I've had these thoughts in my head for awhile. I should have written them down weeks ago.
A little background: Apparently it was no big surprise to anyone but me that when I moved back into my childhood home to care for my father in the last years of his life all my codependent traits flared back up with a vengeance. Slowly at first because when I first moved back I felt my adult persona still in charge. I sort of faced my father as a women in her fifties rather than a child of five. But as the years pass, my isolation grows and my inner age diminishes by years.
While in conversation with my therapist during my most recent funk, we began to discuss codependence - again. "Oh that,"I recalled. "Didn't I already deal with that? Didn't I already pack up my people pleasing insecurities and guilt like sweaters in June, then stuff the box to the back of my closet/psyche?" Yeh, well, funny thing about time, it moves in circles, not straight lines. Sometimes the stuff at the back of the closet works its way to the front.
According to my old and very yellowed copy of "Codependent No More" codependency has as many definitions as people who suffer from it. To some a "codependent person is one who has let another person's behavior affect him or her." To another * it is "an emotional, psychological, and behavioral condition that develops as a result of an individual's exposure to, and practice of, a set of oppressive rules - rules which prevent the open expression of feeling as well as the direct discussion of personal and interpersonal problems." But here is the definition that really hit home for me*. "Codependency means," said one woman, "that I'm a caretaker."
In my situation, as with most codependents, it means putting the needs and wants of other people ahead my own. After awhile, everything gets out of whack, the self seems lost and the everyday emotions become way out of proportion. Anger takes on the appearance of a nuclear mushroom and sadness is way more than blue, it's the color of a dark, roiling sea. Eventually I forget (if I ever knew) how to be who I am and depend solely on the perceived reaction of other people to know how be in any given situation. It's no wonder I feel powerless because I pretty much gave all my power away.
You'd think, having been through years of therapy and 12-step meetings to address these issues, I'd have recognized the baggage before it got too heavy to carry. I didn't.
Back to my original point ....
I joined a group of women writers during the summer. I've written about them before. The group facilitator is a published author with more books coming and more energy than 10 of me. The other ladies are all in some stage of writing - just for fun, about to be published, telling their story, in love with words. I love the energy of the group. I love reading and hearing what they have to say about their own work and the work of others. I love getting away from my testosterone-filled environment to spend two hours with women who don't go out of the house without mascara (me being the only exception to that rule!) I love the iced tea and pastry at Paneras.
Yet, after a few weeks I noticed that I stopped writing. My ideas, my words, my window to the world dried up - a metaphor for how my life seemed to be going. Because I don't have any real goal for my writing, other than pleasing my family based fan club, I began to feel less than. I worried about breaking the writing rules we were being taught. I dreaded even the gentlest of critiquse even though not one of them was anything but plauditory. I was grateful for the days I could legitimately miss a meeting. How had this happened? How had I gone from excitement to dread in just a few short months?
After spending an agonizingly long day trying to re-write something I'd posted on my blog so I'd have something to "turn in", I made a break-through of sorts. I printed up my story, but I also invited the ladies to my blog (what? open myself up to more critique? what was I thinking?). I offered up what I feel I do best, write from the heart, not the rule book.
Guess what happened. Each one of those women read my blog and said I was okay. They gave me permission to be who I am right where I am. It wasn't their praise that touched me, though admittedly I felt rewarded, it was their acceptance. In essence they said, "hey girlfriend, you're one of us. You don't have to try to please us. You just have to do what you do and let us into your world. We're interested in your world."
Do I sound like Sally Field at the Academy Award show? "They like me!!!!!!!!!!!" I think I know how she felt that night.
On the way home that day, I became painfully aware of how entrenched my codependence has become. I was a little sad to think I need validation from strangers because the man who depends on me to clean up his pee doesn't even realize he's starving me. The overriding emotion, however, was how grateful I am for friendship and acceptance. What a gift.
Along those same lines, here's a quote from a recent post from my friend Terri St. Cloud **, "when you get to watch someone find their talent, that's such a good thing....and when you get to watch someone start to believe in their talent....and then trust and believe enough to offer that talent.....well....that's a little piece of heaven."
I think it's a two-way street. When we offer the belief and the trust and the acceptance we gain a little piece of heaven, but so does the person on the receiving end of the trust, belief and acceptance. We're all in this world together. Being co-dependent isn't necessarily a bad thing, until it gets lopsided.
Thank you to my writing pals for the reminder,
* Codependent No More, Melody Beattie, Hazelton Foundation, 1987, pg. 28