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.

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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.

Time for Some Truth and Grace

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Chapter 4 of Love is a Choice is all about Abuse. Now, if you’re anything like me, your first instinct will be to instantly shut down because of course this doesn’t apply. I was never physically or emotionally harmed in any way, so maybe I can just sit this one out, right? Wrong! After delving into the different kinds descriptions that the authors discuss in detail, I realized that I may not be quite as unscathed after all.

There are 4 types of Abuse that are mentioned in detail:

1. Active Abuse:

” These are physical out-in-front abuses, easy to see. Beating. Battering. Sexual molestation of any degree to and including intercourse. They are no only morally wrong but illegal in nearly all venues…

Active and destructive, but not necessarily illegal, are such manifestations as extreme anger or rage – verbal violence. Shrieks and the irate laying of blame leave scars and bruises that will e felt not seen.”

2. Passive Abuse:

“One or both parents are so preoccupied they are not available to the child emotionally, physically, or both… The ones universally recognized, the ones with the really bad press, are alcoholism and substance abuse. Others may be praised and idealized in certain quarters – workaholism, for example…”

– “Abandonment is abusive, and make no mistake, divorce however amicable, is abandonment…”

– “The parent who constantly brushes the child aside commits passive abuse…”

– “A parent who is noemotional – a Star Trek Mr. Spock type of cerebral person – is not going to fill the child’s love tanks simply because children react at a spontaneous visceral level; the child and the adult aren’t speaking the same language…”

– “A lack of love between the parents is another form of passive abuse…”

– “The parent with compulsions or perfectionism may not force it on the child, but the child is watching as Mom weekly cleans the bathroom tiles with a toothbrush and Dad mows the lawn every three days. The message is there, expressed nonverbally.”

3. Emotional Incest

“Incest in one way brings up the wrong connotations. But in another way, the word’s connotations are exactly right. Emotional incest has of itself nothing to do with sexual matters…Rather, it is an extreme role reversal.

Here is where a loving relationship between parent and child has somehow been turned upside down. The  parent’s mind (and rarely consciously considered) is the thought, I don’t care much for my spouse, but I have this child who I love more than life itself. What that statement so often mean is, “My spouse isn’t giving me the love I crave (because both our love tanks are near empty) but I can get it from my child.” The half-person is going to that little person for completion.”

4. Unfinished Business

“Unfinished business is Mom’s or Dad’s business that was never completed. One or both may have some area of their lives in which they’ve always felt discontent. Perhaps Dad feels frustrated and sexually unfulfilled in his marriage. As he views marriage and his life he gets this this tremendous sense of uselessness, of lack….Unless he makes peace with that…without intending to do so he may well hand that frustration down to his sons and daughters”.

I never knew that abuse actually had a place in my life, but after reading these descriptions, I definitely experienced some emotional damage upon reflection. Having an absent father was a form of passive abuse, and my single mother definitely attempted to make me the center of her world (emotional incest). It actually explains a lot about my current mindsets and personality traits. Abuse may sound “harsh” but unless it is addressed in such a way, one may never realize just how deeply our wounds travel, and how crucial it is to get help or begin recovery.

Truth is hard sometimes, and placing any kind of criticism on the people who cared for and raised us can be a difficult thing. But everyone is human, prone to messing up here and there, including your Mom and Dad! Mistakes are to be expected. It is okay to admit that fact as long as it is accompanied with heaping piles of grace. Even with these realizations, it does not demean the love that was given; it simply brings to light the need for further introspection that could ultimately bring much peace for yourself and for the future generations of your family.

So, dear friends, is it possible that there may be some wounds that you need to open in order to bring fuller healing to your life? If so, know that you are not alone by any means, and that accepting these (oftentimes harsh) realities is the first step to a better life. Persevere through that dark tunnel, and freedom will be waiting on the other side.

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Bubble Girl

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Denial. I used to live wrapped up in its hypnotically charged blanket, succumbed into thinking I was safe in my little bubble of “happiness”. But recovery requires the acknowledgment and embracing of truths that can be hurtful, painful to recall, enraging, etc. The second half of Chapter 3 from Love is a Choice discusses this exact point.

“If the effects of codependency are so glaringly obvious, why bother with counseling? After all, surely the sufferer need simply identify with the problem and take steps to resolve it…

Codepdendents with significant unmet emotional needs are masters of denial. It comes built in. For their whole lives, these people have been living a lie – pretending, wishing, yearning that their lives were lovely when in reality they were unbearably painful emotionally and perhaps physically. They can’t stop lying now. If reality sinks in, the wracking past will surface with all its open sores, its pockets of pus and filth. Codependents have spent a lifetime burying that mess. Denial, therefore, becomes a major hurdle to healing. In fact, healing cannot behind until denial dealt with properly.”

