Chapter 20

Without this tool, the others are only temporary fixes:


Like the mortar that holds bricks together, it is commitment that holds one to a chosen course. Using cheap ingredients in the mortar or trying to water it down results in mortar that will crumble away. Making thoughtless promises is what children do. “Do you promise to be good?” “Yes, mama, I promise.” The intent is there, but the comprehension required to carry out the promise is not there.

All the attempts to apply the tools you’ve been working so hard to learn will be for naught if you are not committed to your decision to change. Without a commitment to yourself, old habits will re-emerge as soon as a difficulty comes along.

It is commitment that sees us through when everything else seems lost and forsaken.

Choosing to move forward is an easy decision. Who wants to stay mired in habits that deprive them of their hopes and dreams? And yet how easy it is to slip back into the habits of the past as soon as an obstacle in the road is encountered.

Some people find it easier to stick to a commitment if they make it to someone else, someone to whom they feel accountable. For myself, I’ve found that the only commitment I’ll hold to is one I believe in, and one I believe I’m capable of fulfilling.

Oddly enough, I’ve found that telling others my plan is more a deterrent than a help. Why? I haven’t figured that out, yet. I only know it’s true. Perhaps it’s my way of secretly rebelling, a very childish I-don’t-have-to-and-you-can’t-make-me. Then again, I grew up with promises being made by someone else, and I was expected to carry out or complete the agreement without any voice in the matter. I kept many promises that I had never made. Or perhaps it’s more in the nature of the commitment. But more likely a combination of those reasons and more.

If I promise to someone else that I’ll do something, either because it’s expected of me or because I’ve been told it’s what I ought to do, I tend to prove myself to be disconcertingly contradictory. It’s almost as if I refuse to follow through because it’s expected of me. Maybe it’s because I don’t believe in the promise myself. Maybe it’s because there is some deep-seated principle within myself regarding my feeling that a promise is only valid if it is centered firmly within my own beliefs.

If all this sounds very confusing to you that’s because it’s terribly confusing to me, but I’m working to figure it all out. Maybe I need to step back a little further.

Then again, maybe it’s because I haven’t yet mentioned the most horrific promises I was required to make. “Don’t tell or you’ll be in trouble.” Don’t tell or I’ll be in trouble.” “Promise you won’t tell.” “Promise to keep it a secret.” A trusting child’s promise extracted to ensure evil inflicted on the child could go forward unimpeded. “Promise you’ll never allow it to happen again.” “Promise you’ll tell.” Again, promises imposed on a child to act like an adult and tell on herself, knowing when she told on herself she’d be punished for not accepting the responsibility of an adult. Insidious. Despicable. Evil. Promises created as double-edged swords to slice the child to ribbons no matter how it swung.

“You have to promise not to tell, or there will be trouble.” “Promise to keep it secret, or you’ll be punished.” “Do you promise to not tell anyone, ever?” “You must promise to do exactly what you’re told. No matter what.” “You must promise to keep this to yourself, or I will never forgive you.” “You must promise to always choose good.” “You must promise to never make that mistake again.” “You must promise…”

Perhaps that’s the first warning sign: You must promise…

Second warning sign: if you don’t, you’re in trouble.

There is no must about anything in life and threats have nothing to do with a healthy commitment and everything to do with coercion.

And there we are, again, looking for what is healthy. I am constantly reminding myself that I want healthy to become my first choice, my normal, my everyday, my consistent, if imperfect, path.

What is a commitment? It is a promise to others and/or to one’s self. An agreement to follow through on some arrangement or plan or course, with someone else and/or with one’s self. It is more binding than a simple “sure, if… I have time, I’m available, I don’t have something else…”

A commitment to me means that I will follow through, and there are consequences if I do not. Sometimes those consequences are obvious as in a task not being done when it needed to be done, but sometimes it is about injuring my sense of loyalty, courage, strength, honor.

There is the child-like promise of wanting to give whatever is asked, regardless of whether or not it is even feasible. They have their place. However, sooner or later, one needs to learn the importance and binding meaning of promises.

A commitment isn’t something that is made off the cuff, not to me. It requires consideration, whether or not I have the time, the skill, or the interest.

