Written elsewhere 2/16/15

The past few months

Towards the end of the book, Codependent No More, by Melody Beattie, chapter 19 references “excited misery.” The type of drama/trauma addict described here finds excitement in problems and trauma and thrives on it. I think back to the hours and hours of time my husband and I have spent talking about other peoples problems. We did this when we had nothing else to talk about, towards the end of our first marriage. We talked about and poured our emotions into other peoples problems. Okay, well, I did, because I was desperate to have something to share with him and engage him, and I was unable to find anything else to talk about with him. These things we talked about and laughed over were severe problems of our “friends,” not little issues, but ones of infidelity, physical abuse, continued unfaithfulness and lies, affairs…. we’ve spent dozens- maybe hundreds of hours, cumulatively, talking about not only “friends” in those situations, but so many others. And because we talked about them so much, it just came with the territory that I wanted to stay updated on the situations and “help” these flailing friends of mine. I wanted to help in ways that provided me more gossip, more pity, more stress and anxiety- it all went together.

More. There were neighborhood affairs between various husbands and other peoples’ wives… the “problem” of a friend having 8 children and then begging for help and needing others to support her choice because she claims to not be able to do much of anything… I could go on and on. Always, I needed to stay in the loop of their drama and moreover, I needed to disguise it as being there to hold their hand through the worst of their problems. It provided daily fodder, frequent pathetic amusement, mean spirited pity for H and I to connect over.

I’m left wondering why I became so oddly obsessive about other people’s problems. Obviously, I’ve had my share of my own problems and trauma, and here from this place we sit now, I am sure we too, were banter for others with our craziness when we were going through it. Granted, our first marriage, so I call it, ended when our shadows came to the light. When I discovered my husband’s betrayals, and opened my eyes to my own severe codependency and alcoholism. Then we started what we call our second marriage, the one that was based on serving God, on honesty and openness and truth- the one that was NOT based on a total lie.

I used to think I was just a mean person, that my parents raised me to be unkind, cruel in words and thought. Now I see that it is more than that. I turned into the codependent person that I am today because of my own lack of self worth, my lack of a God, the way I was raised, the men I was drawn to, and my addictive tendencies weaved through all of life. H & me, 1.0 were different than H & me 2.0. 1.0 versions of ourselves gossiped like nobody’s business. We couldn’t talk about anything healthy, good, or of our own situations (because we really didn’t have anything to talk about), so we focused on the weaknesses and struggles of others. We rolled our eyes in dissatisfaction of how other people handled their lives. We laughed about it, talked about them, laughed some more. Always referring to how they were doing it “wrong.” How they just didn’t “get it” or how they were some form of idiots or ignorant or laughably pathetic.

Codependency, in Beattie’s book, is defined as one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.

We, as a couple, were not obsessed; this isn’t about H and I together being codependent. Though we were together acting hateful, gossipy, mean spirited, it was just me who drove this, me who would constantly seek out others to “need” me- I was obsessed with being needed. H was along for the ride of my unhealthy obsessions with these poor unsuspecting people who *just wouldn’t listen* to me. He didn’t care, but he was amused- and, well, it gave us something to talk about and laugh about together, when there was nothing else.

This is just one of the many ways that my codependency grew into the monster that it became.

How codependency effects me:

– I feel anxiety, guilt, and a strong sense of pity when other people have a problem. I feel compelled to help that person solve their problem. I feel angry (or “exhausted” as I often say) when my help and unrequested advice is not accepted or implemented. Even if I don’t help them solve their problem, I am consumed with what I’d like to say to them to help them solve their problem and obsess over this. It often ruins my day. I had insomnia on and off for years, worrying and obsessing over how to fix other peoples lives.

– I anticipate other people’s needs. When I see M calling on the phone, it sets off an disaster alarm in my head even if I do not answer it- I anticipate her needing something from me or dumping her problems onto me, or insinuating that I don’t have a good grip on the realities of my marriage- all of which I inevitably will have to consume and take on entirely.

– I find myself always feeling like I get the lame end of the friendship in that balance is lacking- they don’t help me the way that I “help” them. I complain that I attract takers, people that take and take from me without reciprocating. What this translates to is that I am drawn to people who tend to manipulate. I hesitate there because I don’t think they do it on purpose. I’m not sure what to call the takers, the manipulators, the users, that is more gentle and less accusatory. So I’ll call them the takers because I lack a better descriptor.

– I say yes when I yearn to scream no. I put my needs last- WAY last. I feel oddly bored and empty inside if there’s no crisis with J or M for me to obsess over. I then begin to seek it out. Why, what else would I do with my brain if not fix their situations or sob over their struggles? Though I loathe hearing about K, if too much time passes, I will find myself asking about him in some passive, indirect way. “So, how is your heart feeling lately?” I know that will lead to K and she will gush thanks to me for asking! Great- I get thanked! I always need outside validation and verbal thanks. Then she’ll get into it and get more into it and more into it, and I’ll end up feeling used and annoyed that I had to hear all those details that actually hurt me… fully realizing that I was the one who sought it.

– I give up what I want to do, repeatedly, to do something for someone else, over committing. Whether I do or do not help people enough, I carry a lot of guilt over not being a good enough friend to J & M. I am always, oddly, trying to prove myself a good friend to these people, as if the person I genuinely am is not enough of a good friend.

– I feel very guilty doing anything that I consider a “treat” for myself. Purchasing things for myself, taking time away only for me. Going out with friends, getting myself something off a menu that is not one of the cheapest items, going to the gym alone… all of these feel so indulgent that I get very anxious doing them and can’t even enjoy them!

– I worry about and feel physical stress over M & J’s self inflected problems. I think and talk about them daily, even though I don’t talk TO them daily. I sometimes gag and cry after hanging up with them. My body reacts very viscerally to the horrible things they tell me. And yet, they tell me these things because I act genuinely interested in hearing them and ASK about them. This is not their fault, it is entirely my own doing.

How did this begin?

– Going way back, I come from a family where feelings were unavailable, shunned, unwelcome and repressed as much as humanly possible. Disagreement was not an option- a feeling of discontentment or wanting more, or wanting anything different was shamed. My mother rolled her eyes and acted like I was a waste of cells if I disagreed with her or requested anything that she didn’t want or like, I was told to go away, that she didn’t even want to look at me.

– I was taught from a young age that I was disgusting when I had any requests. Requests as in… anything. This ranged from what I wanted to do for dinner to wanting a later curfew to wanting to go somewhere. If I ever asked for or requested anything whatsoever, I was treated like a piece of hot steaming dog shit. My desires were not even remotely entertained. I was turned away from and sent away if I asked if I could go anywhere, have anything- spaghetti, go to a friends house, get out a certain set of toys, skip the daily piano practice, get a haircut, anything. There was no flexibility in my mothers ideas and rules for me. What she was was okay, what I said was not. In retrospect- it was so horribly sad and unhealthy- it makes me wish I was not born, if I had to be born into her care.

– I was told that I was unattractive, not good enough in hundreds of indirect ways, and occasionally, told right to my face that I was downright ugly (usually in regards to my lip picking or nail picking). My mother acted sickened with me when I would self harm- instead of offering love or help, she would become angry with me and portray disgust. She certainly did not act concerned or offer help or a hug. She saw my burns and just acted like I was filthy and gross, she looked away, turned away, and ignored it all.

– I heard her talking to others on the phone when she did not know I was listening. I heard her telling them that she felt sorry for me for the way I looked (in reference to my breasts not being big enough.) I heard her say that she didn’t like being around me, didn’t like having to sit in the same car with me while driving me somewhere. I remember one day hearing her talk about how she “can’t stand me” and I, in that moment, on that day, was so hurt and confused because I had thought we’d had a normal day.

More recently…

– I have lived through a husband who was emotionally and intimately unavailable. Though I didn’t know it then, I was living with a sex addict, though he rejected and neglected me sexually, intimately and emotionally, turning instead to porn and prostitutes. For years, on and off, I pretended the circumstances were not as bad as they were- severe denial. Acceptance of very poor treatment. Severe betrayal lied beneath the surface.

– I was confused, depressed, and turned to alcohol to numb the very severe, always present pain from his rejection. I turned to binge eating, overspending and sat back while H’s problems got worse and worse instead of ever getting better. I wondered why I tolerated his lack of investment in our relationship but always convinced myself that I was just being too demanding. This peaked first, in 2006 when finally, I found some strength and self respect and wanted to divorce but then could not commit to that decision after a brief separation. During our separation I turned my interests to another man. It was just a flirtation, though I would have taken it further if he would have. I wanted to move toward permanent separation and divorce but was not confident in myself.

– I did not know God then, but now I see His merciful hand in every stage of my life. Trying to protect me though I constantly turned away from Him, denying his love and the life He wanted for me. Though my free will was destroying my life, God did what He could, in powerful ways that only He could, to keep my family intact.

– After reconciling after a brief separation in early 2006 , things were not much better at all. No real change had occurred in either of us, yet I couldn’t handle the fear of what I knew (his lack of investment in me) and couldn’t value myself enough to act upon it. I began to shift my focus and obsession on my work, living my belief that if I didn’t give my relationship failure any focus, it wouldn’t matter so much.

– H neglected me and I neglected him. Occasionally, my facade of not caring would break and I would plead for his attention, blame him for treating me poorly, not loving me, protecting me or caring about me, or providing any intimacy or emotional connection. We would fight and he would give some 10% apology from another planet, I’d angrily accept it, backing down and apologizing for being too demanding, for demanding that he see me and love me and look me in the eyes. Again, I was convinced that I was asking too much, that it was reasonable for H to not want to kiss me or touch me.

– Meanwhile, he was struggling with his own demons and probably doing the best he could to even be in the same room with me, because of his guilt and shame. To this day, and ever, I will never really know how he felt or what was going on in his actions, his life or his heart at any given time. All I knew from my own vantage point was his how his rejection felt to me.

– The two children suffered, as I took them to day care from 6 am until H picked them up at 6 pm on my work days (2 or 3 per week.) On my off days I slept all day and paid them very little attention outside of the bare necessities. I was obsessed with making my husband see me and love me and I focused the efforts on my work. Since I’d tried so many other things that didn’t work, I tried to earn his approval in my business accomplishments. I was an absolute workaholic. All that mattered were dollars I brought in. I felt extreme pride when my income exceeded H’s in 2009 by a few thousand dollars on our tax returns, however when H did not seem impressed and withheld any heartfelt congratulations or pride for my accomplishment, I only became angrier with him.

– Though I cared so deeply about H’s feelings toward me, in contrast, the children’s happiness did not matter to me. I saw them as burdens. I had severe anger and frustration when I “had” to deal with them. One of the lowest points of these years was after a young children’s cooking class at the Y. I had an unreasonable, verbally and emotionally abusive burst of anger and violence in the garage one time at our KT house, directed at a 4 or 5 year old L. Remembering this brings me much pain. I was always disengaged and uninterested in them, but when they whined more than I could stand, I would burst out in anger, throwing things, dragging them around the house by their arm or shoulder, throwing them into a corner or screaming in their faces. The physicality was minimal but the fear that I instilled in their young spirits was overwhelming. Their expressions, posture and body language said it all back then. My 4/5/6 year old and his slightly older brother carried the cross of my pain, self hate and anger. I could not be more regretful.

– Again, in 2009 my attention shifted and I became obsessed with other men at the gym. I wanted to leave my husband who paid me no attention, and be with these other men. Not really, but I fantasized heavily about these other men and flirted with them very dangerously.

– I remember someone telling me that red wine was “heart healthy” and tried wine for my first time probably when B was a few months old in 2009. Once I warmed up to it, started drinking wine frequently- so frequently that I wondered and worried on and off if I was too dependent on it. To try and remain in control of my life in this aspect (as all others seemed out of control) I self directed periods of no drinking, which I was able to do for many weeks at a time. I could see, and focused on the observation that I was in control and could handle drinking daily as long as I could give it up when I wanted to.

– I became latched onto fitness, (male) friends at the gym, and my thriving business. The children got slightly more of my attention as my obsession shifted away from my business (B joined my business) and towards “healthy” choice in foods and workouts. My compulsive binge eating increased and H’s attention, kindness, willingness to be intimate with me decreased. I felt controlled by his lack of love and wanted to “show him” how I didn’t care or need him. I showed myself how much I didn’t need him by having inappropriate flirtatious friendships with men at the gym openly disrespecting my marriage.

During these most painful years between 2005 and 2012, there were many cycles and many peaks of pain with H.

– I constantly told H that I deserved better, that I was “too young” to live like that. I told him I wouldn’t tolerate his continued lack of sex and intimacy. Despite all these things though, I did increase my tolerance of the poor treatment, gradually. I allowed him to hurt me, to betray me- though I did not KNOW about it, I did allow it, because I allowed him to remain totally checked out of our relationship. I let him hurt me and hurt me and hurt me and then I wondered why I was so miserable. I blamed him, I complained to and about him, I tried to control him and MAKE him love me, all while continuing to stand there, in front of him, offering myself to him.

– I self injured, I felt shame and worthless, I wondered if I would ever not be angry. I daydreamed about my husband dying. About a police officer coming to the door to tell me the news, how I’d shelter and protect the children, how I’d act at his funeral, how I’d live after he was gone, how there would be hope for me to feel love and live a healthy, fulfilled life. I dreamed about how I could stop fantasizing about other men, stop coming on to other men and just find one man who would love me and I could love.

