Hiding in plain sight

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I went to an Al-Anon meeting tonight.  I have not been to one in probably almost 20 years.  At that time, I went because of my father’s alcoholism.  This time, it is about my ex-boyfriend.  I guess technically I am killing two birds with one stone.

The topic the speaker chose could not have been more perfect for me.  It was about feeling responsible for other people and not focusing on yourself.  For SO LONG I felt responsible for my boyfriend, especially at the end of our relationship when he was hospitalized and so ill.  I put him and his health and his alcoholism first and I knew he really needed me.  It was all about him, but really most of our relationship was that way.  He said something to me right after our dog died…he said, “I knew I wasn’t taking the best care of her, but I also knew that you would.”  I thought I was helping him, but really all I was doing was taking away any responsibilities or consequences.  In reality, I was making it very easy for him to drink, because he knew I would hold everything else together.

Someone in the meeting said that they often get lost in other people because it feels makes them feel safe.  I recognized that is exactly what I have been doing these past few months, since everything in my life became complete chaos.  My sister bought a house at the end of June and ALL I have done this summer is help her pack, move, decorate, etc her house.  I also have been helping her with her two year old daughter.  I obviously love spending time with my niece, but I know I have been hiding in their lives and their new home as a way of avoiding my own.  I also realize that I have been trying to do EVERYTHING for my sister, whether it be at her house or helping with the baby.  Another member of the Al-Anon group spoke tonight and said that they always want to be needed because if they are not doing things for other people, they feel worthless, like they have nothing else to offer.  That is how I feel about myself right now and I am aware that I have transferred a lot of my codependent tendencies from my exboyfriend to my sister.

So, here are my takeaways from tonight’s meeting…

  1. I am not responsible for anyone else’s behavior.  I should not feel guilty that I can’t be supportive of someone who is harmful to my emotional well being. I am only responsible for myself.
  2. I cannot save anyone, especially those who do not want to save themselves; people need to face the consequences of their actions. 
  3. I have to stop trying to do everything for other people and start realizing I have more to offer.  People will still care about me and want to spend time with me, even if I am not “doing” things for them.  I have to stop needing to constantly feel needed.
  4. No. More. Hiding.  As much as I love my sister, my niece and their new lovely home, I must have my own life and enjoy the time I spend at my own house.

My codependency

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Throughout the entire month my boyfriend was in ICU, I focused pretty much all of my energy, time and attention on him and his recovery.  Now that he is at his parent’s house, I am realizing that it was easier for me to do that than to look at myself in the mirror and reflect on my own behavior.  I feel like such a cliche…the daughter of an alcoholic who ends up dating an alcoholic.  As a child, I felt like I had no control over my father and his drinking problem, yet there was always that part of me that felt like if I was “good” or did not give him a reason, he would stop.  I knew deep down it was not my fault, but I consistently found myself playing the role of peacekeeper in my family and I was always the only one to try to placate him, hoping it would calm him down or avoid an altercation.  I did not feel during my relationship with my boyfriend that I was enabling him, but I have started to realize that I was definitely codependent.  Below I listed the top ten signs of codependency and they literally describe me to a T.  My boyfriend (I guess I should be writing ex-boyfriend, really) and I have been having a lot of heart-to-heart, honest conversations and he recently said something that really made me think.  He said that in some ways drinking was easy for him because he knew that I was responsible and would take care of everything.  It is really so true.  He knew that he could drink and pass out and I would feed the dog and let her out.  I catered to him so much, did so many things for him that my sister would joke that I was his secretary.  I know that was fulfilling some kind of void in my life, some desire to please other people, to feel needed and in control.  I constantly had expectations and was mostly always disappointed.  I would create scenarios in my head of us both getting off work and going to the mall and then out to dinner and then coming home and watching a movie.  And more often than not, he would be drunk or sleeping.  I would be upset and make excuses for him…he was stressed at work, his depression was kicking in, the dog was sick.

