Many people take absolutely no responsibility for anything. But if you grew up in a dysfunctional household, chances are you are more than willing to take responsibility for everything. Your actions, other people’s actions, random acts of the universe: if only you had just tried harder or done a better job, you could have made it better.
I am slowly learning not to do this. And it is insidious. Even when I’m not actually feeling responsible for my parents’ financial situation or the political upheaval in the Ukraine, I still find ways to beat myself up.
I was driving down the slushy street today, after one of the longest, coldest, snowiest, most interminable winters I can recall. Last summer, I moved to a beautiful little house in a great neighborhood after separating from the second of what may turn out to be many husbands. There is an amazing little park just around the corner that they flood as a free-form skating rink in the winter, and I had looked forward to, and planned, all winter, to go skating there regularly.
And so the automatic thoughts began.
I really should have tried harder to go skating this winter. What in the hell is the matter with me that I couldn’t even make it out there once. It’s really my fault that I’m unhappy living here because there are so many opportunities to do fun things and I just never manage to be organized enough to do them. I really just bring it all on my self.
And another thing. I didn’t even take my kids skiing once this winter. What kind of a mother am I? Surely I could have found one day that was free so we could go out to the local ski hill and at least get a little bit of practice for a spring ski trip.
Stop. Rewind. Break it down. We likely had about 10 days all winter (a winter that is now entering its fifth month) that it wasn`t 20 below or colder, and windy on top of that. Of those 10 days, my kids had activities on five of them, I was on trips on three of them, which leaves two possible days that I so egregiously failed to drag my sorry ass down the block to skate outside and “enjoy what the winter has to offer.” Ditto for the skiing.
When I do this, I feel much better about myself, and I`m able to place responsibility where it belongs:
1. On my great-grandparents for settling in this godforsaken place. If they hadn`t, I could be protesting and getting shot at in the Ukraine. Damn great-grandparents.
2. We have cold horrible winters here. For those of you who have never experienced such a thing, it regularly gets so cold your face HURTS. It feels kind of hard and frozen like a piece of meat out of the freezer, and it hurts like you just lost a slap fight. And then when it begins to warm up again, if you aren`t so unfortunate as to have actually gotten frostbite, it feels alternately numb, then hot, then cold, then clammy, and finally you can actually feel the cells getting oxygenated blood again. I would be stupid to go out and try to skate outside in that, tough Canadian or no.
3. On twenty-two year old me for deciding to stay here instead of moving away. Fair enough, but forty-four year old me is not responsible for that. She is only responsible for where I will be next winter.
And then I feel better, because I’m not taking responsibility for every wrong or misfortune that has occurred in the past six months. Because I am only responsible for the things that I can change. And today, that includes taking one more step towards not being here next winter.