One of my big demons has been codependency. For a lot of people, this is a bizarre concept. At first glance, the characteristics of the caretaker seem positive. Caretakers are often sensitive, compassionate, deep feelers and problem solvers. They take care of stuff. They feel called to save the world. No problem is beyond them. Part of what makes healing from care taking patterns so difficult is because on the surface these appear to be positive qualities. Why would a person like this need healing? The answer is that the deeper and often subconscious motivation for these ‘selfless’ behaviors is a rejection of the self.
I was an excellent caretaker. I took care of my little sisters through my parents’ divorce and father’s unpredictable behavior. I took care of my ex-boyfriend for five years through his roller-coaster of addictions, stints in jail, rehab facilities, and ODs. Even after we broke up I checked up on his family regularly. I took care of my wild friends – I got them into counselling and took them to NA meetings. All of my friends needed me. My social life consisted of addicts, victims, and criminals with me trying to “fix” them. I was on a mission to heal every addict I could. I needed them to heal. I couldn’t handle them not healing. So I threw myself into their problems.
Even after we broke up I checked up on his family regularly. I took care of my wild friends – I got them into counseling and took them to NA meetings. All of my friends needed me. My social life consisted of addicts, victims, and criminals with me trying to “fix” them. I was on a mission to heal every addict I could. I needed them to heal. I couldn’t handle them not healing. So I threw myself into their problems.
I gave and gave because I needed to escape myself. Focusing on other people’s baggage offers a very powerful distraction from our own feelings. In this way I denied myself. The caretaker will, in martyr-like fashion, regularly sacrifice and compromise their own self-care in order to attend to the needs of others. In this way, care taking becomes an addiction. We become very comfortable with the self-image of the noble crusader out to save the world. In reality, we are creating a deep rift within as our own feelings are persistently ignored, belittled, and devalued.
By denying myself and getting lost in other people’s addictions, not only did I waste everyone’s time, but I insulted their ability to take care of themselves. In truth, we only have the power to heal ourselves. When you give a tremendous amount of energy to “help” another person and discover that your efforts result in very little progress, bitterness will ensue. My roommates are still dealing drugs. My dad still struggles with his addictive demons. My ex relapsed anyway.
We must acknowledge, honor and ultimately accept our own feelings if we are to heal. This can be one of the most terrifying concepts to someone who spends most of their time trying to avoid exactly that. For the caretaker, there may be a huge resistance to “going there” and feeling their feelings because “There’s no time for me. What about everyone else? I’m fine.” There is an extreme denial of worthiness. It is like you don’t even exist. You don’t get to have feelings and you don’t get to matter. The only way you can matter is if you are in service to someone else. This healing process will dissolve that illusion. Each person’s journey is his or her own. It begins with a deep breath and the permission to feel all the way.
Healing from codependency is the hardest thing I have ever done. The worst part about anything this self-destructive is that it is so intimate. You become so close to your addictions and vices that leaving them behind is like killing the part of yourself that taught you how to survive. It is hard to imagine a world without that aspect. The great part is, with the death of old energy, new pieces of your spirit wake up that you never thought existed – and it is absolutely brilliant. You deserve healthy relationships. You matter. You are here for more than just getting by or getting lost. You deserve to be the best, brilliant, beautiful you that you can be. You deserve to be loved in the healthiest, most honoring way possible.
This wild journey into healing from codependency starts from home. It starts with putting yourself first.