My daughter, Annie, recently shared my manuscript with her good friend, Megan. Megan is “her person,” that special woman with whom she shares most everything in life. I first learned of the friendship when Annie chose to dress up like Megan one year for Halloween. She donned a bobbed purple wig, and drew a floral “sleeve” tattoo on her right arm with felt tip markers. The costume was completed by smuggling a periwinkle dress out of Megan’s closet.
Megan is a lovely, bright young woman from the recovery community and she emailed me a long letter after completing the read. Since she is Annie’s “person,” I was relieved by her favorable response. Megan also shared with me her favorite quote from the book.
“I don’t have to change anyone. Letting people be who they are frees us all, and my only job is to become the person I wish others to be.”
It stopped me cold.
Reading what I’d written the year before gave me a rush of the guilts, not because I don’t believe it, but because it challenged me. Have I really been living those words?
When Annie was in active addiction, and then in early recovery, I found health and spiritual fitness through my support groups and in working my own program. I also read everything I could get my hands on about loving and parenting an addict. One word in particular popped up repeatedly and I well remember the day I Googled “codependency”… and then laughed out loud. How had I made it to middle age without knowing this about myself?
In her landmark book, Codependent No More, Melody Beattie defined a codependent as someone “who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior. We believe that we’d be happy if the other person would just change.”
I admit that was me for a time. The benefit of gaining that clarity, and taking the focus off of Annie and placing it on myself, extended far beyond my concerns about her. All of my relationships improved. My sense of peace, and ability to feel joy, also grew. Yet with the crisis now well behind me, and Annie now a fully functioning adult, it occurs to me that I’ve allowed myself to become somewhat spiritually flabby again. I’ve allowed myself to become complacent about my own issues.
Distant seem the days when I did such a good job of minding my own business, and extended oodles of grace to others for their own “stuff.” I’ve lately found myself annoyed by the shortcomings of others, and quick to judge their behavior and choices. Also quick to react and obsess over perceived slights, I’ve been sighted with my head spinning in an uncontrollable bout of insanity (think Linda Blair in The Exorcist). Those of us in the throes of codependency can indeed look demon possessed.
Just as a recovering addict needs vigilance to stay the course, and can relapse at any time, I guess those of us “addicted” to the lives and behaviors of others, whether they’re addicts or not, can do so as well.
Seems I’m codependent some more. Gotta remember that we can’t change others…we can only change ourselves.
Please share how you’ve learned to deal with codependence. If you wish, you can enter “anonymous” as your name. Your email address will not show on the post.
(Megan’s real name, and Annie’s photo, used with permission.)