When we love someone with substance use disorder or other mental health issues, we can find ourselves in their business a lot. They aren’t doing well. Things don’t add up. The stories we’re getting or what we’re observing don’t compute with what we’re being told, so we’re going to get to the bottom of it. But, can we, really? We’re not in the other person’s head or life, so we won’t truly know what’s happening unless they share it with us. We can only make up our own stories. Stories which often lead to more wondering, more worrying, more distress.
We can do this with friends and other loved ones too - they haven’t called or replied to a text. What’s that mean? Are they mad? Did I do or say something wrong? Are they ok? What’s wrong? People are complex, so we never know what may or may not have upset someone. We don’t really know what’s going on for them unless we talk to them directly about it. Our mind masterfully, effortlessly, and unknowingly dreams up disaster scenarios in the blink of an eye.
How do we know when we’re out of our business?
Here are some of the common ways we might find ourselves out of our business and into someone else’s. Read through with gentleness and without self-judgment. Maybe some familiar to you too. Great! You’ve just raised your awareness! Now you get to choose what to do with that!
- Finding ourselves wrapped up in fear, struggle, and resentment.
- Spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about this other person. Checking the phone for calls or texts or checking in with them repeatedly. Monitoring their activity and whereabouts. Believing you need to know what’s going on with them. If you don’t hear from them, you worry if they’re all right.
- Lying in bed, mind drifting into sleuth mode trying to piece together bits of stories or observations to figure out what’s really going on (at least in a way that makes sense to the mind). Looking for inconsistencies, trying to make sense of what’s unknown. When we don’t know the truth of what’s real, we make up all kinds of stories so our mind has something to hold onto.
- Seeking answers to the unknown, forgetting that we can never really know the future.
- Losing sleep grasping for control in any way we can because things feel so out of control.
- Wandering throughout the day aimlessly during unscheduled times. Unsure what to do, nervous energy carrying us from one thing to the next… doing a little of this and a little of that, but lacking the focus to dive deeply into any one thing for any length of time.
- Eating for comfort rather than for hunger or nourishment. “Stress eating” is a real thing… and I am very, very good at it! Eating our feelings… it happens!
- Connecting our sense of peace and well-being directly to someone else’s. Unless they’re doing well, we can’t be either.
How do you know when you’re out of your business and into someone else’s? What are your clues?
Why does it matter?
This is particularly important for those of us with whom mental health is at play or substance use is in the field because chaos and frenzy can easily become the norm, and it can consume you.
Finding ourselves out of our business matters because in those moments we are not honoring our peace and well-being. We are sacrificing them to concerns that are out of our control. We may be adding on to the suffering by beating ourselves up for doing this because “we know better.” Knowing and doing are not the same thing, turns out!
Byron Katie talks about “your business, their business, and God’s business.” Much of what we worry about falls in the latter 2 categories, so when we can rein it in and come back home to this being, to our business, we can relax a bit. If we accept the reality of what we can control or even influence, we will see that it’s very little of our world. Maybe then we can give up trying… In a really healthy way.
When I find myself out of my own business and fretting about someone else I can actually say to myself, “OK, come back here… right here. This breath, this body, this being” and feel myself relax into the true moment I’m in.
What can you do differently?
Here are some ideas that have worked for me. YOU are the expert on you. See what resonates with you and what you might like to try. What do you know to do but have lost track of or gotten out of the practice of doing? (It happens to all of us!)
Begin by shifting the focus back from the other person to yourself. To your self-awareness, personal growth, to your peace, your joy, your desires, the core of who you are.
Shift your focus from what’s wrong to what’s right or good in your life. Recognize that this is not an either-or proposition. We live within the whole of it. There is always beauty and goodness to be found.
Find simple tasks that have a start and finish to them (or break larger tasks down into small chunks) - that sense of completion can be very satisfying.
It takes practice to come back to ground, back to center, when you live in never-ending chaos. To come home to yourself requires self-awareness in order to even know that you’ve left yourself. It takes a willingness to break the cycle of spin.
