Milk from the Hardware Store
I'm incredibly lucky that I have some close girl friends that don't judge me and truly offer unconditional support through tough times. I haven't always had this type of friendship because I wasn't willing to be vulnerable in the past and was always looking to fix other people's problems rather than just listen and empathize. Honestly, I always thought I had the answers. It's still a weakness of mine because sometimes I do have answers and I want to share them with people I care deeply about in hopes it saves them pain or trouble. That doesn't matter because if it's unsolicited advice, I need to keep it to myself.
In the past, I would share intimate details about my life with friends but I wasn't truly connected to what I was saying. I didn't let the ugly feelings emerge. These ladies stepped up during the hardest year of my life and showed me that they weren't going anywhere. They weren't necessarily the friends I thought would step up but there was no hesitation. Their support has been the fuel to keep me going.
When I have a feeling, I have to let myself really feel it. No matter when it occurs.
Hard times can make people uncomfortable and sometimes they don't know how to respond to grief or tragedy. Some people don't want to be around someone who is openly sad. For the first time in my life I've been able to be sad with no depression but that means when I have a feeling, I have to let myself really feel it. No matter when it occurs. So if I feel like crying when I'm talking to a friend about something, I cry. This is not something I would have been caught dead doing during the first 37 years of my life but I am finally able to be vulnerable in front of my closest friends.
Recently, I needed to be lifted out of a self-pity hole. It was dark and deep and didn't offer much light. Fortunately, I told a new friend I was texting with, the one who said this quote to me a few days prior, that I wasn't doing too well. She offered to take me for a walk to get me outside and out of my pit of despair. It was exactly what I needed. She brought her dog and took me for a walk around my neighborhood during my lunch break. Exercise is always great for producing endorphins and an honest conversation with a friend is the best medicine for emotional malaise.
We walked and talked and she approached my sadness as if it was a yellowjacket that had formed a hive inside me and we just needed to figure out the best way to get rid of the hive without causing damage by extricating it. I am allergic to yellowjackets. At the very least it would weigh me down. Worst case, it could kill me.
We talked about how it got there, that intrusive hive of worries, expectations and pity. What parts of the hive are real and what parts do I just expect to be there but may not, in fact, even exist. As we talked about the details it was clear that this was a complicated situation and would not be solved today. Rarely does any problem need to be solved right then and there. She gave me permission, because, let's face it, sometimes we need to hear someone give us permission, to not make any decisions that day. To wait until I knew I was ready.
I was looking for something in the wrong place. What I wanted I couldn't get from the person I needed it from. My friend's advice to me really stuck out. It was actually something her mom used to say to her: "Don't go to the hardware store for milk."
"But mom," my friend would say, "the hardware store was advertising milk!"
I laughed. "Yes! My local hardware store has had milk there before so I thought I could go back there but, unfortunately, they've been out of milk for a while."
She added to the metaphor: "It's false advertising. They might advertise milk but that doesn't mean they have it. Besides, why would you want milk from the hardware store?"
In case you aren't following the metaphor, you can't expect to get something from someone if they aren't able to offer it. One good example is if you love someone who doesn't love themselves. It will never be possible for that person to be in a healthy relationship until they learn to love themselves first. So if you go to that person expecting to be truly loved, it's never going to happen. They are the hardware store. You will be much better off going to a person who loves themselves and understands self-care (a.k.a. the grocery store. Better yet: the dairy farm.) Might as well get the best, freshest milk.
These kinds of visuals help me because they are quick reminders to store away for when I find myself feeling hopeless again. Expecting something from someone that is unable to give it is futile. The boss that will never give you praise for your hard work, the sister that isn't able to put herself in your shoes, the boyfriend who can't show affection because he's stuck in his own head where he's consumed with worries and what-ifs. These are just examples, but we all have people in our lives who can't give us what we would like. So we have to change our expectations or go somewhere else for what we need.
When my friend left after an invigorating walk around the neighborhood, I still felt off-kilter and incredibly sad but I no longer felt hopeless. That is the power of connection. She reminded me that there are people who care; even brand new friends. I was able to be real with her. To let my voice quiver and the tears fall from under my sunglasses. Not only did I push my typical limits of vulnerability but I also learned something new that day: from now on, I'm going to start getting my milk straight from the cow.