I’m a Codependent

So I guess I’m into admitting things on here now…? Last week I came clean as a swear-aholic (damn right!), a few months ago I talked about being a perfectionist, and really the whole point of this blog was to come out as an abuse survivor and talk about it.

Well, it’s time to admit one more of my issues: I’m a recovering codependent.

It took me a long time to realize my issues with codependency. In fact, I had no idea what “codependent” meant until 2016 when it came up at the mental health day program I attended. I remember that day so clearly because when the clinician explained codependency to our group, I got shivers up my back: I had never been described so perfectly before.



(source)

Language has power, right? And so does knowledge, to paraphrase the familiar colloquialism. Coming to understand the word “codependency” and recognizing how I participated in codependent relationships…shit! It was eye-opening! And it allowed me to take a monumental step forward in my therapy work and in my recovery as an abuse survivor.

I now imagine a codependent relationship as a circle—it’s a revolving loop of two people who need each other in the worst possible way. I’ve come to believe that it’s also a form of self-medication; whether we are the person in the relationship who holds power or we are their victim, we’re still using another person to try to fulfill a need.

In emotional abuse, power-hungry narcissists create a “sub-reality” in which they gaslight, manipulate, use, or otherwise abuse their victims. Narcissists prey on passive individuals who often have a strong inclination towards being caregivers and once victims are convinced that we’re responsible for our abusers, the cycle of codependency is created.

But how can you recognize signs of codependency in your own relationship or with people you care about?

Never fear, I have a list! (Note: I’m going to assume in my list that you are looking to identify codependent tendencies in yourself, but you could easily interpret these when looking at someone else. Also, I use the term “partner” when talking about the other person in a relationship, but for most of these points it could also be your parent, sibling, friend, coworker, or another person in your life. Read it however you need to.)


How to Tell If You Are Codependent: A Handy List

1. You define your worth based on the opinions of others

More likely, on the opinion of one, specific person (i.e. your partner). Codependent people require external sources to tell them who they are and if or how much they matter.

2. You no longer trust your own experience.

You question your feelings, thoughts, and behaviours and always assume that you are wrong. You live with a deep sense of shame, guilt, or embarrassment, regardless of what you say or do.

3. You consistently put your partner’s needs before your own.

You never say “no,” you get things done regardless of your own needs, and if your efforts don’t “work” you become depressed and feel like a failure.

4. You cover for your partner’s shortcomings and feel responsible for their behaviour.

You come to believe that no matter how they act, your partner’s behaviour is a reflection on YOU because you have assumed responsibility for it. (Or rather, they have foisted the responsibility upon you and because you’re codependent, you accept it.)

5. You feel viciously abused by the mildest criticism.

This is because you’re working so damn hard to keep the person who holds the power happy and because you depend on them for your own happiness. In this situation it’s easy to begin thinking self-deprecating or suicidal thoughts, especially in moments when you feel criticized.

6. You seek permission from your partner before doing anything.

Since you can’t trust yourself (see #2) and you need the approval of another to let you know that what you’re doing is okay (see #1), you always have to ask for permission first. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, without your partner’s “okay” you can’t confidently do anything. (And it should go without saying that gaining this “permission” is often excruciatingly difficult.)

7. You are always afraid that your partner is going to leave you.

This becomes your worst fear and leads to doing just about anything in order to ensure that your partner stays with you.

8. You focus on your partner’s emotions and struggle to differentiate between how you feel and how they feel.

Instead of having your own thoughts and feelings, you become a mirror for the other person’s emotions.

9. You change your personal values for your partner’s.

You become utterly loyal to them and adopt their values as your own. You may take on their interests and hobbies and will quickly back off when challenged to avoid anger or rejection.

10. You have become hyper-vigilant and are compelled to keep track of your partner at all times.

You know their routine inside-out and backwards, you jump up as soon as they enter a room, you are constantly listening out for them, and you put significant effort into anticipating what they need before they even need it.

11. You’ve become controlling with others (NOT the person you are codependent with).

Since you feel so utterly out of control in your own life, you attempt to regain a sense of stability by exerting strict boundaries or expectations on other people, or in other places, in your life.

12. You avoid conflict with your partner at all costs.

Your #1 operative is to keep the peace with your partner, so you acquiesce, you give in, you avoid; you do whatever is necessary to make sure everything is “okay.”

13. You allow your body to be used for your partner’s pleasure.

Sex becomes an act of duty and you allow your body to be used regardless of whether or not you want to participate. You may fear your partner’s touch, but you’re simultaneously compelled to give in because you can’t say no and view sex as one of the things you “have” to do in order to keep your partner happy.

14. You participate in self harm in response to the codependent relationship.

“Self harm” can happen in many ways, but it is all an attempt to regain a sense of control (see #11). We typically think of self harm as cutting yourself, but it can also include bingeing on or restricting food, pulling out your hair, picking at your skin, forcing yourself to stay awake, exercising excessively, using drugs or alcohol, or engaging in any behaviour that intentionally causes your body harm.


I’ve heard it said that once you’re an addict, you’re always an addict, and I now know that one of my addictions is being codependent. I vividly remember living that way, but after a lot of very hard work, I’m now able to have healthy relationships instead of destructive ones.

I hope sharing this helps other people recognize codependency and take steps towards managing it in their own lives or with someone they love. Thankfully, I’ve been able to radically change my experience and the best advice I think I can give is to reach out, get help, learn more, and focus on your own needs first. You can overcome codependency. You absolutely can.

xxJ

Codependents; the modern day two-headed monsters. (source)

Why I Swear So Goddamn Much

(And Other Small Acts of Rebellion)

Hi. I’m Juliana and I like to swear. Like, a lot.

Okay, I’m not exactly Eminem or Lil’ Kim, but I do like to utter expletives on a fairly regular basis.

Some might think that doesn’t make sense… I’m a university educated individual who studied classical music and English. I have degrees in music and education, and an early childhood education diploma. I have two young daughters at home and I maintain a professional life as a music teacher and tutor, which involves presenting myself competently to parents and my fellow educators.

But, I still love to swear.

Especially on this blog, let’s be honest.

But why swear so much, Juliana? Why????

Because I fucking can!

Because I fucking didn’t before!

(Because I fucking couldn’t before!)

I grew up in a family that placed politeness at the top of the list when it came to expectations around behaviour. Unfortunately, because of my tendency to be passive, insecure, anxious, and an all-around goody-two-shoes, I deeply internalized this messaging and wouldn’t allow myself to do something so embarrassing or inappropriate as swearing, not to mention anything else that might be considered rude or attention-seeking. Tut tut. This tendency to avoid “inappropriate” language, carried forward into all my other relationships. When I got involved with my emotional abusers, I was held to a high standard of behaviour and was both implicitly and explicitly told that I shouldn’t swear, so I kept my mouth shut.

But times have changed…and I’ve changed! And now, I swear whenever the hell I want to!

I do it because it’s incredibly liberating and it’s a small act of rebellion against my abusive exes and my polite upbringing.

I spent my youth and young adult years swearing only in my head, silently enjoying the sweet sound of a well-timed “fuck” in the lyrics of a song I happened to hear, or quietly typing curse words in the poetry I wrote as an escape from my life. I spent those years being repressed in all ways and changing the language I use has been a small, but impactful choice I’ve embraced now that I’m on my own.

I’ve talked about the power of language before (here, here, or here, for example) because it’s an important tool for abuse survivors to use in their healing. Language is also something emotional abusers use to manipulate their victims. In my experience, abusers use their words to repress and reprimand, while elevating themselves by adhering to a completely different standard of communication.

Swear words have power. They hold weight. There’s a reason 10-year-olds whisper and giggle if they hear someone say “ass.” (Side note: I’ve learned that “bad” words completely lose their potency with children if you treat them like any other word and explain the contexts in which you should or should not swear. My daughters both know a bunch of swear words, but basically ignore them. In fact, they usually insist on saying “heck,” “dang,” or “darn” when they need to vent some frustration. Honestly, I don’t even know where they learned those words; Mommy uses the “proper” swears!)

Being liberal with my utterances of “fuck this” and “goddamn shit” has enabled me to feel a sense of power over my words again. And I take every opportunity possible to enjoy moments of feeling like I’ve re-claimed my life.

Swearing has the bonus of being a small act of rebellion within society too. I may look like a soccer mom, but I can sound like a total badass babe when inclined to do so.

I can think of other modest acts of nonconformity that I practice in order to feel a sense of control in my life again. Like, setting up my home and yard however I like and in spite of my nosy neighbours. I can hang pictures and art that I choose in the way I want, and I can cut my grass or plant my gardens however want to. I can make plans without getting permission to do so. I can walk around without shaving my armpits and not worry one damn bit about what someone else thinks! There are all these little, itty, bitty ways that I can subvert the expectations previously placed upon me and it feels so damn good! It’s like when you break up with someone and you feel sad, but then realize that you can now go to that Thai restaurant your ex hated but you love; it’s like that, only better.

So, fuck not swearing. Some people may not like my potty mouth, but then this blog isn’t for them! I think the people I’m closest to actually appreciate my new ability to be authentic. Especially because I’m not stepping beyond what would be considered appropriate; I’m just using my language intentionally and allowing myself to enjoy the satisfaction of calling someone an asshole when that’s exactly what they’re being.

Will you join me? Have you tried swearing more often and experienced the liberating effect of articulating yourself through curse words? I would highly recommend it. And if you’re not convinced, watch this famous video of Sir Billy Connolly describing the power of the words “fuck off” and get a better sense of their potency and maybe a chuckle or two as well.

If swearing isn’t a small act of rebellion that suits you, I encourage you to think about other ways can you reclaim your identity and exert a sense of control in your life. Abuse survivor or not, we can all do something to live more authentically and create some fucking space for ourselves in the big, wide world.

xxJ


Image credit: falseknees.com

I’m At My Best When I’m Depressed

Depression can be described as a deep sensation of numbness. Of sadness. Heaviness. Loneliness. A profound sense of despair. An internalized sense of being unworthy. Constantly feeling isolated and invisible.

Depression is like:

“A distance between you and the world. You cannot see any tangible future, so there is a feeling of hopelessness. It takes extra effort to do anything because the world is so far away, and emotions rarely make it through the void either so you are numb and distant (and all to [sic] often using lots of energy to prevent people from realising [sic] how you actually feel).”

source

Saying that depression sucks would definitely be an understatement, but I want to argue that, actually, I’m at my best when I’m depressed. Let me try to explain…

When I’m depressed, I feel tired all the time. Actually, not just tired, exhausted. I can sleep for two hours or 20 hours and still not feel rested. But everyday, I get up and I get through it.

When I’m depressed, I imagine that I don’t matter; I feel an ongoing and intense sense of despair deep within myself. But, I get up and I get through it.

When I’m depressed, all I want to do is curl up and disappear. Sometimes this manifests as suicidal thoughts or ideation, sometimes it’s just a sense of wanting to shut the world out and find a safe, comfortable space to hide in. But regardless of feeling this way, I get up and I get through it.

When I’m depressed, I struggle to eat, which means that I don’t get the nourishment I need. This creates a cycle of feeling too shitty to eat and then feeling worse because I haven’t eaten. It also often results in a pattern of bingeing and then restricting, which messes up my system even more. And yet no matter what, I get myself up and I get through it.

When I’m depressed, my anxiety goes on high alert too, so I become exhausted AND hyper-vigilant at the same time. It’s like there are sirens blaring in my head but my body is so heavy that I can barely move. And yet, even with these overwhelming sensations going on in my brain, I get up and I get through it.

When I’m depressed, every part of being a mother becomes extra difficult. Making meals, getting school stuff sorted, making my children laugh, comforting them, getting through bedtime…even just being present with them… But I don’t want my mental illness to affect my children no matter how low I get, so I get up and I get through it.

If you haven’t caught on yet, what I’m trying to say is that when I’m depressed, I show up anyway. I get myself out of bed and I push through the day, regardless of the desire to stay in the warm sanctuary of my covers. Regardless of wanting to disappear, or feeling afraid, or wishing I could hit “pause” on everything and shut it all out…

I keep going anyway.

