The Co-Dependent Path

I have been hearing about co-dependency for most of my adult life, but I don’t think I  recognized until yesterday how much  I struggle with it.  The desperation of my own co-dependency has led me down some very self destructive paths, and I recognize a need to root it out in my life so that I can begin to make real changes.

My pseudonym, Liz Tinnea,  lives in Alaska. As a codependent, I’ve often been paranoid that my family or friends will discover this blog and reject me, so I chose a location far away from where I really live. 

The person I’m most concerned about finding out about this blog is my mother. Part of this concern comes from a place of recognizing if she knew what happened to me as a child she’d be devastated and beat herself up for not protecting me. She’s getting older, and I’d really like to see her live out her final years without being devastated.  Her knowing about my adopted father’s sexual abuse won’t make the pain go away. It’ll only add to it. But if I’m honest with myself another reason I don’t tell her is because of how uncomfortable it’ll make me feel, and thus an evidence of co-dependency operating in my life.   Telling my mom the truth will result in me having to answer difficult questions, and l run the risk of being devastated by the fact that she may not believe me.  Right now it doesn’t feel like the risk is worth it. I haven’t talked to my mom about the abuse from my former pastor either, yet I wonder when l talk to her on the phone if somehow she’s heard any gossip about what happened.  But if my mom’s heard she doesn’t let on to me, because she learned a long time ago from my adopted father that you just kept quiet about real problems.  And it’s easy to see where I learned co-dependency from.

So I really don’t live in Alaska.  Actually I live in the deep south. A place where most people call themselves Christian and smile and tell you they are fine even when they aren’t. A place where Sunday morning at church looks better than our family Facebook photo uploads.   A place where co-dependency can easily run rampant without being recognized.

Since 2012, I’ve been following pastor Zach Van Dyke on the internet. Zach is a  pastor at Summit Church in Orlando. Zach’s sermons have had a tremendous impact on my life. So look him up! Following Zach has resulted in me discovering The Sixty Minute Seminars  at Summit Church that their class called ReGroup does every year where counseling professionals share on subjects that  aren’t often talked about in church yet effect so many of us.  This sounds like an amazing group and I’d love to see more churches follow suit.

One of the seminars that I listened to yesterday was on Co-Dependency and presented by Chris Burns.  I don’t know anything about Chris, but I know the presentation he gave spoke directly to my heart.

According to Chris, co-dependency is being more concerned about others than we are about ourselves.  Though this sounds so unselfish, it really comes from a place of our own need to protect ourselves.   He unwrapped co-dependency for what it really was, a deep desire for control, and listening to him talk I recognized this destructive pattern at work in my life.  I wear myself out trying to keep others happy with me.  I spend so much time monitoring others that I know more about them and what they need than I do about what I need.  As a result, I’m very sensitive to their needs and work really hard to meet them, but in the process I’ve lost so much of my own identity and voice.  I struggle terribly to make decisions.  I easily get overwhelmed and often withdraw.  It’s a miserable and desperate place to be, and for much of my life I’ve struggled to understand why I feel this way.

But last Saturday I felt this building pressure in my head.  I was aware that my husband wasn’t listening to me.  It seemed his primary concern was only about what he wanted to do.  Lately I’ve been stuck at home with two bored teenagers in a town where we don’t know many people.  The neighborhood kids rarely come out, and our kids haven’t had the opportunity to really make friends.  When they are home and miserable I have the wonderful job of dealing with it through out the day.  My husband has just started a new job and has had the pressure of learning it and desired a stress free weekend.  It was obvious that even though he asked me what I wanted to do, that he really had something he wanted to do in mind.  After I told him what I’d like to do, and he disregarded it, I did what I normally do and just tried to let it go.  With an ok honey we went on a ride to explore new fishing sites, but as we rode along this building pressure in my head wouldn’t go away.  It felt like my feelings were going to burst from the top of my head.  I began rubbing my eyes, and he could tell something was wrong.  And finally it came out.  All the pressure I felt from not being heard. I tried to stay calm, but I began to cry.  I felt like he wasn’t listening to me and like my feelings didn’t matter.  He told me of course they did.  He’s been learning about his own self destructive patterns in counseling, so he tried to understand.  When he reassured me that my thoughts and feelings did matter it helped.  But he still didn’t even think about doing what I wanted to. As a matter of fact my getting upset, upset him too, and we didn’t do anything that afternoon.  We were both worn out.  I realized after that that things needed to change. It felt like my husband and I were trapped in trying to keep one another happy and ourselves comfortable, and I also recognized that it was this pattern in our lives that had played a huge part in driving me toward an abusive, addictive relationship with my former pastor.

