Needing to Be Needed

Letting Go #2:

How many times have I leaped into the role of nurse-therapist-cheerleader-savior-martyr-clergy-psychic-servant, only to find myself left behind like some beaten-down doormat still waiting at the threshold after the owner has just pulled away in the moving van? Not even a nice, recycled rubber doormat, just one of those pathetic misshapen coir rugs where all the fiber has worn off in the middle and the underside is rotting. When you pick it up, it sheds and disintegrates because it has been over-used. Temporary. Replaceable. And you’d think I’d learn. But I line up again for my next doormat duty. Why? Because it’s my drug of choice.

Or it used to be. I’m slowly weaning myself off this insidious addiction. To not volunteer for every dysfunctional role that crosses my path. To smile and empathize, to be kind and listen–and then walk away before the other person and I engage in the co-dependent waltz. The timing is critical. There has to be equal sharing, unilateral status and unconditional friendship—with absolutely no strings attached. Earlier in my life, there were plenty of strings. I could have built the universe’s largest ball of string. I’m proud to say that now, once the little alarm goes off inside my gut that tells me that I have entered the land of dysfunction, that things have gotten out of serious whack, I have the tools to cut those strings.

How did I get here? I was born with a job. Very simply, my job was to make my mother feel better. She needed me–until my brother came along. But even though I felt the demotion, I kept on trying to do my job long after that position was already filled. I was like the employee who keeps showing up months after the pink slip. Pathetic doormat, huh? And sometimes, that door would open, and I’d get to make my mother and others feel better. I’d entertain and charm and fall over myself trying to please everyone. And it would last for a few hours or even a day, and then they’d be miserable again because they were waiting for someone else to make them happy other than themselves. And I’d feel horrible because it wasn’t me.

As the years passed, the most needy person and I would find each other in a crowded room like star-crossed lovers. We’d have a whirlwind romance, full of the usual wonder/awe and the whole “kindred spirit” kismet. There was never any small talk with me—right to the drama and struggle straight out of a Russian novel. Truth be told, I never felt “alive” unless I was rushing to save someone. And I completely dismissed the dear people in my life who were trying to help me. Because I was too busy embodying a life preserver. I just didn’t know how to exist without BEING NEEDED.

Now it’s baby steps. It’s no accident I work at a job where people need me—for about five minutes. As a librarian, I help people find a book, locate a website, set up an email, distract an antsy child, or spell a word for their resume. I’ve helped a woman send money to a grandson in prison, and cleaned up questionable substances in the picture book area. And I get plenty in return—a smile, a hug, sometimes cookies, once even flowers. And then we go on with our lives, and maybe even pay it forward. No strings attached. Nobody is keeping count. It’s simply pure giving and receiving. And I am slowly learning that it goes both ways—that it’s okay for me to need help. Most of all, it’s okay to just BE.

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