The Great Escape Artist

I remember my granddaughter’s fourth birthday party. I was there. So was my ex-husband and his girlfriend. I spent most of the time in the kitchen, avoiding them. When the cake was being served, I bolted out the door and into the safety of my car.

When it comes to avoiding my Ex and his girlfriend, I’m an excellent escape artist – sprinting through doorways, rooms and buildings, and hiding behind large pieces of furniture, people and in other rooms. My behavior is pathetic. Each escape leaves me with feelings of relief and shame, and each avoidance makes it more difficult for me to face my Ex in the future. The sad thing is, I’m only hurting myself. I’m missing out on fun and feeling good about me.

There are plenty of opportunities to run and hide when my Ex and I join our children for holidays and family celebrations, dance recitals, soccer games…

I remember sitting alone in the auditorium during my granddaughter’s dance recital. Mr. Ex and his girlfriend sat with my daughter. My escape mode was in place – I sat in the back of the auditorium, then dashed out of the building when the recital ended.

Once again, I felt ashamed of my behavior. And once again I hurt myself, along with my granddaughter and daughter. I didn’t see my granddaughter after the recital to coo over her dancing or go out for ice cream with the family. My daughter may have half-understood my behavior. Most likely, she was annoyed with my disappearing acts. And what did my four-year-old granddaughter think about my behavior?

I also prefer to avoid my former boss, who told me my job was eliminated; the friend who dumped me for reasons unknown; and my gossipy, nosy neighbor. I even stopped patronizing some of my favorite shops and restaurants to avoid encounters with these people.

I’m supposed to be in charge of me, but I’m letting my emotions rule my behavior. Instead of acting like an adult, facing uncomfortable situations and moving on with life’s disappointments, I run away.

My colleague told me running away gives the other person power over my life. Her advice: face these people and cut the encounter short by saying, “I have to go now.”

Unbeknownst to them, two of my friends set good examples of living their lives without running away.

Joan seems to bounce back from breakups easily. After the breakup, Joan goes to places her former boyfriend and she regularly patronized. She hopes to run into him so she can get that first encounter over with and move on with her life.

And David sat through an entire comedy show, three rows behind his ex-girlfriend. I swear his complexion turned gray as he watched her carry on with her date, fully knowing David could see her. David said he wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of leaving. So he stayed, growing tenser by the moment.

Avoidance issues have penetrated other areas of my life. I’ve avoided projects and opportunities, which stemmed from lack of confidence, fear of failure or laziness. I didn’t want to learn how to use Excel because I felt intimated by it.

For years, I wanted to write a book. They key word is “wanted” because I didn’t do it for a long time. In the meantime, I felt a tinge of jealousy when meeting self-published authors – two of them my colleagues. 

I was tired of watching other people achieve their dreams while I sat idly by. I was tired of seeing people accept their past mishaps and broken relationships and move on while I played Hide and Seek. And I was tired of leaving parties and other events early because someone I’m uncomfortable with is there.

I want to have what these people have – determination and confidence to go after what I want and not let my discomfort and insecurities block me from success and new opportunities. 

My motivational fire was lit. I wrote and self-published my book, Single Again 101. I also tackled another daunting challenge – I built two web sites, used to create interest in my book. And I ran my first 5K race with my daughter.

It takes courage and determination to conquer run away and avoidance tendencies. But facing those “gotta run” situations gets easier, and it’s freeing. I ask myself, why am I running away from the person or situation? What is the worst thing that can happen if I face him or a new challenge? My answer to the last question – personal discomfort, which is temporary. That isn’t worth the anxiety and shame of running away, being left out, missing new opportunities and successes, and having fun.

So, I received an invitation for another family birthday party – this time for my daughter’s dog. I was pretty sure my Ex and his girlfriend will attend. So will I – for the entire party.

Yes, they were there, and she was all over him. Actually, it wasn’t so bad – just a little uncomfortable. At the conclusion of the party, I left feeling good about myself and know I can face my Ex and his girlfriend again…even my former boss should our paths cross. No more dancing the avoidance dance. I shed my cloak of shame and am free to be me. It’s a lot more fun!

 

photo_mSprague_ headshot.jpg

Running away is a waste of time – unless you’re in a road race. Michele Sprague puts one foot in front of the other – tackling issues and facing new challenges. She is the author of the book, Single Again 101, and wrote hundreds of stories for corporate magazines and newsletters, and other publications. (portfolio.michelesprague.com)