Guest Contributor: Erica Cragin
Imagine you’re about to take a vacation; bags packed, itinerary planned and relaxation in sight. You’ve boarded the plane and taken your seat. As the plane taxis to the runway for takeoff the flight attendants go through their in-flight safety routine. You know the one; pointing out the exits, telling you your seat cushion doubles as a flotation device and explaining what to do when the oxygen masks fall from the cabin ceiling. They give you very specific instructions here: Place YOUR oxygen mask on before assisting those around you with THEIRS. This always seemed like a foreign idea to me. I have always been the person to help those around me before I helped myself. I’ll give you the shirt off my back even if it means I freeze. I will take on your worries and woes and make them my own if it means I can help you. I will gladly make your needs my focus.
It took me many years, several codependent relationships and various toxic trysts to realize I was depriving myself oxygen. I was making sure that everyone around me was taken care of, whether they deserved my care and attention or not. I let my own well being fall by the wayside. I had over-drafted my emotions, I wasn’t taking full breaths and couldn’t keep my head above water. Stress and anxiety had become my new normal and try as I might I couldn’t break off of that baseline. I had surrounded myself with people and things that didn’t serve my greater good. I tried to make it my life’s mission to fix “broken” people, bad situations and make up for others short comings even if in the process I ended up broken. And the worst part of it all, I was completely to blame for it.
The problem with being a fixer is you become addicted to that sense of being needed. The ugly truth of it is that you get praised for all you've done to help those around you. People are in awe of the sacrifices you've made and this becomes your identity. It also becomes your scapegoat. "I'm in debt because I gave my last to 20 him and didn't pay my car note" "I cant leave now because what would they do with out me?" "I'm not happy with my body but I work so much to support them that I don't have time to care of myself." Suddenly you've gone from the praised fixer to a 'woe is me' bag of excuses. But fixing helps keep you from having to deal with you and your own demons; those things in your own life that you're unhappy with that you'd rather stay blind to.
They say an addict starts to recover when they’ve hit rock bottom and this addiction to helping others and ignoring my own needs led me to smack straight into that rock. It was here, through tears, chest heaving sobs and cries for help that I realized that I was who I needed to help first. And in order to do that I needed to admit my fault and take responsibility for where I was in life. This meant breaking a lot of old habits, leaving bad friendships and opening myself to opportunities I’d been depriving myself of. Instead of being this martyr for every lost soul I came in contact with I was being recognized for stepping out of my comfort zone and taking huge leaps that would lead to beautiful things in my life; and that is a much better high. Once I was honest with myself and realized I was making myself unhappy I made the conscience decision to make me a priority. It was a hard lesson to learn, and one that I still struggle with. But I am alive, I am thriving and I am responsible for my life.
To put it all simply making the choice to put on your oxygen mask first means that you are taking personal responsibility for your life, your actions and your future. By accepting personal responsibility for your life you are freed from outside influences, your self esteem increases(trust me) and you have more confidence in your ability to make decisions and achieve your goals.