This Year Will Be Different
A month ago….
Before dawn, on Thanksgiving morning, I woke in a cold sweat. For the past several nights, my dreams have been populated with visits from a former boyfriend, as well as other people in my past whom I have loved with much less madness. These dreams seem to be all sometime in the future. Long, loving conversations with people not now in my life about that eon in which we did not speak and how odd it seemed that there was ever such a time.
The dreams of Thanksgiving morning though were dreams within dreams within dreams within Inception-like dreams. I had been sitting on the dining room floor, where is now a table, with sofas lining the walls where there are no sofas in the waking world. The dining room opened into the living room but was devoid of the furniture there now, filled instead with loved ones I had not seen in years. There was a sense of support and union in the room. And then, to my left, as I sat cross-legged where the dining room table should have been, a man materialized out of thin air on the sofa nearest me. Daddy, looking as he had at about my age now, and thinking that he could somehow come back into my life now without me knowing what he was, who he was, what he did. With me being both the child and the woman who cowered in fear of him, me living every moment in his presence trying to please him–my only weapon against the war that was the volatility of his emotions and his unrealistic expectations of perfection in me that, if lacking, could either be yelled or beaten into my flesh.
“No,” I told myself, “this is my home. This is my serene place…and this is a dream.”
Sitting there on the floor, I shook myself awake. Cross-legged, head down, back bent. How had I fallen asleep sitting on the floor with guests in the house? I looked around and the room was as it had been before, only minus my father in the dream. Immediately, I began telling my former boyfriend all about the dream, all about Daddy, losing myself in the clear black depths of conversation as he and I so often had.
And then I looked into his eyes and wondered aloud, “When did this happen? When did we start talking again?” I remember all this ease and triumph and pain between us. The bonds of yearning and understanding and light and dark. Of passion and compassion. All lost to illusion, even if the bond of authenticity never was.
Somewhere in the distance, a computer made a noise as if it were booting up and I opened my eyes, staring into a dark room around me with a tinge of blue light coming from the home office down the hall. I’d fallen asleep on my sofa but I couldn’t remember when or how. I sat up, alone. No one around me. No ghost of my father. No visitations from men from my past. No friends sitting in corners. No mentors. No guides.
My computer made another noise. I swung my feet to the floor and managed to stand. I had turned the computer off overnight but, for some reason, it had rebooted. I stumbled into the home office and sat down at my desk. It hadn’t rebooted to Facebook or the internet or to the novel I was working on. Instead, it had drudged up two emails that I couldn’t have found, had I been looking for them. Each one a separate square of print and letters against the blue background of the monitor. I recognized the cadence of words in an instant.
He was talking to me again?
I glanced first at the date. They were both over two years old, but just barely. Old letters. Not in the present. In the past. Nothing new, no new messages, still not speaking. But why these two emails? Why of all the terabytes hidden away on this computer would it vomit up these two messages from my past from a man no longer in my present?
The first message gushed about how special I was. About all the ways I lit up the world, including his world. About holding onto my power. About protecting myself from his flaws. I didn’t remember this particular message. There had been many like this between us. It was as special as every other message until that time but nothing special in what he was saying that he didn’t always say to me.
The second message I did remember. It was a response to my worries about how far I had yet to go in some of the personal areas of my life I was working on. He reminded me to look at how far I had come in the last year, to look at my strength, my perseverance, my ever forward motion toward becoming a better version of myself. He urged me to focus on myself and what made me happy. I closed both email messages and sat back in my chair.
He’d been right about how far I’d come in the previous year. Little did we know how far askew life would take us in the next year, but I’ve also come a long way in this past year, primarily alone, and I’ll go even farther in the next, alone or not. The biggest change would be on where to put my focus and how different that would be for me.
It wasn’t the first time in the last week that I had heard these messages from other people. The same messages had come through loud and clear in spiritual work I had done with three or four people in the previous month. In fact, it’s a message I’ve gotten quite a few times in the past year. To focus on myself. To put my own needs first. To be especially careful about getting attached, in new friendships and new relationships, so much to the other person that my focus became on helping them live their dreams instead of my own. Choosing personnel to work in my office not because of what I thought they could do for me but how I could help them. Creating complex marketing plans for someone else’s project while dozens of mine sat on the shelf, no time to devote to them. Standing by to bolster someone else, always available to them, only to be an option in their lives and not a priority.
These messages and real life examples had been simmering in my mind right up until the week before Thanksgiving, the week before all these dreams when I had done some work with Shaman Kelley Herrell. With Kelley, it was easy for me to see those childhood patterns of creating a happy space for someone else. That had been the focus of a calm home life growing up and later as well: make sure they’re happy with me, give them what they need, don’t cause them any trouble or pain or worry. And it was reinforced by my religion–be selfless, be helpful, be a good servant unto others. Time to change that, this year.
What I needed to do, my guide said repeatedly, was focus on my own self, do my own thing. Not let myself get caught in the trap of helping everybody else. Put myself first for a change, my needs, my dreams, my desires. Learn to be selfish. I heard the same message again in every bit of spiritual work I did that week. Regardless of the esoteric work discussions and dreams, nothing else caught my attention and drove the point home like my computer rebooting and spitting out two messages–significant messages–from a significant person from my past.
I decided then and there on Thanksgiving Day that this year will be different. This year, meaning until next Thanksgiving and maybe after will be about putting myself first. About doing my own thing. About not helping everyone else achieve their dreams, not until I’ve achieved mine. About holding my own power without getting wrapped up in the excitement of someone else’s dream. About keeping those boundaries in place. About putting my needs first. About getting what I want.
That’s a foreign ideal to me and not the way I’ve lived my life or my relationships. But my eyes have been opened and I understand now that the biggest mistake I’ve made in every significant relationship, as well as the minor ones, has been to put the needs of the other person ahead of mine. Doing so was never good enough, even for the Christian commandments of my childhood. And certainly never good enough for my father no matter what I did or how hard I tried. Even with the man who told me to put myself first, I still put his needs, his desires, his dreams ahead of my own. I made it way too easy for all of them to take me for granted, and not to realize just how much I gave in return.
This year, this year will be different. I’ll approach everything that comes to me in a different, more selfish way & we’ll see next Thanksgiving if the preponderance of my relationships are as supportive of me as I have been of them. This does not mean that I will stop helping or stop contributing. Only that I will help myself first and contribute to myself first. That I will take care of myself first, put on my own oxygen mask before putting it on those around me.
My eyes have been opened. It’s time now for me to wake up.
Key Takeaway: Love yourself first to learn to love others.