Willpower is a scarce, limited and very difficult for me to replenish resource for me.
I can push myself to do things, but in my experience, they are rarely replenishing our nourishing. It costs me to tolerate the world, to give my best, but I don’t seem to get rewarded for that effort.
There are a number of reasons for this. I have a huge deficit of willpower from a decade spent taking care of my parents and then two years of penury as my sister struggled with the estate and failed to do the work to follow my mother’s wishes about the distribution of her assets. I have been going deep, reaching to places where most people don’t really go, which has left me with even less tolerance for small talk.
This combination of a life in service, primarily to people with Aspergers, and the experience of being a deep, queer theologian has left me depleted.
I learned early that other people want to feel comfortable in the world, not challenged or disquieted. They didn’t want to face their own emotions and thoughts, rather they wanted to erase and silence anything and anyone that made them uncomfortable, wanted to remove phobogenic objects.
They wanted me to act in a way that served them, in other words, or they felt justified in attacking or ostracizing me for my queer and smart behaviour. Too smart, too intense, too questioning, too whatever.
My sister had an “emergency” yesterday. She had left an application for a juried gallery show until the deadline. It involved writing submissions and using the computer to upload images.
Her poor planning, coming from her own weakness, her own lack of momentum, her own brokenness, became my emergency.
I had to spend hours go around with her on her statement, then I had to be told that her friends thought the result was too artsy, had too much of my stink on it. Okay, it’s her statement, it has to reflect her. I can’t be too invested in it because I don’t own it, have to be able to let it go as I have let so much of my hard work, effort and soul go.
Then I had to wait while she did her errands, on hold for her needs. She took my focus and my day. Eventually she needed me to drive to her house and hold her hand through the submission, being there for her in a way that she just tells me she cannot be there for me.
I had really been focusing on change in the last week, on pushing myself beyond just being that person who serviced the family. But she needed it, so she just asked for my willpower to do the work that I made look so easy, demanded that I slip into concierge mode one more time, suborning my own needs into hers.
By the time I had to go there, I was so consumed that I knew that the best outcome was just to help and get some satisfaction from that. I was already wasted, shot and cracked, so I may as well do something for a family member who I have always given my energy and my love to.
And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. It’s a lovely tune, but it is not part of my experience. No matter how much I gave it was never enough. People always asked for more, not honouring my gifts but still attacking my nature. They push and they push and they push, demanding I come into and honour their world while all the time they refused to enter and respect mine.
I know how to summon the stubborn, to scrape the bottom of the tank, to enter the fray. I don’t know how to relax and be replenished, feeling safe and cared for.
My brother attacked me for working so hard on my father’s funeral, echoing his wife in telling me that a funeral is a time for others to take care of you. That’s why no one from his family would even do a reading at the service. Of course, I worked so hard because I was taking care of my mother, honouring her beloved partner in a way that would affirm her life and her relationship.
When my mother died, though, my brother couldn’t even sit with us that evening. His wife told him the kids had school the next day.
If you should let loose at a funeral because it is time for others to take care of you, who took care of me that night, the one who had given more than seemed humanly possible to take care of the parents?
My experience of life is that others always felt entitled to demand my willpower, but never felt obligated to return the love. The first post on this blog, from Thanksgiving 2005, is about how my mother offered grace, valuing my sister for the lovely person she is, and valuing me for how much I do for them. My sister got to be a human being, I was just a human doing, a carer and a giver even though I am an asshole.
My sister again took my willpower in service of her needs. “Go and make a good life,” I would tell her when she felt guilty that she wasn’t spending enough time with the parents. “Only one of us is getting out of her alive, and it isn’t me.”
The best thing for me to do is to find a place, an activity, a practice that is nourishing, replenishing, and restorative, some relationship that returns to me at least as much as I put into it. That is, of course, what I have been trying to do for decades now. At least I have writing, which does let me speak, even if the dearth of feedback reminds me that I cannot expect to actually be heard or engaged. I live, as an old boss told me, in the “too hard basket.”
To me, willpower has a cost and yesterday I spent a huge supply on making sure my sister got her submission in.
Today, I scrape, unable to address the crushing demands.
SSDD, as they say.