Not to brag or anything, but I saw a social media post that made my blood boil, and instead of going off in the comments, I threw my phone across the room onto the other couch and turned on the TV.
Then, someone from work pissed me off, and instead of firing an emotional retort into the group chat, I got up and stomped downstairs for a soda, grumbling profanely to myself as I went.
Later, I witnessed some bad behavior out in my local park, and instead of posting pictures of the offense in a public online forum along with a statement of outrage, I stopped in my tracks for a few moments and glowered at the mess, while grumbling profanely to myself, and kept on walking.
You guys, I really am learning to control how I react to the world, and it’s one of the greatest miracles of sobriety!
Don’t get me wrong; I’m still an active member of the Highly Sensitive Person Club, and my emotions get triggered about 100 times a day. Once or twice a week, the dam breaks and my poor hubby has to weather a sudden rush of ranting and/or raving. But “out” in society, where I used to speak up or lash out with every knee jerk, I’m starting to bite my tongue, step back, and consider why it is that I’m flying off the handle and what exactly I would accomplish by broadcasting all my thoughts and feelings immediately to all of humankind.
Why: Sheer force of habit. What: Nothing productive. Case closed.
To understand why a show of restraint is such a big freaking deal, you need only to have known me — or been around me at all — in the first 41 years of my life. When I was a kid, my mom coined the term “Jenny Face” to describe my constant contortions of countenance when I didn’t understand/like/agree with/want to be bothered about…anything in my orbit. 😖
I was going for the Nobel Prize for Alliteration back there, but in layman’s terms, the Jenny Face was a series of dirty looks. With or without the cute nickname, my naturally screwed-up expressions became a kind of trademark — literally. Years later, I now have a deep crevasse carved between my brows from all the scrunching.
Combine the animated face with strong emotions and opinions that it never occurred to me to hide, and it’s no surprise my past is littered with incidents of social and professional conflict. When I felt something wasn’t fair or right or someone was acting like an asshole, I instantly reacted with emotion, whether it was in person, over text or via email (OMG the late-night drunk texts and emails! 🤦🏼♀️) It all added up to earn me the dreaded rep: DIFFICULT.
Like Elaine Benes bouncing between doctors, my record followed me. It took years until I realized how much of this was my fault. I mean, to be fair, it’s not that I was completely unjustified in my frustration, but I could have achieved a more positive outcome by handling my frustration differently. I didn’t have to approach every conflict like Frank Costanza on Festivus. I could have acted like a mature adult Jennifer, instead of a scowling Jenny child.
Actually, no. I couldn’t. I have never been a mature adult Jennifer (despite what my old newspaper byline tried to suggest.) I only really started growing up 342 days ago when I quit drinking.
Emotional sobriety was what I was seeking through physical sobriety, and it looks like all the work I’ve put in over the last 11+ months is starting to pay off. Through my recovery program, and in the absence of an overwhelming booze fog, I’ve realized that my tendency to act out comes from self-centeredness, a belief that my feelings and opinions are so important that they must be expressed. You have to know how I feel so I can feel like I matter!!!
It’s such an amazing shift when you begin to slow down, hold back and actually listen to other people and the universe, instead of rushing to react and have your voice heard. To hold on to strong convictions and continue to care deeply, without always trying to impose your will on the world and control every situation…it’s a difficult balance to strike in general, but especially in times of turmoil.
I’m learning to be quiet and still at a time in our history when illness, injustice and flat-out insanity seem to scream for action. How do you fight your demons and fight for what is right at the same time? I have great respect and admiration for everyone who’s out there doing one, the other, or both every day.
I am not sure about much, but I am sure about all the statements on that sign ⬆️ in my parents’ neighbors’ yard. I also know it’s a privilege to sit here every week and ponder the subject of personal growth. I am beyond grateful for all the gifts I’ve been given in recovery and in life. I feel a deep sense of responsibility now to keep growing, to move further and further out of myself and into acts of service, however small. My program demands it, and frankly, the world needs it. Don’t we? I feel like less self-centeredness and knee-jerk reactions and more listening, more considering, more empathy and humility…that would be a good thing. 🤷🏼♀️
I still have a long way to go in my pursuit of restraint. It’s f*cking hard to change 41 years of ingrained habit, and I’m never going to change my HSP tendencies because they are who I am.
I don’t want to become a whole different person. I want to become the person I’m meant to be. For that person to make some kind of meaningful difference in her time on the planet (*sudden deafening sound of Doomsday Clock ticking*) she first needs to stay calm, keep still and pay attention to those little daily reminders that the planet doesn’t actually revolve around her.