There are millions of people in this world who are codependent. Most don’t even know that they are, and there are some who do, but are too afraid to change it. For the longest time, I was oblivious to what being codependent even meant. Once I discovered it’s meaning, I lived for years in fear and denial that I was that way, even though I really was.
A codependent person is defined as someone who has excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one who requires support due to an illness or addiction. In broader terms, it is when a person will place a lower priority on their own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others. The simple existence for them is to solely depend on the needs of, or control of, another.
I cringe when I read any definition of codependency now. Each of them describes how I lived for way too long. And the longer I stay free from all of those former behaviors, the more I have been able to see other relationships and people suffering from it just like I did. My most recent observation of codependency in action has actually been of my partner’s sister.
A few years ago, her husband of almost 20 years left her side for someone else, which left her feeling abandoned, scared, and confused. Almost immediately, she jumped into one relationship and shortly thereafter a second one, which has been the one to really show her level of codependency. Over the past year she has been living with a childhood sweetheart who has quite a few physical, mental, and emotional disorders. In addition, he has been unemployed for many years and has no viable income. I’ve spent some time around the two of them and watched those definitions of codependency play themselves out over and over and over again with them. Sometimes it has felt as if I was watching a little boy with his mother. He often asks her permission to do or have certain things just like a boy would of his mother. She in turn scolds him just like a mother would of a child when he doesn’t listen or obey. When she begins to grow tired of him, he often plays the sick card for sympathy and guilt which keeps her from abandoning him. In turn, she continues to avoid her fear of being alone, which is something she never gave herself any of after her marriage ended. Because of this, she remains invested in taking care of this unhealthy man’s life so much, that she is completely unaware of how sick she has become too.
What’s sad about codependency is the enabling that happens when it’s present in any relationship. In my partner’s sister’s relationship, neither are growing or healing from anything. He is controlling her on many levels, while she is doing the same with him as well. Until they both spend time apart from each other alone and work on their own healing, the unfortunate truth is that they will continue to remain sick and codependent on each other to exist.
My pattern of codependency didn’t begin in an intimate relationship like theirs. It began in my childhood with my mother. She was a very mentally and emotionally sick woman who had never healed from some of her own childhood issues. She was in a codependent based relationship as well with my father who too was just as sick. My mother did her best to keep the family together while trying to support my father in so many ways. Sadly, without realizing it, I became codependent with her in my many attempts to bring her happiness. I spent most of my childhood and adulthood doing everything I could to please her and ignored much of my own needs and wants because of it. As I matured, I repeated this pattern in one romantic relationship after another where each of the people I dated were alcoholics, drug addicts, and debt-laden individuals. In some ways, they were all just mirrors of that relationship I had with my mother. What I never realized was I had been repeating my attempts to take care of her with everyone else in my life that I got close to. The sad, but simple, truth was that I sought out those who were just as sick as my mother, whom I could nurture and take care of just like I had with her. It was the easiest way I knew how to avoid seeing just how sick and broken I was like all those people I was trying to fix. Ironically, the person that needing fixing the most was me. Eventually when the pain became great enough, I turned to God for help with all of it. It finally came at the age of 40, when I began spending time alone and healing from all those childhood wounds.
Today I believe the biggest fear that I faced before asking God for help with my codependency, and the one that faces my partner’s sister and anyone else that is still suffering from it, is that of being alone and learning to enjoy one’s own company. In essence, it’s about learning to love oneself. A codependent person doesn’t love themselves because they neglect most, if not all, of their own needs and wants. I sacrificed so much of my own happiness for years trying to take care of my mother and most of the people I had dated or closely befriended. Until I was willing to let go of all of them and work on me alone, I never got any better and instead continued to live with codependent behaviors and in those type of relationships.
Through my hard work and willingness to spend vast amounts of time alone, I’ve been able to work on a better relationship with me and made great strides in healing from all of those fears I carried out of my childhood. I have a healthy partner today who is able to take care of himself. He’s not severely sick in any addiction nor does he suffer from grave mental and emotional disorders. For once, I am experiencing a relationship where I can be myself and not neglect my own needs and wants. I am so grateful to God for the pain that got me to this place of recovery. Because of it, I am truly beginning to feel I am codependent no more.
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson