I don’t remember when I actually became codependent. It may have been when I was the child of an ill mother constantly worrying. I always felt that if I could make her feel like everything was OK, then she would be OK. Every day I asked her if she was “happy” because after suffering a mental breakdown and telling me that she “wanted to go away and be with God,” I needed reassurance that she would not leave me. My happiness hinged on her medicated happiness.
I grew up always being “good,” “happy,” “exciting,” a “mover and a shaker”—always bringing something interesting to the table to complete my mom. My codependent jobs were: count the change; feel the mood in the air; search parents’ faces for feelings; be a responsible adult at age 7.
My codependency fully blossomed when my brother became a heroin addict. I now juggled my mother’s moods, my father’s daily dose of self-pity and sadness that ensued at my inability to fix my brother. I was the “good” kid, so I had to be “on” at all times. I was living proof that my parents were valid people to the neighborhood and the universe. I was living to validate others. Overcompensation had become my middle name, my identity and my mantra. I tried to “fix” everything because I could not fix anything. I created a false illusion of happiness and an augmented reality. I can boldly accept, fight and overcome the dread of drug addiction and the acceptance that we are totally powerless behind closed doors. Guilt and shame enveloped me. This is why I think I always walk with my head down.
My codependency exploded and I was: ashamed of my family; guilty for feeling ashamed; guilty for being a sibling of a drug addict; guilty for not fixing a sibling on drugs; overachieving to fix the guilt of my parents’ alleged bad parenting; worrying 24/7 about what “could” happen next; desperate to detach; desperate to attach; living out of obligation to make others happy; shoving my feelings into hidden mental compartments; obsessing about the death of a sibling on drugs; mentally attending sibling on drug’s funeral every morning; obsessing about my mother’s anguish should sibling die; hiding my sorrow and wearing masks of makeup; saying “yes” when I meant “no” saying “no” when I meant “yes”; over-helping; fake over-joying; false over-being.
When I married, it was to a codependent alcoholic adult child of alcoholics who validated all of my codependent attributes and watered them daily. I could not fix others, so in him I sought out a new project. I knew I needed help when I found myself at the doctor’s office with a locked jaw and pneumonia because I had failed to complete a task on time and was berated, belittled and told I was not living up to expectations. He thoroughly enjoyed that control over me. I let myself be controlled because I could not control anything. I am always half to blame for my failed marriage and totally to blame for my codependency. Codependency morphs into enabling. I lost my “self.” I entered an Al-Anon meeting for the first time at my mother’s insistence. She said, “Al-Anon saved my life.”
I felt like I was dragging my own corpse into the church meeting room that evening, as if everyone was watching me drag a plastic garbage bag out to the curb. And again, stuffing my feelings deep into me, I lied to my kids and said I was going “food shopping.” I had disappeared and was barely a faint whisper of me. I was nervous, afraid, weak, hopeless, worried, shaking, insecure, desperate and actually felt like I was “cheating” by being there. And again stuffing my feelings deep into my broke, empty core, I lied to my kids and said I was going “food shopping.” A sponsor took my hand as I entered the room and when she touched my hand, I began sobbing uncontrollably. I was starved for human touch and also true and real affection. We sat on the floor of Al-Anon, my new home, and I cried for what felt like hours. She silently listened and absorbed all my pain through my heaving and heavy crying, accepting gracefully and knowingly what was inside each of my purging breaths.
I learned in the program that taking steps to fix yourself and being honest about that are the most important things you can do for your “self” when you are programmed to do nothing for yourself. It’s so hard to unlearn how to “be” as I have always been in “service” to others. I have never serviced myself. I have never known exactly what I want or need. I was the emotional and physical helper half-version of a person. I was never taught to value myself as much as or more than I valued others. This is the hallmark of codependency.
Al-Anon helped me realize that I was codependent and needed Codependents Anonymous. I feel that this saved my life. My sponsor told me: “Others will need help, and you’re not it.” I felt transformed by the love of my higher power that I call GOD. It feels freeing to let go of the constant daily responsibility of everyone and everything. I don’t have to fix anymore. I don’t have to feel guilty, although that is the hardest part for me—guilt. My therapist told me that guilt is “the gift that keeps on giving.”
Guilt and shame directed me and now I am working to direct them. I am trying each day to overcome codependency by validating that we are each a beautiful entity, valuable and entitled to happiness on our terms. For me, overcoming codependency means valuing myself more than I value the happiness of others. I am a work in progress.
Donna T. – 2016