By: Marilyn L. Davis
“We are the sun and the moon, dear friend; we are sea and land. It is not our purpose to become each other; it is to recognize each other, to learn to see the other and honor him for what he is: each the other’s opposite and complement.”― Hermann Hesse, Narcissus, and Goldmund
New Members Mean New Contributions
We had a new member in our group tonight. Most of the women have over six months in recovery and facilitating this group, I’ve gotten to know them. I never expect the newest to speak first, but always acknowledge them and let them know that they may either speak first or let us know when they are ready to introduce themselves; but always feel free to contribute to the conversation at any time.
Each group member stated, as one calls it, “Name, rank and serial number”, which is a brief description of the length of time in treatment and recovery. Some add their jobs, or the number of children, or married, single, divorced, etc., and their biggest hurdle when they entered treatment. It is welcoming for most and breaks the ice.
About ten minutes into the group, this young lady raised her hand. When I nodded to her, she talked about how she felt uncomfortable, that all the other women had important jobs, titles, and she wasn’t sure she belonged. She was just a “loser junkie mother”.
Understanding that We All Contribute
Immediately, three of the women chimed in about their struggles identifying themselves when they first entered treatment. Each of them started out devaluing themselves as well, and how by making changes within themselves, they have learned that they do have value, talents, and strengths.
Then they encouraged her to change her perspective; to understand that they weren’t certain what she would teach them, but that she would, as we promote the idea that all contribute to learning in treatment.
She cocked her head in that questioning way we all do when a concept is new. Then she smiled for the first time since I’d met her. This group made me see how we do rank certain aspects of a person as better and prompted this piece.
Respecting Every Contribution
We’re all apples, and sometimes, one shines or stands out more than another.
I was a concert promoter in Washington, DC from 1978 – 1983. Band names that would be familiar, dinners with performers, and yes, doing drugs. However, no one came to these concerts to see me. Backstage with a lanyard and badge around my neck, I belonged, I was important.
That importance faded when a band manager asked me for directions to the restroom, or to demand more refreshments in room number so and so, without any thought as to whether it was convenient for me, or a cursory, “Thank you.”
It would have been easy to get a resentment or negative attitude and reply with a sarcastic comeback like, “Don’t you know who I am? I’m the promoter, not a servant.”
Who Contributes What? Does It Matter?
If I continued with the resentful rant, I could counter with: I am the reason your band is performing tonight; without my hard work – securing the venue, advertising the event, setting up a radio interview for your band, finding transportation to the radio station, and eventually picking out only the red and yellow jelly beans for the band’s dressing room, you would not be here.”
Instead, I processed that I completed my job– the band was here.
Now it was their job to ask for more of those red and yellow jelly beans.
Why Do We Get So Testy About Our Roles in Life?
I like recognition, acknowledgment, and appreciation just as much as the next person does. However, I have learned not to base my sense of self-worth on how much credit I get for a job requiring more than just my efforts.
Sometimes our role in a project at work, home or socially is an ancillary or secondary function and responsibility. I think about an understudy for the leading actor. They have to learn the lines, rehearse on a closed stage with only the other subordinate players in attendance. They may or may not ever get to perform in front of the live, paying audience unless something drastic or unforeseen happens to the leading actor.
Still, they are ready, available and willing to step in at the last moment to save the day. That is a role to be proud of; they are the Emergency Responders of the Theater World – a new title I just made up, but it does have a catchy ring.
Button, Button, Who’s Got the Important Button
We often covet titles, believing that they convey importance, whether it is Head of, Manager of, Executive Director, CEO, CFO, COO, or the other myriad acronyms.
I have been an Executive Director of a women’s recovery home that I opened in 1990 and ran until 2011. I will tell you what my job entailed:
- Court appearances as an expert witness
- Cleaning the toilet after a resident got sick
- Cooking dinner for 75 people for, a Completion Ceremony
- Balancing the checkbook
- Providing group facilitation
- Making a bed when a resident left
- Buying groceries for 17 women for a month – a minimum eight cart ordeal
- Creating a clinical psychiatric experience for 4th year nursing students
If you review the list, there are certainly some that look praiseworthy. However, some of the others do not. Except, that is what my job required at times.
It’s rather like trying to decide which is more important – the buttons, zipper, or the thread that holds our shirts, pants, and dresses together. They are all different, yet vital in their roles, and each contributes. Rather than being jealous of the title, or feel less than because we don’t have one, sometimes inquiring about the functions and responsibilities of the title might help you not be so enamored or intimidated of the label.
If I Am Salt, Then You are the Enhancing Pepper
During the celebration of 20 years of operation of the recovery home, I made it a point to discuss all the people who made the house a reality. I knew that I had not done all the work by myself. I also knew that there were times that as the responsible Executive Director, I would have to do things that facilitated the operation, not enhanced my ego.
From an article: “Marilyn Davis wants you to see what you’ve helped to create. Davis, who founded the North House residential recovery home for women on North Avenue more than 20 years ago, had tears in her eyes Wednesday when she thanked each segment of the community that has made the home possible.”
Viewing Your Role as Integral, Unique, and Necessary
When you step back from wanting praise, glory, or credit and realistically look at how anything comes about, you can learn to value your contribution. Without your unique and special contribution, it would not have happened in the way that it did.
The house is no longer open. Nevertheless, closing opened up new opportunities for me to write more, speak more, and take part with recovering individuals nationally, all without a title and often without financial compensation. It has been personally rewarding and affirming work, and I believe that my contribution to the “Recovery Works” movement is helpful.
I hope you value your contributions today and take pride in them.
I would also hope that you honor those who do their jobs well and improve your life.
Writing, and recovery heals the heart