Wednesday, March 19, 2008

It's a Dirty Job

When we start to fall apart, it is so incredibly easy to point fingers; pin blame. Sure, we can see that we may have a hand in our circumstances, but so often we’re more concerned with what other people have done to contribute to our strife and unhappiness.

This rings particularly true with significant others. We allow ourselves to get so entangled in one another’s lives—any step our counterpart makes seems to have the power to destroy every shred of our wellbeing.

When I was in my trickiest relationship, and going to counseling once a week, I would analyze my boyfriend continually. I’d tally up his flaws and think about how I could fix him, help him become “more together.” I would tell my therapist how he was all over the place—talking marriage one minute and biting off my head the next. Insisting a certain photograph would make a good engagement announcement, then packing his bags to move out of my apartment. But he was the product of a bad divorce and he had a hard childhood and a broken spirit and on and on.

I was so mired in his mess I couldn’t see what was going on with ME. And then one day, my counselor dropped a line from AA on me.

Keep your own side of the street clean.

It immediately evoked Sesame Street-like images of a cute little sidewalk with my couch, scrapbooks, cats and home accessories strewn about it. And it wasn’t as spot-free as it could’ve been. But it was a lot cleaner than my boyfriend’s.

The problem, though, was that pointing out the trash and emotional debris on his side did me no good. It didn’t make my side suddenly tornado into order and tidy itself up. It was simply a deflection device.

The only way to make my life a better place to live was to stop pointing out his dust bunnies and start doing something about my own. Because the bottom line was: It wasn’t his fault my sidewalk looked the way it did. It was my fault. I made every decision that led me to my mess, and even assessment by comparison wouldn’t make that mess clean.

Now I find myself regularly taking stock of my side of the street. And I try to catch myself from complaining, “You stink!” when someone else’s garbage starts wafting my way. Instead, I walk over, light a scented candle and get back to sweeping out my gutter. Because nobody has to live in my filth except me.


Mr. Wonderful said...

First off, for those that haven't met me, yes I'm real and not just a figment of her imagination.

Sunshine, if my trash ever blows to your side of the street, feel free to grab the leaf blower from the pile in my back yard and blow it back over to me.

Big Sister said...

Mr. Wonderful-
How cute are you? Now the whole cyber world can see that you are just as wonderful as Mel Heth brags about. See you on Easter!

Buffy said...

Personal responsibility, especially when it comes to relationships, is hard work.

Just had a similar conversation with my significant other last night.

Soooo much easier to play the blame game.

PoopyPants said...

I wondered if Mr. Wonderful read the blog...

We will see you on Easter, I'm currently trying to see if we can find some stories to top the ones you heard last time, hopefully none of them will be about me as you know too much already!!

Lara said...

I'm jealous of Mr. Wonderful.

I need to get out the Lysol and rubber gloves because my side of the street is nasty.

Mel Heth said...

Lara, your side of the street is not nasty—it just might need a little spring cleaning. Let me know if you want to borrow Mr. W's leaf blower...

Amy Turpin said...

WOW!!!! Who needs therapy, I just need to read this every day and maybe I can clean up my sidewalk. Did she say anything about having a yard sale to clear out the 30 or so years of stuff I have stored on my sidewalk???