NO SAYS IT ALL
I walked home after attending a leisurewear house party, guts churning, angry at my friend for inviting me, the other party goers for existing, but mainly myself for going when I loathed such events. Compounding my snit, the bag weighing down my arm. Inside an expensive outfit in which I looked like an overripe eggplant. The short trip while my mind spewed out an armoury full of negativity became a turning point.
In my sunroom, calmed by a lime margarita — or was it a pitcher full? Memory fails — I assessed my situation. Fifty years old and still acting against my wishes, acceding to others instead of pleasing myself. This must change.
I looked back on the many examples of planning family events with excitement, full of ideas of how to make it special, until the inevitable happened, “but we’d rather have it on this day,” “why don’t we do barbeque instead of fine-dining” “let’s ask all the in-laws, too”. When I’d planned and issued the invitations, I had purposefully chosen the best time for me, the food I wished to prepare, and what people I wanted there. By the time I changed all the elements out of love for the person who requested them, or because I was outmaneuvered or manipulated, I ended up hosting an event I didn’t want to attend. Recalling how badly I felt at those times, and with tequila induced conviction, I pledged my better judgement would make my choices from now on. I would say NO if it wasn’t in my best interest.
Several months later the phone rang. “It’s a Tupperware party. I’m counting on you. Please come.” Finally, I did what a true friend would. I told her the truth. Told her crowds made me anxious – particularly a crowd of strangers. The pressure of purchasing something I didn’t want or need, made me uncomfortable. I’d rather use those precious hours for something I would enjoy. “No, I can’t come. I have a paddle planned for that time.” I spoke with the authority of finally taking command of my life. Wishing her a happy event and every success, I requested she strike me from her list. And guess what? The sky didn’t fall. She remained my friend. I had a stress-free time on the water, with no negative aftereffects.
So, no – used judiciously – became the newest device for fine-tuning my life. No to Tupperware, no to my brother-in-law’s annual Christmas party of 300 people. No to driving 800 kilometres to kayak a small mosquito invested lake in 32-degree heat. Saying no triggered the memory of other times when I had used the word effectively and found freedom in my choice. When I felt ill, I disappointed my sister with a NO, I can’t spend a week at the cabin with you. I said no to volunteering for the Heart & Stroke drive because wanted the time with my teenage children who would be leaving home soon.
One other lesson, I learned when saying no, is that I didn’t owe anyone an explanation, as long as my decision sat right in my gut. I was entitled to my choice. This concept was reinforced when I volunteered to get helpers for a charitable event at the kids’ school. So many no’s and with them a long list of excuses. Why the person couldn’t be there, or help was irrelevant. I just wanted off the phone so I could make the next call. Listening while they justified their choice to themselves, wasted my time. I thought of the occasions I’d rambled through a list of excuses, armpits soaking, while some other volunteer could care less. Another freeing insight.
I learned the lesson of saying no to me, when I found myself driving the hundred kilometres to visit my mom, yet again. Resentment accompanied me like a bitter passenger. I’d been running between my mother and stepfather, and mother-in-law fifty kilometres in the opposite direction, for several years, as they increasingly needed help. They never made demands on me, but love is a strong motivator. I felt burned out. One evening I arrived home having spent the day settling my mom after a health emergency. I flopped into bed at 9:00 pm, then jerked awake when the phone shrilled at midnight. My mother-in-law had been taken by ambulance to the hospital. After a long trip through the dark, I stayed with her in ER most of the next day. Basically, she’d had a panic attack. I took her home and settled her in. Exhausted, I felt like I ran through thigh high water the entire time. Pile on frustrated, angry, and the top-notch pity party I threw for myself and you find me in purgatory. I felt so dreadful I took a hard look at why? Then I said NO to me. You are not running between them feeling resentful or guilty. If you can’t visit or help them with love in your heart, you shouldn’t be there. The next time I prepared for a trip and registered my sighs of poor me, my dragging heels attitude, I put my things away and went for a walk, instead. I gave myself a three-week sabbatical (thank heavens no emergencies arose) and looked after my needs. My next visits were happy events. I could enjoy being with them again, having lost all the negativity.
Before I say no, I assess my resistance. I run my decision through a sieve of 3 questions? Will this cause harm? (Not hurt feelings, not inconvenience – actually, do harm) Will this make things better for me? (physically, mentally, spiritually) Will my choice cause negativity in the future (destroy a relationship, limit opportunities, cause emotional fallout). Straining out the false reasons we say yes against our wishes, distils the elements in the choice to their essence. I realize if I want people in my life, compromise is necessary, but balancing my needs against the other persons is a must.
Like me, you may have been taught that saying no is selfish. We are putting our needs ahead of the many. Christ says, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” But if we always put our neighbours needs first, we sacrifice our needs. In that case, we may not even know what loving ourselves feels like, so how can we gift the same love to a neighbour? One thing my long illness taught me is that if I don’t look after myself first, I can’t be there for my children, parents, or friends in crisis. Saying no is a form of self care.
NO is the superpower I now call up with confidence. This power was always present, but many times I didn’t use it and paid the price. Our learning, through our life, happens in an upward spiral form, spinning round and round in ever smaller circles, so a lesson spins past us many times. Then, in one moment we lock it in. My moment for learning the power of no happened walking home from that party. Emancipating myself took decades too long, but I forgive my slow progress. I don’t have time for regret because owning my freedom of choice brings me such joy.