Living in Limbo

control

Control is such a powerful concept. In behavioral work, one of the tools in a therapist’s pocket is a technique called forced choice. When a client is resisting a specific instruction such as “hold someone’s hand while we cross the busy street”, one can instead present the individual with two unique options, such as “would you like to hold my hand or would you like to hold mom’s hand?” The child is far more likely to comply because he or she feels as though autonomy is being presented, and the ultimate goal is still accomplished. They perceive a sense of self-government over the situation, and it can make all the difference between an easy session and a difficult one.

I think one of the biggest issues I am struggling with right now is the feeling of everything being out of my hands. J and I had an excellent conversation last night that reminded me just how control driven I am. It is a natural trait of a codependent – the need to have a hand in all spheres of life because their success depends solely on us. It goes back to the “magical thinking” I discussed in this post. However, in the case of a loved one’s recovery, the responsibility relies solely on the addict. I must resist the desire to find J meetings, help him formulate his daily schedule, or become too involved in suggesting activities to keep him busy. Otherwise, he will never gain the self-sufficiency he needs to be successful in rehabilitation. He has to be able to stand on his own two feet.

choice

If that wasn’t hard enough, what is really eating away at me is to put aside all talks about our relationship. Personally, I came to the decision to put us on hold, and allow J to focus on his recovery and me to focus on my own mental health. I know in my head that this is the best decision for me, as well as for him, but my heart is far less convinced. By essentially pressing “pause” on our relationship, I am situating myself in a place that I vehemently dislike: LIMBO. I am a resolution seeker – striving to come to clear cut conclusion to every argument even if it means staying up until the wee hours of the morning. I am a patron of the black and white scenario –  we either break up or stay together, and it is imperative we decide right now. I am antipathetic of taking time and space to think things through, either we fix things this instant or we walk away. The more I allow situations of discomfort to sit, the less control I have, and the more likely everything is going to disintegrate into my worst nightmares. Thus, for me to individually come to the decision to put our relationship issues on hold is a gigantic leap of faith on my end, and my heart is extremely afflicted. However, my head is at peace, so I know that this is the right path. 

Another technique I use with my clients who are feeling distressed is something I call “problem squeezing”. When a child is showing signs of anger, anxiety, or frustration, I will have him or her sit in a calming place and visualize what is causing their discomfort as sitting in their flat, open palms. Next, I instruct them to squeeze their hands into a fist as tightly as possible and count to ten on an inhale; then release on an exhale. The beauty of behavioral therapy is that it doesn’t just apply to special needs or just to children. I used this very technique right before I went to visit J at the detox facility today. I sat in the parking l0t, closed my eyes, and pictured a mini version of J in my right hand and a mini me in my left. I clutched them shut as tightly as possible and repeated to myself that sometimes allowing things to happen the way they were meant to is far more beautiful than fabricating everything into being. I inhaled, feeling the tension build to its maximum, filling my lungs to the point of discomfort, and noticed that if I kept trying to hold it all in for too much longer I would burst.

Then I let go.

I let it all go.

And for that moment, I was free.

lettingo

 

Advertisements

Magical Thinking

Now that I’m back in the “program”, or at least the self-made version of it that I can handle right now, I’ve decided to continue reading Love is a Choice by Drs. Robert Hemfelt, Frank Minirth, and Paul Meier. I’ve reread Chapters 1-4 and will pick up my analysis with Chapter 5, which begins to examine the childhood mind of a codependent, rewinding the clock to see just where the twisting of our thoughts originated –

Magic words are not the sole property of fairy godmothers. The child thinks: If I do such-and-so, this-and-that will happen. If I am perfect, Mommy will love me. If I do everything exactly right, Daddy will notice me…

In the child’s eyes anything Mommy and Daddy feel is necessarily generated by the child. “If Mommy is unhappy it must be because of me.” “If I weren’t a pain in the neck, Daddy wouldn’t drink so much.”

“If I do X then Y will happen” Magical thinking. Codependent thinking…

That feeling of responsibility for what happens has a very ugly flip side: “If it doesn’t turn out all right, it’s my fault for not trying harder.”

Cue the floodgates that are my tear ducts now. This is me. If I really choose to introspectively dissect my childhood emotions, I know that I  have always striven to be the “golden child” angel– to never be a problem for my mother so that she wouldn’t leave me like my father did. Because that has to be why he abandoned me, right? I wasn’t good enough to keep his love. So I poured myself into getting the straight A’s, mentally destroying my psyche whenever I achieved anything below a 100%. I never smoked, snuck out, did drugs; I went to church every Wednesday and Sunday, volunteered, and won awards just about each month for both academic and moral character. I secretly promised my mother that I would never, EVER give her cause to leave me. Though not once did she ask for any of these things (verbally or nonverbally), it became my own personal mantra, which has now morphed from the conscious repetitions of a child for the case of remembering to the constant, reiterative of a deeply codependent mind that cannot be turned off.

