A Lesson In Detaching With Love

Detaching with an ax

Detaching with love does not come easily to me. In fact, as a people-pleasing codependent, I’ve spent a lifetime caring for others in an unfruitful way, and not detaching at all. Here’s my story of overreacting when things don’t go my way.

My story of detaching with love begins with an orange tree

I rushed out to buy my an orange tree. I wasn’t sure how to care for such a tree, so I treated it the way I want to be treated. Every day I visited the tree. I stroked its branches and fought off the bees that swarmed its beautiful blossoms. Quite often, I got stung, but it was a small price to pay for the safety of my lovely tree.

I put the tree first, and often ate only after she did. We decided on a steady diet of fertilizer. Again, being from the north, I had this product that worked great for tomatoes, which are pretty much the same, right? I spent hours dreaming of our bright orange future – juice, zest, marmalade, and a lifetime of heavenly blossoms. Months passed and although I was tired and hungry, I fought through my own fatigue to care for my tree.

I did everything I could to nurture my tree

While neighboring trees produced bushels of first green then sun-ripened goodness, my tree was still only covered in leaves. No worries. She must be a late bloomer, I justified. I vowed to love the tree even more. I like coffee, so I began rising early in the morning to share a cup with my tree. Because I like yoga, I began gently stretching the tree’s branches. Let me tell you, that wasn’t easy, but I knew it would be worth it. Yet fruit did not appear.

My orange tree did reward me

Strangely, the neighbors’ trees started blooming. I tried to be positive and hopeful, but in the dark hours before dawn as I carried our coffee up the hill, I began to resent my stubborn, ungrateful tree.

Finally, tiny blossoms returned to my tree. I pushed my anger aside and got back to loving my tree. I dreaded this season of chasing the bees away, but I carried on. Blossoms on everyone else’s trees gave me great hope.

But my hopes were soon shattered. All of the other trees were covered with tiny green oranges. “Why?” I cried out to my gardening friend.

“Maybe your tree needs a gentle pruning,” she offered, handing me an ax. I picked up the ax. It was almost too heavy to swing. Then I thought about the countless hours I spent sharing coffee and doing yoga with the tree. I remembered all the bee stings, and I boiled over with rage. I started swinging.

Leaves flew as I swung without mercy. When I paused to catch my breath, all that was left was a bare stump. I detached with an ax.

Detaching Without Love

As a people pleasing codependent, I’ve spent a lifetime caring for others in a similarly unfruitful way. At work, I went above and beyond for promotions that didn’t even exist. At home, I’ve spent hours micromanaging my son to keep him safe, and years of backseat driving have probably saved my husband from countless accidents and tickets.

Ironically, stopping people from making huge mistakes or giving Oprah-worthy advice hasn’t yielded a bumper-crop of thankful, adoring fans. Instead, I am often bitter, resentful, and alone. In the past, I’ve rectified the imbalances in my relationships by:

  • Quitting jobs.
  • Changing churches.
  • Punishing people with the silent treatment.
  • Venting to other friends but never addressing problems directly.
  • Deleting friends on Facebook.
  • Moving cross-country – I’ve actually done that one three times!

Unfortunately, when I detach with an ax, I also get cut in the backlash.

Detaching with Love

My friends in recovery talk about “loving people where they’re at” and “detaching with love.” To be honest, these ideas seem as mythical as a unicorn. I’m carrying around so much resentment that loving people who’ve let me down feels impossible.

After months of recovery, I am starting to accept I need to take care of myself first. Being kind to me and setting healthy boundaries won’t undo the damage from my past, but it might prevent future damage. Wise friends, who have more recovery than I, promise this works. Since I’m tired of swinging an ax, I’m going to give their way a try.