Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

5 Jun

When I was ten, I wrote these words in my diary:


Growing up in a home with alcoholism, I became the consummate observer. I learned how to track the behaviors and moods of others because my survival depended on it. Has she been drinking? Is she slurring her words? What level is the vodka in the bottle at? I learned how to mind everyone else’s business but my own.

Despite all my best intentions, I couldn’t get my mom to stop drinking. I couldn’t prevent her from going to jail for five felony DUIs related to driving while under the influence and I couldn’t convince her to pursue recovery. While I never stopped loving her, I learned that focusing on myself was the only chance I had at serenity.

Focusing on myself is one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn in my life and it is a daily practice. Whenever I have put the focus too much on others, I take a trip to hell and back while sucking the breathing space out of my primary relationships and my relationship with myself.

Watch any pack of siblings fighting and you’ll hear mom or dad say, “Focus on yourself!” when Sally or John whines, “Mom, he’s doing a, b, c ….” or “Dad, she’s doing x, y, z….” We’re taught this lesson early on in childhood but society also tries to drill it out of us. If I put the focus on myself, I’m often perceived as selfish and self-centered because we are taught to care for and serve others. Yet often, the best way to care for others is to put the focus on ME. Focusing on myself is minding my side of the street and taking responsibility for my thoughts, behaviors, and actions. Anything else quickly turns into meddling, blaming, controlling, nagging, and manipulating. Period.

Focusing on others can bring an enormous amount of suffering, particularly when people don’t behave the way we desire. We can express our disappointment and state what we need but beyond that, we have no control. We can’t make others love us, commit to us, or change for us. Nor can we make people be something that they’re not, unless they themselves want to change.

Each day, I try to place my focus on myself and God. I ask myself, “What do I need to do today? What is my work for the moment? How am I feeling? And what do I need to do to take care of myself? (because no one is going to do that job for me).” Obsessing over what others are doing, or why my life isn’t a certain way because of what others are or aren’t doing, is the height of dis-ease. It’s best to mind my own circus and my own monkeys because that is all I have jurisdiction over and quite frankly, it’s all I can handle. Each of us, even in union with others, has to live our own lives and are responsible for our happiness.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference….




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