Last Thursday was Babysitting Day. My husband and I woke up early, hopped in the car, braved morning traffic, and arrived in time for breakfast with two of our favorite family kiddos.
The way I see it, Babysitting Days were made to be legendary, packed-to-the-max with high-energy fun, excitement and activity. This one was no exception; our adventures began with jungle stories, basketball and sidewalk chalk, followed by glitter paint, puppet shows and must-see cartoons. We concluded our day with an epic dance party, the perfect bridge between lunchtime and naptime. The girls donned their prettiest costume dresses (Cinderella for one, Minnie Mouse for the other) excited to play “dance recital” in the living room. While my husband proudly watched and applauded the drama, I tried to record a few video clips for their mom and dad. (Babysitting Days, I’ve decided, are SERIOUSLY unfair for hardworking parents. The least we can do is share all the fun we have without them… right?)
It was fascinating to observe the girls’ response to my attempted videography. The older one (we’ll call her Ballerina) couldn’t care less about me and my camera. She’s a live-in-the-moment kind of kid, flying by the seat of her polka-dot jeggings. The younger one (we’ll call her Shutterbug) barely left my side the entire time. She’d spin across the room with her sister for five seconds, then rush back to me, breathless and grinning, brimming with childish pride and excitement. She’d reach up toward me, pulling my phone close to her face, asking in her brightest toddler voice, “Me see me? Me see me, please?!”
Shutterbug was SO enamored with my iPhone, checking to see what images I’d captured, she barely had time to MAKE any dance moves in the first place.
Driving home, my husband and I laughed about Ballerina, Shutterbug and photography in general. Remember when pictures required film, chemistry and time, we chuckled? Remember when cameras were “only” cameras, sans built-in calendars, libraries and game consoles? These girls, we realized, will never recognize that PROCESS OF WAITING for images to appear in print. They’ll never have that specific experience of delayed gratification—at least not when it comes to recording their newest dance moves.
I’M A TYPE-A PERSONALITY. Even in recovery, I’m inclined to be hyperactive, deadline driven and aggressively productive. That’s all fine and satisfying, until it comes at the expense of my serenity. To protect against that proclivity, I’ve learned to check-in and ask myself, “Am I still a human BE-ing? Or have I become a human DO-ing?” Usually that question shifts things back into perspective, recalibrating me from the inside out.
But watching Ballerina and Shutterbug this week, I’ve decided to throw another question into the mix: “Have I become a human SEE-ing?” Am I busy SEEKING PROOF of something worthy and meaningful, missing the actual experience itself, as it unfolds in the background behind me?
I’M A LOT LIKE BALLERINA. I really love to dance in the moment, and I rarely care much about anyone watching me. Yet part of me is also a lot like Shutterbug; I sometimes crave those tiny bits of live-action evidence (“Me see me, please?”), proof that as I spin myself in circles, my movement is somehow going to COUNT.
Perhaps I want insurance against pangs of self-doubt (God knows I get them), something to help me detox after binges of self-criticism. Maybe I want to learn from my progress, archiving it for future review. Perhaps I need a reminder that I am WORTHY of being noticed (valued, appreciated, enjoyed and remembered), all by someone who genuinely loves me and honors my innocence.
I’ll end this post by sharing the following letter, pulled from my recovery writing archive. I composed it to a group of friends this past summer, and it seems like a fitting accompaniment to my story about Babysitting Day:
While flying across the country last week, I listened to the familiar refrain of the onboard flight attendants: “In case of an emergency, secure your own oxygen mask first, before assisting others.” That was a HUGE lesson I needed to learn in early recovery, and we reference it often in a recovery context. But on this particular flight, my ears tuned into the following line: “Oxygen will be flowing to the mask, even though the bag may not inflate.”
This struck me as significant. “You mean, something positive (help, inspiration, life support) might actually BE happening, even though I cannot SEE or FEEL it happening?”
So many times in my early recovery, longtimers told me, “Give it time,” “Trust the process,” and “Just take the next indicated step.” That idea was hard to grasp, and I didn’t like the idea of waiting for this supposed transformation, particularly while my life was in the throes of constant emotional and relationship distress. Instead, I wanted immediate resolution, instant solutions and on-demand comfort.
I remember one particular night, approximately one year into recovery. I was wailing aloud to my recovery friends: “It’s been a year… a whole bleeping year! Shouldn’t things be better by now? Honestly, it feels like everything is getting WORSE. You promised me serenity, but this is definitely NOT serene. How much more of this can I handle? How much longer, before I simply fall apart?”
In retrospect, of course, I see things differently: I now realize that as I worked on my recovery, recovery was actually working on me. Even though I didn’t see my oxygen mask “inflating,” recovery was bringing me LIFE—in the subtle forms of serenity, dignity, and emotional growth. That source of sustenance WAS indeed flowing, despite my inability to recognize it. With every day that I did my part (letting God and others do theirs), things actually WERE changing for the better. They simply were not changing in a way that I could tangibly perceive. By my second and third year of healing, my battle-scarred recovery finally morphed into its own, unique (and visible!) lifeline. Eventually, I could actually grasp that previously elusive “something positive,” believing that it WAS materializing for me after all.
Today, I’m grateful to honor my recovery, on days when I “feel it,” and on days when I still just don’t. I’m grateful for my recovery family, for all of you who “kept the faith” on my behalf, long before I was capable of believing it myself.
I recently heard a recovering person say, “Just let us love you, until you’re able to love yourself.” That’s what our recovery community has done for me. I watched you “secure your own masks first,” then reach out with ESH to help me don mine. You’re STILL there for me, at times when I need you most; you remind me to close my eyes, to breathe deeply, and to trust the process. You remind me to let the oxygen flow, especially during moments when it seems utterly and absolutely invisible.
GAELYN RAE EMERSON
©2015–2019 | All Rights Reserved
OF WEEDS AND WARFARE was written by Gaelyn Rae Emerson in 2015. It was originally written for Sisters of Sobriety and Serenity, a social media blog for recovering women, with special thanks to its creator, Katie Maslin. Republished by Women Ever After, with minor biographical edits pending.