I’m Not Codependent!…Am I?

I’m one of those strange souls who enjoys taking quizzes and tests. Nothing thrilled me more as a student, than the week of standardized assessments – no homework, extra recess time! My teachers often allowed me to read a book when I “finished early.” As an avid reader, I would race through the test questions so I could get back to Anne of Green Gables.

Decades later, I still like to fill in the blanks and pencil in the bubbles with a sharp no. 2 pencil. Always a sucker for instant gratification, computerized tests with immediate results thrill me even more!

While sitting in church a couple of weeks ago, a friend leaned over and whispered, “What are you on the Meyers-Briggs?” When I told her, she laughed and replied, “Only personalities like us actually remember!” Perhaps she’s right. Those four letters are seared on my brain like a tattoo. (If you’re unfamiliar, you can read about the assessment here: http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/)

What about you? Do you like to discover yourself in personality quizzes? If, like me, you have loved someone who is addicted to something, perhaps a little codependency quiz may be a helpful reality check. I think I paid $70.00 for my first reality check – with a therapist. I was so desperate to speak with someone that I didn’t care that it took the electric bill money. I needed to know where I stood on the emotional Richter scale. The minor tremors could no longer be controlled. I was headed for a major seismic meltdown. I needed help.

When I look into eyes that reflect the familiar pain that used to haunt me in the mirror, I cannot walk away. This weekend I sat across from a pair of hopeless eyes and wept the tears she could not yet cry. I know, my friend. I get it. You are too numb to weep, too tired to leave, too angry to stay. You need respite. A place to grieve, to think, to pray…

That conversation reminded me of how it feels to be stuck – unsure whether I’m making a mountain out of the proverbial molehill; unsure whether what I’m seeing and feeling is justified by the on-again-off-again “love” of my significant other. For anyone out there who feels this way or knows someone who does, these, and similar behaviors collectively have a name. Codependency. There are support groups (Al-Anon, Celebrate Recovery, or Codependents Anonymous (http://coda.org/) who can help us to see ourselves when the mirror is foggy. Codependency for Dummies

Self Check:

Do I…

  • Assume responsibility for others’ feelings and behaviors?
  • Feel guilty about others’ feelings and behaviors?
  • Minimize, alter, or deny how I truly feel?
  • Compromise my own values and integrity to avoid rejection or others’ anger?
  • Put other people’s needs and desires before my own (to the detriment of my own physical, spiritual, emotional or mental health?)
  • Worry about how others may respond to my feelings, opinions and behavior?
  • Value others opinions and feelings more than my own?
  • Judge everything I think, say, or do harshly, as never “good enough?”
  • Spend my energy on someone else’s problem or life?
  • Feel loyal to someone who is hurting me?
  • Fear being left or rejected?
  • Adapt to others’ tastes of point of view?
  • Rescue, enable, or support a “bad habit” in someone I love?

 Am I…

  • Afraid of being hurt and/or rejected by others?
  • Afraid of my own anger, yet sometimes erupt in rage?
  • Afraid to express differing opinions or feelings?
  • A perfectionist?
  • Extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long?
  • Controlling?
  • Lacking boundaries and have difficulty saying, “no?”
  • Continually justifying and explaining myself?
  • Unable to get over losses or break-ups?
  • Staying in a relationship I’m not happy with because “something is better than nothing?”

The above lists were gleaned from Celebrate Recovery resources and Codependency for Dummies by Darlene Lancer, MFT. (If you’d like a more “official” online quiz to feed your inner test-taker, you can find one here: http://www.codependencynomore.com/

Although these are only partial lists, and behaviors almost everyone exhibits at times, I invite you to prayerfully consider whether they are red flags in your life. If so, don’t wait! Find a trusted person to speak with about your situation. Read further about codependency. Find a counselor. Ask God to deliver you from the bondage of your own lowered expectations for your life and personal relationships.

I claim this promise from God for you today, “…I redeemed you from the house of bondage…” (Micah 6:4). Be redeemed! Be free! Be whole!

 

Is That Elephant Yours?

