The key


Key painting by drftg

I went off to my ACA meeting Saturday. I’ve missed it for weeks, because a lot of times I’ve felt too overwhelmed to venture out, and other times i’ve just had other commitments. It was a problematic experience, set off by the loss of a key.

When I got there, I saw a group of people, a few of whom I was familiar with, huddled on the steps of the church where the meeting takes place. I joined them, and learned that we couldn’t get into the meeting room as the key had been misplaced. I immediately felt stressed out and let down, but sat on a step and waited to see what would emerge.

Eventually, it was decided we’d have the meeting in a nearby parkette. I felt sick to my stomach at the thought of this. Basically because though able to function, I was feeling really fragile as a result of therapy on the previous day. I would not have felt able to attend a social function, but I’d come to the meeting because the fairly strict format is comfortable for me – I know what to expect and what my part is. I didn’t expect that meeting in a park would be private enough, I was worried about what passers by would think, and I didn’t know what to expect. I was freaked.

At the same time, I didn’t want to seem freaked. Although a few people left, I decided to stay and participate anyway. I’d come all this way. I felt very awkward, but walking to the park I feel in beside the woman who had taken charge, and started an awkward small talk type conversation with her. Fine.

As we sat down, I very carelessly remarked to two people who were saying hey, it’s nice to be in the park – for some reason, I said, what do you mean, it sucks we’re in the park. Or some such. Then after, some other woman said something about how she was glad to be outdoors, and I agreed that at least the weather was good. She seemed to be demanding agreement.

As the meeting progressed, it turned out it was fine. We were in a secluded corner and no one seemed to notice us at all. Everyone shared, including me, though I didn’t feel that coherent.

When the man next to me shared, it emerged that he had misplaced the key, and felt terrible about it. He obviously took this very much to heart, and it was a huge issue for him. And of course I realized that the people sitting around him were trying to make him feel better, at the start, with the remarks about the park. I felt awful, for having said I didn’t like it. And now it was all working out well, I felt really bad I’d said anything.

The meeting finished, and I tried to say something about how I was glad this guy had lost the key, the park had been so pleasant. And he kind of jumped away from me – it obviously wasn’t OK. I felt embarrassed and bad.

I left. I waited to say goodbye to someone, but everyone was talking to someone, so I just left without saying anything.

And at home, I felt like I’d been partaking of something pretty dysfunctional. This whole rigamarole about the key seemed kind of crazy. First of all, they kept it a secret as to who had misplaced the key, so I didn’t know something everyone else knew. This was supposed to ‘protect’ this guy who did this dastardly deed. Well, anyone can make a mistake. It’s really so understandable – why did he need protecting?

Second, when I  put my foot in my mouth by protesting, and this key guy was sitting right beside me, no one said the truth. They’re just all trying to get me to feel something else – hey, you don’t feel worried about the meeting suddenly being in a park, you actually feel happy because you’re out in nature.

Third, I then beat myself up for having my fairly understandable reservations about the park, and being disappointed. When really, those were just my feelings and reactions. They weren’t hurting anyone. Or if they were, it wasn’t my fault, I wasn’t mean about it.

Anyway. It wasn’t until I got home that this whole thing became more clear to me. And I thought, wow, I’m going to this group to get over being dysfunctional, yet here I go. What would have been good, is to discuss how I felt in my share. Of course, it didn’t occur to me to deal with what was going on as it was happening.

I’m now up in the middle of the night worrying about this craziness. I especially hated being managed by this one woman, who intervened several times to smooth something over, when I didn’t even know it was a thing. I hate caretaking behaviour. To me, it’s deeply disrespectful of the other person. It’s trying to control people so things will be ‘nice’. I guess I react to that so strongly because my family does that – everything must appear ‘nice’ – it’s never OK to have your actual feelings.

I think it’s about boundaries. To be a healthy situation, it needs to be OK for everyone to have their feelings. My feelings belong to me, and as long as I’m not blaming you for them, it is healthy to express them. It should be fine for me to be upset that we are not able to meet in our usual location, and to express that. That’s just who I am in that moment.

If I go back, I might still share on this whole scenario. The guy who lost the key got to speak of his feelings extensively. I want to share my own feelings also. Not to shame or disturb anyone else. Just because I have them, and they’re OK.

  1. Rachel said:

    What a total shit show. Them, tip-toeing around, not you. I love how you saw that their behavior was really not effective at all, and kind of weird. If you want my opinion.

    • Ellen said:

      Thanks Rachel. In a way, it’s no big deal, but because I feel I have to sit on my feelings a lot in my life, it’s important to me to be able to speak up. Really, this caretaking type stuff, trying to make things better by not speaking about it, happens all the time IRL. I’m just tired of it.

  2. leb105 said:

    I know what you mean that it doesn’t occur to you to share what’s happening in the moment!

    It sounds right on that this situation was reminiscent of what occurred in your family – smoothing and suppressing. Maybe it takes a relative outsider to see it, and make it visible to the others.

    • Ellen said:

      Sharing in the moment seems to be one of the most difficult things to do.

      Thanks Laura

  3. cardamone5 said:

    Don’t worry about what happened at the park. You didn’t know about the person who lost teh key so your reaction was fine, and anyway, you can’t change what happened.

    I meant to say in my comment to your last post that I think you’re on to something about feelings of abandonment and therapy. I think this is one of the reasons I have trouble opening up, because I don’t like the experience of talking for a set amount of time and then having to stop. It feels like being rejected.

    • Ellen said:

      Interesting. It can feel like being rejected – it is kind of artificial. For me, the feeling of being nurtured can over-ride those feelings of loss – I feel like I’ve gotten something I came for, so it’s OK. I think also, it’s important to discuss these feelings in the therapy. When I went for therapy many years ago, I didn’t know it was possible to discuss these things. It’s made a big difference to me.

  4. It’s funny (strange-funny) how you go to things with people to get better, but of course they are all reproducing behaviours from their original dysfunction. This group of people all grew up a little bit like you, where feelings could not be openly expressed. Only the “designated feeler” (my made-up term) got to feel things, and everyone else had to pretzel around them. No wonder you don’t always want to go. You’re meeting your family again, only a few more steps removed.

    • Ellen said:

      They did grow up a bit like me. And are trying to recover. It’s easy to fall into strange patterns with people wounded as I was.

      I think the difference from meeting my family though is I would be able to talk about it in the group, if I could get a grip. And it would probably be OK.

      Thank you.

  5. Meep said:

    It sounds like you were the healthiest person in the group that day. You were respectful but open. Everyone else was protecting someone and hiding something that as you rightly say, didn’t need to happen. It sounds very like ‘unhealthy families’ and doesn’t allow for proper boundaries or the taking of responsibility. There was an elephant in the room and it wasn’t yours!

    • Ellen said:

      Thanks Meep. I think I could have done a lot better on the authenticity front, to tell the truth.

  6. Thanks for clarifying a problem I am having. A person needing to control everything so that it is all nice. I have a person like that in my life right now. Identifying what is happening will help me resolve what to do about it. Thank you for sharing your experience. I think you handled yourself very well. I also experienced where you want to say goodbye but everyone is talking with someone else so you don’t say anything and leave.

    • Ellen said:

      It is so awkward and guilt producing – being around a person like that. Glad you could relate to what I wrote about Ruth. I hope to learn how to handle this type of thing better, but the first step is realizing what is happening. The goodbye thing feels so awkward. Thanks.

      • We were well trained to never interrupt…. I sometimes felt invisible.

  7. Cat said:

    You are absolutely spot on with this one, Ellen. Geeze. How ironic that the members of the ACA meeting would automatically launch into dysfunction mode with secrets and emotional manipulation. I would bet that every single one of them initially had reservations about a public park, the ones that left certainly did, but the others were in protection mode for the key man. When you were walking to the park, the leader woman had every opportunity to fill you in on the mishap, which any sensible person would have understood…tut… bad that you were dragged into this.

    In saying all that, when I started reading this post, I thought, ‘she’s doing it again… expressing herself with little thought of any potential rejection.’ It’s unfortunate how it turned out, Ellen, but you’re blameless and I only admire your ability to come out and say what was blatantly obvious to everyone, even if it did turn out an okay venue in the end.

    • Ellen said:

      It’s true – probably no one was happy about having a meeting in a park. I assumed everyone else was fine with it.

      I really think I could have expressed myself a lot more clearly – at the time I just felt guilty and at fault – the analysis came later. What I said wasn’t considered at all – just popped out, so I can’t really take credit. I think what matters is I thought about it after and thought about what I might do or say next time.

      Thanks Cat

  8. Wow, that all sounds crazy. Why couldnt they just be truthful? I’d be mad if it was me in your situation. Dont blame yourself for putting your foot in it, ok? You werent to know, how could you? No one told you the truth. XX

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