Confessions of a Recovering Drama Addict

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In my recent posts about self-care, I've talked about starting with our needs and exploring how self-care has nothing to do with our budget.Today I want to talk about removing something from our lives that is the antithesis of self-care:

Drama.

I know there was a time in my life when I was definitely in love with drama. We had a pretty co-dependent relationship, one that was so comfortable that it felt wrong not to be around her. "Drama" is a state of being in fight or flight mode when we don't need to be, it's unnecessary emotional stress or upset, and it's creating situations that evoke the above feelings.I dated people who cheated on me, and then I went back out with them again. I wanted to date (and sometimes kind of did date) people who were already in relationships. I fed addictions. I took part in gossip. I moved home every few months because I chose thoroughly unsuitable places to live. I took jobs that wouldn't pay me enough to live, and lent money to people who couldn't pay me back. I put myself in situations where other people took advantage of me. I left everything to the last minute. I over-committed. I was surrounded by people who were totally and utterly in love with drama themselves. Drama, drama, drama.Our falling out started when the drama overload began to manifest physically and mentally. It showed up in my behaviour (coping mechanisms galore), and it showed up in my physical state too (the 'anxious, exhausted, chain-smoking insomniac' look is not good).

Drama is a decision

When we realise that drama is an option and a choice, everything changes. That was the big shift for me: I stopped viewing drama and its presence in my life as something that was an obligation and started viewing it as a decision.Other people's drama is other people's drama; they have no right to give it to us to shoulder, just as we have no right to foist our drama off onto other people.I have met plenty of people who are just itching to pass off their drama onto someone else; to give someone else the responsibility for fixing their unhappiness and dissatisfaction, for sorting out the situations they keep finding themselves in, and for distracting them from addressing the underlying issues that cause their drama to begin with.I've also experienced times when I didn't want to take responsibility for myself; I would have loved someone to come along and just make everything OK for me. At the same time, I was mentally addicted to the high that comes with drama situations and having a crisis to weather or defuse.Why? Because drama was warm, comfortable and familiar. Up until that point, I didn't know what it was like not to live with drama, whether it was mine or someone else's. I grew up with drama, it was present throughout my childhood in one form or another. I adapted to it and, until recently, it was like a life companion. Managing some sort of crisis gave me a sense of purpose.

Here's the thing: drama sucks.

It literally sucks; it will suck the life out of you.Over the past several years, I've more or less managed to wean myself off drama. It's been really difficult; drama leaves a big, gaping hole that can feel kind of boring at first. The minute I removed one kind of drama, I would find myself itching to create another.That's the lure of drama. Just when you think you're safe, relaxed, and about to have a good time, drama pops up and says "Oh, you think you have nothing to worry about? HERE'S SOMETHING NICE AND JUICY. Take that and obsess over it for a while."Despite plenty of set-backs (like the time a couple of months ago when I was convinced that our cleaning lady was going to kidnap the stray kitten we found - yes, it was as totally ridiculous as it sounds), I'm focused on implementing a no-drama policy in my world. This is still a work in progress, but my goal is to make unnecessary drama as small a part of my life as possible:

  • When other people try to suck me into their drama or act out in a way that involves me, I distance myself.
  • When I meet someone who describes self-induced crisis after crisis in their lives, I hear alarm bells.
  • I don't watch the news. In fact, I don't own a TV. I'm weaning myself off checking Google News because I'm bored or procrastinating and trusting that if something important happens, I'll hear about it.
  • I definitely don't follow or get involved in politics - that stuff is drama central.
  • I try not to discuss an issue or problem with someone without having a clear intention for what I want to get out of the conversation first.
  • I try not to get involved in online discussions with people who are obviously angling for a fight (especially when they try to position themselves as the innocent, naive party).
  • I've created a commenting policy for this site that involves spam-binning drama without hesitation. If someone comes here and wants drama, tough cookies. It's not happening.

An important caveat:

Drama is not the same as being in need of support. Shit happens in everyone's lives and we can't always control it. Sometimes we make mistakes that have a negative impact on us. It's part of being human.When I talk about shunning drama, I'm not talking about shunning friends who are genuinely in need of help and support, people who want to talk to you about an issue they're having to get their thoughts straight, get some empathy, find clarity, or brainstorm their next move.I'm talking about boundaries.In my experience, both as someone who has been on the receiving end of drama and perpetrated a lot of drama themselves, drama looks something like the following:Taking your shit out on other people: I once attended a beach wedding. The couple had invited a small group of eight guests to join them for a week. A few days in, one of the guests asked to meet with the groom in private and announced he didn't want to socialise with the rest of the group anymore. His reason? He thought someone in the group had been aloof towards him a couple of days before. Rather than approach the person in question and have a conversation to resolve the tension he felt, he tried to bring the groom (and everyone else) into his drama.Here's another example that most, if not all, of us can relate to: we feel grumpybutts or frustrated about something, and end up being short or snippy with friends/family/partners/inanimate objects (not that I have ever been known to do this...). Displacing your feelings onto someone else isn't fair, and it's not fun being on the receiving end of this kind of interaction.Expecting someone to help you process your unprocessed emotions: Expecting someone to help us with our unprocessed emotions is a very intimate process, which is time-consuming and draining for everyone involved.If I want to take up someone's time, I show them respect by working through my own stuff as much as possible before talking to them. I don't turn up to a conversation feeling lots of strong emotions (especially about them), not knowing why, and expecting the other person to spend time helping me figure that out. Playing doctors and nurses is harmless, playing therapists isn't.After meeting up with some friends for a long weekend a few years ago, I received two long emails from a friend of a friend I'd met that weekend for the first time. He said that he felt attracted to me and had also had thoughts about wanting to hurt me, and would I call him to talk to him about this?No way. His drama, not mine, therefore his stuff to resolve, not mine.Another way drama shows up in this department is if someone expresses general dissatisfaction with you, their relationship with you, and expects you to change. Again, no. If they don't like you the way you are, it's up to them to change their minds, make a specific request, or stop hanging out with you.Arguing for arguing's sake: When I feel hurt or angry, I find it easy to slip into arguing in order to let off steam and try to prove the other person wrong. In those moments, I can forget: in any debate or argument, what really matters is the truth.Trolling: Trash-talking, rumours, BS ,and twisting someone's words so you can say "AHA! Got you." All of this stuff speaks volumes about what's going on internally for the people doing it.

How to create a drama-free zone

The honest answer is: I don't know. This is still a work in progress for me.Generally, the most effective antidote I've found so far has been solid boundaries. That has included putting distance between myself and fellow drama-addicts, acknowledging the drama openly in conversations, being way more honest with myself (and, with this post, publicly accountable) about the fact that part of me hearts the drama, and hearts it big time.This whole boundaries thing is not easy. Sometimes, people don't like it when you do the things above, when you get some distance, when you stop engaging, and when you point out the drama in the room. I've ended relationships that contained too much drama. It's been hard; at the time I've wondered whether I'm doing the right thing, but I've never regretted it afterwards.When I've stopped accepting drama, people have accused me of being ungrateful, mean, unsupportive, selfish and cold-hearted. In my view, not accepting drama is the best kind of support you can give. It's the kindest way to treat yourself and other people. Just as I don't accept drama in my life, I'm not going to take part in enabling it in other people's.So that's my drama story so far. I still have a way to go and I'm looking forward to the time when I can take a birds-eye view of my life and know that I'm minimising the drama as much as possible. That, as much as anything else, is part of my self-care.Drama is a hard drug to quit but I'm feeling confident.How do you minimise drama in your life? Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc