Reflections of Recovery
by: Dannie Kay
Pattern: Avoid emotional, physical, or sexual intimacy as a way to maintain distance.
My life in recovery, sometimes feels like I am waking up from a bad dream, and that bad dream was my old life. Some things I have to accept I will have to work to change, that change isn’t coming overnight. Somethings I have done have lasting effects, some of them are now burdens for my children.
It’s clear for me to see how emotionally unavailable I was to my children. When I think about it, I feel sorry for their inner child that wanted so much to be connected to their mother. Now, recovery "me" is slightly strange. They have grown and gotten used to the person I was in the past, so I have one child who is still dying for attention and one child who has figured out how to live without it. But despite their coping mechanisms, here I am. This new lady of the house, is present, can hold a conversation, share her feelings in moderation, and can listen and meet their needs now.
My child, the "self-sufficient" one, had been mildly sick, and never thought to tell me. When it came up in conversation, and I did something about it, I can see she was slightly shocked. How many times prior had I left her to deal with this on her own? It wasn’t serious, but I wanted her to know she could be a child, and I was now capable to solve problems that she is too young to solve.
With my son, the one "dying for attention", I set boundaries. Yes, I wasn’t the most present, but no one gets to shame me about it, including him. I meet his needs as I see fit as a functioning, healthy, adult. Anything else, especially manipulation and guilt trips, I don’t tolerate. Unfortunately, he will have to learn moderation as difficult as it seems for him. I didn’t teach him moderation when he was young and all I can do is model it now and hope he learns from me. Whether he does or not, I trust that he is capable of finding his way, just as I was able to find mine. While I can’t completely fix the damage that I have done, I can love and support him now. The boundaries protect our relationship, my presence and love are to nourish it.
Emotionally "unavailable" was safe for me, so there’s really no need to beat up on myself. I was honestly doing the best that I could. However, I have now chosen to give my children the gift of a fully present mom. May the negative coping mechanisms they attained from living with me, be reduced as I get healthier. That’s all I can hope for and I can trust that the Universe has us.
CoDA Slogan: What Someone Else Thinks of me is None of my Business
There is this codependent characteristic that I’m noticing in myself lately. So quick background; I just finished my steps and have decided to try and navigate the world of healthy dating.
Back to the story…this codependent characteristic that keeps popping up is this need for the other person to validate me. I want to ask this person how he feels about me. What is he thinking? My recovery won’t let me ask him, because what he thinks about me is none of my business.
Now of course there is some gray there. I think wanting some validation from a love interest is healthy, but what I really want from him is to tell me things are OK, so I can feel OK. There is something that is off within me in our dealings and I want him to settle this "offness" for me. With my recovery, I’m learning to look within myself and find the "offness". What about this situation is causing uneasiness within me?
I don’t want to answer it here, because part of why I’m sharing this is to have you examine your own off-ness and the need for others to make me/you feel OK. I also don’t know the answer, but I’m sure with more time with myself and my higher power, the answer will come to me.
Denial Pattern: Minimize, Alter, or Deny how I Truly Feel
As I practice acknowledging and communicating how I truly feel, fear keeps coming up. I can see the fear coming from my childhood; that if I express how I truly feel, it is something that is up for debate and with me being a child when this pattern developed, I am wrong and my parents are right. There was never a safety for me to say that I didn’t like something or that something hurt me. As a child, I was taught I was not allowed to have feelings. It was not a child’s place to feel. So now here I am as an adult, terrified to communicate what feels true for me. It’s the resistance that I am afraid of. Someone telling me it’s not true and they will be right, because I am definitely wrong. My recovery is about pushing past this though. Moving from my denial pattern into my recovery behavior.
It feels like these three parts to me:
1. Acknowledging to myself how I feel. In this case, I’m not happy with the way I am being treated and I want to be treated better and the better being whatever it looks like to me.
2. Communicating this with the person. This step feels fundamental because without it, I will ruminate in my head. There will be a continuous conversation or several conversations where I play out what I will say and what the other person will say as if I know their truth. They don’t know mine yet and I don’t know theirs until the conversation takes place out of my head.
3. Respecting that how I feel is valid still and that this person’s response is none of my business. Knowing that my truth is my business and no comments of “You’re just making a big deal,” “Here you go again,” or “why do you have to make things so complicated,” is going to change that.
This is the art of letting go. My job is to be authentic to myself and share this where I chose; my higher power’s job is to manage the outcome. Will this person respect it and our relationship continue or will they not, causing me to make more decisions? I don’t have the answer, but I can still practice my recovery by magnifying, validating, and expressing how I truly feel.
Denial Pattern: Think we can take care of ourselves without any help from others
I think one of the most common coping mechanisms in codependents, is thinking we can take care of ourselves without the help of others. John Bradshaw, in his book, Healing the Shame that Binds You, talks about how unavailable dysfunctional families are when they are needed the most.
I can imagine a small child looking to their parents for their needs to be met and the parents never meeting them. The child will learn that they can only rely on themselves to meet their needs, because they are the only ones that have been meeting them. Also, who we choose to be around in life has to reinforce what we think about ourselves, until far enough in recovery. This can lead to having friends around that are not that responsive to you and will not be able to support you.
The recovery comes from being able to tell the difference in healthy and unhealthy people.
Even though we are in recovery and will need to learn to accept help from others, we need to keep in mind that our families and current friends, might not be those people. The same people who were not able to meet your needs as a child, might not be able to meet them now. That doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to have your needs met. There are healthy people that will be able to help along the way.
For me, there was discomfort in asking people for help. I was scared that I would be shut down or shamed for needing help. I was thoroughly taught that I needed to do things myself. One of the first times I asked for help was when I asked my sponsor to sponsor me. I needed help and I knew it wasn’t her job to try and convince me to work with her; it was my job to humbly ask her for help.
One of the things that has been true for me in CoDA is learning to practice new healthy behavior. I had to continue to become aware of when I needed help and to ask people. I had to let some people offer me help and then accept it. As with all new behaviors, it feels weird at first, but I have been practicing for long enough to know that I posses this new healthy skill.