Happy Codependent Mother’s Day

“Oh Julie, you have rug burns on your heart.” Eight months after boarding a homebound plane in Ukraine with my Honey and our newly adopted teenagers, I’m crying on the phone to my friend, searching for ways to describe the festering ache in my soul. I wince as her words trigger the memory of oozing rug burns sticking to my pantyhose. I was an athlete thirty years ago, but my knees still carry the scars.

Our high school gymnasium doubled as a multi-purpose building for many student activities, including church services, so the “Lady Tartans” played basketball and volleyball on carpet. Yes, CARPET! Visiting teams eyed our court in disbelief during pre-game warm-ups. I’m certain the Tartans wielded slightly more than a home game advantage. We were used to our unusual turf’s effect on bouncing balls and the teenage knees of scrappy girls who played to win.

Rug burns rake off a person’s protective skin, creating wounds that seep blood or pinkish semi-clear liquid. Time eventually creates a thin crust over each burn’s surface. When my team played two home games in a row, there was no time for our rug burns to heal before we again sacrificed knobby teen knees for rebounds or game points. I learned the hard way what happens when rug burns get layered—yellow white pus forms under the scab and oozes out when pressure is applied to the wound. Double rug burns are painfully slow to heal.

“Yes. Yes, I do have rug burns on my heart,” I reply. My friend understands rug burns. She was a Lady Tartan, too. She’s also lived a life story similar to mine.

After we stop talking, I turn off the bedside lamp and lay awake long into the night. I’m alone. My family is home. I’m traveling—sharing my testimony of redemption and restoration, sowing hope in hearts wounded by addiction.small plane

Do you even believe your own message? I’m stunned by the thought, as it strikes deep in my core.

Of course I do. But, I’m hurting and I don’t know how to fix this, God. How did we get here? What could I have done differently? What do we do now? Why don’t they let me love them anymore?

I toss questions toward heaven with the fervency of a baseball-pitching machine, not expecting Anyone to really answer.

I’m still sore from the sting of the H-word my son spewed just days before I left for this trip. “He doesn’t mean it,” the well-meaning people say. “Don’t take it personally.” Not helpful.

He felt hatred towards me. That’s why he said it. Of course he meant it. He also means it when he says he doesn’t want me to hug him or touch him. When he forbids me to say, “I love you” or to demonstrate any connection or affection at all. He means it. And it’s mean. And it burns my heart raw.

Maybe I could blow it off, recognize that it’s coming from a place of deep pain and trauma-triggered fear. Maybe it wouldn’t fester so bad if that were the only wound. But it’s not. There’s more. There’s my other boy-turned-man-overnight. Trying his wings, testing his limits, telling Honey and me all kinds of things we never wanted to hear. Building a wall a mile high and six feet thick to keep us distanced from his heart.

Here you are, talking on TV about recovery from codependency like you’ve got all the answers, when just yesterday you relapsed into fear-based control and tried to be somebody’s Holy Spirit. Again. Multitude of Counselors

The enemy taunts me with half-truths. Tries to silence me with guilt and shame. I cringe. It’s true. I project my pain from the past onto my kids when their rejection triggers old wounds that still ooze pus and blood. Wounds that stick to my emotional Spanx and rip the skin right off my soul, leaving me tender and vulnerable.

I am not healed yet!

There. I’ve said it. I’m not a perfect pastor’s wife, mother, daughter, friend or person. I’m painfully aware of my shortcomings, especially when pointed out by those who know me best. When I am afraid, I try to control circumstances or people. When angry, I punish with silence. When I am rejected, I tend to withhold affection for fear of further rejection. Sometimes I isolate. Or use guilt to manipulate. When I don’t know what else to do, I work, work, work. I am a mess. I need Jesus. Every moment. Of every day. I cannot do this on my own.

In preparation for taping this televised program, I reviewed the first Step of the Twelve Steps of Codependents Anonymous: “I am powerless over other people.” Once more, I am humbly reminded that I cannot make “minding other people’s business” my way of life, (even if those other people are my own family). I cannot put off my own good by determining to control, advise or guide others. I must surrender my compulsive drive to “fix the unfixable.” I am not anyone’s Jesus. By God’s grace, I will choose (once again) to ask myself two questions before jumping into control or rescue mode:

  1. Did this person ask me for this help?
  2. What does this have to do with God’s will for me?

Father in heaven, I choose to release my sons and the time frame for their emotional healing and spiritual growth to Your care. I choose to focus on my own spiritual progress and maintain healthy boundaries in all my relationships. I will not sacrifice my personal needs to meet the needs of another person, nor will I resort to unhealthy giving or serving from a place of fear or manipulation. I will allow You, God to be God in my life and in the lives of my sons. Thank You for your grace and your mercy, which is beautifully new every morning. Thank you for Your ability to heal the layered rug burns on all of our hearts. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

codependency lovingonpurpose

What about you, dear Friend? Are you expending valuable emotional, financial and physical energy rescuing, enabling or persecuting someone whose life is out of control because of a chemical or other addictive dependency? Are you allowing fear to drive your actions as you try to save a drowning loved one? Have you lost your sense of self by allowing your boundaries to be pushed back or knocked down completely? Do you need to take CODA’s Step 1 and admit that you are powerless over another person and that your life has become unmanageable? If so, it’s not too late to come out of denial. Take that Step. Admit it to yourself. Tell Jesus. Confide in a friend. Begin your journey to wholeness today. You are worth it! You are so totally worth it.