It takes a desire to honor your peace and well-being. We say we value these things over and over, yet how often do we de-prioritize them in favor of something else, consciously or unconsciously? How often do we push them away, choosing to swim in fear and despair instead? How often do we forget that we really do have choices about our own behavior? Where do we begin?
Begin with a PAUSE. You’ve likely heard me say this a million times, because this is the number one tool I know for getting grounded. Take a breath. Take a step back. Observe yourself - what are you doing? Where is your mind going? Get into your body and feel your breath moving in and out of you.
Rather than push away the worrisome thoughts and feelings, allow them to be there (they’re here anyway, and we really can’t stop them from coming). Meet them gently, with love, with understanding, with compassion and care. Feelings come whether they make sense or not. The thoughts you have probably do make sense, especially if past history has shown you what could happen. When we stop fighting with them or beating ourselves up for having them, they may just dissolve on their own. Likely they will at least soften. Put your hand on your heart or give yourself a gentle hug and just tend to your own precious being.
Also, get curious. Question your thoughts - are you certain that they’re true? What happens for you when you let go of or stop repeating a distressing story? When you stop spinning it over and over in your mind or telling it to others? Notice what you feel in your body, heart, and mind. What’s different in your energy and presence?
Once you catch yourself solidly in someone else’s business, find the practices that support you in disengaging and realigning with your true self, getting solid within your core.
How can you give yourself a break? How might you take some time and space away, for yourself? Putting the phone on Do Not Disturb, turning it off, or putting it away is one of the greatest things we can do for our own mental health these days. This little device can pull us out of the present more quickly than anything I know. It breaks connection with the person right in front of you (even having your silent phone out can do that - if it pings or chimes even more so). For more on that, check out Omega's article, "Put Down Your Device & Pick Up Your Life."
Also, if and when it makes sense, connect. Reach out. Listen to what’s up for the other person. You can share your concerns if there’s an opportunity to do so in a loving (non-lecturing) way, but it may be more valuable just to get together and listen, really listen.
Give yourself time for your own nourishment and nurturing. Are you eating in a way that truly feeds you, body, mind, and spirit? Are you getting the sleep you need? Drinking enough water? These are some of the basics, so start there.
Then, stretch a bit… when was the last time you just let yourself have fun? Played for no reason at all? Laughed out loud so hard you thought you’d pee your pants? Lazed around doing whatever you wanted for more than 5 minutes, without guilt or apology?
Nourishing our bodies, minds, hearts, and spirits is a worthwhile endeavor. Unless and until we take care of ourselves, we’re going to keep showing up to life in a way we don’t like - frenzied, frantic, scared, angry, yelling…
Tune in to who you want to be and how you want to be, especially in this relationship. Do what you can to reconnect with that version of you.
Send out a prayer or light a candle for a person you love who you’re concerned about. Send love out through the airwaves - this fills you both up with this beautiful energy.
Send loving texts of support and don’t wait for or even expect a reply. Stop asking questions you don’t really want the answers to or won’t believe anyway.
Breathe and ease up. Consider that things might be ok (because maybe they really are). Let go of being the 911 operator, and maybe don’t be available for all the crises when they arrive. Stop being the one who thinks they have to connect all the dots.
Continue to learn and practice healthier, more effective, more intentional ways of being. Allow yourself to be imperfect and awkward as you try out things that might not come naturally. Discover the payoff for yourself.
What if things are working out in a way you can’t see or imagine? They might be. Isn’t it as possible as the disaster scenarios the mind so skillfully devises?
Permission to hope, to dream, and to remember that miracles happen all the time. You’ve heard the stories. Why couldn’t they be true for you or your loved one?
Remember to catch moments and appreciate the beauty that they offer. Lean into enchantment over fear. Rest into good enough and stop doing too much. Gentle yourself through the hard times. Remember, you are most worthy of your own love. And know that you are most certainly not alone in the struggles.
How does this land with you? What are the ways you get back to your own business, your own center when life pulls you off? Please share in the comments. We learn together. We grow together. We find new ways when offered a fresh perspective.
And, if you would like to join Joanne Richards for her next (free program) Prescription for Peace on Saturday, December 10th, please register here. I find her offerings invaluable, and will be there! Maybe I'll see you! Who couldn't use a little more peace at this time of year?