I’m sitting in the pick-up line at my son’s elementary school four years ago. I arrived really early so I had some time to do some sponsor suggested reading. I had gotten through a couple chapters when a light came on in my head. The realization was as clear and as startling as if someone covered my head with a big bell and rang it, cartoon style. I immediately called my mom and brother, and proclaimed, “We’re codependent!”
Still early in my recovery from alcoholism at that point, I obviously didn’t take any time to process this insight, nor did I resist taking my family’s inventory–two no-no’s in my recovery program. My first responses to the realization were not perfect, and may be laughable now, but my acceptance of this relationship debilitating aspect of my personality was definitely progress and it began to change my life for the better. Far better.
WTH Was Wrong With Me?
Before I got sober, I can remember endlessly complaining to my friends and other family members about my relationship with my mother. After I got sober, I became sick of hearing myself talk about unhealthy pre- and post-sobriety romantic relationships around AA tables. (Bless their souls for being there to listen.) In these relationships, I had always felt used, or guilty, or manipulated, or manipulative. If things were going well, I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. And, as had my misery in a life centered around alcohol, this frame of mind eventually became my normal. It’s no wonder I was so unhappy!
Over the last few years with the help of therapy and recovery, I’ve learned that my mother issues stem from lack of trust in childhood as well as some dysfunctionality in my home. I have never doubted that my mother loves me as she’s gone out of her way to support me, time and time again, throughout my adult life. I now accept that the reason she had to do this was because my alcoholic life was unmanageable. Each time I struggled, I accepted her help, and I always ended up feeling guilty and beholden to her. I had never learned to set boundaries as a kid and my alcoholism prevented me from learning to set them as an adult. So, I addressed my issues with her by either suppressing them or through passive-aggressiveness. By the time I got sober, the stress I experienced from normal interactions with her was palpable.
Besides my current set of male friends, I’m not sure I have ever had a healthy relationship with a man. When I was a kid, my dad was absent and dealing with his own issues. He came back into my life when I was in college and we had a tumultuous, though loving, relationship until I became sober. Since then, we have been supporting each other and growing together. It’s hard because he lives on the other side of the country and we’ve only seen each other twice since I was seven.
My romantic relationships have been a long series of failures. I won’t bore you with the details. I will tell you that I stayed in one relationship years after being lied to about the man’s age. I reunited with another man who, twice, left me crying in a dark street as he walked away towards another woman. This is also, literally, how he left me a third time (I know, insane right?!) Beyond that, I’ve ruined friendships over inappropriate relationships and I’ve also left relationships inappropriately. Sadly, I could go on and on.
Thanks and more thanks to sobriety and my Higher Power, because this is not my life anymore and I don’t have to go back.
I Did the Math and It Added Up
Soon after we met, my sponsor gave me a book of daily readings called, “The Language of Letting Go,” by Melody Beattie. She swears by it and gives it to all of her sponsees. The daily messages in that book are very inspirational but didn’t have much meaning for me until I read Beattie’s first book about codependency, “Codependent No More.”
That book gave me a basic understanding of codependency and how it applied to me. Beattie defines a codependent as “a person who has let someone else’s behavior affect him or her, and is obsessed with controlling other people’s behavior.”
Personally, I think we all have some tendency towards this kind of behavior. I consider myself codependent because I have consistently let others’ behavior affect my life in a negative way. (I mean all the freaking time!) I would always feel responsible for other people’s feelings and tried to steer them towards the behavior or feelings I wanted them to have. This is also known as manipulation, regardless of whether I was successful, and whether or not I was aware of it.
I’m Getting It Together
My codependency, like the rest of my looong list of character defects, is something I can address now that I am sober. At this point, I’m able to recognize when I am engaging in codependent behavior and I attempt to correct it. I can deal with my feelings, good or bad, after interactions with others, without letting my life, or even my day, be affected by them. I don’t feel stressed every time I interact with my mom and I’m able to actively work on making our relationship better.
Regarding men, I have let go of the hold my last toxic relationship had on my soul. I am learning to live independently, without emotional support of a man. As cliche as it sounds, I’m learning to love myself. I even respect myself these days! I’m sure this will come in handy in my next relationship when I’m wondering if a man’s behavior is acceptable to me or if my own behavior is appropriate.
Life Goes On. Happily.
Please understand that none of this happened overnight. Some of it has taken years (and counting!) For that reason, this writing is part one of a three part series. In the next part, I will explore the specifics of Melody Beattie’s, “Codependent No More,” and I’ll tell you how I’m using what I learned on a daily basis.
I enjoy, have respect for, and definitely recommend Beattie’s writing because it is real and not condescending or preachy at all. She walked this path through the fire, came out the other side a better person and, through her writing, is trying to help others who are struggling in the same way. (Hmm, sounds like another program that changed my life…)
Have you read any of Melody Beattie’s work? What has helped you? What might help someone else? Tell us!
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