by Anna Ervin
For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of one day having a big family. Those who know me well are probably laughing as they read this (I’ve never been a fan of the idea of having kids), but today we’re not talking about family in the traditional sense of the word.
For years, I have had a recurring dream where I find myself in a large house, surrounded by people from both my past and present. Over the years, the souls who have occupied this house with me have changed, over time becoming fuzzy in my memory. However, the dream is always the same.
It feels like a vacation at first, and I’m running around excitedly ensuring that everyone has the best time. This is what I do best, the place in which I thrive. I’ve always been an entertainer, constantly seeking the thrill of making people feel warm and fuzzy.
In this setting, the faces that appear in my dream feel like family. Sometimes old friends from high school, others, they are new acquaintances from work. Regardless, when they approach me in my dream world I recognize a feeling of deep understanding and love for that person.
At first my efforts in pleasing this crowd are rewarded ten-fold, finding smiling faces in every room of the home we share. “This is where I’m meant to be,” I think, as I embark on yet another mission to bring someone in my circle joy and comfort. Eventually, however, things begin to take a nasty turn.
It always happens before I can stop it. The fun we’ve had begins to reap consequences, debts start bubbling to the surface for the steep price of each individual moment of joy, and I find myself so exhausted from keeping everyone satisfied that I can’t put nearly the same energy into cleaning up the messes I helped create (though this never stops me from trying).
Once again I find myself running around excitedly, trying to ensure that all of these problems are solved without anyone else having to break a sweat. Only this time, I look around and the faces I adore so much are no longer smiling back at me. The joy in their eyes is suddenly replaced with discontent, doubt, and blame. I feel alone. I begin cursing them for not stepping up to offer a hand. They look back at me with confusion.
How can I blame them? They had never asked for this, to receive my love and devotion so intensely. They were simply just existing in my world, and I made it my own personal mission to entertain, please, or “help” them— emphasis on the quotation marks around help.
This all feels so familiar. I’ve been here a hundred times before, and not just in my dreams. I have revisited this setting various times throughout my life. The house might not be relevant, the faces occupying it rarely the same, but I always find myself falling into the same pattern. It has taken me years of dreaming this same dream, existing in the same pattern of reality, to finally realize that I’ve been trapped in a cycle of codependent behaviors and their consequences.
I have spent my entire life trying to please everyone around me, and if they’re already content with me, I take it a step further by attempting to “help” or “fix” them. This makes me feel needed, validated, and appreciated. I have been relying on the dependency of others to fulfill my own sense of self worth. Mirroring my own feelings to reflect the joy, amusement, confusion, or discontent that I find in the eyes of those who surround me, rather than to sit with and acknowledge my own emotions.
As I find myself embracing these lessons in healing and growth, I’ve struggled with how to finish this story. For months I’ve stumbled over words, as this chapter of my life is still being written. I explained this to one of my sweet friends recently, and he told me that no matter where I decide to go from here, that I should act courageously. And that gave me chills.
To hear those words; to think of the bravery it would require to start establishing healthy boundaries, to honor my own feelings all alone, and to build a big house within myself honestly felt… terrifying. But, isn’t that the whole point? To let go of the safety that can be found in validation from others, and to step into the discomfort of knowing that no matter how much I allow others to lean on me, I’ll never truly be satisfied until I learn to provide for myself first.
“The Universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.” -Elizabeth Gilbert