This was so much easier said than done for me when I first started on my journey towards a freer place. I had come to love and adore my Denial. It provided a safe place where I could continue to float in a chasm of serenity. But that peace that I thought I was experiencing was all a facade. It was a unit built with cushioned walls of lies that I had told myself so often they became truth. I could no longer distinguish reality from insanity, and I was doing the same things over and over in my relationships expecting different results. So while Denial can definitely provide a temporary state of “happiness”, it ultimately destroyed my willpower and kept me suspended in one place for a long time.

Getting out of that deceptively beautiful bubble was honestly so difficult. When therapy was first suggested to me, I had this negative stigma about mental health that instantly aroused my defenses. However, my life was slowly spinning out of control and I was so tired of keeping up this pretense of being perfect that I was willing to try anything. So I found Nan and I found a CoDA meeting and those two outlets slowly coaxed me from my death grip on Denial. Man, that was a painful process-I had to examine wounds I didn’t even realized existed. But each community wrapped their comforting arms around me and walked with me through my stages of grief.

So, yes, I know how amazing your safe place can be; it keeps all the bad things out of your life. But what you may not realize is that Denial is a darkness within, and if we barricade ourselves from outside harm, we are trapping our hearts in with a different kind of evil. And that will ultimately consume us.

We cannot let that darkness win. It’s time to break out of your cage. Freedom is waiting.

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Fueling Up

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Chapter 3 of Love is a Choice, by Drs. Hemfelt, Minirth, and Meier, is so packed with knowledge that I’ve decided the take it in chunks. The first portion of the text speaks about “Love Tanks”, and this idea lit up so many bulbs for me that I think it is worth pausing and reflecting upon in detail. It reads,

“Imagine being a newborn child possessing a heart-shaped love tank deep inside yourself. Were the tank to have a gas gauge, it would be nudging empty at the beginning.

Now picture above that tank two other tanks, your biological parents. Over the course of years they fill your tank from their own tanks. Fifteen or twenty years later, as you wean yourself from the original family and go forth to build a family of your own, your tank is pretty well filled. Now an adult, you’re primed and ready to fill the tanks of your own children, who in turn will be able to fill the tanks of their children. Thus in a normal, functional family, love is transmitted from generation to generation, poured down from parents to children.”

The authors then go on to explore what happens when your heart tank is not adequately filled due to an absent parent, dysfunctional family relationships, or unhealthy mindsets. What occurs is, you begin to search for things to complete the void, to erase the feelings of emptiness or “lacking”.

Personally, this hits home hard. I grew up without a father since birth. Though my mother, being the amazing woman that she is, raised me in a life where I didn’t want for much, my heart tank was only half full from the beginning. To be honest, it was probably even less than that because my mom grew up without a male figure in her life as well. This totally explains the “emptiness” I’ve felt throughout my life that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

So I tried to substitute my missing parental love with external “love”. I started dating at a young age, thinking a boyfriend would solve all of my problems. The first real relationship I had was with the son of a very prominent figure at the church I was attending. That’s where I first felt like I found my worth. He, the boy who was coveted by all the girls at school and loved by everyone in our religious community, picked me. That had to mean I was special, right? When he finally asked me to be his girlfriend, I was complete. I could die right then and there, and I would feel as though I had accomplished everything in life. So when he broke up with me because God told him that I was a distraction, my whole world crumbled. I felt as though the very air was being sucked from my lungs and there was no point in living another day. I was a mess.

From then on, I bounced from relationship to relationship, terrified of being alone, so much so that I would take almost anyone who passed my way if it meant they would have me. Thus, I found myself in some extremely unhealthy relationships.  I dated men who cheated, lied, were addicted to hard drugs, stole, and were physically aggressive simply because I needed someone to fill my heart tank. But I couldn’t…no, REFUSED…to see that truth in the moment. Recognizing that a relationship could potentially be harmful was a ridiculous notion to me for a long time.

The problem was, all of those guys that I dated clearly had lacking heart tanks as well; theirs were just as empty, if not emptier, than mine was. So, even though they filled my tank for a little bit, they quickly ran out of fuel, and it was just never enough to fully satisfy my need. THAT’S the important thing that I learned after reading this chapter – when you have empty heart tanks, the only person who can fill it is you (with the help of your Higher Power in whatever form you believe). Being aware of the void that has resulted in your heart because of the ugly curve balls life can throw is the first step. After that, it takes intentional steps of recovery and growth to slowly refill one’s tank. Only after you have worked on yourself can you maintain healthy relationships.