I knew deep down that he loved me- truly loved me.  I think he still does.  However, I felt unloved and unwanted and lonely a lot.  I was deprived of affection and of intimacy for so long.  I think that is why finding out he was unfaithful by texting another woman was so hurtful.  The attention and interest that I so desperately wanted from him for years he so easily bestowed on someone else.

It is really difficult to objectively look at our relationship since it just ended and the heartache is still so fresh.  He has a lot of work to do in order to get healthy and sober and I accept the fact that I cannot be responsible for him anymore.  It is time to focus on myself so I can become a stronger person.  I also know that I cannot hide behind him and his problems anymore as a way of avoiding my own.

TEN SIGNS OF CODEPENDENCY

From: https://www.recoveryconnection.com/top-ten-indicators-suffer-codependency/

  1. Feeling responsible for solving others’ problems. The codependent feels the need to solve another’s problems. They feel that the person in need cannot manage to make the right decisions or take the right actions to solve his or her own problem.
  2. Offering advice to others whether it is asked for or not. The codependent jumps at the opportunity to provide “much-needed” advice. 
  3. Expecting others to do what the codependent says.  Codependents often do not understand boundaries.
  4. The codependent feels used and underappreciated. The codependent will expend enormous amounts of energy to take charge of another’s life. This is all under the guise of sincerely wanting to help. When the help or advice is ignored or rejected, the codependent feels angry, abused, and unappreciated.
  5. Trying to please people so others will like or love the codependent. Codependents will go out of their way to please another person. They hope to receive love, approval or be accepted and liked. If the approval is not given, the codependent will feel victimized.
  6. Taking everything personally. Because there are little to no boundaries, any remark, comment or action is a reflection back upon the codependent. This makes the need to feel in control paramount.
  7. Feeling like a victim. Everything that happens either to the codependent or the loved one is a reflection on the codependent. Such people usually feel victimized and powerless and do not understand their role in creating their own reality.
  8. Using manipulation, shame, or guilt to control others’ behavior. Codependents will respond in a fashion that will force compliance by others. These tactics may be unconscious and it is important that the codependent feel in control.
  9. Lying to themselves and making excuses for others’ bad behavior. Because codependents do not deal directly with their feelings, they develop techniques to lie to themselves about others’ behaviors. Because they feel responsible for others’ behaviors, they will rationalize and blame others for their loved one’s poor behavior, seeking to maintain control.
  10. Fearing rejection and being unlovable. The codependent fears that if he or she is not successful at everything, or indeed expresses his/her feelings or needs, they will be rejected. In a codependent’s way of thinking, he or she will be unlovable. 

Follow the Leader

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Since I was a young girl, I have always been a follower.  I moved across the country when I was in 6th grade.  Middle school is notoriously difficult, so add being the “new girl” on top of that…not fun.  Then throw into the mix that this is also when my father really started drinking heavily.  My new best friend that I met in my new school had a VERY strong personality and naturally took the lead.  I was happy to stay in her shadow because she was popular and by association, I became popular too.  One time when we were in 7th grade, she got mad at me about something and because she wasn’t talking to me, neither did anyone else (she was quite the little queen bee!).  I was completely ostracized at school.  For the duration of that fight, I was sick…like physically ill- not eating, crying, etc.  I remember staying home from school several days in a row and sleeping in my mom’s bed, as she worriedly questioned me about what was going on at school.  The next week, when my friend decided she wasn’t mad at me anymore and things went back to normal, I had an instantaneous and complete recovery.

I remained a “follower” for most of my adolescence and into my adult years.  Presently, in my late 30s, I still have these tendencies.  At the high school where I teach, I am a co-adviser of a club with another teacher, who happens to also be my closest friend.  The other day we were selling tickets to an event and reached our minimum goal.  I asked her if she wanted to add on an additional day and she said no.  So, when the students asked me about it, I told them no, much to their confusion and disappointment.  It was only when I was talking to my sister and she asked me why we couldn’t keep selling tickets (the more the merrier, right?) and I told her I wanted to, but my friend said no.  My sister and I had a whole conversation about it and it really made me think about how I constantly defer to other people.  Even though I thought having another day was a good idea, I ASKED her for her permission and then ACCEPTED her saying no, even though we are supposed to be equals.  I told my sister that I think a big reason why I always defer to other people is that I am afraid of them getting angry with me.  In fact, THIS is the root of the problem…I used to bend over backwards to make my exhusband happy because I lived in fear of making him mad. The idea of someone being mad at me makes me so upset and anxious that I regress into that 12 year old girl hiding in my mom’s bed.

The irony is that when I was chatting on the phone a day or so later with my friend, I mentioned I thought it might be a good idea to add another day to ticket sales and she immediately said, “Ok! Let’s do it then”.  All my worrying, all my biting my tongue, all my anxiety usually turns out to be for naught.  If I had just been honest and said this from the beginning, I could have avoided a lot of inner turmoil.  In a lot of ways, I am my own worst enemy when it comes to this and I know I need to have more confidence in myself and my decisions.  I need to remind myself that I am not the same person I was when I was a teenager, but that I can use those painful memories to realize when I am regressing into that same behavior.

 

I’m going to need a gift receipt

A couple of weeks ago it was my father’s birthday. After Father’s Day, it is probably my second least favorite day of the year. It is not because I don’t like celebrating other people’s days, it is that my father acts even worse on occasions where he feels entitled to extra attention.

My sister and I buy gifts for my parents on their birthdays and on Christmas. My father is literally the most impossible person to shop for. It is not that it is hard to think of good gifts for him, rather that he returns EVERYTHING! We are all guilty of occasionally returning or regifting something that we don’t love or need, but he does it with almost every single present we give him.

Examples:
1. My dad got a job where he had to be on the road several hours a day traveling. I thought of the best gift- a mini fridge that plugs into the cigarette lighter in the car…because he was always complaining about having to stop for a cold soda and how his sandwiches would get warm. I was so excited to give it to him. He returned it to the store two days later.

2. My dad likes mini electronic helicoptors. My sister saw a Groupon for a really cool one and bought it for him. She thought she finally hit the nail on the proverbial head and found the perfect gift- the ONE that would not be returned. Nope. He returned it to Amazon and bought a bigger, better version.

3. My dad is obsessed with leftovers and my parents’ freezer is filled with all kinds of food in plastic baggies. After coming across the “As Seen on TV” vacuum sealer, I thought for sure that it was going to be a keeper. Negative.

3. There are too many others to name: sweatshirts, gadgets, tools, computer programs, jackets, books, etc. etc. There was one Christmas about 10 years ago where we got him a few polo shirts and some candy and he kept them! My sister and I felt like we pleased the Grinch!

But, after years of this, my sister and I decided that we would no longer put any effort into buying him gifts. Many of our friends/boyfriends thought we were crazy that we even bothered at all, considering that he acts so ungratefully. Now we simply buy him an Amazon gift card and call it a day. The thing is, I am not sure why we continued to try for so long. And there are still things I see that I think, “I bet he would like that” and then I remember all the years of having to hand over the gift receipt so he could return or exchange what we bought him.

I want to say that it became like a challenge or a game…”What Won’t Dad Return”…and although my sister and I joke about this, there is a hurtful element to it. I think it also molded me into an extreme people pleaser. This has been a recurring problem in my relationships with men. On a fundamental, simplistic level it is almost like “if I can just find the perfect gift or do something really nice and thoughtful, he (dad, boyfriend, etc.) will be happy and will continue to love me.” I am not a materialistic person at all and I would always rather give than receive. But this desire to please our father, who actually treats my sister and myself pretty horribly, has always been a little confusing and upsetting to me.