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As You Grow Older, What Do You Learn About People?

Before I give my answer, a little background about me. I’m in my mid-50s, with a son who just turned 21. My husband is an alcoholic who recently achieved one year of sobriety (so proud of him!) I have held jobs in a variety of industries, owned a business, and have finally found my calling as a freelance writer. During the past 25 years, I have saved my home from foreclosure, nursed a parent through advanced breast cancer, acted as a caregiver and executor for another parent with dementia, experienced a diabetic coma, evacuated during a wildfire, and through it all I’ve volunteered at school, at church, and in my community. I am an optimistic, hopeful person, and I am at my best when I am helping others. My life has been a mixed bag of experiences – some great, some awful – and I have learned valuable lessons from everything that has happened to me.

The most important thing I’ve learned about people is this: when someone shows you who they are, believe them!

My boyfriend started drinking when he was 16 and had a couple of DUIs before he was an adult. I chalked that up to the folly of youth and I married him anyway. He is a great guy and there’s so much to love about him that I managed to turn a blind eye to the alcohol abuse for decades. It took me a very long time to name the reality of the situation because I didn’t witness addiction while growing up and I didn’t recognize what was happening. In my core, I knew that something was wrong, but I was afraid of dealing with it, and frankly, I was too busy holding our family together to do much more than be permanently pissed off about it.

He showed me who he was before we were married, but I didn’t want to believe it so I chose to ignore it.

My mother-in-law was always an odd duck but I loved her, and when she needed a place to live, I welcomed her into our home. Our son was 6-months old, and having her around would be a tremendous help, as I was also starting a business at that time. My husband had misgivings, but I overruled him because it was the right thing to do. It wasn’t too long before I realized that her odd habits were actually a full-blown mental illness, culminating in the revelation that she’d been hiding breast cancer for 4–5 years and had received no medical treatment for that condition. By the time a diagnosis was rendered her treatment options were limited. Her behavior in our home deteriorated rapidly, negatively affecting every member of the family. For the good of everyone, we were forced to move her to assisted living. That turned out to be a beneficial choice and fortunately ended well.

She showed me who she was, and I didn’t want to believe it so I ignored it. By the time I acknowledged the truth it was too late, and I was already committed to her care.

I have several girlfriends who have been incredibly loyal and supportive through all of the drama and trauma. Looking back, I can’t believe they stuck by me during the years of whining, and believe me, there was LOTS of whining. For a while, I really got into the role of victim and relished my misery. I couldn’t figure out how to climb out of the cesspool that my life had become, and I later realized that every time one of my friends would throw me a lifeline I would throw it back and keep complaining! But they just kept loving me.

They showed me who they were, but I couldn’t accept it because I hadn’t learned to love myself, so I didn’t understand why they loved me.

I was hospitalized with diabetic ketoacidosis, resulting in a diabetic coma. The doctor told my husband that if he’d waited another hour to bring me to the ER I would have died. I had been diagnosed with Type I diabetes a decade earlier, but I didn’t want to be the person with a chronic illness, so aside from injecting insulin daily and exercising, I pretty much ignored my condition.

My own body showed me how it was, but I didn’t want to be that person so I pretended that the guidelines for living with diabetes didn’t apply to me.

Have you spotted the pattern?

Every time I was faced with a reality I didn’t understand or didn’t want to accept I just ignored it. That has made my life infinitely more difficult – physically, mentally, and emotionally. And I’m sure it’s cost thousands of extra dollars to remedy those situations; dollars that wouldn’t have needed to be spent if I’d simply acknowledged and dealt with the reality in front of my face.

So when someone shows you who they are – good, bad, or indifferent – accept it. Doing so will keep you out of the unnecessary drama zone and will help you live a happier, more balanced life.