I have no idea where to begin with this, really. So I guess I just start and see where I go.
For starters, I will say that this post is to a degree inspired by The Disease Called “Perfection” by Single Dad Laughing, which was luckily for me linked by Dys a while back.
Have you ever had someone describe you with uncanny accuracy – someone who has never known you? When they can describe incidents in your past, and your reactions to them, sight unseen and story untold?
That happened to me last night. In a 12-step meeting.
So, yeah. That part’s out.
I’ve been seeing a therapist once a week now for…fuck, I don’t even remember exactly. There is sort of a fog over the last month or so of my life, and so much has happened that it’s hard to keep straight. I think the answer is “about six weeks” but it may be more or less time than that. You see, I know I have problems. Have known. I think the time I made the elementary-school psychologist tear up might have been clue #1. But swallowing my own problems and soldiering on with a stiff upper lip has always been my mantra – even when I was far, far too young to be doing so. And, you might say, that’s the fundamental problem upon which I have since built layer after layer after layer of new ones.
Part of soldiering on was never admitting that I had a problem. Not to anyone, and least of all myself. People with problems are weak, I would say to myself, somewhere deep down beneath the level of conscious thought. I’m weak enough already. I despise myself. I will earn my own respect by showing what I can tolerate. The world admires – is sometimes awed by – those who can take the load, carry the weight, absorb the pain, and continue on. I will be the exemplar of that. That, at least, is always within my power – my ability to regulate my own response to pain. I may not be able to make anyone respect me, care for me, love me – but I can train myself to be inured to pain. Pain of injury, pain of loneliness, pain of indifference.
I can take it. I will take it. I will endure, and I will triumph when the others have been crushed by the weight and I am the last man standing.
As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working out for ya?” Not very well, thanks for asking, and go fuck yourself. I’m busy.
On some level I suppose I’ve known I needed therapy for years. Fuck, decades. But with one exception, and if I’m perfectly honest a mostly superficial one at that because it was so externally-focused, I’ve never sought it. I didn’t want to face what I might find, what in my heart I knew I would find. It would require that I change, and the very idea, no matter how subconsciously expressed, of abandoning the only way I’ve ever developed to cope with the world scared the holy fuck out of me. But when you’re sitting on the floor in a fetal position, hugging your knees and slowly rocking and speaking in a voice you barely recognize as your terrified wife urges you to get help…well, maybe that’s a time to listen and get help.
I’m tempted to back up and erase that last line, but I’m going to refuse. Because it’s the truth.
To be honest, I surprised myself with the determination with which I walked into the therapist’s office for the first time. I walked in and said, essentially, “Hey doc, I know I’m fucked – six ways from Sunday – and I know I need to tear myself down and rebuild from the ground up. How do we start?” An hour and a half into my first one-hour session, I had essentially just started to outline the problem. But at the same time, amidst all my terror of talking to a stranger and revealing my weaknesses, I felt a huge shift in the weights that I’ve always carried. They weren’t gone – not by a long shot – but it felt different to me. Easier in some ways and harder in others.
She looked me in the eye and told me that she strongly recommended that I attend support group sessions. I waved her off. Talking in front of one person was one thing, and I was stunned that I was doing that so well. Sitting in a room of people and being open with all of them was far beyond me. Besides, it was hard enough for me to admit I needed help enough to carve one hour (and then some) out of my week to go seek it. Twice a week? Crazy talk.
She reiterated her suggestion. She didn’t insist that I go…but she did insist that I would benefit from it. Even though we were, by her admission, making startling progress already in individual therapy (though don’t get me wrong, there is still a LONG LONG way to go – fuck, it took me 5 weeks to even get to the infamous Jamie story). It was only when she said, “No, really, they call it a support group but it’s over 100 people in each session. You can sit quietly and not have to talk. It’s okay.” that I succumbed.
So a few weeks ago I attended my first a meeting of Codependents Anonymous. I was terrified to go, beyond any rational reason for feeling so. It was frustrating; my Google directions sent me to the wrong campus of the hospital that hosted it and I ended up arriving late instead of early, which made me feel even worse. It was standing room only - I sat down on top of a stack of folding tables in a back corner of the room as others stood, and some dragged chairs down the hall to sit in the doorway.
And for an hour and a half I heard people talk about problems that were just like mine. Sure, there were variances – we started from different points and moved through different points and ended at different points – but all of the paths were recognizable to me. I had to admit that my therapist was right. I learned a lot, I thought a lot, I felt a lot, and I knew it would be a good idea to go back.
A few circumstances forced me to miss the next two meetings, so last night was my second one. I got there on time this time, and found that they had a packet for newbies – with the twelve steps and so forth written out for you.
This is where I had my fucking freakout moment, people.
See, I’ve read about codependency before, and I knew I probably was a codependent person, but I sort of downplayed it. On the scale of problems, I thought, codependency isn’t all that bad. (And compared to alcoholism or gambling addiction and so forth, I still say so.) And on the scale of things, I wasn’t all that codependent. Small problem, small level of affectation. I’ll deal. I can handle it. “I can quit anytime I want!!”
