I do enjoy making New Years resolutions; though I keep hearing that it's perfectly feasible to "start over" the very next day, there's just something about a brand new year that makes it seem more...empowering, I suppose. The celebration and turning of the clock make it feel natural, like a breath of fresh air, rather than something that's forced. And like many others, I'm choosing to focus on one, although as time progresses it may become an umbrella term or statement for other things.
It didn't take a whole lot of time to figure out, given the way 2013 unfolded: there were heaps of accompanied by worry, most of which went unwarranted. Not because of the notion that everything works out in the end or that it wasn't as bad as originally anticipated. But realistically, there was nothing that I could do to make those situations easier or better. Though I intended to try to make some kind of difference, the choices I made almost destroyed me in the process. With that being said, I did take some time to think and pray about what I really wanted to work on this year, although deep down I've been aware of it all along:
I need to stop trying to take care of other people so much and start actually taking care of myself.
But before anyone pegs me as selfish or narcissistic, let me go back and provide some insight into how this came about.
A part of me has always felt that I grew up a little too fast, especially as I became more aware of the world around me and various aspects of it. I was constantly praised for being "mature" and "wise beyond my years" by teachers and other adults in my life. Somewhere between fifteen and eighteen, a relative would tell me that I was the rock of the family and that I helped everybody else stay grounded. It was meant to be a compliment, to build me up whenever my self-esteem started to sink. But I heard it enough times where I started to believe it, and worked myself into what I call "firstborn syndrome." Some may also refer to it as being the third parent (or at least taking on some parental role). When it comes to being the oldest, you're the next in command: you hold yourself together when the others are going nuts. You take care of the younger ones when necessary. You hold the fort down when all hell breaks loose. And everyone else's needs come before your own.
I didn't start to feel the weight of it until I came home from college for breaks; winter break of freshman year was the first time I admitted to myself that things weren't OK; the overall atmosphere was thick with tension and there was no telling who would get upset or why. So I took it upon myself to help out as much as possible; I wasn't always good at it, but I did my best. I figured that if I didn't try to create some sort of harmony, no one else would.
This is a bit off subject here, but that's part of the reason why I went off on a bit of a bender after I turned twenty-one: Trying to fit into this particular role of being "the good girl" "the easy child" or "the strong one" was becoming exhausting, and I needed to grab the reins for myself. I don't blame my parents or anyone else for my choices or my line of thinking. But there were a lot of expectations (both self-imposed and put on me by others) that made navigating my identity a lot harder than it needed to be.
At the time, I thought that a lot of the decisions I made during sophomore and even junior year were acts of selflessness: I thought I could help a childhood friend heal by moving in with her. I spent a night chasing after two friends from out of town to keep them out of trouble, despite putting myself in danger of being sexually assaulted (or worse). I held onto a toxic relationship because I felt indebted to him for taking care of me when we first met. The summer following junior year, I dragged a drunk friend back to his apartment because I didn't want him to hurt himself. I kind of started acting like a Mom for a little while, always warning people to be careful and checking in on them the next day.
My heart had good intentions, but deep down it was more about this ridiculous desire for someone else to need me; I've been told that I help others in more ways than I know, but I wanted to be helpful in ways that I was fully aware of. The funny thing is that no one ever came to me and outright asked for anything; I assumed that they were struggling or in trouble, and that as a friend I could help take on whatever burdens they were carrying. It's one matter to take on the weight of a person's world when they recognize where they're headed and what they're doing to themselves. But it's entirely different when they accept an ugly side as part of who they are, and either they look the other way or don't really care what happens. That's when I was in over my head.
Fast forward a little over a year and my mindset is starting to change. I question how the terms "selfless" and "selfish" are tossed around aimlessly, particularly in churches and faith-centered groups. I can't say that I completely agree with the whole "I am third" mentality; not because of how God fits into it, but because I find it hard to do things for others if you don't have the capability of doing the same for yourself. The biggest issue is that not many people know how to make the distinction between what is selfless, what is selfish, and what is just pure insanity. A lot of it is based on circumstances and the motivation behind the choices that we make.
That's not to say that I'm going to just stop caring about people; it's in my nature to want to lend a helping hand, and I'm always going to do my best to be a good friend, to listen, and give advice/feedback when appropriate. I also believe in at least voicing my concern when I feel that someone is making a bad decision that may hurt them or others in the long run. However, I'm finally beginning to understand that I'm only a human being, and can only do so much when it comes to another's well being. I can't keep certain friends from becoming alcoholics or getting into bad relationships. I can't be a buffer for my parents or my family. But I can paint my own picture, and I can create my own future.
As I said before, we all have the capability to do great things; I just don't think that "saving" someone is one of them. By trying to do that, you end up putting your emotions in that person's hands (i.e. basing your happiness on whether or not that person is happy). And that doesn't work, at least after a while.
I'm a hard worker and a fighter, and I'm willing to put my whole heart into what I'm passionate about. But I'm not anybody's hero; at the end of the day, I'm simply Alyx, a child of God who's own strength is not enough. That's why I think it's time to hang up the cape, at least in the sense of being realistic about what I can and cannot do.
Yes, Wonder Woman has left the building.
photo credit: Loving Earth via photopin cc