Tag Archives: codependency

Choosing Your Friends

FriendsAs I’ve mentioned a couple of times, I spent some time in therapy back in 2011.  I ended up going because my codependency had reached a critical mass and my life was falling apart at the seams.  I have to say that making that choice and working through some of my own problems with the help of a professional was quite possibly the best decision I have ever made.  It’s certainly among the top five.

One of the things my therapist would occasionally ask me when I got talking about issues with a particular friend or acquaintance was, “Is this relationship really worth what you’re having to deal with?  What are you getting out of it?”  She never pushed me to answer the question in any particular way, but she insisted that I face the question.  I’d say it’s probably one of the best things she did for me.

You see, prior to going to therapy, I never would have thought to ask such a question.  In fact, I’d dare say that I never even considered that I was allowed to ask such a question.  I mean, if you’re friends, you’re friends, right?  Or that was my thinking.  Until I spent some time in therapy.  And then I realized, I get to choose my friends and I get to choose whether those friendships will continue.  That was a wonderful and powerful realization, albeit a scary one.

Sometimes, we’re better off without some people in our lives, no matter what our past with those people may have been.  It doesn’t matter if Roy1 and I have been friends since the second grade.  If he says and does things that tear me down, I have every right to protect my sense of self-esteem by telling him our friendship is now a thing of the past.  It doesn’t matter if Janet and I helped each other through some really tough breakups and a substance abuse problem.  If we’ve reached a point in our lives where we really have nothing in common, it’s okay to wish her the best and let our lives slip apart.

I’ve intentionally chosen two rather different situations in the last paragraph because I want to stress that there are many diverse reasons why I can end a friendship and am empowered to do so.  It can be because the friendship is toxic to me or because the friendship just isn’t what it used to be and trying to recapture the past may be a useless and exhausting endeavor.  My choice to end a friendship may be based on the fact that the other person is a source of pain in my life or it may be based on the fact that the other person is still wonderful, but simply not someone I have that special bond with anymore.  In either case, it’s okay.

Some days, the thought of ending a friendship really is scary.  I wonder if I’m making a mistake.  I wonder if I may regret it.  In some cases, I may wonder if I’ve really given the other person a fair chance.  But in the end, I take comfort in knowing that I ultimately have that choice and it’s okay to make it.

1All names in this post are randomly chosen and represent imaginary people.

The most terrifying thing my therapist asked me to do

[I feel like this entry might need a Content Note or two, but I’m not sure exactly what for.  If anyone wants to offer any suggestions, I’d be quite grateful.]

I figured that since I’m in a writing mood, I’d schedule a blog post or two to go up while I’m at the Generous Spaciousness Conference Retreat.  This is another personal reflection/tell you a bit about me post.  The events I describe happened a little over two years ago.

I was sitting in my first therapy session and it was almost over.  Felicia and I had discussed a few different things.  Mostly she had asked me probing questions and I answered them, somewhat briefly.  Then she sprung the trap on me.

“We’re just about out of time for tonight, so here’s what I’d like to do.  For the next five minutes, I’m not going to say anything.  I want you to talk about whatever you want to talk about.”

That was it.  She was done talking.  I had five minutes I had to fill with whatever I wanted to fill it with.  Whatever was on my mind that I felt like sharing.

I hated it.  I filled with panic (and it had already been an emotional and exhausting session prior to this point).  I wondered how she could ask that of me.  I mean, didn’t we already establish that I didn’t know what to talk about, that I wasn’t sure what people would find interesting about me, or even if there was anything about me that people would find interesting?  Plus, I didn’t know what to say to her.  I mean, I was coming to her to sort out my problems —  which I felt we had already established and discussed.  What more was I supposed to say?  What was she looking for?  Why couldn’t she just give me some script to follow.  Or at least a general premise I could ad lib from.  I needed a role to play!

I’m not sure when — whether it was days or months — that my need to be given a role to play was exactly the issue she was trying to get me to face (at least I think that was her intent).  Much of my problem was that I tended to think of my life and even my worth in terms of “roles” to be played — often roles assigned by other people.  I think asking me to go “off script” for even just five minutes and choose my own words and my own topic to speak of was her way of getting me to choose my own “role” for the first time in a long time.

It’s something I still struggle with from time to time.  I’m still more comfortable in some situations — especially in situations where I’m around people I don’t know very well — having a script or at least a pre-planned topic of conversation.  But I’m also more likely to have a few possible topics or scripts picked out that I can try to introduce.  I’m also more likely to change the subject or steer a conversation where I’m not enjoying am not interested in the current topic.

And with people I’m closer to, I’m more likely to take initiative in steering the conversation.  Or torture them with talk about the progress on my novel or even excerpts from my most recent writing spree.  I’m more likely to put my interests out there and see if there is any mutual interest rather than automatically assuming there won’t be any.

It’s still a work in progress for me, but I don’t feel the need for a role — and certainly not the need for a role someone else assigns to me — to function or feel included to the degree I used to.  I think Felicia would be pleased.  I know I am.  And of course, I know Felicia would say that’s ultimately what counts.

Pondering “Out of a Far Country”: The Good

Today, I finally finished reading “Out of a Far Country:  A Gay Son’s Journey to God.  A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope” by mother-son team Angela and Christopher Yuan.  It was an interesting read and I found it both enjoyable and problematic.  As such, I want to do a number of blog posts about it.  In this blog post, I am going to try to focus mainly on what I enjoyed abut the book.[1]

The book focuses on two stories (though I’m sad to say that the one story ultimately gets subsumed by by the other), the story of each of the two authors.  Christopher shares his journey of coming out, walking away from his biological family, making many bad decisions, facing the consequences of those decisions, and reclaiming his life and reuniting with his family.  It’s touching, moving, and raw.  As someone who loves both stories and seeking to understand the heroes of those stories, it made for an incredibly compelling read.

Intertwined throughout this was Angela’s own story and her journey through the initial shock of her son’s announcement that he was leaving[2], her conversion to the Christian faith, and her acceptance of and patience with her sons journey before finally being reunited with her.

In many ways, Angela’s story was far more interesting to me than Christopher’s, which is why I was sad at how her story seemed to become little more than a subplot in his journey rather than something in its own right.  In part, this was because while neither Angela nor Christopher use the word in the book, it seems pretty clear to me that Angela is codependent and her initial reactions to Christopher and his bad decisions epitomizes the controlling behavior that those of us who struggle with codependency are so prone to.  As such, I was able to relate to Angela’s journey of recognizing these behavior patterns in her life and changing them as much — perhaps more than — I could relate to Christopher’s story.  After all, Christopher’s journey and my own were quite different and we’ve arrived at different places.  As such, in many ways, I found myself drawn more to his mother.

I also admire the honesty and rawness with which both author’s described their experiences, thoughts, and feelings throughout their journeys as well.  It was easy to see and understand not only what they were going through, but how their experiences and responses to them transformed them.  As such, while there’s much about the book that bothered me (and I will get into that soon enough), I think it was well worth reading and would encourage interested people to give it a try.

I will note however, that it deals with many deep and potentially triggering topics (including homosexuality, family rejection, drug abuse, HIV, imprisonment, and religiously-based homophobia).  Anyone who does accept my recommendation needs to be ready to deal with heavy topics.

[1] Sadly, what I found problematic about the book will likely take more than a single post.

[2] Though in fairness, Angela did lay down an ultimatum that contributed to Christopher’s decision.

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.

Memories of Guilt

Back when I was a kid, I thought I had to ask for forgiveness of every little sin in order to be forgiven and get into heaven.  I’m not really sure where I got this idea.  I know when I was a teenager, Harry did introduce me to the idea and explained the theology behind it.  He taught it to his junior high Sunday school class (which I took over for him when he left our church to join New Covenant).

But I know that my belief in this idea predated Harry’s teaching.  I remember being a little kid (I’d say eight or nine) lying in bed, worried that I’d forgotten to tell Jesus I was sorry about something.  I’d be trying to fall asleep and a pattern would emerge.  I’d ask Jesus to forgive me for something sin I thought I had committed.  Then I’d suddenly have a thought and realize that the thought I just had was probably sinful too (and it was usually some silly little thought, though I can’t think of any examples).  So I’d quickly whisper a quick “please forgive me, Jesus” to cover the new thought.  And the cycle would continue.

I think that carried with me right through to the day that I finally decided to make a break from Christianity.  I think it’s one of the reasons I made that break.  It was just too much pressure for me, a pressure that convinced me that I was constantly in a state of sin, constantly rotten, and even constantly worthless.  This idea that you have constantly monitor everything and ask for forgiveness is hell on one’s self esteem and sense of worth.

In some ways, I think it contributed to the codependency I’m currently seeking help for.  My codependency was a way to show myself that I wasn’t that bad and there was good in me.  I was redeemable.  Of course, I told myself when I left Christianity that those days were over.  I no longer had to prove myself or be “good enough.”

But I think some part of my unconscious didn’t get that memo back then.  Because I still set out to be the best person I can be.  Don’t get me wrong, being the best person you can be is a good thing.  But putting yourself under all the pressure because you have to be the best person you can be in order to be “good enough” or “worth something” is self-destructive.

So as I think about this, I feel like I’m coming back and relearning that lesson now.  I have value.  It’s good to do good and care about and for others, but it’s not something I have to do to be worthy of love, respect, or human dignity.  It’s as if that lesson is taking deeper root, that I’m learning it on a whole different level, and that feels great.