Growing up, our family folklore contained a whole mess of cautionary tales against being ruined. The word got repeated so often, I can still hear its South Georgia pull in my head, feel the loss behind it.
Ruination focused on one thing: loss and the inability to move past it, to eventually be able to pull something new out of the ashes. It centered on change: the visceral fear that an unexpected, unforeseen act could happen–and then only utter devastation would remain.
To this day, my deepest fears involve ruining an event. Which is a bit ironic (or maybe just silly–since Alanis Morsette wrote a whole song using “ironic” completely wrong, I have my own fears about wrangling that word into my writing), since by virtue of being an alcoholic in recovery, I can tell you I have ruined plenty of events. Most memorably: the Thanksgiving I showed up at my grandmother’s still drunk(ish) and high(ish) from the night before and on the cusp of a hangover so bad that I could hardly lift my head to eat dinner. I feel like “ruined” works there.
But the stories repeated over and over in my childhood weren’t about events. They were about people. And that kind of thing gets lodged in your psyche: the fear that you might do something so awful it would cause someone to never be the same (a phrased used & understood to mean ruined).
Good Lord Almighty.
I’m all here for taking responsibility for my own actions. But I am not–cannot be–responsible for other folks’ reaction to life events.
More plainly put: I’ve stopped believing people can be ruined.
And, on an even more, practical day-to-day level, I am 100% giving up the fear that I’m gonna ruin anything. Because that fear of ruin… I can see it for what it always was: a desire on the part of the teller to control events, to manipulate outcomes, to force folks into predicability. I’m not even casting aspersions here. It’s human nature to want to whittle life down into the precise outcome we want. But it stifles other people, steals away their freedom of choice. Ruin forces a fear that prohibits folks from making honest-to-God simple mistakes–or making choices that honor the life they’re trying to create, even if other folks take umbrage with it.
Life is too big, too rich for that.
Every day brings new possibilities and new choices. Slowly, I’m letting go of the fear that making the choices that feed and protect my soul, that honor the deep work that I’m doing to be whole and healthy, will ruin anything.
What will happen, in the natural course of things, is that I’ll make some choices that present difficult feelings for other people. That’s okay. What they do with those feelings is their work, not mine.
Everyone has their own work to do. I won’t ruin that for them.
Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash