I'll bet she doesn't even remember it, but many years ago, my friend Old Beth told me something, and I've never forgotten it. It may have been when I was struggling with my first marriage, I'm not sure of the circumstances. Whatever it was, I was feeling uncertain about what to do, and where life was going to take me. I made the comment that I wish I had a crystal ball so I could see in to the future and know what was going to become of me. Old Beth said "No you don't".
Old Beth's dad had a series of health problems. She said if five years before, she had looked into the future and seen all he was about to have to go through, it would have literally scared her to death. That has stuck with me all these years. Sometimes I want to know what will become of me. Do I control the outcome? Do others around me control it? Or is it simply God and His plan? One He's had in place since the minute I was born? Maybe it's a little of all three. Either way, I'm pretty sure Old Beth was right. We just need to be patient and stick around to see how it all works out.
This journal is about my life, and my journey with codependence. This week my journey took me to uncharted territory, and to say the least, it was eye opening. I know what it's like to be codependent. For most of my life, I have allowed other people's actions to determine if I am happy or sad. I tend to become obsessed with the actions and behaviors of certain other people, particularly someone I may be romantically involved with. I've written volumes about this behavior, and how it has affected me, but I've written very little about how my codependence has affected the people I'm fixed on.
Last week Sally had an experience that she felt the need to share with me. Sally has a friend who can be a lot of fun to be around, but is very needy and very codependent. We'll call her Deb. Deb flits in and out of Sally's life based on whether or not she has a partner at the time. If she has a boyfriend, he becomes the object of her obsession. If she does not, she becomes fixed on Sally. Several weeks ago Deb's boyfriend dumped her. It only took a few days for her to track down Sally and ask her to go out for coffee. A few days later, Deb asked Sally to go to dinner. Sally had obligations and declined. It didn't happen overnight, but after a few weeks, Deb was calling and texting Sally multiple times a day. If Sally didn't answer her back immediately, Deb was leaving messages insinuating Sally was ignoring her. It got to the point where Sally felt she was being expected to explain her every move to Deb. This past Saturday, Deb asked Sally to do something and Sally said she had other plans. This sent Deb into a downward spiral. She started pouting, and sending texts about feeling "dissed" and left out. She made a few smart alec comments. She even questioned Sally about who she was with and where she was going. If you know Sally, you know this did not fly. Sally got on the phone with Deb and they worked things out, but having Sally point this out to me really hit home.
Sally told me how exhausting it was to feel she was responsible for Deb's happiness. She also told me what a turn off it was when Deb sent pitiful texts and showed her extreme neediness and her massive insecurities. Sally was amazed how much worse this had become since she had last seen Deb, about a year ago.
I know Sally told me this in love, but it made a big impression. Strong and independent is attractive. Needy is not. Codependent is not. Jealous is not. The behaviors I have exhibited my whole life are not becoming. They are annoying.
I am so thankful that Sally cares enough about me to show me how it feels to be on the receiving end of a codependent person. It hurt at first, but it sure did hit home. Thank you Sally.
Friday evening, during my drive home from work, I received another phone call from my former father-in-law. He wanted to let me know that his granddaughter and my former niece Sasha, lost her battle with brain cancer. Once again, I felt very emotional thinking about these people who were my family at one point in my life. When I got home, my husband saw that I was very emotional. When I told him the story, he held me and cried with me. One of the reasons I fell in love with him. He's got such a kind and soft heart.
After I spoke with Charlie, I felt an overwhelming desire to dig into my cedar chest and find some of the many photos I had taken of Sasha when she was a little blonde girl with pigtails. I was on a mission. I had to find those photos. Eventually I found them, near the very bottom of the chest. But the journey to the bottom of that chest proved to be very enlightening for me.
The top layer of the chest was full of photos from family vacations with the kids. Sporting events, field trips, and school functions. As I dug deeper, photos of the kids as toddlers and babies. Beyond that, my honeymoon. Then came some photos of my single years. Some old boyfriends, my car. I found pictures from college, and my senior prom with Chris W. I found a photo of me at age 3, standing in front of my grandma's house--her big garden and out house in the background. Literally, my whole life flashed before my eyes. I saw myself with a dozen different hair styles, and at many different weights.
As I quickly sorted through the photos, I decided I've had four distinct "lives". One life as a child and teenager, living with my parents. A second life with David, a third life as a single, independent woman, and the life I have now with my husband. It was a bit surreal to look back at my life in photos. I hope to go back into the chest soon to sort through the thousands of photos in there.
But for tonight, I send love and peace to my former family--the people who were such a major part of my "second life". I know their hearts are breaking, and that breaks my heart. As Kitty always says, "Life is complicated".
Do you remember the scene in "A Christmas Story" where Ralphie's teacher tells them she wants them to write a theme titled "What I Want For Christmas"? Ralphie was simply ecstatic!! His one chance to tell the world about the official Red Ryder carbine action, two hundred shot range air rifle!! During my senior year in high school, I had a similar experience. One of our teachers told us to write down where we thought we might be in ten and twenty years. In 1981 that seemed like a VERY simple task. I knew EXACTLY where I planned to be in ten, twenty, thirty, forty years, and the rest of my life!! The teacher said he would mail us these papers in ten years to see how close we came. He never did that, but that's beside the point.
I wrote that in 10 years I saw myself married to a wonderful man. Extremely happy, and living a fairy tale life. In 20 years I would be be married to the same wonderful man and would have a lovely kid or two. Yes, it was very simple for 17 year old Mary to know where she planned to be tomorrow, and for the rest of her perfect life.
Ten years later, in 1991, I found myself single...freshly divorced from a man who cheated on me and made my life a living hell for 4 years. This is not what I had planned. I was on my own for the first time in my life. 1991 turned out to be one of the best years of my life, but only because I was free. Free, and dating whoever I pleased. I had my own house, a nice car, and money to do the things I wanted. Sometimes I was dating two or three men at a time. It truly was a fantastic year--one that I will never forget. In fact, as I've mentioned in this blog before, I still have my calendar from that year. I couldn't bear to throw it away!! But it certainly was not the way I thought my life would be just ten years before that.
At the twenty year mark, in 2001, I found myself married to a new man--my current husband. At the time of our 20 year class reunion, September 11 had just occurred and it was a very somber time. I did have two children; one born in 1997 and one in 1999. I was very happy at that time in my life--very content. Other than being married to the "SAME wonderful man", I think I hit this nail on the head.
Last year marked thirty years past 1981, and even though my teacher didn't ask about this milestone, I must say that once again, I was not where I envisioned myself to be. Not necessarily a bad thing, but had you asked Young Mary where she saw herself in 2011, I'm sure you would have gotten a different answer than the reality of today.
I'm challenging myself right now to think about 2021; forty years since I first predicted my future. I will be 58 years old. My children will turn 24 and 22 that year. They won't need me for much anymore. Hopefully they will have both graduated college, and I will not yet have any grandchildren. I'll probably still be at my same job. Married? Alone? I don't know. Smart money would likely be on "married". I see myself at peace. I see myself with my depression and anxiety under control. I pray that my Dad will still be around at 92. I hope I'm healthy, and active, and still feeling frisky. Hopefully I will be around to see if my prediction is accurate.
As we observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I have to wonder just how far our nation has come since the Civil Rights marches of the 1960's. While blacks are now able to eat in the same restaurants as whites, and are able to ride pretty much anywhere they choose on the bus, there are still prejudices and road blocks. I see it from some of our customers at work towards our black employees. Just the other night I found out that a former classmate and once a friend of mine is now an active member in the KKK. Make no mistake; there's still plenty of racism in America.
In 2005, Scarlet and I made a stop at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN, the site where Dr. King was assassinated in 1968. It was emotional to stand in the parking lot and see the site.
I can remember hearing people grumble when President Reagan signed the MLK holiday into law in the 1980's. But I think it's important to educate. Important to remember. Important to celebrate the life of this peacemaker.
My mom was always the one who signed the report cards, wrote out the "sick" notes for school, and signed all the checks--both for purchases and bills. In later years, she signed things with her own first and last name, but when I was a kid my mom usually signed with "Mrs. Thomas Hatch".
I don't know that I've ever signed anything "Mrs. George Bailey". I'm pretty sure I have not. In fact, it's rare you see anyone sign that way these days. Occasionally at work, we get payment checks from our older customers that are signed like this, but clearly it is a lost custom.
I suppose married women today view themselves as individuals, not an extension of their husbands. Something that evolved with women's lib and women's rights. I don't really have an opinion on this, I just think it's an interesting observation. And it does make me wonder if we are better off now than we were 50 years ago when women stayed in their marriages no matter what. Through infidelities, addictions, abuse...they stayed. Til death do us part, they were "The Mrs.".
It's January 11th and I haven't made any resolutions, or for that matter, any changes. I'm not quite sure what I want for 2012. Sure, I want to eat healthier and work out more, but I haven't made any real steps to do either.
What I really want is peace in this new year. I want contentment. I want to stop having to THINK so damn much. I feel like I've been thinking very hard for months now. Thinking and analyzing. I'm tired of it. But now is not the time to stop. I can't. I just want to get to a place at some point this year where I can.
Madison said something great to me tonight. She said that some people are oblivious to the fact that many of us need constant stroking to our ego. They don't ignore this need intentionally; they just have no clue. I liked that.
David and I divorced in 1990. Every Christmas since, I have received a Christmas card from his mother. She always fills up the blank half of the card with bits of news from the year. This year I felt startled when I read "So much has happened, there's no way I could fit it all in a card. We need to talk". I immediately sent a card to them (the only one I sent to anyone this year) that gave my cell phone number, and asked them to please call me. Today at 4:12, I got that call.
I loved David's family very much. Losing them was by far the hardest part of ending that marriage. David has three brothers; all very close in age. I adored them all. His older brother became a father shortly after we started dating. The little girl's name was Sasha. David and I spent a lot of weekend nights with them, playing cards and hanging out. I wasn't used to being around babies or small children, and I used to take tons of pictures of Sasha. She was a beautiful little girl with blonde hair and a lovely spirit. Then, David's entire family, including Sasha and her parents moved to another state when the company they worked for relocated. We used to drive to visit them several times a year, and Sasha would always cling to me the entire time. She was constantly on my lap or following me around. She would play with my hair and ask me to read her stories.
Sasha grew up and became a school teacher. She got married. She had a child of her own. Then today at 4:12 I found out that Sasha has terminal brain cancer. She's had surgeries to remove the tumor, but it keeps coming back. She's been through as much chemo and radiation as her body can take. Her friends and family raised enough money to send her to a special hospital in Texas that treats seriously ill cancer patients. Nothing can be done to help Sasha. Now she is starting to lose mobility and have some confusion. There's nothing her family can do except sit back and watch her deteriorate.
In addition to this devastating news, they also told me about two or three other tragedies in their family. David's younger brother's wife also has cancer. I sat there on the phone, not knowing what to say. I couldn't believe one family could have so much tragedy in such a short period of time. Finally, I asked about David. How is he doing? I was shocked to hear he just had his 19th surgery, following a devastating car crash sometime around 2000. Now, he's about to undergo a 20th. I could not help but think how different my life would have been had I stayed with David. Would it have been me in that car with him that night instead of his current wife? Would I have spent the past 12 or so years caring for him?
It's been an incredibly emotional evening for me. I've cried. I drank half a bottle of wine straight from the bottle. I can't get them out of my mind. My heart is breaking for this wonderful, wonderful family who is enduring so much pain right now. Sasha's mother, my age; my former sister-in-law, and once a very dear friend to me....what must she be feeling right now? I couldn't help thinking of the four year old child who will grow up without his mother. My mind is so tired, and think it's time for me to go to sleep. But I will remember what my former father-in-law said to me today when I told him I just didn't know what to say. He said "Just pray for us all. That's all you can do". So before I lay me down to sleep, that's exactly what I will do.
I think it's happened to us all. Someone walks into the office or into the house, and suddenly everything changes. Some people have the ability to make everyone happy just by being close to them. Others seem to instantly piss everyone off. Some people can be around you and the tension is so thick, you could cut it with a knife. It's not always spoken words that make us feel happy or mad or tense, it's often what's UNspoken that affects those around us.
There's a phrase I've heard dozens of times in the past few weeks, "You are responsible for the energy you bring into a room". Maybe you believe it, maybe you don't. But when you are tense or angry, you make the energy in the room tense and angry. When you are happy, you bring that positive energy into the room and to those around you.
I had a wonderful compliment today. I went for my check up with the psychiatrist who prescribes my meds for anxiety and depression. She asked how I was doing, and I noticed she was just beaming, with a big smile on her face. After I gave her a quick update, she told me how different I was from the first visit with her, about 9 months ago. She said "Your energy is totally different from when we first met. When I opened the door to the waiting area, you immediately caught my eye. You looked so confident and it was just radiating out of you!" I took that as an incredible compliment! An incredible accomplishment!
Being around people who bring negative energy to the room can bring everyone down, just as carrying that cloud over your head brings negative energy to those around you. So if there is an environment that continues to make you uncomfortable, take a look at all the players in the room. Just be sure to include yourself in that list.
A codependent person is one who has let another person's behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person's behavior.
The following two "Detach" journal entries will give you a crash course:
"An Answer to a Prayer" dated Nov 1, 2008 "How Did We Wind Up Here?" dated Nov 2, 2008
About This Journal
In 2008 I had the life changing realization that there was a name for what I'd always felt was "wrong" with me. After 20 years of thumbing through various self-help books. I learned about codependence.
I began writing this journal to document my journey out. Over time, it's evolved into something more. While I still talk about codependence (I know now, it will never totally leave me), this blog has turned into the thumbprint of my life; a therapeutic journal for me to sort out a lifetime of thoughts and memories. I believe in being honest with myself and others, and when something is bothering me, I reach out. With a support team of strong, smart women surrounding us, we can all continue to grow. I'm trying to live my best life, in pursuit of a Healthy Mind, a Healthy Body.