We Have the Power to Fix Ourselves and No One Else
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference. - Reinhold Niebuhr
Meditate on that for a moment. Though popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous, the Serenity Prayer is not just applicable to addicts. I've spent an enormous amount of time, energy, and stress focusing my efforts to change in the wrong direction- a person or circumstance outside of my control. I think I've finally gained the wisdom to know the difference.
Devon Motard was my high school sweetheart and my first love. He was the both best person ever and the worst. Completely effin' brilliant and also a total moron. I met Devon in 2006. We had a passionate, tumultuous, and sometimes-amazing relationship, married in 2014, separated in 2016, and he died shortly after.
I’m stronger for having known Devon, of that I'm certain. He taught me so much. Learning his struggles put my own in perspective. See, Devon was dealt a pretty shitty hand growing up. His father left his family when he was just a few years old. He was raised by a mother consumed with her own behavioral disorders and addictions. His mom brought a number of boyfriends around, several of whom were mean and violent. Both Devon and his older sister suffered unspeakable abuse and neglect at the hand of both their mom and the strange men who sporadically appeared in their lives.
I was 14 years-old when I met Devon- he was 3 years my senior. If you’ve been following along, you’ll recall that this is shortly after my mom, sister, and I relocated to Charlotte following my parents' separation. Hearing Devon’s story instantly filled me with compassion and empathy. He was so tough. Sure, what I was going through sucked, but it was nothing like that. If he could get through that, then surely I could get through this.
What’s more, Devon was smart. He had a mind for engineering and invented creative solutions to problems on an almost daily basis. His upbringing forced him to be savvy. Devon taught me most everything I know about finances and earning an income. He was funny. He was attractive. It's no surprise that I fell in love.
What I didn’t see at the time was that under the façade of “getting through” was a deeply hurt boy who didn’t know how to effectively handle his feelings. Substance abuse was the only example he’d been led by and so he followed suit. Despite recognizing the familiar patterns of my own father, I accepted Devon’s excuses and explanations. He wasn’t really an alcoholic. Sure, he drank a lot, but he was totally in control.
In addition to substance abuse, Devon's hurt manifested in anger and rage. At times he directed his outbursts at me.
Again, excuses. I easily forgave and forgot Devon's antics because, hell, look what he's gone through. I thought I could show him a different way. I thought I could wait long enough for a future where he was able to move past his past and BE every bit of the man I knew he could be.
For the next 10+ years, Devon and I lived the boil-over/break-up/make-up cycle. Every time we reunited, I'd set boundaries for what behaviors I would and would not tolerate, and I'd consistently violate those boundaries until the pressure cooker finally burst. Wash, rinse, repeat.
With every break-up came the feeling of failure
Breaking up felt like quitting, and I'm not a quitter. I had a fantasy of being the hero, of changing Devon's future for the better...never did pan out that way.
Because I'd set this mission for myself, the "break-up" portion of our cycle was always challenging. We'd become codependent. I felt personally responsible for Devon's well being and for whatever negative fallout there might be for him following our split. Additionally, I think "saving" Devon gave me a sense of purpose and filled a void in my heart. I was more hurt by my parent's separation than I realized at the time. Though I couldn't mend their marriage, I sought to recreate a more successful version of it in my own relationship with Devon. Being with him gave me a false sense on control during a time in my life when I felt that I had none.
The true failure was quitting on myself. I neglected my own needs and violated my own boundaries. At the time, I just couldn't see the harm my tolerance and enabling was doing to my self-esteem and sense of worth.
We'll never be strong enough to fix anyone but ourselves.
No amount of love or personal sacrifice will ever be enough to change another person. Strong is taking care of yourself. Strong is lovingly setting and maintaining boundaries.
If I could go back and talk to myself then, I would tell Lauren that fixing Devon was never her task. No person on Earth would had the power to do that for him. Most importantly, I would urge her to love herself the way she loves other people. I'm here to tell you the same thing.
I loved Devon. I could never honestly say that I regret our time together, but I can acknowledge my errors and choose a different path going forward. In hindsight, I can see how showing more compassion toward myself might have also been the more compassionate choice for him. For whatever it's worth, "being there" for Devon didn't seem to modify or improve his behavior, only enable it to continue.
It's not you, it's ME
I'm definitely not suggesting that you use that trite break-up line, bees. I'm not even suggesting that you break up with your partner if you're in a relationship similar to the one I had. If you're struggling in your relationship- whether it's with a parent, sibling, roommate, spouse. or friend- I challenge you to try turning your efforts around to yourself.
Consider setting aside that other person's shortcomings or wrongdoings, past, or present. Focus on you. Are you meeting your own needs? Do you choose to depend on someone else to "make" you happy? Are you practicing self-care? Do you make an unbalanced amount personal sacrifice for the better of another person? Identify your strengths and weaknesses. Be honest with yourself. Dig deep! Be open to where that trail of self-improvement leads you. It doesn't necessarily mean something as dramatic as the end of a relationship- it could be counseling, redrawing boundaries, a fulfilling new hobby, etc.
I'm no Byron Katie. This isn't the Life Coach School with Brooke Castillo.
I'm not an expert and I'm far from perfect- just another normal girl bumbling through life. In all honesty, had Devon not died, we may have continued our patterns for the duration of our lives. I'm not oblivious to that possibility! I felt certain that our relationship had reached a final end when we separated, but I'd felt that certainty at other times as well. His death was tragic and I'll always feel the weight of that loss. However, it's undeniable that his absence has given me the space to grow as an individual.
I suppose my strength was choosing another way when I might have easily found a similar relationship to fill the void. I was done with the vicious, heartbreaking cycle. So done that I was willing to live with the pain of our story instead of finding a band-aid. Strong was simply being open to trying something different- to looking inward.
We can't change other people, but we CAN change ourselves. For the better. Why not use that ability instead of focusing on what we can't change?