For some time, I’ve been trying to gain a deeper understanding of the concept of “Being, not doing”. When I started writing about it, this morning, I realized I have more thoughts on this topic than one post can hold. So, without knowing exactly what part two will look like, I decided to call this part one.At my CoDA meeting last night, we read Mary R’s story in the Blue Book. Mary R is apparently one of the founders of the CoDA organization. While the concept of codependency had been around for a few years, she and her husband were instrumental in turning the idea into a twelve-step program.
After we read the story, the floor was open for sharing. Before anyone could begin, a fairly new member said, “I have a question. What does she mean by ‘needlessness’?”
In the story, Mary R wrote that needlessness was one of her character defects. She said that this is what prevented her from sincerely asking God to help her with her seventh step.
I looked around the room, and no one seemed ready to answer the newcomer's question, so I gave it a shot. “What I got out of it is, sometimes we deny that we have needs. I think she was saying that she was unable to acknowledge her needs and unwilling to ask for help meeting those needs. Because she thought she was supposed to be without needs, she didn’t even feel as if she could as God for help.”
I looked around, taking in the affirming nods, and felt good about my answer. Saying it aloud had the extra advantage of clarifying the concept in my own mind.
We all have needs. No one can meet all their needs. Yes, we are adults and we are supposed to be able to take care of ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we never need any help.
My father is an excellent example of someone who struggles with needlessness. He is an old man, closer to ninety than eighty. He had a bad fall a year or so ago which has left him with chronic pain and a great deal of instability when he’s on his feet. One need he has, which he refuses to recognize, is the need for help when he’s walking. He will not use a cane, and often refuses the offer of a steadying hand. He is so certain that he is not supposed to need anything that he would risk another fall rather than accept help.
Maybe you're thinking, Sure, he needs help. He's an old man. But not me...
Consider what you would do if you were suddenly stricken with an appendicitis. I’m fairly certain you would have to accept the help of a good surgeon as well as nurses, orderlies, and other hospital staff. There's proof that you sometimes have needs.
But what about when there's no crises? Shouldn’t I be able to meet my own needs, then?
I believe the anser to that question is no. We are able to take care of ourselves in many ways, but refusing to consider asking for help in meeting our needs is unhealthy and self-defeating. We are not alone on this planet and there's no reason to behave as if we are.
Then why do we do it? Why is is such a common thing in our society to think we have to do everything ourselves?
Denying our needs is something we were taught. If you were told not to cry or chastised for expressing anger, you were being taught to deny your need to feel and process emotions. If you were forced to do things you didn’t want to do, you were being taught to deny your need for autonomy. If good eating and sleeping habits were not modeled by your parents, you were taught to deny your own most basic needs. If positive attention and touch were replaced by neglect or abuse, you were taught to deny your need for affection, physical contact, praise, and affirmation.
Thinking about this, last night, I realized that I carry needlessness to an extreme. I have a tendency to look at even basic needs like exercise, food and sleep as optional. They're not! Is there anything more absurd? I don't even allow ME to meet my needs.
I have to remind myself constantly that it’s okay to take time for myself, that hunger and fatigue are not feelings I should ignore, that pain is neither a reason to panic nor to dissociate from my life. Physical and mental discomfort are clues that I have a need waiting to be met. It’s an opportunity for self-care and sometimes self-care includes reaching out to God or other people for help.
But, we don't want to completely rely on others, right? When is it okay to ask for help?
My therapist has a “three strike rule”. This means when I suddenly discover an obstacle in my path – an emotional block, an upcoming event, an unexpected twist in my life-path – I am to make three attempts to solve the problem myself. I may try to walk around it, push it out of the way, and step over it. If none of those things work, it’s time to determine what kind of help I need. Is it something I can let go, and allow God to handle? Or, do I need to call a therapist, sponsor, or friend?
Acknowledging my needs is an important step in learning to BE. Ignoring my needs leads to dissociating from my life. Instead, I choose to move forward consciously, taking time for myself as needed, happily offering a hand to others when they ask, and accepting support of all kinds, when that's what I need.