The Importance of a Support Structure

So, one of the hard things about recovery is support.  Not just supportive people in your network, but making sure that you set your personal boundaries and work on your personal skills to support yourself.  In your daily life AND in your more specific goals.  Because for the truly lofty goals, there are a lot of unheralded supporting skills that are very important.

Let’s give an example.  Let’s say you want to be the next king of Silicon Valley with the next device that everyone HAS to have.  So you study programming, electronics, get a PhD in electrical engineering and have the killer idea all set and the way to do it planned out.  You put together your plan and present it to a top venture capitalist you managed to snag a lunch with. 

And they turn you down.  Flat.

WHY?!  You scream as you get home, ready to kick the dog.  Your idea was perfect.  Your plan was perfect.  Everything was perfect!


You never cared much about your English classes in school.  You could talk, you could program.  That’s all you needed.  Writing well was not part of the direct path to your goal, so you ignored it.  So when your token spell check of your plan came back clean, you printed it, bound it, and gave it to the venture capitalist, not realizing it was full of the wrong form of ‘there’ and ‘steel’ and other homonyms, and it’s just poorly written.  She took one look at your plan and thought, this person doesn’t have the communications skills to run a major company and doesn’t care enough to fully proof even his plan.  Too uptight?  Possibly.  But as a top venture capitalist, she has learned that attention to details–even seemingly irrelevant ones–really matters to a company’s success.  And with dozens of potential entrepreneurs beating at her door every day, she has to be picky.

So what if I’m not trying to compete in a high-pressure field like that?  What if all I’m trying to do is keep the house livable, get the kids through the day, and not collapse in a puddle of tears and boxed wine by the end of the day (which may be 5:45 if the day is bad enough)?  The stuff I’m trying to do is just basic, you might be telling yourself, it shouldn’t require a degree in rocket science or intense planning or that much of a support structure. 

Here, my friend, is where you are wrong.  I mean, not about the rocket science degree, you probably don’t need that.  But you used the word ‘should,’ which is always a red flag.  ‘Should’ comes up in times of judgment.  And if you hear yourself say something as horrid as ‘should just,’ you need to give yourself a good slap, because it applies judgment AND it minimizes the effort it may take to do that thing.  

So the thing is, everyone is different.  That’s a fact.  Everyone has weaknesses.  That is also a fact.  Figuring out what your weaknesses are (which requires admitting they exist) isn’t a bad thing, it allows you to work on and compensate for them.  So while keeping her kitchen floor spotless may be something your friend can do in her sleep, this has NO BEARING on how easy it ‘should’ be for you.  So kick those expectations out of your head.  That’s half the war right there (which means it also isn’t always easy to ‘just’ kick the habit; it will likely take a lot of practice).  Because finding balance in our lives and reaching our maximum capacity at least as exacting and demanding as impressing some venture capitalist.

The next battle is determining what exactly YOUR priorities and needs are.  While your mom may do the white glove test for dust, that doesn’t mean you have to.  That drawing up there?  Not only are YOU the one who sets the goal, YOU are the one who determines what things (skills, people, living states, etc.) help support you on your way.  This can take some research (for instance, if you’re trying to write a novel, you may ask other writers how they get ‘in the zone,’ and then examine the various suggestions to find what works for you, be it ‘having a clean desk’ or ‘going to the library’ or ‘getting up early’ or whatever) and experimentation.  So while your uncle may have anxiety attacks if the bathroom is dirty (according to his standards of ‘dirty’), which might undermine his self-care goals, you may have MORE anxiety if you try to apply all his standards to yourself.  

The next battle is actually doing those things.  Does writing in a journal every day help you to maintain calm and perspective?  Then you have to set aside the time and space and effort to do it, even when it feels like it has nothing to do with the seventeen errands you have scheduled for tomorrow.  Do you feel better when you eat more healthy, home cooked meals?  Then you’d better buy the ingredients and take the time to do it, no matter how tempting the frozen pizza and donuts are.  Because this is all part of your support structure.  If eating poorly makes you feel icky, this will sap your capacity.  When your capacity is sapped, you may react more emotionally to stressors than you would otherwise.  You may also feel less motivation and capacity to do the things that more directly support your goals.  This can lead to slower, sloppy, or stalled progress, which can lead to guilt, which exacerbates all the problems.  

It may seem restrictive and annoying to have to do these things–but you cannot let yourself look at it that way.  The thing is, you HAVE the power to change things.  Are there limitations?  Of course.  But this is about taking back control, by learning what you need to do to take back the control.  Recognizing what you can change and what you can’t is part of that.  If not getting out of the house for three days decreases your capacity, you may not have control over that fact–but you usually DO have control over whether or not you actually go out of your house.  Doing the supporting things helps you take back the control.

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