About a month ago I had a heavy shelling day. There were several crying spells--fat, hot tears that burned as much in my heart as they did on my face. A few episodes of overreaction and raised voice. A long phone conversation helping me get perspective, and that was all by mid-day. By the time I fell into bed, I felt like a failure for handling the day so badly, losing my calm, letting things get to me, and misdirected my anger and frustration.
That evening I wrote an email to the friend who helped me get perspective and said:
"I guess, it was just things coming at me faster than I could respond to well. I know that firestorms like that prepare me for the next time, and I will respond better next time. Firestorm days are hard, though. They just are."They still are, but I was right. I handled today better than I handled the day a month ago, and the next time I'll do even better, but I won't handle it better by simply crawling into bed and feeling sorry for myself for having a lousy day that beat me up. Instead, I look at the elements of the day.
Where did I feel I got hit hardest?
What hurt me? Why? What power was there in the words or actions that affected me? How do I keep from giving that power next time?
How can I react better? If I reacted in misdirected anger, what/who was really the target? How could I have dealt with that better?
If I overreacted, how could I have reacted better? Do I need to ask forgiveness?
If I did get mad or hurt, is there an action or words that triggers those reactions every time? If so, how do I need to address it so I control my reaction instead of being controlled by the circumstance, words, or act?
A lot of times my rough days are simply my not choosing responsibility to make them better or to protect them. Frankly, it is over more that I don't protect them than anything else.
For instance, one of the things that really frustrates me are people who have talked to me once or twice--or not at all--in the last two months, read my blog, and assume they have enough information to make judgments or offer advice on my actions, my family's health and coping, or --more specifically-- how well I am handling things are not.
This happens on a weekly basis, and on a weekly basis, my blood pressure goes up.
I really don't understand how people think a thirty or forty minute phone call or maybe two calls over a period of two months gives them any insight into what our home is like, and I would think folks would realize if they have known us for years and was shocked when Rob and I separated because there were lots of things we never shared, there is a novel of information I'm not going to put on my blog for public consumption. I keep thinking surely they realize that they have the equivalent of a few frames of in an epic movie. However, based on those few frames--or in the case of one person, nothing at all--they want to give advice or pass judgment.
Did I mention my blood pressure goes up?
So, my pondering tonight is what to do with this particular type of shelling because I'm tired of it getting to me. I need to find a response that fits within my belief system and my boundaries, and sometimes that is the hard part--setting boundaries that don't make folks happy.
The honest truth is my thoughts go something like this: "You don't know what is going on in our home. What makes you think we need your advice in the first place? What gives you the idea that simply reading my blog makes you any more informed than any other reader out there? And if you are going to ask a question, have the courtesy to listen while I answer fully without hearing only what you want so you can have an excuse to drop in what you want to say. If you really just want to tell me what you think, could you save me time by putting it in an email so I can skim it and hit delete?"
Sound horrible...or honest?
So why don't I say that? Because I might hurt someone's feelings. Because they might get offended. Because they might not speak to me anymore.
But, if I associate conversations with them as the equivalent of being blasted by so-called friendly fire, do I care if they talk to me again? What am I trying to save? If I cringe when I see their number on called id, what is the point of worrying if they don't call?
Usually, I just quit talking. It doesn't matter if I talk. It quickly becomes apparent the person is not actually listening to me or only listening to what they want to hear. In such cases, I end up wasting time I could be using for purposeful things and hope I mumble "uh-huh" and "m-hmm" at the right moment so they think I am listening instead of making a grocery list in my head. This is being nice?
What if I were just honest and said, "You know what, I appreciate your call, but really, I feel good about where we are and how we are doing. If I need you, I'll call."
Or just drop the whole diplomatic thing like I did last week when someone called and went right into criticizing choices made concerning Mom's health and care. The woman was about three sentences in when I firmly said, "I have had a long day, and I do not have the mental energy or the remotest interest in explaining our choices to you, not that it is your business anyway. I need to go now." And, without giving her a chance to reply, I ended the call.
The reality is people are always going to chime in with opinions and advice. Unless one becomes a hermit, it is unavoidable, but I truly believe I can control my response to them and even choose to stop the invasion in an area they have no right to because they have not chosen to know us well enough for the liberties they want to take.
While I try to always respond with a kind tone and kind words, sometimes a perfectly controlled response is simply, "You don't have the right to give advice about this," or something simpler. "I don't want to talk to you about it."
Yes, I've made some folks mad. Amazingly, I still feel no guilt, and I will probably make others mad. I'll let you know if I feel guilt then, but I'm not expecting any, so don't hold your breath.
The fact is there are parts of my day I have no control over. I can't control whether my mom remembers me or not. I can't control sniffly noses or broken toys. I can't always control what will make me incredibly sad in an instant. There are things I get hit with daily that I cannot prevent or stop, and there are some that I can. I just have to take responsibility to think through ahead of time what I will do when those situations come, make a plan, if need be write it down so I don't have to "think" but can mindlessly follow the script, and then act accordingly being firm in my choice of reaction.
The right or peace-bringing reaction doesn't happen on accident. It takes honesty about what bothers me and sometimes why. It requires me to think through things and take responsibility for myself and my family. No, sometimes my choices are not popular, but my goal isn't popularity. It's peace.
Sometimes the way to find peace on firestorm days is finding peace within myself in a calm moment, so I already know how to diffuse the fight before it ever starts.