I’ve done it again.
There you were, seamlessly switching between The History of The Stapler on Discovery, playing Mega Extreme Chinese Checkers online and munching on your fourth tepid tofu taquito, when BOOM! There it was – I put an expectation on you. Huh? Where did that come from, you ask, licking the lumpy guac off your fingers. I’ll tell you where that came from – my ego. Ahhh! Not that again. I know. Bear with me here.
We all know how expectations work, don’t we? For this cat, it starts with coming into a relationship of any kind with an open mind and clean slate. Whether it’s a co-worker, romantic partner, new pal…it doesn’t matter. Things are fresh and exciting. I am always surprised at what I hear and learn from them. The twists and turns are new and different, like carving the first lines on a newly laid ski run. But then I start to have some assumptions about that person. I start to see patterns in them and place some weight on those patterns…perceived or real. I start to expect certain things from them, even when they don’t even know what it is I am expecting from them. There are certain behaviours that I count on to keep me having a certain control over them, or at least keeping things in check. And when they fail to perform like the circus seals I have psychically transformed them into, I get one of those pesky resentments. A fairweather friend turned into a faux-feathered fiend…all by a simple Kreskin sleight-of-mind trick.
And of course we know where resentments lead. To mental mayhem. A trip down maim-ery lane. A never ending shot to the solar plexus. If you’re looking for trouble, resentment has the map. And it continues to point to the place between my ears and stirs up the Choleric and Melancholic humors. It shows itself in these unmet expectations and allows me to wallow in whatever it is I like to wallow in – in the old days it would certainly be booze. Self-pity is also a dreamy wallow. Passive-aggressive behaviour suited me fine too. Hell, throw in some sarcasm in there and we everything we need for a good old fashioned Pissy Picnic.
When I was growing up, there was the sense that I could do whatever it is I wanted in life. My parents blanketed me with love and gave me no expectations on what they wanted me to be…other than happy. They told me that if I wanted to be a garbage collector, to do my best in trying to be the best garbage collector I could be. This lightened up any sort of self-imposed pressure to perform or live up to expectations. I truly did think the world was my Malpeque oyster and had the nerdy dreams that only the dorkiest of dorks could have (I wanted to program computer games for the Commodore 64! I wanted to be a champion D&D player! I wanted to kiss a girl before 30!) As I grew up, I started to put pressure on myself. For whatever reasons, I started to loathe myself. I never had faith in my abilities – I was told through several beatings and countless taunting by school mates that my abilities were not appreciated, thank you very much. Straight A students need not apply here. Go tune up an engine, drink dad’s beer and talk about tits that you’d like to touch and you’ll be cool. So self-esteem went south and so did my parent’s wonderful ideals of open-mindedness and confidence in me. I felt broken before picking up the first drink.
Ironically, as my life spiraled downward, and my self-value plummeted, the expectations I put on myself skyrocketed to the sphere of impossibility. It’s as if my ego was writing cheques that my authentic self couldn’t cash….or even get certified. I also added the expectations of others…as I falsely discerned them. So I was locked up in a position of living up to something that I created entirely that no one on earth could conceivably live up to. And when I failed (naturally) I lashed out. Sometimes to others (see sarcasm, above), but most often to myself. Drinking was truly the first act of sabotage against myself. Drinking let me either falsely believe that I could do the things I thought I was supposed to do and be, or it let me forget the Draconian dogma that I shackled myself to. Either way, it was lose-lose. Or win-win, depending on how the night ended. Most often it ended alone, and craving to be that little boy where there was so much promise.
