Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Gorilla Training, 101

I hate Expectations.

I'm not talking about hopes and dreams - those are great. They live somewhere out in the ether where they don't interfere with my day-to-day life.

I'm talking about the Expectations that live in my head. The ones that superimpose themselves over my real life - and without my permission, I might add. I do this unconsciously, most of the time. I didn't even notice that the Expectations were sitting at the breakfast table with me yesterday morning, as my kids ate sugary cereals and Greta scrambled to finish her homework only minutes before the bus comes.

"Tsk, tsk," they said. "Empty calories and carbs for breakfast. Why don't you just feed them crack cocaine? What happened to doing homework the night before? Oh, right. You were too busy keeping them up past their bedtime watching TV."

As we search madly for boots, hats & mittens the Expectations have a good laugh at my expense. "I thought you were going to have them hang up their coats so we don't do this everyone morning?" they whisper savagely in my ear.

Greta makes her bus, her homework completed, just as she does every morning. This doesn't appease the Expectations, though. They just find another target. Finn has a potty accident as we're walking out the door, and they tell me it's my fault. "It's because you aren't consistent," they hiss. "Other Moms remember to reward their kid every time he uses the potty. You forgot twice yesterday."

I have a mental picture of the Headmistress of Expectations: she is me, dressed in an uncomfortable tweed suit, wagging her finger and shaking her head in disappointment. I wish she would go away and leave me alone.

It is hard to resist her siren call. I seem to be hardwired to be tough on myself. Even when I do things well, the Headmistress can always find an example of how I could have done better. She hangs out with Low Self-Esteem and Addiction, and together they make a hell of a team.

I'm learning, though, how to tell her to shut up. Meet the Headmistress' laid back twin sister: Aunt Content. She is like a beloved substitute teacher; she shows up unpredictably, and we all breathe a little easier when she's around. She knows how to live in the moment and appreciate the smaller victories. Aunt Content pals around with Acceptance and Surrender. They remind me that I really don't control much, it's just that the Expectations make me think I do. She knows how to have a good laugh at my own expense, without losing my sense of self-worth in the process. She is my recovery.

When I was newly sober, someone said: "You aren't a bad person, you're a sick person. Hate the Addict, don't hate yourself." Right then, a little fissure appeared in my mind; I had always thought of my disease as a kind of out-of-control mental gorilla that raged in my head, beyond my control. I felt a seedling of hope: a gorilla can be contained, but only if I acknowledge that it's there.

I understand, now, that the Headmistress feeds my gorilla. She is my disease talking to me, telling me I don't measure up, that I'm not worth it. Now that I recognize her voice, she frightens me less and less. Before, hers was the only voice I heard. Now I have me a Gorilla Trainer.

This is what Aunt Content would have said to me yesterday morning, had I been listening:

"Take a deep breath, kiddo. We'll get there. What's the worst that could happen? That you drive her to school? That she has to make up the homework tomorrow? Is the world going to stop revolving if she isn't wearing mittens? If her hands are cold, maybe next time she'll remember to put them where they belong so she can find them easily. So what if Finn had an accident - he won't go off to high school in pull-ups. It will all be okay. And you know what? The world isn't watching. They aren't judging you. It's that Headmistress Bitch getting to you. So RELAX."


  1. Well-stated metaphor. Stupid Expectations . . .

  2. Well said. But what is the lack of expectations for oneself? For me, it feels like giving up, but maybe because my expectations are low, to do less would be to do nothing.

    And I will say, you are so evolved allowing homework in the a.m.

  3. This is so true for me. Half the time I'm not even aware of it. But there's this crushing weight that seems to come with every deviation from "The Plan." Why is it so hard to let go, surrender to the moment, with the understanding that whatever's going on is probably inconsequential to the big picture? Or, heaven forbid, might actually be BETTER than what you'd planned?

    When I think of how much time I have wasted just trying to navigate this self-imposed burden, it makes me want to poke my eyes out. See, there I go again....

  4. Konnie - Good point! My wish is that I can get to the point where my expectations can be fluid - go with the flow - not a reason to be hard on myself. '

    Miranda - well said! I feel like I write my "Plan" on stone tablets, or something. Heaven forbid if things don't go the way I thought they would.

  5. Yes, I could be more flexible too and have reasonable expectations but realize life happens.

    So when I got home from work yesterday (the only day I don't get them sorted for school in the a.m.) and 8 yr old son was wearing the same clothes and he wore the day before, only the pants were inside out, I perhaps should have said nothing?? This may take some time. But a valid point.

  6. Konnie - OMG that's too funny. Well, on the one hand he is inventive! They keep us on their toes, don't they???

  7. Ellie, you have hit on my new year's resolution for this year: "Give myself a freaking break". Resolution #2 (truly remarkable that there is a second one after that hefty first one)..."Give other people a break too. Everyone is doing the best they can with what they have." I've been able to breathe easier since January 1st. It's refreshing. :)

  8. I know this exactly!! Damn that freakin Headmistress anyways. I have to frequently remind myself that an unattended dust bunny in the corner will not amount to mudslide through the living room if I don't sweep it up RIGHT NOW. We are way way too hard on ourselves. I try to see things from the outside looking in...if I was at a friends and it was her dustbunny in the corner? Well, she must have been busy with more important things then....

  9. I have a question...If I don't have any of the profiles you have listed...just an email adddress, I can't seem to leave a comment unless i post under anonymous.... help?

  10. Anonymous 4pm -

    Hmmm. There should be a choice for Name/URL if you don't have Google, Wordpress, AIM, OpenID or any of the others? Sorry, I'm not good with the technical stuff....


  11. I really like this post, Ellie. I'm not an alcoholic, but so many of your posts on your inner struggles mirror my own thoughts. The Headmistress of Expectations is an old acquaintance of mine. I think it's time to invite Aunt Content for a visit.

  12. Oh, wow. Another post to add to my favorites. If only I didn't have to deal with this pesky disease and go right to recovery! Although, as they say we can't know light without darkness, I suppose Aunt Content wouldn't be quite so appreciated if I didn't also live with Headmistress.

  13. I love that you gave names to the committee members in your head! My commitee is an ambitious bunch. They have major meeting and come to unanimous decisions before I even get out of bed. They have specific ideas about who I "should" be and what I "should" do. I have quieted them down quite a bit over the past two years. Whenever they get rowdy, I now can realize that I need a good dose of recovery. Thank God I have a place to go to screw my head back on straight. Thanks for the perspective!

  14. Snortle...(that's a good sound by the way, don't go worrying!) :)

  15. Snortle...(that's a good sound by the way, don't go worrying!) :)

  16. I have a question...If I don't have any of the profiles you have listed...just an email adddress, I can't seem to leave a comment unless i post under anonymous.... help?