What is codependency? A lot of people ask me that. That’s because it’s really hard to define. The best definition I ever heard of codependency was this:
Codependency is an addiction to a possibility.
The first time I heard this description, I could tell it hit home with people because everyone in the room went “ahhhhhhh” with this great sense of relief and understanding. It just resonated. There may be many other definitions of codependency, but to codependents this makes perfect sense.
I was addicted to the possibility of:
- My ex-husband getting emotionally healthy.
- Being perfect.
- Saying the right thing to change a situation.
- Controlling and manipulating people, places or things to suit my needs.
- Having a great marriage.
- Life being different than it is.
That was my addiction. And, it was really painful. It was all about controlling my environment and distracting myself from my feelings by focusing on exterior solutions. It was really tiring because I was constantly trying to read people and my environment to anticipate what might happen. Once I did that, I had to figure out how to change things so the worst wouldn’t happen. Most of the time that meant changing someone else – and that’s impossible. But, I didn’t know that. I knew it intellectually, but I didn’t really get it. It flat wore me out.
Because I was addicted to a possibility, a fantasy, a dream…..I was not living in reality. It’s like being obsessed with the possibility that my dog might become a cat. First, I can try to talk her into being a cat. Then, I can try to entice her to act like a cat. And, if that doesn’t work, I can try to force her into being a cat. And, if none of that works, I would get angry and resentful at her because she’s not a cat. Sounds stupid when you put it that way, doesn’t it?
The reality of my life was that I did not know how to focus on me and take care of my own needs. I can blame my unhappiness on my ex or on my situation, but, in reality, I was the problem. I gave up taking care of myself because somehow I thought I could get my needs met through other people or other things. I just had to make sure they met them. I still sometimes find myself doing this. It just comes really natural to me.
Comfort is the big obsession I have. I have heard people say that people who are codependent or are addicts are addicted to comfort. That could be true, too. But, being comforted is also a real need. It just doesn’t need to be an obsession. If I’m afraid, I need to be comforted. Now, I look at my fear and let myself feel it. If there is something I can do to reasonably prevent an event from happening, I think through it and do it. If I have no control over it, I let it go. And, sometimes I have to comfort myself by calling a friend, getting a massage, attending a meeting, taking a nap, eating healthy food, praying, or journaling. I can comfort myself. What a revelation that was! And, how great- because I don’t have to convince myself to do something I need. I don’t have to manipulate and yell and get angry to get what I need. I just simply do it. And, the feeling passes. And, I feel better. My needs get met.
Part of taking care of myself was getting myself out of dangerous relationships. I had it backwards. I thought the relationship had to change. And that would be one way out. But, I also had to be respectful of the other person’s needs and desires. And his desire was for things to stay the same. Initially, I thought that meant that I had to put up with what was happening. But, one day I finally realized that I could see the relationship for what it was, accept it for what it was and make a decision that it was NOT for me. But, I had to let go of the fantasy, the possibility for me to make that decision. And, yes, it was very painful to let it go. But, it was painful to stay. Neither option was painless. I had a choice. Having a choice is the opposite of having an obsession.
Codependency is an addiction to a possibility. Everybody’s obsession may be a little bit different. But, the addiction, the obsession, the relentless pursuit of relief is the same. It is relentless, and it seems that it’s the ONLY possibility. Recovery, for me, is about understanding that there are many choices and many roads to taking care of myself. One of those ways may be asking for something from others. The key word here is ASK. They have a choice, too. And, I have to give them the respect to make their choices at the same time that I make my own. When I act like this, I’ve released the bondage of codependent behavior and started to heal. I’m learning to live in reality. And, that’s really comforting.