Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Dependence, Independence, Codependence

This period of automotive disability has been something of a learning experience. After the first weeks of inconvenience, I am starting to become accustomed to taking the bus in the morning, for one thing. I am also becoming more comfortable with the idea of asking people for rides to and from places. I have learned to time my activities (like grocery shopping or schlepping bulk mail to the post office) to coincide with a visit from or activity with a friend with a car.

But I have also learned how and why I was so loath to ask for rides in the first place, and why my temporary disability has been so depressing... it's because the loss of my car has represented a loss of self-esteem, a sizeable ding in my image of myself as an independent and capable adult. So not only do I have the inconvenience of not being able to go where I want when I want and carry heavy things with me, but I actually have to ask for help... and this is terribly galling.

I suppose I have always been very independent by nature. I prefer to do things myself rather than let anyone else do them for me... unless it's something I don't know how to do, or am not good at, or hate doing... and then I prefer to pay a professional to do it than to let a friend or relative do it for me, unless I can't afford it for whatever reason, or if it's substantially more convenient, like letting my sister work on my car or letting Grandmother cook our meals. Even so, I do everything I can to make such things reciprocal: my sister works on my car, and I lend her money occasionally and do little favors for her; Grandmother feeds and houses me, so I chauffeur her around and run her errands and reach things down from high cupboards.

This independence is a strength in many ways, it has caused me to learn how to do an awful lot of things for myself, from very early childhood. Self-reliance is a wonderful and desirable thing, it makes one's life easier and, I think, makes one more attractive and valuable to others. On the other hand, it also causes me to avoid asking for help when I really need it, and to feel either guilty or inadequate when I do find myself in a tight corner and have to ask for help; and when I feel inadequate or guilty, I tend to become resentful of the person upon whom I am forced to depend, so I end up hating both myself and others for this dependency.

You could call it a double-edged sword, I suppose.

And incidentally, this sense of distaste for being dependent on others isn't only directed towards myself... I often find myself sneering at other people when they make too great a display of need. I have a cousin who has been chronically needy, always wanting someone to give her something or to help her out, forever searching for a man to take care of her and her children, incessantly finding herself in situations from which she must be bailed out by softhearted friends and relatives. I find myself resenting her more than even myself and the people I depend upon, because she doesn't seem to even be trying to do things herself, as I have done since infancy — it's as though she takes risks and does things with the assurance that someone will be there to catch her when she fails.

In that feeling of resentment is also a tinge (or more) of jealousy, since she does take risks and do things which I would never dare, having absolutely no feeling of assurance that someone would catch me. Taking risks (on one hand) and being dependent on someone else (on the other hand) render one vulnerable, and I am absoutely pathological in my fear of vulnerability.

But as I grow and learn, I find that it's fairly easy, once I have to ask someone for help, to reciprocate in some way or another... and if not directly to the person who helped me then by "paying it forward" and helping someone else; so logically there is really no reason for me to avoid asking help of people, it simply becomes a matter of making the effort of reciprocation.

On the other hand, I think that somewhere in the deeper root of my desire for independence is an element of laziness... I fear the effort of helping people, of being expected to do things for others, fear being taken advantage of, and of course fear ultimately disappointing people when I can't do what they want when they want it. There's also that terrible fear of rejection, that if I ask someone for help he or she will say "No," and remind me that I am an unworthy individual (as I've always suspected and secretly believed). So what it boils down to is fear, and overcoming fear in order to be a better person.

Kind of my theme this year, overcoming fear. And overcoming my crippling lack of self-esteem. And trying new things.

So anyway, that's all terribly interesting but it doesn't give me any hints about how to get on with it. I've always felt that identifying and understanding the problem was half the work... but I have never discovered exactly what the other half is. "Prayer and Meditation," my sponsor will tell me. "Self-help books," my Grandmother would tell me. "Psychotherapy," my friends will tell me. "Shopping, eating, and some kind of pills," the voices in my head tell me.

I am feeling a little peckish, just now. I haven't had lunch yet. And later I'm getting a manicure, with a trim and fill of my acrylics (I finally broke one nail, and split one and chipped another one, and they're too long to type with, and they're ugly ugly ugly) and a hand-massage, that ought to do something for me. I bought a new dress yesterday, too. So now all I need is a new car, and I'll be set! And I wouldn't mind a whole buttload of money. And someone who absolutely adores me, and looks like this (and really, the looks part is negotiable, I'll settle for medium looks with my adoration):

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