One of the first things I needed to learn was that an honest commitment cannot be made if it’s based on lies. For so much of my life, I wasn’t sure of what I believed regarding so many things, which was one more aspect I didn’t like about myself. I couldn’t seem to keep some of the simplest of promises. What kind of person did that make me?

It’s taken a long time to realize that because so many promises made to me were broken that I tend to not believe in them. I originally wrote that I am working to change that perception, but I’m realizing that my perception was correct. So many promises were made and broken that promises had become meaningless to me.

I maintained my child-like perspective of promises being something you did because it was expected, not because they actually meant anything. As I’ve tackled my destructive past, this seems to be one of the last things I’m finally recognizing and choosing to confront and change. I suppose I kept hoping someone would come along and spell it all out for me, because frankly, I don’t seem to quite grasp it. I’ve decided to stop waiting, and again have decided that the change starts with me.

Now that I’ve faced it head on, I am able to look back and see where a variety of people, known and unknown, have been giving me clues. I can laugh at myself now, because it was those people that helped me realize I was missing something, something truly important. How obvious. They were showing me what I was missing, but I hadn’t been able to piece it together until now. Better late than never.

Making promises is easy. The challenge is keeping those commitments, especially when the going becomes more difficult than I anticipated. That being said, I’m discovering that my ability to make and keep promises has increased with practice. Now that I’m learning what I believe, it is far less troublesome to commit to things I hold as worthwhile.

I’m learning to be thoughtful in making a commitment. I want to be the type of person to whom their word is their bond. I want to be dependable. I want to be reliable. I want to be honorable.

An important note is that for a lot of years, I found it easier to make a commitment if I didn’t tell anyone. I suspect that’s because if I failed then I felt like the only person I disappointed was me, which was a whole lot easier to live with; it wasn’t nearly as humiliating or embarrassing, and no explanations were required, making it easier to shrug off.

Cowardly? Perhaps, but I felt like such a failure on so many levels. The thought of adding one more shaming thing at which I’d failed was more than I could bear.

However, people are not islands, though some of us certainly try to be; I certainly have. Now, I’m growing up, and I’m learning that sometimes the commitment needs to be spoken for the edification of the person to whom I am making the commitment. I’m gradually discovering that there is a remarkable power in making a commitment and sharing it with someone. Even if it’s a commitment to myself, there is something more empowering when I share it with someone I trust. There is also a comfort in knowing that someone besides me will be praying for my success. Then, when I make a commitment to someone else, and share with them my promise, a bond, however tenuous, is created, which is why a commitment/promise is not to be taken lightly.

In my effort to learn to make commitments, I discovered that there are many opportunities that appear in life; some will require a long-term commitment and some only short-term. When I started my conscious effort to change, I found it truly helpful to start with making short-term commitments. I could measure my success quickly and easily. Now, as I become more confident, my commitments are deepening and lengthening.

Every single commitment is yours to make or break. You’ll be using your tools to decide what is worthwhile to you and what is simply of interest. It’s important to recognize and acknowledge that as you grow and change, so will some of your interests. Deciding what commitments to keep and what to let go will need to be of careful consideration.

Part of that decision making process will always need to include the consequences, which cannot be dismissed. There are commitments I’ve made that I realized later were not healthy, so I let go. There were also commitments I’d made that simply no longer fit the life I was creating for myself. This is a good time to remember that you have the right to say, “No,” and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The decision is yours.

There are things in my life that I cut out, for a time, because I thought I should, not because I wanted to do so. I thought it was time I grow up and put away childish things, not realizing, at first, that I was using the standards set by others, and not trusting myself to make my own decisions in that regard. It took a lot of time and practice to truly embrace the fact that the decisions are always mine. It took only a little longer to realize that I was allowed to change my mind. More particularly, I learned that changing my mind was not a sign of weakness. Instead, I was demonstrating a willingness to admit I had been wrong, regardless of why, and I was capable of owning the mistake without it taking control of my life. And sometimes, I discovered new information, requiring a change on my part.

