My childhood was not all bad. I have many happy memories with both my friends and family. My parents both cared a lot. Well, they both cared too much. My mother’s caring nature came through as constant worrying and trying hard to take care of everything she didn’t fully have the ability to take care of. She loved my sister and I so much, but her actions expressed her kindness as being quite the pushover. She was never good at setting boundaries, and she always took others pain upon herself. However, she rarely complained about her position in things. My father, on the other hand, showed his caring nature through an aggressive control over the family and a workaholic attitude, as well as a violent streak and general disrespect for authority. He was always a risk taker. He needed lots of excitement in his life and often complained about how little he had. He wanted so badly to be able to take care of us that he forgot about himself, while at the same time ignoring our emotional needs. He also had a big dependency problem on marijuana (whether he saw it as such or not). Over the years things have changed. They have both grown a lot as people. And I have a loving relationship with both of them now. But those childhood years were very, very tough on me.
Romantic Relationship #1
Fast forward to my first real long-term relationship (past all the relationships I was a part of while searching for someone to give me the love I never received properly as a child, including my endless yearning for a child of my own who I thought would make me happy because I’d have someone to care for and love), and we arrive at my relationship with my ex – also known as the father to my first child. He seemed sweet enough when I first met him. Of course, the things I had learned to look for in relationships were unhealthy characteristics based off of those primary relationships I had with my parents. I didn’t know any better. What else was out there anyway? People who treated me really decently always seemed to just make me feel uncomfortable. Where was the passion? The outrage? The spontaneity I had learned to expect as routine? So I fell in love with a man who had all the wrong things going for him. He smoked cigarettes and weed and drank alcohol, and all of that was super appealing to me. Someone who just didn’t give a shit what others thought (how new and original, not at all like my dad *eyeroll*).
Beyond that he was also extremely rough in his physical actions towards me. But hey, I had learned to love the pain. It wasn’t love if it wasn’t painful. He would grab me by the neck, or yank me up by my wrists, and for some reason I thought “Wow! Here is a man who knows how to be a man.” It was a turn on. I liked feeling small and insignificant, because I had learned that that was what I am. Having another person take control of me was enticing. I was helpless after all, so it was good having someone who could be in control. Right? That’s what I thought I wanted. It was okay…I mean, I thought that’s what I was supposed to like. I thought that’s what I was supposed to have. I thought that’s what I deserved. As a woman. As a person. I had learned long ago that women should know their place. My great grandmother had taught me to be elegant, to be loyal, to cater to others needs, and to be silent. A good wife and mother was meant to take on that role. There was nothing else to it.
Who are we kidding though? None of that was what I really wanted. Who would? So, somewhere through all the controlling, and jealousy, the risky behavior, the disrespect for authority, the dependency on marijuana, the emotional neglect, and the sexual abuse…I fought back. But I didn’t know how to properly fight back. I didn’t learn how to stand up for yourself in the right way. My relationship lessons came from my mother’s guilt tripping, and my father’s angry outbursts. I would close off, and then I would explode. And the whole time I sat there blaming this man. I told myself there was nothing wrong with me (while at the same time deeply feeling it was all my fault), and decided he had done this to me. I wouldn’t have acted, or reacted, the way I did without first being set off by his actions. It was him who needed to change. Not me. I just needed to get the hell out of there and find myself someone better. Someone who would take care of me, and truly love me the right way.
End of story, it was over with him. I left things in shambles. All aspects of our relationship – friendship, communication, love, etc. – it all lay in ruins. But that was nothing I was going to spend my time thinking about. It was all his fault after all anyway. I knew how to be a good person in a relationship. I mean, I had learned everything not to do during my childhood. Of course I could figure out how to do things right. It wasn’t me. It was him. So I spent the next couple years working on my college degree and taking care of my child (both of which felt both empowering and overwhelmingly consuming). I felt trapped in a life I didn’t want, working towards things I didn’t care about. Who cares about their career and their future anyway? I wouldn’t admit it to myself, but all I wanted was to fall in love again and be saved from my current situation. I was depressed. And I strongly believed if I found the right person that depression would go away. If I was loved enough then I would be happy.
Romantic Relationship #2
Along comes man number two (after a series of risky relationship choices and borderline insane behaviors). I fell fast and I fell hard. It didn’t matter that I only knew him over texts and phone calls. I was in love. And I got that high, that rush, that a new love always brings. It was meant to be. It was fate. It was incredible. And it made me feel alive. I was no longer focused on my depression or my life, it was all about this new love. I was completely engulfed by it. It didn’t matter that he had crazy bipolar notions or intense insecurities. We all have problems, after all. I had problems too. I understood his problems and he understood mine. That was the beauty of it. We were two broken pieces who came together to complete each other. Opposites that deeply intertwined, connected, accepted each others faults. That’s what you do with people you love, isn’t it? Accept their faults. How else are they suppose to accept you? You’re so unlovable…if someone accepts you, they must truly love who you are.
