When I got sober, I had to re-learn what it meant to be good to myself, to be kind to myself, and to choose my own health and happiness over others’ when necessary. If there’s one theme that has persisted across my relationships with others, especially over the last decade or so, it has been that of people-pleasing and self-sacrifice. I have routinely chosen to associate myself with people who either demand too much of me, or who don’t seem to give as much as they’re willing to take.
This has been a problem for me, particularly because of my tendency toward people pleasing and co-dependency. I end up giving a lot of myself away, and when I don’t get the same in return, I become bitter, frustrated, and awash with feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness.
Particularly in romantic relationships, I tend to make my partner my #1 priority the majority of the time, even over myself or my friends or family. This was a big problem for me in my marriage, when my personal identity and happiness became so entrenched within the relationship that I was utterly devastated when my ex-husband decided he was done. He prioritized himself and his desires over me and our marriage, and after a series of ups and downs, he ultimately ended up leaving because I was no longer a desired or important part of his life.
This feeling of being a lesser priority to my partners has followed me around to some degree since my divorce, and I’m trying to figure out if it’s truly a problem, or if there is something wrong with the way I’m approaching relationships and personal priorities. My first serious boyfriend post-divorce told me at one point, probably two months before we broke up, that he would ultimately choose his dog over me. My current boyfriend—when I brought up feeling lonely while he’s constantly out with friends—told me that sometimes he’s going to pick his friends over me. What has hurt me most is the fact that I consistently make my partners my first priority, yet the act doesn’t seem to be reciprocated—at least, not in the way I’d hope or expect. Trying to discern whether my hopes and expectations are realistic has been surprisingly difficult for me to wrap my head around.
I do know that these unmet hopes and expectations cause me to feel down. I’m feeling pretty down right now, and these constant feelings of depression followed me everywhere I went as a drinker. I drank a lot in my marriage and during my first year post-divorce because I felt invalidated, unappreciated, undeserving, and unworthy in my relationships with men. I drank because of loneliness (my #1 trigger, in fact) and drank because I felt angry, disrespected, and misunderstood.
I’m beginning to wonder if it truly is me, though; am I looking at it all wrong, and continuing to act in ways that are sure to cause pain and disappointment? My people-pleasing addict brain tells me that I need to smooth things over and accept being hurt while doing everything I can to avoid hurting others, because it’s easier to just soak up the pain and put a smile on my face, rather than speaking my needs genuinely and sincerely at the risk of making someone feel bad or uncomfortable.
This is esepcially true when it comes to telling people how I want to be a bigger priority. The truth is that I want so desperately to be someone’s #1. I want to be a top priority in someone’s life. I want to feel like my person and I are working together toward mutual goals and putting each other above the other people in our lives. At least, I want that some of the time. Not all the time. But why? Why am I still so desperate for that feeling? I know that being someone’s #1 all the time is unhealthy and dysfunctional, and is a surefire way to put myself right back into the space I was in with my ex-husband. But is wanting to be prioritized over someone’s friends too much to ask, at least some of the time? I honestly don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know how much time is reasonable to ask for, or how deep of a commitment I should expect. I don’t feel comfortable or justified in asking my boyfriend to give up a little bit of his time playing video games or hanging with friends in order to spend time with me. Our commitment has felt fairly nonchalant and surface-level for a long time, and I’m desperate to feel like I’m more important to him now than I was even 6 months or a year ago. But I don’t feel that way, and I don’t know if it’s just my perception or if it’s the reality of the situation. Either way, it’s disheartening. The few times I’ve brought up feeling lonely with him, rather than asking me how we can remedy the situation together, most of the responses I’ve gotten have been some form of, “I’m a busy guy and I have a lot of friends/hobbies. That’s just who I am, and you don’t seem to like it or feel comfortable with it.” The conversations don’t usually end up going much further than that. I haven’t figured out how to ask for help with a compromise or solution because I feel unjustified asking for his help solving something that is ultimately “my problem.”
I think the thing I’ve been willfully ignoring up until this point has been something really obvious: instead of waiting around for others to prioritize me the way I want them to, I need to start making myself my own #1. I need to start taking real, honest steps toward making myself a priority in my own life, rather than twisting myself into mental knots trying to figure out how to convince people to prioritize me. I need to choose me first, before I can choose others or expect them to choose me in return.
The frustrating part is that even at 400+ days sober, I still haven’t quite figured out how to do that. I’m still working on figuring out how to talk about my feelings without believing that I’m being a drag or a bore. I’m still figuring out how to not feel guilty about asking for more from my boyfriend. I think about turning down invites to social events and it makes me anxious.
But I know I must figure these things out. I’m tired of coming in second place to dogs and friends and video games, and I’m tired of feeling like I’m not good enough—like those dogs and friends and video games have something more desirable than what I can give. I don’t know, maybe they do? Maybe they truly are more enjoyable to be around. With the mood I’m currently in, it certainly feels that way. How am I supposed to make that concern and pain apparent to these people without sounding needy or overly emotional or demanding? Tips and tricks are sorely needed and very much appreciated at this point.
What I do know is that I need to start making myself a priority. I need to do things that will help me feel more secure and stable in myself, so that I can not only be a better version of myself for myself, but so I can be a better version of myself for others. My counseling internship starts in just over a week and I’m scared as shit, but also really excited. Even if most people in my life don’t understand what it means to me, I do know that I am ready to take the plunge into this new career. Finally. I just hope my 1+ year of schooling, residency work and supervision will help me get my feet wet without allowing me to drown. I suppose I’ll just have to wait and see what happens.