– I vacillated between being extremely responsible and extremely irresponsible. I took on the role of a martyr in a marriage without love. I drank a lot, and the drinking was delicious. I loved it. It tasted great, it filled my belly and my heart, it satisfied a hunger that couldn’t be satisfied by H, by overeating, by working or working out, or by making a big sale.

– I viewed my drinking was a message to H like “ha ha on you- alcohol makes me happy but you don’t!” I’d show him. I’d laugh when I hurt, I’d cry when I’d laugh and laugh when I’d cry.

– I got prescriptions for anti depressants and then different anti depressants because the first anti depressants didn’t make me happy enough. Nothing did, actually.

– I often found myself wondering how I got there, how I ended up marrying this man who refused to see me and love me and acknowledge my feelings, needs, and reasonable requests. It became clear to me that because of my childhood, my upbringing, I was very used to and comfortable in this kind of neglectful relationship. I now believe that I saw it in him from the very beginning and that I acted out in anger even back in 2003 when he showed me short, mild bursts of being withdrawn. I had never been a violent person before I met him, and I think I loved him and felt so comfortable with him because I saw that I’d be able to go back to that comfortable place of pain and emotional neglect with him. Instead of taking it out on him directly, since he didn’t seem to care and since I aimed only to earn his love, I turned to violence against the most innocent, unprotected people- my children. Starting with a screaming rage that included whipping clothing around the room with my sweet baby B in another state, screaming in his face because I couldn’t handle his crying when he was 4 weeks old, I was unable to control my anger and unrealistic expectations. I was unloved, unable to love. Unable to accept that I was unloved, and acting out in anger like an inconsolable 2 year old.  Unable to behave and accept my feelings like a capable, competent adult. I’d never learned to accept reality from a place of love, so I went to anger.

Current times:

It’s mid Feb., 2015. My marriage is in recovery. I am in recovery.  My marriage has been renewed and exists in the light. My drinking is in recovery. My codependence is being worked on. The current objects of my codependence are J, M & A.  To some degree, also  my husband, but not so much any more. I have but one healthy friendship as far as I can tell, in T. I have a few friends for which I care deeply but am being cautious as far as not allowing myself to become too preoccupied with- A, J, K, many other budding friendships through church and AA. I am allowing myself to not take it so personally care when others are too detached from me to offer much kindness: H.

Taking care of people and jumping in to their problems, softening the blows of their bad choices, protecting them from their own consequences enables them to continue manipulating and using me. When I cater to M’s demands or lack of compassion or continuously forgive her or J or A for being overly demanding of my time and attention- for abusing my own openness with them and using it against me- I am enabling them to keep on treating me that way. Why wouldn’t they? They get coddled and catered to, while trampling over my heart, time, energy and generosity.

Every time I don’t stand up for myself to their rude ways, I am sending the message that it’s ok to abuse our friendship, to disrespect me, to NOT do as I’ve asked. As my boundaries gradually become less and less clear, they take more and more. They manipulate, and while it is me being manipulated, I can not hold them responsible for hurting me, because it is only ME that I can control. It is ME that keeps going back for more, ME that keeps taking it, accepting the way that they treat me.

It is me, answering the phone calls that I know will just bring me pain, it is me looking for their drama when it goes too long between doses of it, and it is me who says yes to everything and offers help and advice to them before they even ask for it sometimes. I do so very begrudgingly, always after hours of thinking about it- before it was them, it was H, but in a closer, more intimate way.

I am beginning to see when people live for codependents like me to rescue them. I am beginning to see that when people are constantly and daily asking for help in a very public, sad, desperate way, that they are used to codependents rushing in. I see that these people who thrive on manipulating and using weak people like me go on and on about their personal problems, struggles or challenges without ever considering balance in a friendship. And I am one weak ones on whom these users thrive. I accept it. I take it in and soak it up and go back for more. People ask for help… or even when they don’t- I am there, asking when I can come, how I can help. People complain that they didn’t get any sleep for the 3rd night in a row because of a situation they put themselves in, and I’m offering to drive 40 minutes each way to clean their house, to put my own daily schedule on the back burner, to set myself back and force my kids to endure bad boring days too. I don’t WANT to clean their house- why would I? But there I go, and if you don’t want me to clean your house, how about I bring you coffee and bagels and help you catch up on laundry? What do you need from me?

Surely, it can’t be nothing, for I must be needed and I must rescue you from this bad situation *that you literally specifically exactly put yourself into and choose to continue.*

I get that we all mess up and do things that we shouldn’t sometimes. And that we all need help some times. It is the situations that are avoidable, that people put themselves into knowingly, and don’t help themselves through or out of that I am talking about, as a problem.