I used to write the checks that paid the bills. (That was back in the day before automatic drafts.) I controlled the income and the outgo. I did the shopping. I did the saving. I gave my addicted spouse a weekly allowance, which eventually turned into daily “lunch money” because he blew (or snorted) the weekly dollars with one trip to the dealer.

I worked very hard to keep us out of debt and in the black. Sometimes we still received the dreaded NSF (non-sufficient funds) on our bank statement, with overdraft fees attached. Those three letters (NSF) made me crazy! I would clamp down even tighter on a husband who could figure out a way to buy drugs no matter how hard I controlled the cash. I was like Wile E. Coyote, scrimping and scheming to keep my husband from killing himself. Rationalizing insanely like this: If he only gets a few dollars, then he can’t overdose or disappear for days. We can handle a high; we just can’t handle a binge.

The addicted “Road Runner,” on the other hand, figured out myriad ways to outsmart me, from pawning his own stuff to beating in his truck with a sledge hammer and collecting the insurance money. Can’t you just hear him saying, “Beep beep!” on his way to the dealer…again? And can you picture me, ultra control-freak freaking out…again?

Remember that childhood cartoon (I know, I’m dating myself here) where Wile E. Coyote is chasing after Road Runner and ends up going off a cliff? That was me. Eventually, I ended up just going off the deep end because trying to outsmart and out-chase and out-control an out-of-control person is exhausting… and damaging; especially to the ones who are trying to fix everything.

In her best-selling book Codependent No More, Melody Beattie says, “Most of us have been so busy responding to other people’s problems that we haven’t had time to identify, much less take care of, our own problems.”

Following are some quotes that came from spouses of alcoholics when their husbands were in treatment and when they got honest about who they really were and how they really felt:

  • “The bondage of codependency made me so crazy that all those around me suffered greatly.”
  • “I caught myself answering for my spouse in Family Program. I started to realize that I was a big part of the problem.”
  • “I wanted to be a victim. I continued to act like I did not have choices and that it was always everyone else’s fault in the family for how I felt and reacted.”
  • “I realized that although I was saying I wanted my spouse to get better, I was really afraid of getting better and looking at my own stuff. I kept adding pressure as a way of sabotaging.”
  • “I still wanted to control things while my spouse was in treatment, because, after all, I had always taken care of everything.” Codependent No More Workbook, p. 83

 I recently read this quote on Ann Voskamp’s blog:

“Unless you walk with Jesus every day will be driven hard by pride or fear.”

 My thoughts keep returning to those words like a tongue returns to that empty place where a tooth used to be. It’s so true.” Every day will be driven hard by pride or fear.” And that pride and fear drive us to control.

Why did I try to control every penny when I was married to a cocaine user? Because I was prideful. I wanted to make sure that everything about our lives continued to appear normal, even though normal was often far from our reality.

And what was I so afraid of anyway? Why was fear a driving force in my life? Well, I was afraid that he would kill himself or someone else. I was afraid he would go to jail, and at the same time afraid he wouldn’t go to jail. Afraid of what the good people in church would think if they knew what was really going on in our lives. Afraid that we would lose our home, our vehicles, our jobs. Afraid that I might lose my mind. Just afraid. Of lots of things.

I was so prideful and fearful and controlling that I was blinded to the “elephant in the room.” Oh, I kind of knew there was a large mammal with a long trunk that had taken up residency in our lives, but I thought it belonged to the real addict, surely not to me!

Upon closer inspection, one that required a good Christian counselor and some Al-anon principles, I realized that the elephant had my name on it. It was my pet. No one ever spoke of it. We all ignored it. But there it was, one day, bigger than life. Its name was Control. It stood firmly on four legs: pride, fear, shame, and secrecy.

Only when those legs began to buckle under the powerful daily application of God’s Word, did that beast begin to fall to its knees.

Is that your elephant?

Is that your elephant?

I dove into scriptures like Isaiah 41:10, which says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (NIV) Proverbs 16:5, in the King James version reminded me that pride is an “abomination” to the Lord. The Living Bible puts it this way,“Pride disgusts the Lord. Take my word for it—proud men [and women] shall be punished.”

