Confessions of a Recovering Helpaholic Part 1

What exactly is a helpaholic?

If an alcoholic sees a drink, she might just drink it….  If a foodaholic sees food, she might just eat it….

When a helpaholic sees someone who needs something, her first response is usually, how can I help?  Oh, you say, isn’t that a good thing?  Wanting to help others?  Maybe, maybe not!

Did the person ask for help?  Did the two of you establish some ground rules, some boundaries before the help was given?  Or did it all happen so fast that you look up and realize you’re in the middle of something and starting to feel like, uh-oh, I’ve done it again?

As I am fast approaching the glorious age of 71, I find myself reassessing how I go about living.  I truly feel young (I keep saying I feel like a 70 year old child!) and I expect to live quite a few more years.  I don’t want to keep repeating behavior that makes me feel foolish, gullible, tired, frustrated, drained, spent, sad and well, just plain miserable.

This has been a year of tremendous change for me.  My friend Lida says I am cleansing.  It is actually a soul cleansing  — similar to when you change your diet and your body starts to realign itself.  I am clearing out old habits, old patterns that are not going to lead me where I want to go.

I want to be one of those 90 year-old women who still drive around and do their own shopping, have great friends and fulfilling activities.  But if I keep getting myself into situations where I feel stressed out, sad, frustrated and impotent — that isn’t going to happen!

So how can you know you’re a helpaholic?

How often do you feel stressed out, sad, frustrated and impotent?  Not that momentary thing that happens with situations that go south on you.  No, I’m talking about an underlying feeling that drains your energy and has you repeating things over and over.  Like explaining to someone why you’re upset (again).  Like hoping this time it will be different (again).  Like trying so hard and feeling like it boomerangs on you.  That feeling.

The problem with us helpaholics is that we are as sneaky and self-deluded as any other “holic” — we convince ourselves that we really are happy doing what we’re doing!  Not too different from, “I have my drinking under control, so I’ll just have this one glass of wine (and then another, and another….).”  Or, I’ll just eat a couple of cookies (then eat the whole bag…).  You get the idea, right?

So we see someone who needs our help, and before they even ask for it, we’re coming up with great ideas, strategies, new ways to solve the problem.  Before they even ask for it!  Because we’re sure they need the help.  It just comes naturally to us — we can’t seem to help it!

And then we set about convincing them, swoop in and start helping, letting them know we’re there for them.  We’re so generous!  Kind-hearted!  Understanding!  Someone they can count on!!!

And our ideas are really good, we’re sure of it!

Being generous has its own reward, right?

Oh, yes.  We get rewarded all right.  We get to feel valuable.  Until we wake up and realize that they aren’t there for us in the same way.  We have taught them to enjoy our generosity, our attention, our encouragement.  And then we get to feel unappreciated, unseen, frustrated and unimportant.  Because we aren’t in fair exchange.

One day I was exercising in the floor and a question popped into my mind:  when am I going to be as important to myself as I make other people?  

I feel like a priority when I am a priority to myself.

At a recent Great Girls Network Track meeting we were reminded of Maya Angelou’s quote:  “Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.”

I have had to face that more times than I want to admit!  I project my picture of what is important out into the world, not realizing that others’ priorities do not come close to matching mine.  So I’m changing the way I connect with people.  I ask myself what works for me — FIRST!  It doesn’t mean I don’t also make an effort to be accommodating to them, I just don’t accommodate them before I figure out what works for me.

What will it take to break this pattern?

I figure if other “holics” need 12 step programs, then we helpaholics do too.

Step 1:  Add a little cynicism to your life.  Learn to ask the question:  What’s in it for me?

That doesn’t mean stop helping others completely.  It means look for some form of fair exchange before you do it.  And stop being so naive!  Look at the helping opportunity as a win-win for both of you.  Does it make your friendship stronger?  Are you building a true relationship?  Are you giving more than you are getting?  Are you doing things and hoping they appreciate it?  Is there some form of reciprocation?  Is helping actually your secret strategy to feel liked by others?

I called this blog Confessions of a Recovering Helpaholic because I know I need to face the dark part of myself that gets me into situations that don’t feel good.  I’m confessing because I want to heal my way out of this, not blame someone else for it.

To put it bluntly, I have consistently gotten myself into situations where I felt used.  And I can’t blame the person I have been helping, because I wasn’t taking care of myself — that’s my responsibility, not his or hers.

I was born a pleaser.  I like to do things for people.  It feels good.  Until it doesn’t!

Enough for now….  I’m working on Step 2………………..