Chris listed some patterns in childhood that set us up to be co-dependents.  Co-dependency is learned behavior.  Both my husband and myself are adult children of alcoholics.  Everyone of Chris’ points applied directly to our own childhood.

Co-dependents as children often:

1. Can’t talk about problems.
2. Can’t talk about feelings.
3. Triangulate.
4. Try to be perfect, strong, and looking good on the outside.
5. Aren’t free to desire things for themselves.
6. Learned from caregivers to do as I say not as I do.
7. It’s not ok to play.
8.To never rock the boat.

Codependents have a hard time identifying problems. They discover that what they learned to do as kids does not work well as adults.

Adult Co-dependents experience:

1.  Difficulty having healthy self esteem. Often don’t feel equal to others. They usually end up feeling greater or lesser than others.
2. Don’t have good functional boundaries.
3. Difficulty owning own reality. Tough to be self-reflective.
4. Difficulty acknowledging own wants or needs.
5. Difficulty expressing reality moderately.

As I jotted down these notes, I was able to see myself clearly.  And I realized, just as Chris revealed in his own story, that co-dependency had played a large part in driving me towards my own self-destructive behaviors.  The patterns I’d learned in my childhood from my parents that communicated to me I didn’t have a voice had resulted in a desperate adult longing to find something to fill me up. 

When I met my former pastor for the first time, I was like a dried out sponge soaking up every ounce of appreciation he lavished on me.  For the first time in my life I believed it was OK just to be me.  He gave me a voice, listened to all my problems, feelings and desires. He told me I was beautiful, special and the light of his life.  He asked my opinions about things and shared with me about his own problems. He made me feel like I was somebody.  It was all the things I’d needed and longed for ever since I was a little girl.  A little girl who’d become desperate woman without even realizing it. 

And I was so busy soaking it all up that I missed how he was using it to meet his own selfish needs.  He kept saying it was all about love.  And it appeared so sacrificial.   But the reality was, he was only serving himself, which is the co-dependency’s most powerful deception.

Which raises a challenging question to me about my faith.  Am I serving others out of the my own personal need to keep others happy with me or am I serving them because it’s what’s best for them and because I’m motivated by the love of Christ and a desire to bring glory to Him?  Honestly, because of my own codependent tendencies I recognize at times I don’t know. As Chris said, self reflection can be difficult, because I learned early on to reflect more on others needs than my own.

Chris calls co-dependency a disease that deteriorates our souls and that keeps us from trusting God. He encourages the codependent Christians to examine their motives.   He quotes Lysa Terkeurst  from Proverbs 31 Ministries who says, We must not confuse the command to love with the disease to please. Chris goes on to say when we hide behind servanthood as codependents that we are really serving for ourselves and not for the glory of God.

These truths hit home with me.  It’d be easy to feel guilty, but I don’t, because I know guilt and shame don’t motivate us toward anything good.  What I do feel is overwhelming gratitude that God is showing me the truth and wants me to know there is a better way.

As my loving heavenly Father, He gives me full permission to know I have a home with Him where I receive all the things that were lacking in my childhood one.  A place where it’s safe to talk about my problems and feelings. A place where through His Holy Spirit I communicate directly with Him and He always hears what I have to say.  A place where I don’t have to worry if I’m going to upset Him. A place where I can find joy in His presence where I am encouraged to rest in Him. A place where I am completely covered by the righteousness of Christ and my sins have been cast away.

I love the way the Message Bible says this verse: you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

What an amazing verse that brings relief to this struggling codependent’s heart! 

Last night I acknowledged to God that I knew co-dependency was a problem for me.  I agreed with Him that trusting Him was a much better way. I know it won’t be easy to unlearn all the patterns I’ve learned, but I know I have a very patient Teacher that I can trust to lead me every step of the way.  I’m also thankful for my counselor, my husband who’s learning with me, and the community of Christ I’ve found online and am starting to build in my new community. 

Though the process for change is slow, His love motivates me to keep moving forward. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

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