At some point while I was in high school, my mom disappeared.

I don’t mean physically, but in every other way. Put simply (way too simply), she was at the crossroads of Midlife Crisis and bad brain chemistry. She’d checked out, so to speak, and ended up spending the rest of her life (the next decade or so) in that checked-out status. We never really had her back.

From then on, I was in charge. Of me. Of my life. Of all of the many little things we all have to do each and every day to keep our lives going. If it was going to get done, if I needed it done, I was going to do it. That was the simple reality of my life.

At the time, it almost seemed kind of cool. Mom was in La La Land, Dad was downtown at work all day and I was a teenager with a car (a brand-new BMW, did I mention money was no issue when I was growing up?) No rules, no nagging, no boundaries. I could do whatever I wanted, pretty much whenever I wanted.

Then, when it came time to get ready for college, my excitement about being accepted “early decision” to my first-choice school was tempered by a low-grade sadness I tried hard not to acknowledge. I looked around me and saw moms and their soon-to-be-college-freshmen-kids headed to Bed Bath & Beyond to fulfill the college lists and buy extra-long twin sheets. Instead of asking someone else to keep me company — my grandmother, my dad, a friend — I went by myself.

There is more (much more) to the story, of course. From that time was born a need — bordering on compulsion — to do everything myself. To take on the weight of the world and then wonder why no one — even and especially those who love me — is there to alleviate some of that pressure. To avoid disappointment and abandonment, to feel in control. I’ve always been blessed with many wonderful friends and loved ones ready, willing and able to love and help me in whatever ways I needed. Yet I did all I could to act and live as if it weren’t needed. It became a self-perpetuating cycle: The more I insisted on doing for myself, the more others stepped back and let me do my thing. The more they stepped back and let me do my thing, the more I wondered why no one seemed to be there for me.

Not long after college, I married a man wrong for me on many levels. He was unable to support me emotionally and I was unable to articulate (even if only to myself) how great my need for that support was. The less we connected, the more I retreated into myself and did for myself. The more I did for myself, the more I told myself that accepting and receiving love in the form of that support was just not in the cards for me. The more I told myself that, the less loving that relationship became. The less loving that relationship became, the less loving I was to myself. After all, if the man I was married to didn’t love me in a way I so desperately needed to be loved, what else was there for me? I didn’t feel very deserving of love, his or my own. My options seemed limited, my life bleak.

Fast forward to today: I am not in that marriage anymore. I am no longer in the business of doing everything myself. I am learning to love myself unconditionally. I am not taking on others’ problems and I am setting healthy boundaries. I am my own best therapist and I am focused on what really matters. 

Much of my journey of late has been about being hyper-aware of old and tired patterns that are still around but don’t in any way serve me or my life now. As a wise woman in my life has told me, “If it isn’t serving you, it is an addiction.” My addiction has been, in effect, all about proving I am better and stronger than other people, than God (or whatever higher power you believe or don’t believe in), than the power of love. Busting my heart (and my ass) to the point of burnout in a quest to do everything alone and to prove that I don’t need love from myself or others is something that has gotten me to where I am today but that is no longer needed.

In other words, I got the message, learned the lesson, bought the T-shirt and I can now move on.

Letting go of this crutch, something so tied into my mom and my former marriage and my self-esteem and, yes, my heart, has been so very difficult. Excruciating more often than not. It has also been one of the greatest gifts of my life thus far. Allowing myself to show my vulnerability (heck, even admitting it to myself) has literally changed every single aspect of my life. Walking away from the known into the often-scary unknown isn’t generally an easy thing. Not ever, I would venture to say.

But if you want to live the way I think you want to live, YOU HAVE NO OTHER CHOICE. It may not be today or next week, but in its right time, it will happen.

All of this has allowed me to open myself — wide, freakin’ open — to love. To the love of others. To the love of myself. To what is possible if I let go and allow it. Here’s the thing: You cannot do it all alone. You can’t. No way, no how. If I can’t, no one can. But you can die trying. You can blame yourself or push yourself or do whatever you keep doing to yourself ’til the cows come home. You can sap your energy and shoot down all sorts of love that comes your way trying.

And, still, you cannot do it all alone.

Please don’t try to prove me wrong. Next time you need extra-long sheets, take your check-off list and one of your favorite people to Bed Bath & Beyond. Just don’t waste your money on one of those silly Pillow Pets things.