Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Codepency Blues


So it's been a while since I've posted.  A while being almost a month.  I'm sorry.

I say I'm sorry because you know, I do feel quite guilty when it's been so long, because I think of all of you out there who need recovery any place you can find it, and from the comments and e-mails I receive I am humbled to know that in some small way I am helping some of you.  So when I'm absent my guilt bubbles up that I am then in some small way abandoning you - and myself - but I have to remind myself it is actually a completely self-imposed "obligation".  Because believe me, this is so not coming from some deluded, grandiose place of "These people need ME and my experience or else...?!"  It's really an automatic instinct on my part to feel obligated and guilty when I don't show up.  But nonetheless, I can't help myself.

Which is a perfect segue into this post about codependency.

Codependency: I feel overly responsible for the decisions, choices and behaviors of others, and the consequences of their decisions, choices and behaviors.

This is completely me, and a lot of us involved with anyone suffering from addiction.  It's not just about their drinking or using.  I have tried to assert my will over my husband's a number of times on the smallest of things, because I think "No, this is better, if I just explain it he'll see that."  It's not that I think he is stupid, incapable of taking care of himself or make the right decisions, it's that my brain is wired to aggressively help and assist those around me without their request, and often (in the past) against their will.  I should point out that the codependency flares the most with those I'm closest to but since it's part of who I am, at my worst self I was this way with everyone.  Okay, am still sometimes occasionally every now and then this way - I'm working on it.  Progress not perfection!

Symptoms of codependency include the following:

1. Low self-esteem.
2. People-pleasing.
3. Poor boundaries.
4. Reactivity.
5. Caretaking.
6. Control.
7. Dysfunctional communication.
8. Obsessions.
9. Dependency.
10. Denial.
11. Problems with intimacy.
12. Painful emotions.

Check, check, check the rest.  Each of these could be their own post.  Reactivity and dysfunctional communication are huge ones for me.  One of the primary symptoms of my disease is that when my husband appears upset, I go into "fix it" mode, stopping at almost nothing to see what is wrong and how I can "help".  You see, crazy person that I am, when he's in a bad mood, my thinking goes like this:

Oh no.
*sick feeling*
What's wrong?
Wait a minute.
What did I do?
Ugh not again.
What just happened between then and now?
Maybe it's this...
...It could be that.
Did I say something...?
Oh no.

I absolutely, completely, totally cannot stand when my husband is in a bad mood - especially if it is anger directed at me for something I didn't do, that in no way is related to me or has anything to do with me.  I just can't take it.  If you're not happy, it's my fault.  That's my disease.

Growing up without direct, assertive communication with one of my parents, I learned how to play the guessing game of "What's Wrong?"  How you play is you have to ask just the right questions to crack the code and get the answer.  When that parent wasn't happy with me, they did play the silent game, and this parent didn't communicate their issues with my behavior so I was left in the dark to wonder and worry.  Sometimes they would lay there silent, watching television, while I stood there and asked question after question, until something sparked a slight nod, their eyes moving toward my direction, anything to sound off the bell.

*Ding ding* You win!

Fast forward to today.  If someone's quiet I think "Shit, what did I do?"  It must be me, and it's now my job to simultaneously fix it and find out what's wrong, in no particular order.  Now I make more of an effort to remember that we're all adults here, and if someone is possibly upset with me or for some other reason, they can choose to bring it up with me and communicate assertively - it's not my job to be hyper-vigilant and do their communicating for them.  This doesn't mean I ignore my own behavior or cut off my friends or loved ones, it just means I'm trying to move to a healthier state with them, which is to stop pestering them any time there's been a lag or a period of "silence." (Also - it's not always about me!  Something else I have to deprogram in myself).

Codependency is also a great way we stay in denial.  If I remain convinced that my behavior, thoughts, and actions drive someone else to behave, think or act in a certain way, then I remain in denial that my loved one has an addiction that has nothing to do with me.  It's the great illusion (sometimes shared between the codie and addict) that the only thing that can change their behavior is our behavior.  So in that way we prevent our loved ones from experiencing any consequences of their own actions, and as a result we enable their addiction.

A friend of mine was speaking with her therapist recently, and she expressed her concern that if she didn't speak up, certain things could happen. 

"He could (X)"
"Yes.  That's true", the therapist said.
"Well if he doesn't do X, then Y will happen."
"That could, yes," the therapist agreed.

The therapist was trying to point out that the consequences of her husband's behavior are the consequences of her husband's behavior.  

Case in point for me:  This past Mother's Day, my husband was traveling for work, so of course I did what any good codependent wife would do and made sure to buy his mom's gifts, have them wrapped, spent a thoughtful amount of time to pick out her card - all this after he said she may not get anything this year.  Of course, he could have planned ahead, but planning ahead is not one of his strong suits and knowing this, I insisted that I shop for her - without his asking me to - and then reported to him what I purchased and even took photos.  He could have not gotten her anything, and she - I can only assume - would have been hurt and confused, and inevitably I would be left thinking it was somehow my fault.

Now, this is after a good year in Al Anon.  And after I knew better.  And after I told myself, "I probably don't need to do this."  But I still did it.  Maybe the healthy difference is that afterwards it didn't feel like the "success" that it used to, even though he thanked me.

One of the results of all this codependency has been this: maybe, just maybe, I focus on how to fix it so much so that I won't see that damn, this is just bullshit.  It's not how I deserve to be treated, not how I want my marriage to be.  But if I keep focusing on the fixing it - on the details - then maybe I can put off dealing with The Big Picture a little longer.  Maybe I can avoid looking at me, what I could change to empower myself, how I really view myself, what makes me happy.  Because when I contemplate those questions, I tell ya.  Scares the hell out of me.  I'm getting a little panicky just writing about it.

So when there is unacceptable behavior, I question my own contribution to see where things went wrong.  I think, "Well maybe if I hadn't said this" or "Dammit, I shouldn't have said anything."  Still, after really truly knowing better, it isn't my first instinct to pull back and see someone else's choices as their choices.

As ever, something to work on in myself.  Hope you are all hanging in wherever you are, and I'm sending a crap ton of love and strength your way.