March 18 – The Life of a Caretaker – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

Accept this gift, so I can see myself as giving. 

I have been learning that the lift of a caretaker is as addictive as the life of an alcoholic. Here the intoxication is the emotional relief that temporarily comes when answering a loved one’s need. Though it never lasts, in the moment of answering someone’s need, we feel loved. While much good can come from this, especially for those the caretaker attends, the care itself becomes a drink by which we briefly numb a worthlessness that won’t go away unless constantly doused by another shot of self-sacrifice.

It all tightens until what others need is anticipated beyond what is real, and then, without any true need being voiced, an anxiety to respond builds that can only be relieved if something is offered or done.  At the heart of this is the ever present worry that unless doing something for another, there is no possibility of being loved. So the needs of others stand within reach like bottles behind the bar that, try as he or she will, the caretaker cannot resist.

I have experienced this event in the simple issue of calling a loved one while away from home. Even when no one expects to hear from me, I can agonize over whether to call.  Often, unable to withstand the discomfort or not registering some evidence of my love, I will end up going to great lengths to call.

In truth, care taking, though seeming quite generous, is very self-serving, and its urgent self-centredness prevents a life of genuine compassion. In all honesty, to heal from this requires as rigorous a program of recovery as alcoholics enlist, including sponsors who will love us for who we are.

Within one’s self, the remedy of spirit that allows for true giving resides somewhere in the faith to believe that each of us is worth of love, just as we are.

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