it never dawned on me that one of the reasons fueling this latest struggle of hers was that she believed that finally, after all the troubles we've been through over the years, I had finally abandoned her a few weeks ago. Rightly or wrongly, the expectation had grown in her mind that I was always going to be there, always going to be a part of her life, always going to have faith in her, always going to be help her pick herself up when she makes mistakes. And for the first time in two-plus years, that was called into question.
Again, whether the expectation was legitimate--and of course it isn't; I am a human being with breaking points and limits, and I don't have to apologize for having them--is beside the point. The point is that they were there, and they were real, and they were not met. And that unmet expectation is just as much a squirt of lighter fluid on the embers of her addiction as my expectations on my ex-wife and my family were in my own active addiction. It underscored the need for anybody with an addiction issue to at least become familiar with what we do in the step working process in the fellowship. Without insights and without the sharing of experiences, this expectations are never going to be adjusted to a manageable level. And the same solutions are going to be employed, with the same and progressively worse results.
It was kind of sobering to realize that the shoe can be on the other foot, too. I am not used to thinking of others having expectations on me, and me not meeting them. I try to be a good man, and largely succeed--but I am also wrestling with the memory of some of what I have said over the past few years. I did tell her that she would not be abandoned, repeatedly. And I stuck by her through some very difficult times, and forgave much, and even after the romance ended, I am still the one constant in her life. Was the expectation realistic that I would blithely accept behavior and actions that I would not accept in other people? No, it wasn't.
But I could have made that clearer at any point over the past few years. I didn't. And so I am wrestling tonight with knowing that I did, in some small way, fuel those unrealistic expectations--by having an expectation that I didn't have to spell some things out, forgetting who I was dealing with and the history of trauma she had endured before meeting me. I don't think for a minute that I am responsible for anything she has chosen to do. But I do now understand, much better than I ever did before, that I do have a part in constructing the expectations that others may hold on me, and that I should take nothing for granted.

And by the way, Preston must go.

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