Heh. I figured I might as well go full monte on the cliche.
The first meeting sort of changed that. These people took this problem seriously. Not without humor…but they were treating it just as an addiction. Many of the people in that room were former substance-addicts in various stages of recovery, or the children or spouses of such. They knew how the program worked, and they were taking it as seriously as any AA or NA program.
The second meeting…when was handed the newbie-packet and leafed through it for the first time…
This is where that goddamn inanimate packet held a mirror up to me and asked me, point-blank: “Still think you don’t have a problem? Still think this isn’t a big deal?”
I couldn’t answer.
Folks, look at that list. Sure, everybody does some of those things to a degree. And we all know somebody who does a little too much of them. But it’s how many of them. And the level to which they’re done. I’m not the only one I know, and know well, who fits many of those patterns. But if I’m honest, I think I have to say that I’m the person I know who fits more of them (over 75% of that list, I guarantee) and to a greater, more compulsive degree.
And if I thought the previous session spoke to me – whoa. People to my left, people to my right, described situations that turned my stomach with their familiarity to my own. And what happened? I began to get angry. With myself. There was a moment in which I wanted to lash out, throw a chair, do something to release some of the pent-up anger and frustration I was feeling. There were several moments in which I damn near broke out in tears – and might have, if I didn’t still have such a deep-seated aversion to hide my emotions in public and before strangers.
I also saw some hope. Some avenues for change. Even though they will be extremely difficult – would be for anyone, but particularly so for me.
It was only as I was leaving, though – as I got into my car and drove away – that the last wrecking-ball hit me. I’m going to write this and you guys may think I’m being over-dramatic, but I am not. I’m honestly a little afraid to write it because it’s so fucked up and because on some weird level I feel like somebody may lose respect for me for saying it: but fuck it. If I’m going to be truthful, I’m going to be truthful.
This is an example of how sick my thinking has been: I was thinking of something another person had said inside the meeting – something drastic that made everyone else gasp (and later applaud for how she dealt with it). I was half a mile down the road, sitting at a stop light behind the wheel of my car and I thought, “You know – there have been times that I half-wished for fucking cancer or some debilitating disease – just so I could have a reason to put down all of my burdens and take care of myself, let myself be taken care of, and just live my fucking life for the six months or a year or whatever I had left.” Goddamn, people. Is that some sick shit or what?
And that brought my thoughts to a screeching fucking halt. If I’d had sense, I would have pulled my car into the nearby service station and composed myself. But I didn’t – my family expected me home at a certain time, and I had promised to pick up milk at the grocery store, so I drove on, because that’s what I thought I had to do. What I needed to do. Put my own feelings aside and do what I think others expect of me.
At that point, though, it was utterly clear to me. I have to admit it. I have a serious problem. I have a compulsion – an addiction to people, to use people around me in unhealthy ways in order to meet needs that I can neither express nor even admit that I have, and that are impossible for them to meet in the ways I wish.
I went to bed last night, after a shitload of journaling and re-reading my newbie packet over and over and over, feeling some sense of hope again. You know, I’m not alone, there are easily a hundred people just in my town who are facing the same struggles – and most of them were much older than I am when they even started to try to wrap their arms around them. I can take heart that though I wish I had done so earlier, at least I’m doing so now.
But then I dragged my ass through my morning routine, to work, and sat here to look at all the shit I have to do, and all that hope just sort of rushed out of me again. NOW you guys see what I’ve been talking about when I mention my richly-overdue fucking nervous breakdown.
I wanted to read through my usual fluffy internet funny stuff – maybe to write, to camouflage my pain behind humor, which is what I’ve done best since I was ten or twelve. It’s what I do best, after all – to ignore my own pain by absorbing myself in others’ lives in this way or that. But I read the “Perfection” post and decided, NO, FUCK IT. Truth is hard, and truth is ugly, but truth is truth. And this is a small part of my own truth. So I’m sharing it, however it looks, and however people feel about it.
I have a serious and enduring problem with compulsive behaviors in my relationships with other people, be they friends, partners, coworkers, family members, or others. I have a serious and enduring problem with accepting that I am responsible for myself first and foremost – with understanding that I am worthy of the attention and affection and respect of others and especially myself, regardless of what I may or may not do for others. That my guilt over what I should do, could do, have done, or have left undone to others should not be the guiding force of my life, and should not convert into shame that makes me question my self-worth.
I’m recognizing those patterns and trying to change them. Most of those changes, people, scare the ever-loving shit out of me. That’s just the honest truth. I’ve lived my life a certain way for as long as I can remember, and I don’t yet know another way to do so. But I know I have to find one…and so I will. And as long as I refuse to admit I have a problem, to anyone and everyone, the harder it will be to face it.
So despite the churning in my guts, I’m going to hit ‘publish’ on this one and run away before I change my mind.
My name is TB, and I’m a codependent – a codependent on the first steps down a long road to recovery.