I have put a post-it on my phone. It says "Take a breath. Do you want to take/make this call?" My friend Super H gave me this idea last night after a conversation that involved me in tears, blowing my nose in her ear after I had gone from a place of calm to a place of freak-out-ed-ness (yes, may not be a word, but best describes how I felt) following a conversation on the phone with another person.
I have a problem with the phone. It is my addiction. Not so much the talking/gossiping/fun parts (which I do enjoy) but the "does the person on the other end need me to fix something" part (that part = addiction). I always answer it. Always. (That is very finite, but I do answer it almost all the time.) I/we can be eating dinner, watching a movie, on the way out the door, sleeping, in the middle of another conversation, grieving, getting ready to walk the dog, taking a nap, and on and on. I know the desire is to be wanted/needed by the person on the other end of the phone. What can I do for you? How can I help? Is everything okay? And when they say, "Is this a good time?" Oh sure I say. And sometimes it really is. And sometimes it is okay to pause a movie to talk to a friend. I love my conversations with family and friends - especially because I am on the other side of the country from many of them. But sometimes it is not a good time. I have caller-id and I shouldn't have answered. I am busy. I am having my own moment. I am getting ready to go somewhere. I am spending time with my husband. But my need to take care of others means that I don't take care of myself and my other relationships. Then, when I am needed, I sometimes may not be fully present because I am spread to thin. The reward is helping the other person, but if I am really honest, the reward is knowing that I am needed. Knowing that I am the person who will be called first. The next part is that when I express my needs (which in the moment feels very brave and something I have thought about for a long time - I think I am setting a boundary), they do not realize I am actually coming from a place of having sacrficed my needs to begin with. So possibly my needs come out as sounding like something else. Then they are annoyed, they misunderstand, they are hurt.
Yesterday something happened to cause me to think about this phone thing (again). Making calls and answering calls. Sometimes people we have relationships with trigger us in certain ways - that is what happens whether we want it to or not. And before I talk with those people (because I do still want them in my life), I need to make sure I have my own self-protection in place so that I do not accept their invitations of guilt and other things. Maybe they even feel the same but haven't realized it yet. It really is okay not to answer the phone. To sit in the quiet and not share things with another person unless you feel comfortable with how they might react. To sit in the quiet and just share things with yourself and whatever you feel is greater than you - just to tell your thoughts/feelings/ideas to the universe, the god your heart desires, your self with a capital S (as I think Oprah says). And it is okay if you cannot be the support person for another (or everyone) in every moment of your life. Just because this information age has given us so many ways to get in touch with our friends and loved ones doesn't mean you always have to be available. At the same time, it is also okay to be the person people call for support/advice/shoulder to cry on. Just make sure that you are also meeting your own needs - that you identify these needs daily so you can do a self check-in to make sure you really are meeting them. That is the key. Now if only I could remember that...
Take a breath.
Do you want to make/take this call?
the fine print reads: do you have your own self-care in place if this person wants you to drop everything for them, or if they do not react to your needs in this moment. If the answer is no, save yourself and make another choice. Leave that phone alone.
updated at 5:30pm, 10/10/05
PS - They can also leave a message.
(photo: me with my addiction, 10/10/05, canon digital rebel)