The nursing home smell permeates the still air, a saliva suction machine rests next to the bed and my mom, not looking anything like herself, sits in a hospital-grade recliner . She wears fashion-less comfort clothes, no makeup and no bra. She has her mean face on and is jabbing her finger in my direction. I haven’t done something right. I can’t understand her non-verbal grunts. She’s mad, sad and can’t believe I’m letting her down. If I really loved her, I’d want to take care of her. I’d understand her. I’d do a better job.
This was a familiar scene with my mom during the last year of her life. She lost her speech, mobility, independence and ability to eat to ALS. So, she lost pretty much everything. My sister and brother-in-law bore the brunt of her ire due to proximity, but we all felt her dissatisfaction.
What road leads to identity?
I read, “The Road Less Traveled” as a teenager. I turned the pages in my quiet corner bedroom and soaked up such concepts as ‘delayed gratification’ and ‘self-discipline’. I recall thinking I was quite precocious reading such introspective material.
What was I looking for within those pages?
An identity must be established before it can be transcended. One must find one’s self before one can lose it. — M. Scott Peck M.D., The Road Less Traveled
Perhaps I was looking for my identity or how to create one. Perhaps I wanted to be the precocious pop-psychology guru of my small town high school. I think mostly I was just curious and had heard the title mentioned by someone I admired.
Thirty years later, I am reading “The Road Less Traveled” again. This time, I’m reading it with grown-up eyes and experience. What am I looking for now? Perhaps validation regarding all of my life choices up until this point. Perhaps more knowledge on the subjects of real love and enlightenment.
Dependency seems like the wrong road
I define dependency as the inability to experience whole-ness or to function adequately without the certainty that one is being actively cared for by another. — M. Scott Peck M.D., The Road Less Traveled
As the new year unfolds, I’ve been reflecting (and reading). I’ve thought about who I am now versus who I was just a year ago. I’ve thought about my mom. Her death last summer and the depressed anxious state she lived in for years, have been good reminders to do things differently if I want to live and leave this earth with a peaceful heart.
Easy for introverts to fall into dependent role?
When I was married, I was content, at first, to exist in love dependency. As an introvert, it was easier to fade to the back, take on the listener role, the supported role. I was given attention. There was no confrontation. My ex-husband provided loyal companionship, financial security and confident leadership. I liked being taken care of. I needed him to give me an identity. I didn’t know myself yet.
That was not real love.
Making your own damn road
Since the end of my marriage, I’ve learned a lot about my true self. I’ve learned how to better express myself and fight for my perspective, despite fierce emotions. I’ve learned how to express myself and fight for a relationship and not give up. I’ve learned I still have old wounds that cause me to react strongly and project bad intentions onto those I love.
I had to face my flaws, get knocked down a few times, see my strengths and become more whole to have anything to give. I had/have to show up every day and work on the road to love. It was/is effortful.
I had to understand and accept my soft sensitive nature. I had to take action and create the life I desired based on that nature, including: shedding the tension-filled marriage; starting a writing and coaching career; re-working my parenting style and establishing a longterm relationship where I love as much as I am loved.
To be clear, I don’t have any of those endeavors mastered. I am in the middle of failing and figuring out all of them. Sometimes it seems I’m making my own damn road. I’m clearing trees, mowing down tall grass, swatting mosquitoes and pouring pavement, possibly in an effort to avoid ending up like my mom.
We might think that knowing ourselves is a very ego-centered thing, but by beginning to look so clearly and so honestly at ourselves—at our emotions, at our thoughts, at who we really are—we begin to dissolve the walls that separate us from others. — Pema Chodron, To Know Yourself is to Forget Yourself
I am growing and learning through loving and being challenged by my man and my children. I realize love is not just a feeling or something primarily designed for receiving. It’s an action. It’s a giving.
But I feel whole. I feel strong and genuinely loved (even after countless emotional outpourings and many sleepless nights).
A cautionary tale
If being loved is your goal, you will fail to achieve it. — M. Scott Peck M.D., The Road Less Traveled
My mom spent most of her life looking to be loved. As a young person, her parents gave her material items, love through food and status. She was a confident, extroverted girl who surrounded herself with lots of friends and boyfriends. As an adult, she devoted herself to my sister and me. Our reciprocated devotion made her feel loved.
She had several long-term relationships, most of them unhealthy and draining, but in her eyes better than nothing. Although her companions kept her from being alone, having to self-soothe and taking out the trash, they didn’t spark a lot of personal growth. That would require real effort, self-awareness and real love, which Mom never seemed up for.
M&Ms and mashed potatoes don’t spark personal evolution
Mom did not have the self-discipline to maintain a healthy weight. Baked goods, peanut M&Ms and mashed potatoes brought her comfort. She seemed to only really know herself in terms of what she received in care, attention or material items. She did not know how to love herself.
We empathized with her horrible plight and gave her as much comfort and love as possible. It never seemed to be enough. She thought things should or would come to her right up until the end when she was pissed every day about something the nurses did or did not do. When she cried deep sobs of despair. When she chastised my sister and brother-in-law for not visiting enough or not getting her the right toothbrush.
My reflections at the beginning of 2016 tell me that love comes from within and requires outward effort to sustain. We have to work and be whole beings to love and be loved. If we keep at it with discipline, a penchant for personal development, hope, and a willingness to take the road less traveled, we have a shot.
Do you have the courage to take the road less traveled? Are you waiting to be loved? What are you doing to experience wholeness?
If you would like to learn how to lead your life and create real love, contact me to talk about coaching services.