Yes, I was head over my fricken heals about this guy. In retrospect it didn’t make a whole lot of sense. My friends and family were confused, but they were used to me making tons of drastic and dramatic decisions. That’s just who I was. So, a few months after we began talking he came to visit me for 3 weeks! Boy was I thrilled. And I loved him so much, despite the arguments and stress we had already gone through at long distance, that we got married the second weekend after he arrived. “Holy shit!” My dad’s wife said when she found out (it had been a secret wedding, just a couple close friends, no need to make a big fuss, this was about our love, not a performance for our friends and family). Her reaction didn’t phase me, my insides were beaming. I was full of joy. Full of happiness. I thought that feeling would last me forever. This is finally it, I thought, I found what I’ve been missing.
Little did I know that my attitude would change fairly quickly. I moved halfway across the country to live with him. How romantic, what a fairy-tale. Just like all the love movies I had seen. Maybe other people couldn’t find true love, but I had. This was the real deal. Even though after moving things became harder and harder to deal with I kept telling myself that. It’s just a new situation, we’re adjusting. This is real love, that’s why it’s so intense. But I gradually became more and more depressed than I had been before. I felt isolated – not just because I was away from my friends and family and in a completely unfamiliar place – but because I felt like I wasn’t getting what I needed from my relationship. I tried to seek it outside the relationship, in interactions with others, but my husband’s jealousy soon lead me to shut off completely and talk to no one. It wasn’t worth it. I told myself that if he was happy, and I didn’t upset him, that I would be happy. I told myself that if I just took really good care of him that he’d always love me. I told myself that all I needed was this relationship. Screw other people, what are they good for anyway? I don’t need a life of my own, I have my life with my husband. I’m a wife, a mother. This is what a full life looks like. I just need to adjust to it. Everything will be okay. Maybe our disagreements will subside. Maybe it will be better tomorrow.
I held onto my relationship with my husband like it was a fricken life raft. But the more I clung to the relationship, the more he pulled away. The more I put into it (my time, my energy), the less I got in return. I started to feel a deep sense of contempt for my husband. I began to see him as a horrible person. Everything he did was wrong. It was awful. Everything he put me through, what a jerk, what an asshole. It’s all his fault. If only I hadn’t married him. If only I hadn’t gotten sucked into this situation. Everything would be fine. It’s all his fault. And after we had a baby together things got worse (as often they do when you have a child). A child accentuates the issues in your relationship, and it brings issues to light that you weren’t even aware of in the first place. Suddenly I realized I wasn’t in a fairy-tale, I had stepped into a nightmare. All I wanted to do was escape. But I hung in, I insisted that I could make it work. I just needed to love more. I just needed to care more. I just needed to do more. There must be something I was doing wrong. This was supposed to be my happily ever after. I was determined to turn it into one.
Focusing On Myself
So, looking past the issues of control, of jealousy and insecurities, of anger issues triggered by his ADHD, of dependency on marijuana, of risky/impulsive behavior, of disrespect for authority, of emotional neglect, and sexual assault (all which had seen me through my entire life – childhood to adulthood)…I began to focus on myself. What could I change? What did I want to change? Did I still love him? Yes. Was my connection to him due to a sense of security/comfort? Yes, but not completely. There were true feelings for him deep underneath my own issues. Did I want to work things through with him? Yes. Did I truly, genuinely believe he also wanted to work things through with me? Yes. Even though it often felt like he didn’t care at all, I knew he did. I knew I meant the world to him. I knew if he could have his way we’d be in a happy, healthy relationship. It wasn’t all his fault. It wasn’t all my fault either. No one was to blame. Blaming never helped anything anyway. I had to focus on what could be done. What I had to fix or resolve within myself. I had to start with me.
And as I begun to read book after book about relationships, about happiness, about self-growth, I started to realize a pattern within my life – within my own choices. Once I started to really examine myself, I noticed the cycle I was in. Some of it was not under my control. Some of the causes had happened to me. It wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t anybodies fault, but the point is they happened. This all had happened. I had been set on this path. But I was the one that continued to go down it. I was the one with the power to change it. How could I change it? By changing my perspective. By focusing more on the choices that I make. By realizing that I was in control of my own happiness. No one else could make me happy.
Reading through a book in codependency, I also realized that most of the people in my life were codependent. Some of the cases of codependency were caused by external forces, by childhoods, by relationships, and some were even caused by my own actions and reactions as a codependent person. Codependency breeds codependency. It spreads like wild fire. Those affected become those who can affect others. So, the next step was clear. The only way to help anyone else, was to help myself. My healing would help heal those around me. And so I have begun my journey into new territory. I cross over into uncharted waters. It’s terrifying, but also extremely empowering. I have all the control. I hold all the cards. I am in charge of my own life, my own health, my own success, and my own happiness. I have learned through my recovery that it is likely both my parents were codependent (as well as having other issues), and it is also likely that many of my partners were as well. It’s something I used to shrink away from and think “oh no, not me” whenever it was talked about. But now I proudly say it out loud. Because it means I have the power to change things. It means my fate is my own to choose. It means that life can get better if I want it to. I am in control. I am codependent.