What I've learned from being Codependent
Setting the Scene
Alcoholism, stress, screaming, crying, fear; these are part of a long list that so many codependent people, including me, grew up with. Each day was a test of endurance as arguing, manipulation, anger, emotional and verbal abuse and a sense that somehow it was all my fault slowly consumed me. Another childhood lost to addiction and all its terrible consequences.
Yet, when I look at the polaroid black and whites of me as a baby and toddler, it's obvious my parents loved me. Of course they didn't set out to destroy my self esteem, my dreams and my ability to be fully alive. They did the best they could...my father was an alcoholic; my mother a controlling insecure and very codependent woman. That was a lethal combination guaranteed to mess up any young minds they brought into the world, no matter how much they planned otherwise.
All the years I was trapped in my family's home, I was fed daily messages that I was bad, stupid, a problem. The fact that they loved me (in their own way) was never discussed. I did not 'feel' loved. Yes, I was provided for. That doesn't equate to love when you're a child.
As a result, I left my family of origin completely unequipped with the skills that enable a young adult to make good decisions about her own future. I had no confidence. I was scared, nervous, angry, I had terrible boundaries and really believed that if I let boys do anything they wanted to me, I would be loved or at least loveable. Of course, all that did was feed my endless shame.
One lousy relationship after another left me even more insecure. I couldn't concentrate because my mind was always racing. As a result, I dropped out of my half-hearted attempt at college. I was chronically sick which drained me of the energy to really get my life on track.
The next thirty-five years...yes, 35 were one, long, agonizing search for answers and just a tiny bit of peace. My breakthrough came in small waves, like contractions before birth. But at least the veil of sadness was slowly lifting from my eyes and some days I actually felt happy because I was getting closer to the answers I needed to become a whole, healthy person.
The Reward of Perseverance
There was no 'ah-ha!' moment for me. Rather, things started to make sense to me as I watched moment-to-moment clips of my life from my rear view window. It was in retrospect that I had my little epiphanies. I would see myself handling situations better. I noticed my anger was lessening; my wisdom was deepening.
I began, in very awkward, little ways, to stand up for myself. Like a mute who was given the gift of voice, I babbled and shouted when I could have whispered; but at least I was speaking! My long lost boundaries began to re-appear. I learned to say 'no' even while I was terrified of rejection. A new-found compassion and insight for others who were struggling with the same issues as me started to take hold. At last, I was growing and healing. I had a long way to go, but at least I was moving in the right direction.
Once I was educated on the subject of codependency and realized how 'infected' I was with it, I panicked. Not for me but for my two beautiful daughters. My mother had no idea she was codependent and never gave a thought to how her actions were affecting me. I, on the other hand, was obsessed with the knowledge that there was something terribly wrong with me and I knew I was not being the best parent I could be because of it. There were many moments I deeply regretted because of my wrong thinking and I knew I had hurt them. That was my inspiration to do whatever it took to get fully healed and be the best mother and role model I could be while there was still time.
Once again, my victory was not in a pivotal moment, but in a realization as I look back, that I have accomplished something I never believed was possible for me: I have peace. Not all the time (I have to mindfully remind myself to get my thinking right), but at least I'm not mentally trying to outrun my obsessive, negative self-talk anymore. And I have learned a lot.
Here's the highlights of what resulted from a lifetime of living with and learning about codependency.
The Gifts of Codependency
- I look at my mother now as she sits in her nursing home, plagued with dementia, and I feel nothing but love and pity. Because I know she loves me and always has, I have forgiven her for the painful memories I still carry. I know she was also codependent but never got help and it made for a difficult, anxious existence.
- Once I understood what was going on inside my own mind, it became second nature for me to spot others that were in similar circumstances. Eventually, I was able to help those who walk behind me on this road to recovery. There is a tremendous blessing in doing so.
- I am usually aware of myself when I fall into old patterns and talk or behave out of that thinking. Now I can catch myself. I have the ability to determine my actions.
- No longer do I fall helplessly into the abyss of negative thinking. When my thoughts do go that way, I know I have the choice.
- I have learned to trust. It doesn't come naturally but I let the fear of abandonment go through me and do it anyway. I've never been disappointed.
- It's fine for me to be alone. I enjoy it. Most of my life I was terrified of it.
- No longer is it necessary for me to sacrifice my personal comfort in order to be approved of or accepted by others. I sometimes feel the old rejection fears coming on, but now I understand they are just lies and I am free to relax. Boundaries are wonderful things.
- At long last, I am at peace with who I am. The old lies are still in my head, but they are tired and fading and rarely have power over me (it's a process).
- God is an important part of my life. I've always wanted this but it eluded me. Once I got on my knees, begging for help, He was there and has never left me.
- Best of all, I have the opportunity to make things right with my daughters by being a positive example of what a healthy, well balanced woman looks like. It's no accident that as I have gotten stronger, so have they. I'm so grateful that we have an honest, healthy relationship.
As if all this wasn't enough, the depression I was burdened with all my life no longer exists. The anxiety I experienced everyday for decades and that I took medication for the last ten years is also gone. Both are the result of not being filled with rage and feeling helpless. Today I am drug free. I have days, like anyone else, where I get down or feel anxious, but I no longer have a disorder.
I will always have to work to stay on the right path. Those are just the cards I was dealt. I still struggle with certain aspects of who I am, but now I have knowledge on my side. I understand why and that makes the difference between being a victim and being victorious.
I am an overcomer. That it the gift of codependency...for those who do not quit.