I can look back now and see just how powerful and destructive these expectation were in my life. Not only the expectations I put on myself, and the ones I put on others, but also of the ones I thought people had of me. Those were probably just as emotionally and mentally dismantling as anything else. Because in the end, the unmet expectations lead down to anger. And anger was something I didn’t understand or know how to deal with. I just didn’t. I thought only the unhinged or the hysterical or the neanderthals did anger. Shrieking housewives and revenge seeking samurais did anger. Indignant vegan anti-seal clubbing protesters and Jerry Springer contestants did anger. But I didn’t do that. I was in control. Or so I thought. My expectations were wildly inconsistent with real life. Now, I am not talking about the base level, more objective expectations we may have in life. I have a certain expectation that my car will start when I turn the key. I have an expectation that my mail will delivered as needed. I have an expectation that the subways will run on a somewhat regular schedule. I have an expectation that I will get paid every two weeks. These aren’t the brain squeezers and heart wrenchers. These aren’t the things that meltdowns are born of. These aren’t the unmet expectations that in the past eventually got me to say “f*ck it” and pick up because I had no other way of dealing with things.
So when the real expectations started to crumble – the ones I hand crafted to induce sorrow and abject failure, I found that gin and tonics helped tone down the crushing blows. Fortified wines and ales dealt with the aftermath of yet another collapse. My body and spirit were starting to flag under the unrelenting, self-sustained pressure. You can only crush cars to near nothingness so many times before the mechanisms and pistons start to give out. And I gave out. And gave up. And I gave up in the spectacular way that only alcoholics can do it – with an impressive implosion that crumbled the authentic self and galvanized the control that the Bitch-is-Back ego had on me. I gave up having expectations at all. I stopped caring. I stopped the bleeding by cutting out the heart. I stopped putting anything on anyone. I sheathed myself in indifference and intolerance and made it a habit to push away everyone so that I wouldn’t get hurt any more. No people, no expectations. No expectations, no boo boos. Simple logic. Glug glug. More gin please.
It wasn’t so much the not having expectations on anything or anyone any more, but it was in how I reacted and lived in that mess. What I really felt was that I wasn’t worth the bother. I felt loneliness and isolation. What I experienced was that if you didn’t act or do what I thought you should do, then you didn’t love me or care for me. And that was a blow beyond words to me. I could only live that way for so long. Giving up on others and myself meant giving up on life and that is what I was doing in my drinking – a suicide by installment plan.
What I have learned since on my path, in my recovery, in my journey of healing is that no matter what, I am going to have expectations of some kind. The complete absence of expectations might be a lofty ideal, but since this is about progress and not perfection, I will assume I am inside the 40 yard line when it comes to having expectations. And that’s OK. What has shifted for me is the exploring and the taking responsibility for my responses and reactions to any perceived failure of someone living up to something I have constructed in my mind. I can’t take anything personally. I can’t imagine that everyone thinks like me (they don’t , thank God). I can’t take on what people think of me (some people are going to dislike me no matter what I do or say, so I might as well stand up for what I believe in). I have my backup plans at the ready, just in case things don’t turn out the way that I want it (and who says it’s all about how I want things to turn out – it’s not my chessboard to play on anyway). I do my best to not judge or take anyone’s inventory – who am I to do so? So in seeing that I have my weaknesses, poor habits and/or frailties like anyone else, I can be more empathetic with others when something does goes sideways. There is nothing for me to lash out against.
What has worked for this alcoholic is creating healthy boundaries with others and even myself. Being clear in what expectations I have or don’t have has aided me in moving forward spiritually, and given me added serenity. Peace of mind. Being upfront with people, especially at work, has been beneficial for me in not projecting myself onto them and then being disappointed when they don’t act the same way I would in a given situation. I have also learned to express my wishes to my friends and family when needed. I let people know where I stand when it comes to their expectations of me. I am not a faith healer nor am I yokel (well, sometimes…) but I am also willing to get out of my comfort zone and be teachable and face things I may not have wanted to face in the past. So I am not fixed, or immovable. I am learning to be flexible and stretch and grow into myself and at the same time realize that others are doing the same. So I have to cut them – and myself – some slack.
So if you’ve read this – groovy. If not, that’s alright too. My happiness and value of self and love of self is not tied into any expectancy or assumptions I have on others (as much) any more. I can only do what I can do and am given to do. I can only move with the undercurrent below the surface and not fight it. I have to have faith, pause and reflect often, look within myself, honour and accept who I am and what the Creator made me to be. Acceptance is the key.
It’s a lot less complicated than the Mega Extreme Chinese Checkers, that’s for sure.