Last week I was on a call with some friends. The four of us were planning a birthday celebration for a mutual friend of ours, and with pandemic life opening a bit, our busy schedules required us to settle for FaceTime. Although the topic was light, within seconds, I felt tension between two of the women. Outright nothing was said, but I sensed a stilted body language in one and a sharp tone in the voice of the other. I became uncomfortable and started to do my "thing." When a topic arose that I felt might make one of the women feel excluded, I quickly changed the subject. When someone threw out a party idea, I heartily agreed as not to offend, and as always, when I sense tension, I tried to keep the air light with witty, sarcastic joking.
Although the call only lasted twenty minutes, when it was over, I was exhausted. And extremely irritated. Not at my girlfriends but at myself.
I am a human emotional thermometer. I understand now it is a coping strategy I developed from a very young age. Being raised in an alcoholic home that, although never violent, was highly unpredictable. I often feared for my safety and that of my little sister. However, I found it was safest to deal with it if I was always on the alert. Untrusting of their words, I instead became hyper-aware of my mom's body language, the sound of her voice, and the look in her eye, and always listening to the sound of my dad's voice tone and volume. Feeling safe in my belief that if I knew what was going on in the house, I could act accordingly; the caretaker, the appeaser, or just silently slipping away into my room, not to make anything worse.
It is a skill I have carried over into adulthood. I have over the years accepted the fact that I will automatically take the temperature of any room I am in, even virtual. Like breathing or blinking, it just happens. And if I sense something is amiss, my internal alert system goes off, and depending on the situation, my body goes into a fight or flight mode. My stomach clenches, my heart races, my shoulders tighten, my vision blurs, and my ears ring. Unfortunately, for years it went unmanaged, causing problems not only in my relationships, especially with my husband and my oldest son, but it made me sick. Very sick.
It has been the most challenging part of my recovery process from anorexia. I have had to learn to be uncomfortable. Not just physically, like when I have had to overeat food or move my body less in efforts to gain weight, but emotionally. I've had to learn to sit through the discomfort rather than numbing it, fixing it, or running from it. And I have been successful for the most part. For example, I've become more accepting of my unease over my husband's struggles because they belong to him. I've learned to breathe through my worry about my son's lifestyle choices because they are his decisions. And I have allowed myself to sit and feel grief over the loss of my mom because she is gone, and that I cannot change.
It has been my challenge to accept that I cannot control everything and everyone so that I will feel comfortable, and sometimes I forget that. And I try to fix what isn't mine to fix. But, as a result, I fail to allow those I love the grace and dignity of their thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
I have to remind myself to get out of their way and stay focused on my own.