This just refueled my fire to “refill my tank”. Even though I am in a commitment right now, I feel like I found a man whose heart is overflowing. Thus, if I’m not careful, I will drain him to complete emptiness with my needs. I want to be able to contribute to his tank just as much as he does mine and hopefully one day, our children’s’ too. But even more than that, I want to feel full. I want that satisfying, lean back and unbutton the top layer of your jeans type satisfaction that comes with knowing I have taken care of myself; I have refilled my tank; and I have finally gotten to a place where I can outpour into the hearts of others who may need a little extra love.

I know it will be a long, intentional journey, but it will be worth it. I am worth it….simply because I am.

How’s your heart tank today?

Ten Traits

According to Love is a Choice by Dr’s Hemfelt, Minirth, and Meieir, there are 10 distinct characteristics of Codependency:

“1. The individual is driven by one or more compulsions.

2. The codependent is bound and often tormented by the way things were in the dysfunctional family or origin.

3. The codependent’s self-esteem (and, frequently, maturity) is very low.

4. A codependent is certain his or her happiness hinges on others.

5. Conversely, a codependent feels inordinately responsible for others.

6. The codependent’s relationship with a spouse or Significant Other Person (SOP) is marred by a damaging, unstable lack of balance between dependence and independence.

7. The codependent is master of denial and repression

8. The codependent worries about things he or she can’t change and may well try to change them.

9. A codependent’s life is punctuated by extremes

10. A codependent is constantly looking for the something that is missing or lacking in life. “

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Particularly, numbers 4, 5 and 8 resonate with me strongly. I have a tendency to take responsibility for other people’s feelings, actions, and circumstances even when they have absolutely nothing to do with me. Plus, I have difficulty in drawing boundary lines that keep me from becoming too involved in another person’s life. This then leads me to believe that I have more control than I really do, and my happiness becomes dependent on that idea.

After reading through this list a second time, I discovered there is even more the Codependency that I initially understood. It’s effects range farther and more intricately than I think most people realize. That is why it goes so undetected, and why I believe spreading the word is so crucial.

Do any of these traits seem to describe you? If so, know that you are not alone, and that awareness is the first step to a more peaceful, more joyous life. Keep digging!

The Silent Epidemic

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Yesterday, I had “community” on the brain nonstop – its importance, it’s impact, its integral necessity to life, and I realized that I am desperate for more of it. Then I was presented with the Dragon’s Loyalty Award – an accolade for those of us in the blogging world that are active participants and who contribute on a regular basis. This only further motivated me to dive deeper into my community. I want to be more proactive about generating meaningful conversations and opportunities for inter-web involvement. One of the easiest ways I think to do that is to start an online “book club”. Nothing fancy or rigid, but I will simply be picking a book and encouraging others to read along with me. I will also be posting meaningful excerpts (with the proper citations of course) so that those who do not really have time to commit to a full text can still comment and add feedback. Love is a choice

So, in the spirit of continuing on with intentional recovery, I have chosen the book: Love is a Choice by Drs. Robert Hemfelt, Frank Minirth, and Paul Meier.

This except in particular really blew my mind:

“Statisticians estimate that at least 15 million Americans are alcoholics or drug dependent. We believe each alcoholic severely impacts at least 4 other significant people such as spouses, children, and coworkers. Potentially sixty million codependents suffer from the addiction of those 15 million Americans. In addition, it is estimated that about 28 million Americans are the adult children of alcoholics and still suffer from the codependency they experienced in the childhoods. And that’s just alcohol. These figures do not address codependency generated by addictions and compulsions other than chemical abuse; they are, therefore, extremely conservative. The actual numbers of all codependents are much, much higher.

Epidemic. There’s no other way to describe it. When roughly one hundred million Americans across two concurrent generations suffer problems of codependency, we are embattled by an epidemic of staggering degree. The unhappiness, despair, and wasted life lie beyond comprehension.”

How many of those estimated people actually even know what Codependency is and are living draining, exhausting lives with no hope of anything better? After reading those numbers, I have made it my new mission to get the word out there; I want people to at least be able to understand that there is a reason they feel they way they do, but even more than that, there is a way to help manage dangerous tendencies. There is a way to experience life in a healthier, freer, more holistic manner.

And who wouldn’t want that?

So here’s to a new chapter in this blogging adventure. Whether it be through this virtual book club or through any other kind of participation throughout WordPress, join me in a commitment to community!

Love Always,
-Freedom

P.S. For those of you actually planning to nab a copy of the book, I will be reading all of Part I and II (2 chapters) this weekend to discuss on Sunday evening. Give me a heads up if you are reading along!