This week, I came across a great little magnifying glass that might be used to check for elephants. You may want to prayerfully read it and begin turning some of those burdens you’ve been carrying over to the One who can truly handle them. It’s written by Cherilynn Veland:

Five Major Ways Addictions Can Affect Your Life, Even If You Are Not The Addict

If you are in a relationship with a problem drinker or problem substance abuser, or if you have a family member who is an addict, there are five major ways that this disease may affect you.

1. You can become more controlling.
It is normal for this disease to make a person feel anxious or overwhelmed. Because of this, the family member usually becomes more controlling of their environment. For example, if you are a boss at a company, and your spouse has a drinking problem, you might over-manage your employees. You could channel that control need into making  more and more rules and restrictions for your employees. If you are a parent, you may do this with your kids, managing their relationships or being overly restrictive.

2. You can become anxious and more easily overwhelmed.
You will worry more in general about everyone you care about. If you are a mom or a dad, you may be overly-focused on your child. You want to make them happy at all costs, and you become overly worried if something goes wrong for them at school. Work is more difficult. Everything gets harder.

3. You might think you can help when you can’t.
People who are in relationships with substance abusers will often try harder and harder to “make” the addict/alcoholic happy. They will work hard to do whatever it takes to “make them OK” so the drinker or user won’t need to drink. Sadly, this will not help. Addiction has nothing to do with someone’s environment. Even if a substance abuser likes to blame their difficult work or the messy house, these are just excuses.

4. You can become fixated on the other person’s behavior.
Wondering and worrying about things like, “Will ____ drink tonight?” or “What if they drive?” or “How will it be at home if ____happens?” These worries can become a fixation in your mind, leading to self-neglect. This cycle repeats over and over.

5. You can get blinded by denial.
If your loved one is a substance abuser, it is normal to go into denial. Remember the woman who killed her children and several other people after driving with 10 drinks in her system? Her family says they knew nothing about it. Denial is a powerful partner to the disease of substance abuse. Even loving parents will turn a blind eye. I see it all the time.

The takeaway: Even if you are just the friend of an addict, or you grew up with an addict who is in recovery, alcoholism and drug addiction have tentacles with deep impact. Anyone in any kind of a relationship with someone who is addicted has to be touched by this disease. Contact a counselor or a 12-step program such as Al-Anon if you are in this situation. Learn about codependency. Help is out there. (http://drnicolaswarner.com/five-major-ways-addictions-can-affect-life-even-if-not-addict/)

My students used to tell elephant jokes: Q: “What time is it when an elephant sits in a chair?” A: “Time to get a new chair.” Q: “What is the same size as an elephant, but weighs nothing?” A: “An elephant’s shadow.” Q: “How do you eat an elephant?” A: One bite at a time.” I guess that’s what I want to leave with you – the way to conquer the elephants in our lives is to first acknowledge that they actually might be ours. Then we make them disappear one bite at a time. And those bites are found in the first part of Ann’s quote, “Unless you walk with Jesus every day…”

Jesus, help me to walk with You, humbly, fearlessly, day by day, until every single bite of that elephant is swallowed up by Your grace and mercy. Amen.

P.S. Here’s the link to Ann Voskamp’s blog where I got the quote: http://www.aholyexperience.com/2014/04/15-keys-to-parenting-what-no-one-tells-you/

Unashamed

“Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression. Psalm 19:13-14”

That scripture was written by my own hand in my journal. The year was 2007, the year my upside-down life turned inside-out. That was the year the festering boil that was my marriage to a crack-addicted spouse burst and all that internal pain I’d kept bottled up for years oozed out for the world to see. That was the year God desperately sought to rescue me from myself as my own neediness nearly cost me my future.

Last week I went off the grid to work on some of the last chapters in this memoir that has been somewhat like birthing a child – both painful and joyous. I spent the time at my friend Nancy’s house, where she graciously allowed me to keep ungodly hours, typing away on my manuscript as I sat at her table wearing the same comfy sweats night after day. I won’t tell you how many times I didn’t shower, but by Thursday, sweet Nancy was sitting slightly further away when she chatted to me than she had earlier in the week. I thought my husband was being so gracious when he offered to “let me go away so I could write without distraction,” but I wonder if he was secretly saving himself from having to live with me while I was in “writer’s mode.”

