When I was in graduate school, I took an addictions class. One of the assignments was to attend three different AA meetings. At one of the meetings, I spoke to a man who eventually became my friend. He was looking for friends who were “normies,” people who didn’t have substance addictions. I was always open to learning about new people and agreed to meet. We met weekly at nondescript coffee shops, where I ordered hot chocolate or herbal tea and he drank strong, black coffee with a few packs of sugar. We discussed current events and the state of the world. One day, as we sat chatting about various problems in the world, there was some news about a celebrity and her non-problem problems. I mentioned that I’d love to have a different person’s problems because they seemed so manageable and simple. This person had tons of money, replete with every luxury handed to her.
My friend remarked that he’d keep his problems. I was stunned! How could he, a man who’d been in and out of rehab countless times, choose his problems over something seemingly easier?
We discussed this at length over the course of many future meetings. Would he truly choose his fraught, addiction laiden path over one with less adversity? He wisely expressed that he would not want to inherit someone else’s problems because he wouldn’t know the first thing about handling them. Despite his methodology, he handled stress, sadness, fear, happiness, joy and just about everything else with drug use. Drugs and alcohol were his vices; he was desperately trying to quit and learn how to cope with life without using. He had his game down pat. He knew how to function with drugs and alcohol mixed with his brand of issues, problems or ailments. If he suddenly had other people’s problems, he wouldn’t know the first place to start.
He was right.
Despite many of our maladaptive coping mechanisms, we are familiar with and equipped to handle our own problems.
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At the same period in my life, I had therapy supervisors who gave me sage advice. One supervisor, a wise, progressive thinker told me: “all of us have themes in our lives. We are all clients and we all have certain ways of thinking and behaving that are thematic.” I understood this to mean most people have fixed beliefs related to their childhoods and their families; they carry mom and dad into all future relationships. Others have a default victim mentality and blame any number of things or people for their issues. There are a thousand and one other traits or themes we carry with us at any given time, and we can choose to operate from historical experiences OR we can make choices from a new vantage point.
Giving this concept ample thought as well, I found some solace. We have imperfect opportunities to make perfect choices. Our problems are our own, individually, and we no longer have to hold onto other people’s problems. The icky stuff we carry from our parents or grandparents is old. It’s probably ingrained so deeply in us that we rarely recognize our choices. In other words, we don’t know the boundary or line where one person ends and where we begin. The problems blur and smash together, forming one interwoven knot. But guess what?! We get to decide what problems are ours to solve, to shelve for another day and which to throw away.
My close friend Kim revealed feeling “weirdly optimistic” thinking about her own problems and the themes of her life. She says there’s some hope because she most certainly has the tools to handle her problems, and needs to utilize her strongest copings skills.
This is the long way of saying I’ll stick with my own problems, too. What have I learned? I’ve learned that I don’t want to carry other people’s problems around…and I have multiple opportunities to get back on the right course.
- Please visit my Coaching page to learn more and schedule a consultation with me.
- If you’re in the Los Angeles area, I’ll be co-hosting a FREE workshop with my partner, Kim. Our topic is “putting yourself out there.” Date: Sunday, April 9 in Pasadena. Please email us for more information.