I’m not doing that anymore, Dave

Given that it’s the last day of 2011, I want to use today’s post to personally reflect on the past year, particularly my recovery with regards to being codependent.  It’s a topic that has been on my mind a lot the past few weeks, and was one of the contributing factors to a recent bad day I mentioned.

This isn’t surprising, as the events that led to me seek therapy and uncover my codependency unfolded around this time last year.  That was when things really began to spin out of control in my friendship/relationship with a young man I will call Dave, and I realized I needed to get professional help for some my own reactions.  Then when things fell apart completely and I threw Dave out of my life, I went into therapy and started to really learned what codependency is and why I’m codependent.

For those who may not know what codependency is, I’d like to start with Melody Beattie’s definition:

A codependent person is one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling the other person’s behavior.

My only problem with Ms. Beattie’s definition of what it means to be codependent is that devoid of any context, it sounds really awful.  That’s because being codependent is awful, in the sense that it’s hell on the person who is codependent and those who are around a codependent person.

What doesn’t come across in that definition very well is that “the other person’s behavior” is not minor behavior.  Ms. Beattie is talking about behavior that is truly out of control and usually committed by someone who does not wish to take responsibility for that behavior.  Codependent people end up taking responsibility for that behavior — usually out of a sense of obligation disguised as love — and trying to rescue the other person from their actions and their consequences of those actions.  We seek to control and “reel in” that behavior, to try to keep everything in that person’s life — and our own by extension — from flying apart at the seams.

Dave was the last person[1] I was codependent with before getting help.  He was out of control, not handling his own past well and acting out in ways that were self-destructive and destructive to those of us in his life.  And for the longest time, I made excuses for him and took responsibility — responsibility that Dave refused to take himself — for cleaning up the resulting mess.  As a result, my life fell apart — which is pretty common for codependent people.

So I went into therapy and began to examine my own behavior, why I tended to put other people’s needs before my own, and chose to attempt control other people who were out of control rather than taking care of myself.  I re-examined my self-perceptions, came to understand and appreciate my own boundaries, and learned to put far more of my energy into caring for myself.

Like recovery from most things, recovery from codependency is a process, and usually a never-ending one.  I still have moments where I slip into the old “care-taker” habits that marked my relationship with Dave and others.  In fact, Dave and I started hanging out again — and even started moving toward a relationship again — as I continued my therapy.  At the time, Dave seemed like a changed man, and I decided I wanted to give him another chance.

Unfortunately, I discovered appearances were deceiving toward the end of June, and that Dave was still up to his old games of deceit, manipulation, and using others (including me).[3]  So I eventually told Dave it was over again and told him I would not talk to him until he got help for his problems.

Before the second separation, I had felt the old patterns come back.  I had started to allow my life to center around Dave again.  However, I can proudly say that things hadn’t gotten as bad that time around than it was at the beginning of the year.  Plus, once I saw the truth about Dave’s continuing out-of-control behavior, I quickly cut it off.  For a codependent person, that is a victory.

I’ve heard from Dave since, and my response has been even stronger.  The last time I heard from him, I laid out the rules of what it would take to prove himself to me and convince me to let him back in my life.  Dave didn’t like the answer, said a few nasty things to me, and stormed off. I haven’t heard from him since, and while I’m a bit saddened he hasn’t changed, I will not accept an unchanged Dave.  I cannot change him, and I do not want him back unless he chooses to change himself.

I hope that Dave will be the last person I get into such a rough and out-of-control relationship.  I’d much rather find a great guy who understands and values his own integrity and a sense of responsibility.  But if I do meet another guy like Dave and even start getting involved with him, I now have the sense of self-worth and the tools to recognize it and put the brakes on.  And that is good enough.

[1]  It’s important to note that my codependency developed over a long period of time and is the cumulative result of taking responsible for many people over the many years of my life.  While Dave was a toxic person[2] and not good for me, it’s important to note that my codependency did not start with him.  Also, I am responsible for my codependency and my recovery from it now.  As Ms. Beattie also says, it may not be my fault that I’m the way I am, but it’s my responsibility to do something about it.

[2]  It’s important to note that toxic people are not worthless or irredeemable.  Saying a person is toxic simply means that they choose to behave in ways that hurt other people and are often unhealthy to be around.

[3]  The final straw for me was that we broke up and agreed to just be friends.  I was crushed by this decision.  While we were out together three days after the decision, a waitress asked if we had considered getting married, and Dave told her that we were actually engaged.  That was the moment that I realized that Dave would tell any lie that suits his purpose, even if his only purpose is to get a little extra attention from a random person in a restaurant.  I didn’t want anyone who had such a low regard of his own integrity.  Someone who can lie so easily for such a pointless reason cannot be trusted to treat others properly.

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