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Hope In Moderation

My ex used to call me Debbie Downer.  He claimed that I always rained on his parade.  It’s hard not to  believe things you are told over, and  over, and over, so I believed it.  I was the eternal pessimist, the one afraid to make any type of move, the one questioning everything, ad nauseam, till I sucked the joy  out of any endeavor.  I now step back and realize that these claims were his way of shutting me up.  For example, he wanted to open another restaurant, and he took me to the town he was interested in . Every other building was vacant: literally.  When I questioned him about the wisdom of opening a business that relies on a large volume  of business in a town that seemed to be dying, I was “raining on his parade”.   When he wanted to lease a car because our fully paid  off car required $800 of work, and I questioned the long term financial implications, I was Debbie Downer, always looking at the negative.  If you ever want to keep someone under your thumb this is a great way to do it!  Debbie Downer quickly becomes Scaredy Cat, which leads to  Worry Wart,  which eventually leads to paralysis.

While I was being told this repeatedly by my ex, I was also going through chronic illness – one of the many gifts of life with a covert narcissist.  In my case I had repeated bouts of pneumonia, bronchitis and sinus infections.  I would get sick, wait a week to see the Dr., take 2 weeks of antibiotics, be well for 3 weeks, then get sick again.  And to be clear, 1 of the 3 “well weeks” included the week on antibiotics, so I never had more then 2 weeks of good health without antibiotics.  This went on for over 10 years.  Each time, my Dr’s would propose a new cause, and they would tweak my other meds to prevent the cycle.  Each time I’d leave thinking “this time it will work.  This is the time I’ll actually stay well.  Yeah!!”.    I wouldn’t just think it, I’d change my life to reflect my belief that I’d stay well.  I’d re-up my gym membership or I’d volunteer to an ongoing project with one of my boys.  Does that sound like Debbie Downer to you?

It took a long time for me to realize that questioning someone’s idea does not mean you are raining on their parade, or being Debbie Downer.  I started to suspect it in the last few years of our marriage.  In the 1st 6 months he was gone, as I was able to start telling people my story, it became clear to me that as a wife I was supposed to question life altering ideas.  I was supposed to question financial decisions, and ask about our financial well being.  Questioning Does Not Equal Insulting, or Pessimistic.

I’ve now had experience with both extremes: eternal hopelessness and eternal hopefulness.  While I don’t pretend to be an expert on anything, I do think I have a handle on this one, and here’s what I’ve learned:  Neither is Healthy.

I learned this from my bout with cancer more then anything else.  I’m stage 3B ovarian cancer (the bad kind) and I have less then a 50% chance of being here 3 years from now.  I’ve watched women who take the stance that there is no way they’ll beat this and refuse treatment, giving up and dying.  I’ve also watched women who believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that they will survive, and are still in denial on their death beds.  I’ve had my moments with each belief, death & survival, and because if it I’ve learned a valuable lesson.

Hope is Good Only In Moderation.

I have hope that I’ll survive, that I’ll be one of the lucky ones.  I  have also prepared myself that I might not survive.  I get a lot of flack from my family when I say this, but it has made me evaluate my life and think about what I want my last years to look like, which has been Good.  My affairs are in order, as much as they can be right now.  I have a medical directive and I have two people who have access to everything they’d need if I die, like bank accounts, passwords and a key to my safe.  Slowly, day by day, I am taking the steps to prepare my home and my children in case I die.  I’m happy I’ve been forced to face these issues.

An excess of hope equals delusion.

It was an excess of hope that kept me in a terrible relationship for 25 years.  It is hope and  optimism the covert narcissist thrives on.  It is hope that they tap in to, each time they realize you are ready to leave.  It’s that one little nugget of optimism they spark in you each time they see that you are starting to see the truth.  Hope and truth don’t always go hand in hand.  Often, hope is the antithesis of truth, or reality.

I look back over my life and now see that not only am I not Debbie Downer, I am actually Susy Sunshine, often in a delusional way.  I am so willing to trust and believe in people that I believed the Dr’s each time they told me “we’ve got it; you’ll get better now”.  I believed it time and time again, even though it was never true.

It was the desire to see my ex as the solid family man that he claimed to be that kept me trusting him. Each time he’d come to me during a rough patch and claim, in his best Carey Grant impression “we’ll get through this; things will be different”, I bought it.

I was so desperate to think that life is good, people are good, good things happen to good people, all we need is love, and all of the other platitudes we so desperately hang on to that Hope became my Nemesis.  It wasn’t until I gave up the hope that my ex was who he claimed to be, that we finally separated.

People now say to me  “have hope; things will get better; you are already so much better then 2 years ago”.  I listen and say thank you.  I have learned though, that blind hope is, in fact, my enemy.  My life might get better, it might stay the same, or it might get much, much worse.  I have no way of knowing which will happen. There is no magic formula.  There is no set amount of difficulties we might face.  We don’t get to a point in which we’ve been through enough, and nothing else bad will happen.   We are not promised smooth sailing after stormy times.  Bad things don’t come in three’s – they come in sixes or twelves or infinity.  There is only today, which might be good,  might be horrible, might be neutral. I won’t know until the day is over.

For today, I will try to practice Hope in Moderation, for it is the only true way.

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