Saturday, August 4, 2007

What if I did know what to do?

On the nightstand beside my bed, the cheerful chirping of my cellphone wakes me up. I don’t have my glasses on and can’t see the number calling, but fear immediately jumps in with its alarming predictions of ‘middle of the night can only mean disaster’ insensibility.

My eldest daughter’s tearful voice answers my croaky greeting. “I’m so confused mom”, she cries.

“Are you okay?” I ask. My mother’s mind immediately jumps to Amber alert status. Solutions leap full born into my thought processes. I drove up to the mountains with a girlfriend in her car. I’ll have to borrow it to drive back to the city. I picture where I saw her drop the car keys. I’m halfway out of bed, mentally writing the note I’ll leave to tell her where I’ve gone and when I'll be back, when I register my daughter’s response.

“Ellie puked on the kitchen floor.”

Amber de-escalates rapidly to middle of the night sarcasm.

“You called me at 4am to tell me?”

“Yes. Well not really. I cleaned it up. It was gross.” She takes a breath. I hear tears on the other end of the phone.

I try for humour. At 4am, it’s pretty slim. “You’re not sure you used the right cleanser?”

Her cry pierces my eardrum. “Mum! This is serious.”

Now, cleaning up dog puke at 4am is pretty serious. Not sure it warrants a call to mother. I wait for more. There’s always more to a 4am call.

“I don’t know what to do with my life,” my daughter cries.

My impulse to be sarcastic is less controllable in the middle of the night. Iit seeps out like light from under a door. “Is there something, other than sleep, that you need to do at 4am that’s going to make a difference to your life right now?”

“But I don’t know what to do!” she wails into the phone.

And that’s where my not quite being awake let her ‘little white lie’ float a balloon of possibility into the night time air. My mind, eager to recapture sleep, didn’t challenge the flaw in her statement. “I don’t know what to do,” is usually what I use to let myself off the hook of facing my fears and being responsible for my life.

When with Conrad, I let “I don’t know what to do,” determine my course throughout the 4 years 9 months of that journey into hell. “I don’t know what to do” kept me from doing what I knew, deep inside, I needed to do to be safe, to be free of the terror and horror of that relationship. “I don’t know what to do” let me stay in a situation that I knew was killing me and hurting my daughters. “I don’t know what to do”, kept me stuck in reverse motion, fast-tracking away from taking steps in the right direction.

Winston Churchill stated, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Actually, the statement should have been, “If you find yourself in hell, GET OUT the fastest way you can. Don’t look for exit signs, make one up as you go along, but at all costs – GET OUT!” Hell is not a safe place to be. If you know it’s hell, going further into the known is not a good idea. Get out as quickly as you can! Find another route. RETREAT. Back up. RUN for your life.

For my daughter, in the twilight zone of just before dawn’s awakening, immersed in the darkness of searching for meaning in her life, working on the pieces of the puzzle of “This is MyLife” was not a way to find her answers. Denying her knowledge was also not a good route to get out of the confusion she found herself in. Stepping back, looking at the big picture, digging for the hidden clues might have helped – but not in the fuzzy pre-dawn thinking of confusion masquerading as fear of the unknown future stretching before her 21-year-old life.

Had I been more awake, more cognizant of the relevance of her question to her feelings about where she was at in her three year relationship and living and exploring life’s opportunities at twenty-one, I would have responded with alacrity. Her habitual “I don’t know”, would not have found the air to suck the power out of my semi-sleeping mind. I would have challenged her fear and helped her close the door to running away from her truth with the one question that could have drawn her into accountability, “If you did know what to do, what would you do?”

The power is in the ‘if’. We share a human condition, avoidance. Avoidance strengthens fear. When I look at a problem and am afraid of the truth staring me in the face, I mask my fear under the guise of confusion as a tool to keep me from being accountable. Giving myself permission to explore options through the connector of ‘if’ gives me room to breathe. ‘If I did know what to do’ becomes the back door into my thinking. It lets me claim my wisdom without going through the hell of having to face my fear of knowing what I know I need to do to do the right thing.

Yesterday, a girlfriend and I had a conversation about why we sometimes choose to believe what someone tells us without questioning the ‘truth of the truth-sayer’. For me, it’s usually because it’s the easy way out. Accepting what someone else says lets me off the hook of questioning what I believe. Why not buy into this? My febrile mind asks. If I don’t, I’m going to have to make some other decision that I’m not sure I want to. I mean, if I say No, or reply with something other than what the other person wants to hear, I might create conflict – and I don’t like conflict.

Saying Yes, and meaning No, is a habit I’ve fallen into most of my life. My daughters ask to do something, I say yes and then think about it because, to say No risks conflict. Not fond of conflict. Grew up in a house full of it. Conflict never ended well. Conflict never ended.

My yes, unfortunately, was the easy way out. My yes wasn’t really yes, it was a, ‘let me think about it in peace’. Inevitably, I’d acknowledge the No after the fact, and create a bigger problem than had I had the courage to turn up with my No in the first place.

Disagreement does not equal rejection. To my mind, however, disagreement is a surefire course to anger, to someone calling me names, telling me I’m wrong, telling me I have no right to my thoughts and feelings because they’re different from the outcome someone else wants. To having to defend myself against their assertion, they are right and know what is right for me.

In freedom, I am learning to turn up in truth on the sunny side of my life. In speaking my truth, without fear of the outcome, I am learning to be accountable for me – and to trust others to be accountable for themselves. They may not like what I have to say, but in accepting what they said as my truth, means I’m not liking me – and I mean too much to me to harbour feelings of resentment, bitterness and discord that arise when I let go of my truth and buy into someone else’s thinking.

My daughter called me at 4am and opened the door to my truth. I have hesitated to be honest with someone who recently invited me to participate in a new business venture. My yes was actually me taking the easy way out. I have learned from my past. Easy way outs can be the doorway leading into hell. By withholding my truth, I let myself off the hook of accountability.

Thanks Alexis. Your wake-up call enlightened me to what I was doing and what I need to do to ensure I do the right thing in my life. Your wake-up call was what I needed to get accountable with me.

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