Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Not my zoo, not my monkey

I've heard the expression "not my zoo, not my monkey" a lot lately.  It reminds me of my desire to mind my own business and not get caught up in a lot of drama that wreaks my peace of mind (=serenity).

I have spent a lot of time wreaking my peace of mind by being involved in situations that were not only dramatic but harmful and unhealthy.  I do my best to avoid people that create a lot of drama, beckoning me to be part of their "zoo".

Things go well for me when I am around healthy, intelligent, mindful and compassionate people.  Some of these are working a program of recovery and some are simply enlightened enough about themselves to be in harmony with those around them.  I learn a lot from people who are loving, vulnerable, humble and authentic.  I seem to be at peace when I am with them.

But social interactions aren't always idyllic.  Plenty of people out in the world are restless, irritable and discontent with who they are and emit a negative vibe that can ensnare me in the zoo.  Like the saying, "monkey see, monkey do", if I am around "unhealthy" people enough, then I begin to take on their attributes.

Take, for example, a discussion with my wife who is my touchstone in so many ways.  We both have found a healthy way to express our feelings. We have learned to navigate in a relationship that was unhealthy to where we respond to each other with love, empathy and understanding.  Consequently, our love has grown.  We talk about how we feel when there is a misunderstanding, rather than trying to justify, argue, be defensive or make excuses.

Have you been around someone who goes on the attack when a problem comes up?  I have a friend who is a dry drunk but sober for 24 years.  He is definitely restless, irritable and discontent with much in his life.  After a few years of unemployment, he now has a good job.  Yet he complains about having to be "on call" when it doesn't suit his agenda. Nothing seems to be his fault; rather, everyone else is messed up or is making mistakes. If I am around him for any length of time, I begin to feel impatient and irritable too.

So instead of getting sucked into being captured in a cage in the zoo, I detach and get away from people when they are in a hurtful, blaming, angry and vindictive state of mind.  While it is important to me to work on myself and my behaviors, to see my past and present, one of the things I have learned is it is impossible for me get mentally and emotionally healthy while I am involved in unhealthy relationships. If I stay too long, then all of my worst shortcomings emerge. Generally, there isn't just one sick person in a relationship: there are two.

My choices are important because if I find myself in the same situation again and again, then it's my doing that put me in the zoo. I am a "stick it out" kind of person, loyal to a fault. But what that has meant is that I have done the same dance with different people over and over.

I do see my reactions to others have changed in recent years. I don't focus so much on what needs to be changed in them, but about what I need to change and what my motives are for being in a relationship with difficult and unhealthy people. I don't have a magical solution. But I trust my gut feelings.  I observe my dynamics with others, inventory my feelings, detach rather try to change people. I ask myself if what I am doing and who I am with is what I want in my life. Do the people bring me peace? Do I feel loved? Can I trust the person? These are hard questions but necessary for me if I am going to feel uncaged. And that, my friends, is what I place as being most important in life these days.


  1. About fifteen years ago I realized that I no longer wanted to be in dramatic relationships. That people who were so used to coming to me with their problems (and always the same problems because they kept repeating the same mistakes) were annoying the hell out of me. This was not a spiritual realization- just a sudden lack of patience on my part. And I pulled away from a lot of people. Now I realize I just don't have the tolerance for it. And you know what? All of those people survived. They no more needed me than I needed them. Isn't that odd?
    Beautiful picture, Syd. If I don't get to the beach soon I'm going to get sick. I can feel it.

  2. I tend to 'absorb' others emotions and their state of mind, so as you, I HAVE to stay away from certain people. Very good post!

  3. I have learned something recently that fits into this post.

    I always looked at problems that some people struggled with and it was always so clear to me what it took to "fix it". Of course I would involve myself in helping them to fix it or at least convey my solution. Always I would get more involved than I wanted and in the end seldom did anything change.

    Me trying to be the "zookeeper". The zoo always had a huge monkey exhibit.

    I've learned to detach. At times I do backslide but it is easier to catch myself and begin working on my problem.

    After all of this I have learned many people become, "comfortable in their disfunction". Who am I to change things?

  4. What an incredible photo! I still have a few unhealthy friendships one is an old friend. She lives with an active alcoholic and gets mean and is hard to be around. I detach and limit my time around her. There is a part of me that still wants to fix others even at my own expense. “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” Back to one

  5. I have read Co-Dependent No More every six months for the last 20 years...just to keep me on track. Along with The Power of Now and The New Earth by Tolle....these three books are my "higher power"....

  6. Thanks for this post, full of wisdom and insight.
    In a week or so, I will have been an Al-Anon member for 30 years. I attribute all of the good things in my life to the lessons I've learned through this wonderful program. I can watch the monkey exhibit with a sort of mild, detached interest; I no longer get wound up with the drama of others.
    Things would be very different for me, had I not had the sense to stick to the 12 Steps.

  7. I commented to another person this morning, copy it here:

    You are the most enthusiastic person I know, in or out of program. And that Spirit, that Joy you exude permeates into the persons or atmosphere wherever you are. AND I LIKE HAPPY, both being happy, and seeing others happy.
    And so, with joy in my heart I’ll continue on in
    MY day,
    and say

    Guess I can identify with you words here, Syd. Thank you!

  8. sounds like the development of wisdom in the relationships we have...understanding our motives in relationships especially...and realizing as well that we may be better off not hangin out with some because it will shape us...

  9. I think many of us who grew up in alcoholic and/or dysfunctional homes always thought we had to accept bad behavior because frankly, there was nowhere else to go. And until we worked a program or sought some kind of therapy, we kept believing that the "zoo" was where we really belonged. Until one day the zoo became so bad we couldn't live there anymore. Being in the world requires dealing with difficult people, but the healthier you get, the more you are able to truly understand that you don't have to stay! That is the beauty of daily practice and self care. Thanks as always for a great post, Syd.

  10. Great post Syd. There is a lot here..... I am thinking on it. lol A lot really hit me where I needed to be hit today.

  11. Your entry is perfectly timed for something that is going on in my AA life. There is a girl who wants to run our whole AA community the way she wants to and there are areas where we disagree a lot. She is in my face constantly and I needed to read your blog to get perspective...thanks...you may have saved what could be a very ugly situation !!!

  12. I needed this reminder today. Thank you.

  13. love the saying not my monkey not my zoo.. i have some friends who quite RID.. they are helpful in other ways but have an intense side.. tricky.. I will sometimes tolerate their funny edges as they are very supportive other ways. I think alcoholics generally are quite intense creatures.. they need someplace for all the anger to go.. if they not doing inventory. I love the al anon expertise of letting go and not getting pulled in the the drama. its a shame your friend is wound up and needs to blow off steam by complaining. if someone is very helpful in other ways i might keep them as a friend but if they are just mostly miserable and hard work then I would just rather not bother.. too hard work.. thanks for the interesting post syd.. irish


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