It was a tough, yet productive week. I plowed through the events leading up to the ultimate disintegration of my marriage. Those were definitely some painful memories. But the thing that brought me the most distress was recognizing how clearly God spoke to me and how blindly I went in the opposite direction during the months immediately following my divorce. I was almost too afraid to write about it for fear of what people will think of me.

God sought to rein me in so many different ways. One was through a sermon I heard when I visited a distant church one weekend. Here are some of the notes I took in my journal:

  • Everything has its effect. Our own mistakes are the first source of wisdom.
  • “Failure is failure only if we fail to learn” (John Maxwell)
  • Learn from the mistakes (life experiences) of others. Who are the ‘wise’ people in your life? Listen to them.
  • Are you ready to humble your heart enough to trust God?

 As I recently read the thoughts, prayers, and events surrounding those sermon notes in my 2007 journal, I could almost see the pull between who God was calling me to be and the voice of my own selfish desires. Here’s a paragraph from Chapter 13 of my manuscript:

“I honestly thought I was humble and ready to trust God. But early on in life I had developed a dangerous pattern of going from relationship to relationship without any space between. My marriage was simply part of that pattern. Now that it was ended, I defaulted to my faulty wiring, which was a result of deep insecurity and childhood wounding. I was desperately in need of time to heal.”

I did not give myself that much-needed time. Jumping from the proverbial frying pan into the fire, I got burned and hurt on top of the hurt I was already going through. The enemy knew my vulnerabilities and prepared a perfect snare for my wounded heart. I fell right for it.

As I sat at Nancy’s table this week, reading my personal journal from seven years ago, I felt so ashamed that I had missed God’s warnings to me. He really was being the loving heavenly Father He says He is. But I wasn’t allowing Him to be. I was like that headstrong teenaged daughter who slams her bedroom door in her Dad’s face saying, “Leave me alone! You just wouldn’t understand,” as he tries to warn her about the kinds of boys she’s attracted to. “Forgive me, Lord,” I prayed, as hindsight’s understanding flooded my mind, “For not listening to You. Forgive me for numbing my pain with another relationship and causing myself additional heartache, when all You wanted to do was to help me heal.”

What I want to say to each of us is this: When we run to a person, an addiction, or a numbing behavior to satisfy a longing inside of us, rather than running to the One who created us and truly understands what we need, we are only hurting ourselves further and prolonging our ultimate healing.

 In my 12 Step group, we began Step 1 last October by taking a look at the following addiction cycle:

 The Addiction Cycle:

  1. Pain, distress, boredom
  2. Reaching out to an addictive agent, such as work, food, sex, alcohol, or dependent relationships to salve our pain
  3. Temporary anesthesia
  4. Negative consequences
  5. Shame and guilt, which result in more pain or low self-esteem, starting the cycle all over again

We’re now on Step 6, but we are continually reminded to check where the cycle is showing up in our lives. If we see ourselves anywhere in this cycle, there is hope for us. God longs to be the only God in our lives. He’s the Dad, knocking on the door of our hearts saying, “Open up. I see you. I love you. I really do know what’s best for you. Let me show you. Let me help you. Will you trust me?”

If we can just choose to rely on Him in our times of suffering, whatever they may be, rather than on ourselves or our self-defeating ways of numbing, He will redeem everything we thought was lost. I had to learn that the hard way. Am still learning that…but I AM learning. And He is redeeming. All of those things I thought were lost.messy tulips

When I came home from Nancy’s on Friday evening, I was greeted by a vase of yellow tulips on my table and a loving husband washing dishes in my kitchen. As he embraced me and told me how proud he was of what I was doing and how excited he will be when my book is published and my story begins to help others, I released the fear of “what will people think” and embraced the truth found in Titus 2:11-14, that says it is God’s amazing grace that teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions.

When we can truly say, “God sees me in my helpless state, hears my deepest heart cries, is able to satisfy my every desire, and His son, my brother, Jesus Christ, is not ashamed of me,” then we can stop the addiction cycles in our lives. Will anyone choose with me to believe that today?

At Nancy's Table

At Nancy’s Table

Titus 2:11-14 (NIV)

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.