Alison's Insights

Making Sense of Addiction Recovery in Midlife One Slow Deep Breath at a Time

Feeling Manipulated For All the Right Reasons

You know Alison, things happen for a reason.”

Years ago as I perceived life with addictive eyes, every time someone uttered those words to me I would smile, thank them for expressing concern and walk away thinking, “Is that overused, glib phrase the only possible option someone can come up with to help me feel better?

Today I think differently. Not only do I agree things happen for a reason, I’ll go one step further. I believe interactions with other people happen for a reason. My experience has been, when I need to learn something about myself or practice handling a situation differently, an opportunity will appear.


One such occasion happened just the other day.

I was on the phone with someone who, after many long hours of self-examination, was one of the people I’d taught how to manipulate me. I didn’t enjoy uncovering that fact about our relationship but nonetheless, I’m now aware of this pattern of behavior and have options to act differently.

I learned of these options because as a work in progress, I make sure to keep a seat warm in the best classroom setting I’ve ever been in, the rooms of recovery. While in that seat I’m sure to hear the practical experience direction I need to better interact with others so I might help them unlearn what had been long taught.

Confident? Yes. Always ready? No.

When I picked up the phone that day, I was not prepared to respond when a subject I thought was settled clearly was not. During a previous call we had agreed getting together on one particular day wouldn't work for me, that we'd look for another mutually agreeable time. The truth was, I just didn't want to spend time with this person on that particular day. There is too much emotional baggage I'd have to haul along with me and sometimes I just don't have the energy.

Apparently she forgot our earlier agreement because she opened up the conversation by saying, "What time are you arriving? I've got everything all set." My first thought was to remind her of how we left things when we last spoke, but instead my mouth opened and I heard myself saying, “Oh, um, well…” to which she immediately said, “Well, if you have something better to do, I understand.”

The guilt bullets flew without warning and suddenly all mental hell broke loose.

Faster than the speed of light my head exploded with memory cards flashing words I had been advised to use in such cases. I had practiced with trusted friends so when the time came I'd be prepared.

In what felt like hours but was actually only seconds and with the sting of those bullets of guilt still afire, I remembered who was at the other end of the phone. I knew our emotional history causes me to hear what isn’t being said and perhaps I was overreacting. So even though she often works my last nerve, I do love this person and I know all too well that life is short. I didn’t hesitate. I simply said, “Of course not, I’ll be there at 1:30.”

She was thrilled. I was not. I knew my choice was the respectful one but let's be honest here. The reason I deflected a get-together in the first place was based on me not wanting to deal with old emotional baggage.

old emotional baggage

When I hung up the phone, my husband who overheard the tail end of the conversation said, “So, what’s up?” I literally fell apart. Tears poured down my cheeks like raindrops falling to the ground. In between gasps of emotional breathing I recapped how I had allowed myself to feel manipulated yet again. He tried to comfort me by telling me to just call back and cancel. I got mad at him for suggesting such an awkward option and with shoulders hunched, walked away feeling defeated yet knowing I had an appointment to keep.

I got into the shower and felt the soothing elements of warm water begin to slow the tears. A sense of calm set in as did clarity of mind. In that moment I had an unbelievable awakening.

I realized I was not upset over feeling manipulated by someone else, I was mad for feeling I’d been manipulated by my healthier way of thinking.

As crazy as this may seem, when the idea is unwound the concept makes sense.

After decades of teaching myself how to act, react and speak in ways that best served me, I find myself completely caught off guard when I respond to others with consideration and regard for them.

In this particular incidence, I had orchestrated the outcome of the first phone call to best serve me. The opportunity to learn more about myself happened with the second call. I was given the chance to course correct my selfishness by putting into action what I’d learned while keeping that classroom chair warm. Thankfully I had listened with intention on the many days the lesson was about the reacting versus responding and the importance of keeping myself as far as possible from being the center my own attention.

I realized my old self reacted to help me feel better while my ever-improving self responded to hopefully help someone else feel better.

So yes, manipulation can actually feel good for all the right reasons.

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