Friday, August 6, 2010

Expanding the View

I haven't written much here. It's not writer's block, I have plenty to say that's been building and building until I feel like my brain and heart are going to bust from the pressure.  If only it were as simple as writer's block.  I could pace the floor with my hair in a mess searching my brain for the right words.  Lock myself in a room and tell people to go away in a surly tone.  Don't disturb the tortured artist please.

No, instead it's a complex mix of shame.  

Shame is the devil in codependency.  Shame twists things up so you blame yourself, setting the ground for all kinds of fun stuff like enabling and feeling responsible for other people's problems so that you play an endless losing battle of trying to fix them.  

Shame is pretty common for codependents, and as such is pretty well-known among folks outside of addiction and codependence.  The "lucky" ones.  Yet, I think few understand just how complex it is.  After all, I live it every day and still can't pull the throbbing decaying mass apart enough to see if the thing has a heart I can stab.  

I've taken my first steps against the beast by getting into Program (12-steps), and that has helped even though I can't shake the nagging feeling that the whole Program for codependents is still somehow wrapped up in shame.  Often we're told how we're doing things wrong.  If we have expectations, shame on us.  If we enable, shame on us.  What I haven't decided if this is built into the Program itself, or merely a construct of the people.   They/we bring it to the table because we came in with it and it's one of our primary problems. 

So writing about this stuff is terrifying to me.  Yes, there is the fear of being judged by some reader who comes along and thinks they know how to fix my problem, but that's not really it.  That happens in real life on the daily.  Everyone has an answer and every answer is different.  Huh. 

So, no, it's not that.  

Amidst all the chaos of addicts in my life past and present (I have three) I have to try and be a competent adult who pays bills, cleans the house, does good work on time, brings something to the friendship table, and is a good enough parent to my two children.  And all the mess of being locked into the interplay of addiction and codependence often gets in the way of these things.  

The theory is that if I let people in my life in on this secret they would be able to understand and offer support.  My experience is the opposite.  I've had friends instead gossip about the mess of my life, or worse, get angry when I don't heed their advice and abandon ship. 

If it was cancer things would be different.  But letting people know I'm struggling with something that can't be clearly defined as disease (even though it has been) and can too easily be judged as lack of character, maturity, will power, or wisdom opens the door for people to trust me less.  To worry that I may NOT be able to get that job done, or to decide that I'm an unfit mother, or to generally think less of me.

The tricky part of that is that they are right -- the pain and the practical reality of chaos control DOES get in the way of e v e r y t h i n g.  I have let people down over and over again.  I have missed three weddings, and am about to miss a fourth, because addiction in my life somehow got in the way of me going.  My work has faltered.  I have less physical and emotional energy for every aspect of my life.

But if I had cancer, even if it was because of a poor lifestyle choice I had made, no one would be expecting me to get up and act normal.  No one would feel disappointed or pissed off that I couldn't work full time or didn't make it to that dinner, or couldn't muster up the energy to decorate the house for Christmas.

No one would think less of me, expect the unreasonable, trust me less if only I had cancer instead.  No one would say "no" to that business loan, or unconsciously have less confidence in my expertise.  Unless maybe it was brain cancer.  Because while the chaos of addiction in my life is a practical reality, the codependence, the fear, the shame, the pain -- that's in the head, and people rightly predict if my head is full of that there's probably little room for anything else.

Trouble is, there's no goddamned hope for a better life if I can't integrate this stuff with the rest of who I am.

It's sad when you wish you had cancer instead of the complex fucked-upness of codependence.

Letting people in on this part of my life has so far not elicited sympathy, nor support except from those fighting the same war under a different roof.  I am grateful for those people every day.  


  1. My heart breaks to read this. I held my breath for the longest time as I raised three sons. I was lucky. I feel so badly for those who have not been as lucky as I. I wish I knew what to say or do that would be of some use or help. If you ever want to here a friendly voice - if you ever just need to vent - if you just want to talk to someone - about ANYTHING - there's a "Call Me" button on my blog. Use it. It's free - to you and to me.

  2. ACH!! I DO know the difference between 'here' and 'hear'. Honest I do.

  3. Lceel, I'm still trying to figure out how people can help, what they can say. I can't say I know yet, but I think it looks something like really shifting the thinking of how we unconsciously think about mental health diseases like addiction or codependence and that we don't jump ship when things get uncomfortable or ugly. Also, not identifying the person as the disease, the same way we don't label people with cancer as cancerous and nothing else.

    It's complex, and it sucks, and sucks all the more because it is in the mind and brain and that's the place from which we perceive and make decisions.

    p.s. thank you.
    p.p.s. I added a couple more paragraphs to the post.

  4. I really really nod violently when I read this: "I can't shake the nagging feeling that the whole Program for codependents is still somehow wrapped up in shame....What I haven't decided if this is built into the Program itself, or merely a construct of the people. They/we bring it to the table because we came in with it and it's one of our primary problems." I used to feel the exact same way about Buddhism--that everyone (including me) brought their effed-up Calvinism/Protestantism into Zen, and then I wondered why Zen was so full of people telling me I was Bad.

  5. PS your blog is really really beautiful! I love the falling petals. And the words. May I link to it?

  6. RJ, yes, you can link. I haven't gotten round to creating a blogroll yet, but will soon.

    I never had that experience with the teachings of Buddhism, but certainly had trouble with the neurotic Sangha. I still think the practice is the best thing available out there and only wish I were more disciplined in getting to the cushion.

  7. Oh, and p.s., thank you. Blogger has significantly improved their design options.

  8. "or worse, get angry when I don't heed their advice and abandon ship. "

    This is what I have gotten, quite frequently, as someone with extreme codependency...although, I haven't actually admitted I'm a co-dependent in the sense that I'm trying to work on it...yet.