And that’s why I am at my absolute best when I’m depressed.

That’s why all of us who suffer from depression are at our best. We fight against our disorder, push through the numbness and the despair, and make ourselves face each and every day.

It may not look like we are trying. We may seem tired. We may cry often. We might attempt to isolate ourselves. We might not speak with excitement, or we might overcompensate and act TOO excited. We may just barely get through the day… But we work hard to overcome what our depression puts on us—one day at a time, one moment at a time.

Change your perspective on those with depression, because we feel like we’re drowning, yet we continue to grab breaths when we push our heads above the murky water, and that takes immense strength that few can ever see.

And if you are someone with depression in your life, know that when you feel depressed, you’re actually at your absolute best because you haven’t given up on trying to keep yourself afloat. You’re a fighter and a survivor and I hope you are proud of yourself.

xxJ


If you or someone you love need help, please reach out.

Canada: http://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/ or https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/mental-health-services/mental-health-get-help.html

USA: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or https://www.mentalhealth.gov/

Worldwide: http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html


1,040 Days

I was told it would take two years. “Two years,” they said, “and you will feel better.”

“In two years, this will feel normal and you will have healed and you’ll be happy and it will all be okay.”

They were wrong.

Because it’s been almost three years; 35 months, or 1,040 days, give or take, and I still hurt and it’s still hard and it still doesn’t feel normal.

There is no timeline for emotions. Our feelings don’t adhere to expectations placed upon them. They don’t care if we want them to go away. They don’t listen if we try to shut them out. True, we may be able to distract ourselves for a time, but in the end, our emotions make themselves known. And, in fact, when we attempt to suppress them, they always reappear with vehemence.

I think this is why emotional abuse is so hard to recover from. Physical injuries heal. Our bodies have an astonishing ability to look after themselves and heal the scabs and bruises inflicted upon them. But our feelings are different. Once they get bruised, the tender ache has no set timeline for when it goes away.

I was told at the beginning of my separation that it would take two years for me to “get over” the devastation of my divorce. I suppose my lawyers and counsellors and friends and family were well-intentioned in their attempts to both temper my expectations (i.e. it takes a long time to get over something like this) and give me hope for the future (i.e. this won’t last forever). Unfortunately for them, and for me, I’m the kind of person who clings too strongly to promises like that. I grab hold of expectations and stick to them like super glue, allowing them to set me up for acute disappointment. No one could guarantee when things would get “easier” but that’s what they tried to do.

It’s not fair to promise someone that their grief, or anger, or sadness, or even their joy, will last for a finite amount of time. We each move through our emotions at our own pace and no matter what, we can’t be rushed to overcome how we feel.

The emotional wounds abusers inflict upon their victims are what really make us suffer. And in my case, where I have children with my most recent abusive partner, I continue to face that person every day and there is no timeline for when that will change. I still struggle with relationships from high school; how can I possibly get over my ex-husband after just two years, when I have to engage with him all the time??

I know last week I wrote about love; about setting an intention to proliferate, seek out, and practice love in my life. And so the way that I’m showing myself love today is to notice that I am depressed and to allow myself the space to rest, eat good food, write, and sometimes cry; I’m letting myself feel how I feel because forcing a smile onto my face makes everything harder. When I pretend I’m okay, but really I’m not, it’s not good self-care. And I think that an intention to bring more love into my life includes loving myself no matter how I feel.

My kids have been gone for five days. I still won’t see them for another three. Was this the stuff that was supposed to get easier after two years? Was this feeling of devastation supposed to go away in those 24 months? Because I’m still sitting here, 1,040 days later, crying while I miss my children. And I still feel angry. And I’m resentful. And I hate being here alone.

There is no timeline for how we feel. So can we please stop trying to put one on those people whose emotions make us uncomfortable? Or those who are still struggling even though “enough” time has past? Those who are perpetually and authentically happy, but “should” be feeling something other than that? Or anyone whose feelings don’t mesh with ours, or whose feelings we don’t understand?

We can’t force others to follow an emotional agenda; feelings just don’t work that way.

xxJ

Life feels heavy right now and noticing that is practicing good self-care.