Fast forward about 20 something years and here I stand now. A few days ago, I went to visit J in the detox facility and as part of his recovery, he opened up to me about just how bad his substance addiction had become. It turns out he wasn’t taking the Sangel-06ubutex as prescribed but was instead abusing it in the worst manner, right under my nose, for more than a year. Hearing this news and subsequent details literally broke me.  How could this happen? I had been careful. had known him, loved him, adored him. I had made sure to be the perfect girlfriend – supported his career even when it meant months apart, put my own needs on pause because “there will be time for that later”, and constantly tried to keep his interest by suggesting activities that catered to his likes . What could I have possibly done wrong? How could he do this to me?

See what I did there? I turned a “J” situation into an “I” situation. It was my initial instinct. The first thing I did when I left the detox was to call his parents and apologize for not catching the warning signs sooner, for being completely unknowledgeable in this area, and for letting this happen to their son. Unfortunately (or fortunately for me), they have been here with J multiple times before, so they were quick to reassure me that I played no part in pushing him to where he is. It was completely his own selfish choice, driven by the disease that is addiction. I heard everything they said but it passed through me like an ineffective breeze. It was only after reading Chapter 5 that my self-flagellation began to ease. Even if I was a “better” girlfriend, maybe J would still be checked into a detox, trying to heal. Maybe…just maybe…this really isn’t my fault. Even as I type that, I feel a little piece of weight and responsibility fall of my shoulders, and for an instant it is euphoric. Then rushing forward came the guilt, and it replaced the burden that had just slipped free.

That is what I am wrestling with. I am trying to take the magical thinking of my childhood, which has been tattooed onto the very essence of my being, and morph it using logic, reasoning, and knowledge to fight back against my codependent brain.

tattoo

I am in the midst of war between my head and my heart, my past and my present, and we have yet to see who will win in the end. It is my goal to one day have those competing influences align, but I’m so screwed up that they must stand on opposite sides of the ring for now. So I sit in the struggle, choosing at least to make an effort to dissect, examine, and learn, and that will just have to do.

Baby steps.

Relapse

drowning

Is it possible to have a codependency relapse? I believe so. And I believe I’m in the dark, convoluted, serpentine midst of it all.

Tomorrow, I will accompany my mother to an appointment that may very well reveal that her cancer is back. I will have to sit and sift through the medical jargon that became a part of my every day life almost exactly 4 years ago, taking in all of the information that slides over her as she retreats quietly into her protective shell. I cannot blame her for shrinking away from the data. Data makes it everything real, and that’s the last thing she wants. Hell, it’s the last thing I want, but I don’t have the privilege of handing over the reigns to anyone else. There is no one else. There is only me, and I must once again rip off my civilian clothing to dawn the suit of “Mother” and protect her.

From there, I will drive directly to visit J in a medical detox facility. God, I don’t even know where to start to begin unpacking that statement. To summarize, he decided to finally get off of Subutex, a transitory prescription drug used to help heroin addicts get sober. He was only supposed to be on it for 2 weeks but instead, wound up in the center of a more socially acceptable dependency that has lasted 3 years. A week ago, he decided enough was enough and took active steps towards becoming completely substance independent. I am so extremely proud of his bravery and support his recovery 100%. I know that this is the best thing for him; however, I cannot deny that  it comes at a really difficult time in my life. But it’s not about me, right? (When is it ever about me?) Thus, I pull on the mask of strength, collectiveness, impermeability, and secure it steadfastly to cover my anxiety, exhaustion, and weakness.

I love these two people with all of my heart, and I would sacrifice every last piece of me to ensure their wellbeing, their happiness, their success…I do. And I do it all with a smile on my face and a comforting word on my tongue. But can I be honest? I’m drowning. Cancer, detox, school, work…my list of responsibilities to fulfill the expectations of the spheres around me is starting to close in, and I can feel my grip on my own sanity slipping. I need to go back to therapy, to group, to yoga and church and meditation…but I don’t have the time (or really the energy). What I can do – and what I’ve decided to do – is start writing again…to take advantage of this little space on the internet that is solely mine, where I can lay down the armor I adorn and just breathe. I know I need to get healthy, to make a change for myself, and be intentional about my own recovery, but now is not that hour. For now, this is enough. This is my first step…the next 12 will come with time.