There were opportunities that I would have missed, if I had held to my need to “grow up and stop acting like a child.” I would have missed out on owning a horse, a childhood love that I had thought I’d outgrown, until the opportunity presented itself. And the most important one was embracing my childhood love of The Lord of the Rings. Had I chosen to leave that in my childhood, which had been my original decision when the movies came out, I would have missed out on a life-changing experience that has made my life richer and happier than I thought possible ten years ago. I would not be where I am now, doing what I’m doing now, had I not decided to re-commit at least some of my time and energy to those childhood loves.

Many commitments will be obvious like my promise to myself to hang on one more day, no matter what, and my promise to myself to change. There are really only two choices every morning: Give up or get up.

Other promises will need to be weighed and considered by where you are now, and where you’d like to go. This can be scary. The commitments you make will have life-changing effects on you and on those around you. That being said, as you discover and reveal your true self, you’ll realize that making commitments is a part of who you are. You are meant to be part of a bigger picture and meant to contribute things only you can give.

I really needed to learn that sometimes commitments aren’t about what I like or want to do. Sometimes, commitments are about what needs to be done. Sometimes, God drops an opportunity in our lap that we think is absolutely the worst possible idea, but for one reason or another we are chosen without the opportunity to decline. (I don’t know any cancer patients who would choose cancer, and I don’t know anyone who would choose to be abused, if given a viable choice.) When there is no choice, that’s when you make the commitment to give it your best, no matter what, and see what you and God make of it.

For example, I chose to adopt my dog, but adopting my horse was an unexpected, unlooked-for, untimely opportunity to make a commitment that I chose to accept. With both my dog and my horse, I had made a commitment to take care of them, all the way to the end. I did not want to make the decision to put down either animal, when the time came. But I had promised I would accept full responsibility for their care to the very last breath.

For my horse, he came into my care when he was older. We were together for several years, and his health was deteriorating. It was only a matter of time before he had a severe colic. Colic is a gut disorder common in horses. It wasn’t a matter of if; it was a matter of when. One spring, he had a nasty episode. The vet didn’t think he’d pull through, but he did. She informed me that there were other problems as well. The clock was ticking. I talked to the vet, the ferrier (horseshoer), and God, a lot. I even talked to my horse and felt very strongly that he was tired and sore all the time and wanted to go home to God. I made the decision to put him down that summer, before the weather took a turn; a time he’d be most likely to colic again. It wasn’t easy. It was an incredible experience. I shared his last breath, and felt such a sense of peace and joy and freedom. I’d promised to be with him to the end and to do what was necessary to take care of him. I kept my promise.

For my dog, it was much more difficult. But again, I’d promised. I almost hadn’t bought her as a puppy, because I knew what kind of commitment I was making. I was blessed with her for seventeen years. She brought me joy and laughter and fears and frustration and tears and courage and peace. I prayed throughout those seventeen years that God would be merciful and take her quietly in her sleep. She was so afraid of the vet. I didn’t want that to be her last memory. But I promised to do whatever was necessary. I even threatened God that I would never forgive Him if He made me do the deed. I was counting on Him to spare me. He didn’t. I knew the end was coming, but not when. I never had the sense from my dog that she wanted to go home to God, not like with my horse. Then one day she simply wasn’t herself. In fact, she didn’t even seem to be aware of me for several hours. Instantly, I knew it was time. I called my brother-in-law, and he took me to the vet. I sat beside her, petting her, telling her I loved her. The vet was awesome, and I thank God for their gentle kindness. But I had to make the decision. I promised. I kept my promise.

I wouldn’t trade those commitments for anything in the world. For the record, I didn’t follow through on my threat about never forgiving God. I know that though the path was difficult it was for the best, because God knows me and wants the best for me. I accepted the path God laid before me. I didn’t say I understood it, but I do trust God’s love for me.

When I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior, He made a promise to walk with me. I promised to follow His way, no matter how difficult I found it. In truth, my commitment to God is the most important commitment I’ve made. It actually helps me sort through a lot of things without thinking, because my commitment to God comes first. He set the example, and I’m endeavoring to follow His lead.

© 2010 The Project: The Tools I Wish I’d Known About Sooner / My Abuse Survivor’s Basic Toolkit by Judy

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