I am a recovering codependent.
I felt unhappy for a really long time. I blamed my unhappiness on a lot of other people and circumstances. I longed for the days when I didn’t feel responsible for being the glue that held my family together. I was exhausted taking care of everyone else’s needs and “fixing” them. I sacrificed my own happiness in order to keep others happy. And, I sought validation outside of myself and looked to get it from other people. Internally, I was a mess, but I appeared to have it all together to those outside of my immediate family. The truth is that I was on perpetual autopilot. I felt as though everyone depended on me to be the strong one, so I continued to press on although I was miserable inside. I had this innate need to take care of other people at the cost of my own needs, feelings, happiness, and peace. Any attempt to do something for myself was riddled with guilt. I expected others to provide me with love and acceptance because of “all I do for them”. And when those expectations weren’t met, I felt empty, unworthy, and alone.
I spent years trying to determine what could be at the root of my unhappiness. I came to the conclusion that it was my husband’s habits and negative outlook on life that were mostly to blame and felt like if my marriage was better my life would be better. If he didn’t focus on money all the time, if he wasn’t so insecure, if he would only talk to me and listen to me, if he could just emotionally connect with me, if he could just emotionally connect with my kids (his step-children), if he wouldn’t yell at them so much, if he could stop projecting his anxiety on us, if he could just change his body language, if he could stop being so negative, if he wasn’t such a neat freak, if he didn’t criticize and judge so much, and you get the point. I put all my focus and effort into diagnosing and fixing him.
Obviously, this didn’t work. When he didn’t change, I would grow more and more frustrated and unhappy. I can’t count the times I threatened divorce or we attempted marital counseling. When my children were younger I was so focused on keeping my husband happy and not making him angry that I would send the kids to their rooms as soon as he came home so that he wouldn’t start criticizing them. I would deny my children time with me because my husband would get upset if I didn’t or couldn’t meet his needs and I was too busy keeping him content. I thought I was protecting them by keeping him happy. As my children grew up and entered the teen years, they struggled emotionally as a result of our dysfunctional home. So, I became a codependent parent trying to fix them and keep them smiling and happy. I had so much resentment brewing inside of me from taking care of everyone else and feeling responsible for others’ emotions that the only emotions I ever showed to my husband and children were anger, frustration, and irritability. I didn’t know where they stopped and I started. I built walls around myself and was trapped inside.
Then late last year, my mother, who had Stage IV COPD, had a severe exacerbation where I had to face the possibility of her death. The thought of losing my mother brought on pre-grief and I had a difficult time confronting the emotional pain of this, so I immediately stepped into my codependent daughter role and became what I thought my family wanted me to be – the “strong one” that everyone depends on to save the world. I had to get my mother well. I had to make sure she quit smoking and vaping. I had to make sure that she moved out of her home because it was covered in mold. I had to make sure that she moved in with me so that I could take care of her. And, I didn’t care what she wanted because I was responsible for saving her life. I’m just being a responsible daughter and she’ll thank me for this and I’ll finally win her love. She’ll finally see me.
Our home was filled with chaos and anger and not the love and peace that I so desperately wanted. Exhausted and feeling like a shell of a woman, I knew I could not keep going through life like this. I did not want to live another moment in this dysfunction. I owed it to my children, my marriage, and myself to figure out what was going on. It soon became apparent to me that all the reading, begging, lectures, screaming, crying, pleading and throwing myself under a moving train to save my family was never going to change anything.
I could no longer pretend this was about my marriage. It was about me.
I had finally reached my breaking point and came to the realization that I was responsible for my own happiness. So, I sought help.
The first several months of therapy I mostly complained about my husband. I knew I was codependent, but when your brain is programmed to think and feel a certain way, it’s not easy to just snap out of it. It takes time for you to see yourself from a higher place. I had to become immensely self-aware. I have always been someone who’s loved psychology and the inner working of the brain and felt that I am more self-aware than most people. But, even I did not see my unhealthy patterns or the cause behind them. These patterns were so deep in my subconscious that it took a lot of work to get to that kind of depth and examine this secret part of myself. It confused the crap out of me. And, it made me angrier when I saw the pain of my inner child. The beginning was not easy.
I began to unravel my childhood and uncovered emotional wounds I didn’t know existed. In order to heal, I had to face those wounds for the very first time by focusing solely on myself and what I needed. I had to learn how to separate my emotions from the emotions of others. I had to learn how to detach and let go. I had to learn how to seek comfort and care from within and from my Creator (note: I was Atheist for 15 years). I had to learn that I’m not responsible for the feelings or needs of others. I had to learn that others are entitled to their feelings, even if it hurts me like hell to see them in pain. I had to learn that I cannot control others, but I can control how I respond. And mostly, I had to learn that I am enough.
I spent a lot of time just sitting with my feelings. There were emotional scars buried so deeply that I became confused and returned to my love of writing and journaling as a way to process what was going on internally. I read a lot of books on codependency, detachment, and self-love. The most life-changing books came from Melody Beattie, best-selling author of Codependent No More. I learned the real meaning of self-love (and that it doesn’t mean getting a break from the kids to get a mani/pedi and a massage) and how to comfort myself. I practiced meditation and became comfortable with being alone. I prayed and practiced surrender and felt the freedom that comes with that. I spent time doing things that I enjoyed even if I had no one to enjoy them with.
Some days were good and I could feel the chains coming off and what it feels like to not live in bondage. Other days were more difficult and I struggled to stay detached and would find myself slipping into codependent behaviors. But, I took each day one at a time, forgave myself when I stumbled, then continued to move forward by focusing on my recovery. I think the hardest part has been working on forgiving those I love as well as myself.
I am still in recovery, but so much has changed in the past year. For the first time in almost 15 years, I feel that I am being who I was created to be. And I feel that I am no longer enmeshed with those I love, but I am grounded in my own space. When I freed myself, I also freed my family to take control of their own lives. Since our energy affects the energy of those around us, there is much less yelling and screaming and the feeling of walking on eggshells in our home.
I am still learning how to set healthy boundaries, how to not seek validation and approval outside of myself, and how to recognize what’s mine and what’s not, but staying self-aware and practicing self-love is where progress and healing take place. And, that’s where I am today. This journey has been painful, confusing, and immensely difficult, but the desire to reclaim my authentic self, live life on my terms, and model healthy love for my children is what keeps me moving forward.