The story of the Flapping Chicken was a gift from my therapist. I vividly remember being on her couch, while she concluded the story and suddenly I felt a change. It was as if a ton of bricks had been removed from my backpack, and I was given permission to stop carrying around the burden of other people’s emotions.
The Flapping Chicken
Imagine that your life is like a yard. You have a house, and a yard, and things in your yard. Bushes, trees, a garden gnome, and you pick what’s in your yard. You work hard to maintain your yard.
You have a neighbor. Your neighbor also has a yard. In their yard, there’s a chicken. Suddenly, for one reason or another, this chicken starts flapping. Anyone who has been around chickens knows that when they start flapping, they also kick up dust, debris and plenty of poop.
As a neighbor, you have a choice. Like many of us, you want to feel like you’re being a good neighbor by opening the gate that separates your yard from theirs. You attempt to help the chicken and try to make it stop flapping. Unfortunately, in opening the gate, you have opened up a way for the dust, debris and poop to fly into your yard. Your neighbor’s flapping chicken has made a mess of your yard.
I have another choice, though. I can acknowledge the flapping chicken, offer words of support to my neighbor for their situation, and do what I can from my yard. However, I refrain from opening my gate. It’s their chicken, not mine. I’m not responsible for handling their flapping chicken.
I love my neighbor, but I tell that chicken, “Flap on.”
How does this look in my life? I’m no longer responsible for everyone else’s emotions (thank heavens, because it’s impossible to control other people!). When my friend is upset, when a client is angry, I don’t have to let their flapping chicken kick crap into my yard. I lend a listening ear. I provide support. I offer help within the bounds of what’s reasonable, but I don’t let them take over my yard and allow their stress to become my stress.
The moment I recognized that I am only responsible for my yard, and not everyone else’s, suddenly sobriety seemed possible. I’m responsible for my sobriety, my peace and my happiness. I do these things for myself, not for anyone else, and that’s how I got to be The Sober Chicken.