Fight or Flight? Negotiating Conflict

I have a slow processer. Not in my computer, but my brain. My “fight or flight” signals don’t work. When badly spooked, I just stand there – frozen to the floor, unable to move at all. The same thing happens when I’m struck with emotional turmoil. My brain turns into a frozen gel pack. My tongue forgets what to say, and days can go by before my thoughts thaw out enough to process the problem.

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My New Running Shoes

For as long as I can remember, that’s how I’ve been. When kids were unkind at school, I’d be on the bus, hours later, trying to think of a “good comeback” to their comments. When my high school boyfriend cheated on me, I could not believe the evidence and went through weeks of trying to figure out what to say before confronting him with the truth. When “well-meaning” church members say something rude, I mindlessly shake their hands and draw a blank as to how to respond. By Wednesday or Thursday, I might come up with something. Maybe. When I feel backed into a corner, I tend to just camp there for a while.

As the former spouse of an addict, I remember often crunching through life on those proverbial egg shells as I tried to process the constant lies and slights and think of ways to confront without being confrontational. More often than not, I would stay silent, since by the time I was ready to speak about an issue, several more incidents had happened and the first one seemed moot by that time. It was frustrating to live like that.

I always wanted to be one of those people who could just say everything that needed to be said, right when it needed to be said, with no regrets. I’ve always wanted to be someone who knows when it is okay to walk away and when it is time to stay and deal with something head-on. But I never have been. Those lines are frustratingly gray for me.

As I’ve continued to attend my 12 Step group and to learn about how to deal with my codependent tendencies, I thought I was getting better. But some things have happened in the past week, which have revealed my need for greater growth in that area. God is not finished with me, yet.

Melody Beattie’s book, The Language of Letting Go, says this in the reading for April 4 entitled, Negotiating Conflicts: “Recovery is about more than walking away. Sometimes it means learning to stay and deal. It’s about building and maintaining relationships that work.

Problems and conflicts are part of life and relationships – with friends, family, loved ones, and at work. Problem solving and conflict negotiation are skills we can acquire and improve with time.”

She goes on to say, “Not being willing to tackle and solve problems in relationships leads to unresolved feelings of anger and victimization, terminated relationships, unresolved problems and power plays that intensify the problem and waste time and energy.” Those words exactly describe the past few days of my life. It’s not that I was “unwilling” to tackle and solve the problems, it’s that my slow processor could not do it fast enough to keep up with the pendulum that swung from hate to love to dismissal within a matter of hours.

I wanted to say the right words. They came out wrong. I wanted to fix it, but I was, too late. I wanted to explain myself, but I had missed the boat of the friendship in question. By Tuesday, it had pulled out of the harbor and was well on its way to another continent by the time I was ready to speak about what had happened in the first place. Talk about missing the boat! I was left with my head spinning and my heart hurting, wondering what had really happened and why my emotional feet were still frozen to the floor.

Melody continues, “Some problems with people cannot be worked out in mutually satisfactory ways. Sometimes the problem is a boundary issue we have, and there is not room to negotiate. In that case, we need to clearly understand what we want and need and what our bottom line is.” I guess that’s what happened. It took me a while to figure out exactly what my “bottom line” was, and by the time I was ready to explain that, it was too late for explanations. The relationship was over. It stung. Still does. Mostly because I know where my heart is. But it doesn’t matter. My slowness to act was interpreted as a lack of caring. And “who needs friends who don’t care”, right? Ouch.

So, where does one go from here? Well, I think I found the answer today, in the book of Philippians. The Apostle Paul says, 12 I don’t mean to say I am perfect. I haven’t learned all I should even yet, but I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ saved me for and wants me to be.

13 No, dear brothers, I am still not all I should be, but I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God is calling us up to heaven because of what Christ Jesus did for us. Philippians 3:12-14 The Living Bible

I guess that’s what I’m going to say too, “I’m not perfect. I still have a lot to learn, but I will put on my brand new running shoes keep moving toward that day when I will fully be like Jesus. I’m not going to get stuck in trying to reconstruct conversations that will never take place or explain things to deafened ears. Instead, I will continue to run this race toward the finish line. No detours. Just a continual pressing on toward the prize of a Christlike character.”

Father, please help me to learn the lessons that You would have me to learn from this experience. I did my very best. It wasn’t good enough. That hurts. I spoke without thinking first. I’m sorry. I moved too slowly. That’s what I do in times of conflict. Please fix the broken thing inside of me that doesn’t allow me to “fight or flight,” but keeps me stuck motionless for too long. Please help me grow through this and to process the loss in healthy ways. You know how I am about losing people. I’d almost rather lose a limb than lose a person, especially if it’s by their choice. But I know that a friend who wants to be lost cannot be easily found. Teach me, Father. I’m willing to learn…

Beattie ends her April 4th reading like this, “To negotiate problems, we must be willing to identify the problem, let go of the blame and shame, and focus on possible creative solutions. To successfully negotiate and solve problems in relationships, we must have a sense of our bottom line and our boundary issues, so we don’t waste time trying to negotiate non-negotiable issues.

We need to learn to identify what both people really want and need and the different possibilities for working that out. We can learn to be flexible without being too flexible. Committed, intimate relationships mean two people are learning to work together through their problems and conflicts in ways that work in both people’s best interest.”

Today, I will be open to negotiating conflicts I have with people. I will strive for balance without being too submissive or too demanding. I will strive for appropriate flexibility in my problem-solving efforts.” The Language of Letting Go p. 94

Are you stuck in conflict? Do you need to walk away? Or is it time to stay and deal? Our heavenly Father understands exactly why we respond or react the way we do. He will reveal the path ahead to us if we ask Him to. He will direct us toward the finish line. He will help us to run our race. One step at a time. Have you asked Him, yet?