Can we change?

I am from an alcoholic home and married to a drug addict who does not use recreational drugs (and has not for more than a quarter century). We understand our propensity for addictive behaviors.

Once upon a time we had a chronic spending problem. Me, mostly. M was my enabler, in that he never said no, never questioned me about what I would spend money on, only wanted me to be happy. We were drowing in debt and had to take some really strong steps to reverse the situation, and it was very hard on me, because of guilt and shame and anger as well as having to learn self-control and discipline. Self-examination is also no picnic in the park, unless the metaphorical picnic has armies of ants and swarms of bees.

But we mostly overcame that problem. I say “mostly” because I still feel the pull and get the rush from spending money.

In the midst of various good and bad events with close friends, I feel the stressful trigger that makes me want to consume vast quantities of sugar and spend money without any deeper thought than how it will make me feel better. And what am I doing? Planning our vacations.

This is truly nothing unusual. The bulk of our vacation travel is in the fall each year, and August is typically the month when we make plans and reservations for holiday travel. Checking our credit card statements last night online I see our hotel stay for the Reno Air Races next month have posted, as well as plane tickets and hotel reservations for Thanksgiving week in Las Vegas. It gives me a thrill knowing we are set and going somewhere fun, yet I cannot completely suppress the pang of anxiety knowing we are spending hundreds of dollars all at once. It is budgeted. The money is sitting in my checking account waiting to be deployed. I have resolved not to pay the credit card off until we receive the statement, but I may weaken and do it sooner. There is a real stress for me having too much of a balance on our credit cards.

We have changed our behavior with regard to spending and saving. I have overcome my instincts to spend every penny we have (and then some!) and instead ensure we maximize our retirement savings as well as put away funds for goals and bigger-ticket desires. I am still not going to fit anyone’s definition of frugal, but we have simple tastes and work toward a saving/spending life balance.

I am thinking about changes we each make in our behaviors and our outlook. My young friend is at this moment a joy and inspiration to me. At 20, she has more wisdom than most and has to be one of the most unselfish people I have had priviledge to meet. I do hope those positive attribues never, ever change. However, she is 20 and unsure of herself, her feelings, her choices. The baby’s father has been in contact with her the last day or two. No, not questionining or challenging the adoption, not ever wanting to meet or see little Joseph. No, it’s more like a booty call, or setting himself up to be ready when she is physically ready for a booty call.

This young man has proven to be an unreliable sort through the pregnancy, and it was easy to chalk it up to youth and immaturity. His behavior now infuriates me, yet I want to be careful how I phrase my responses when my friend discusses the situation with me. Anyone who has given birth understands the emotions and feelings right after delivery. My friend is inexperienced with men and boyfriends, Joseph’s father her one and only boyfriend to date. She feels fat and gross and undesirable right now, and his interest in rekindling their romance is the best she can hope for or do in life. M and I are quick to discourage such thoughts and strive to encourage her to continue in counseling to work on her self-esteem, but it is much like a balance beam. Too much and we sound like well-meaning but lecturing parents. Too little and it as if we offer approval or worse disinterest in her relationships and behaviors. She is cutoff from her family (for very good reasons and at her instigation) and has few close friends, which is why I am left listening to and trying to offer dating advice.

Can he change? Will he ever grow up and mature into a man of good character? Somehow I doubt it, and that grieves me. He’s young as well – only 22. I do not wish to be so cynical as to imagine there is no hope and he will be an aging cad for the balance of his days.

Contrasted with one of my longest friends, now hospitalized for a suicide attempt and struggling with phase 3 breast cancer. She is angry and upset and blames her health woes on her former spouse. Her 2 grown son, previously tossed and turned in the sea of tubulant emotions between their parents, wisely stepped out of the fray and into the safety of not communicating much with either parent until cooler head and calmer selves took hold. Now they are again tossing and turning in another storm of anger and grief with their mother’s suicide attempt and very real dangers with breast cancer. This is exacerbated by her mental instability and shrillness in insisting they choose her, choose her who is sick, and abandon their father.

How did this change happen? How did this mostly lovely person I have known for 40+ years become this raving lunatic who drives even those who love her most away from her presence?

The simple answer is a form of mental illness that I cannot understand, although I am trying. M has far more compassion and patience than I do in this situation, reminds me almost hourly that she is sick and suffering and should be forgiven. I know this, and she has my sympathy for what she is and has gone through and in my mind there is nothing for me to forgive. I could no longer tolerate being around her and had to step back and away. Where my sticking point lies is the mental instability she is exhibiting. Perhaps it was the stress of learning her husband cheated that drove her to the edge, but I do not know if I can go so far as to blame him for pushing her off.

Obviously a huge complicated mess of emotions going on there.

I can pray for her to get better. I can be hopeful and optimistic that she can get better. But I am not sure I am a big enough person to visit and be her friend again while she is trying to get better.

And that is a change I hope I can overcome.

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