"What is codependence?" I asked the director of the documentary for which I was being interviewed, named "ASK - Can Love survive Addiction and Codependence?". He smiled and said "Well, it's a personal definition, so I would rather you just answer the questions I ask on camera". As it turned out, we spent the whole day filming and none of my footage made into the documentary because the then-object-of-my-codependence decided later on he did not want to be a part of the final product. Since our interview was about couples in addiction, my part ended up on the cutting floor. And the interesting thing is that even with the questions answered, I still didn't understand 'codependence' any better at the end of that day. Nor would I understand for many months. It rang a bell the way the word "alcoholic" may to the girl stumbling home from a bar at 5 a.m., after an unintended evening of wild drinking. Not that I have ever been that girl. But the word had no clarity to me. It just tickled my brain with a familiarity that foreshadowed what would be soon unveiled. I had no idea how much the term 'codependence' fit me to sweet, delicious perfection.
Nikky Meyers has given the most simple and beautiful definition to this term: "Codependence is the disease of the loss of self. Codependence is the very loud voice that says that there’s something outside of myself that I can use --- including a relationship or behavior --- to fulfill something that can only come from the inside."
With this simple definition, all the patterns and insane feelings of my recently-ended relationship slapped me like a high-speed movie montage.
The love/loss/need/pain/lust/passion/drama/unfulfilled expectations/out-of-control desires/joy/tears/moans/tender stares/violent fights/child-like chases/dress-up fantasies/eternal hugs/ear-on-chest heartbeat hours/novels-read-out-loud-in-bed/french songs/bodies-intertwined naps/fearful waiting/unanswered texts/screaming in bed/quiet whispers of love/unrequited love/over-the-top love/silence/lust overload/best friends/best enemies/giggles/eternal kisses/nothingness/cheating/marriage/divorce/dating again/undefinable/guilt/blame/my-joy-depends-on-yours/impossible rollercoaster of a life with him stares at me so boldly I can just stare in horror and fascination - biting lip, single tear running down my face. I stare. And I know.
Codependence is the exact state of mind and spirit that I have been living in for six years - or possibly much longer. IT has a name. The obsession for this man and the loss of who I am in that process - has a name.
Six years ago in October of 2011, I fell in love with a man so complex and emotionally turbulent (when at his worst), yet so magic and amazing (when at his best), that I decided I could fix the broken parts of him and reap the results. I quickly understood that if this man felt loved, needed and cared-for, he would become a source of a love and passion like I had never known before. This man made me feel like the most beautiful woman in the world. The most exotic. The most desired. The most intelligent. The way he stared at me, lost in lust and fascination, became the holy grail of my addiction. He validated my daily struggles with a sexy growl, calling me a badass. Folded in his arms at the end of a long work-week, I was not a struggling single mom; I was a sexy comic-book heroine; a sword-waging warrior; the "source of his pride and inspiration". I laid on the receiving end of a physical and spiritual passion that redefined anything I even thought existed. He blew my world up to a level that I felt pertained to a lucky 1% of this world. Why wouldn't I create a world where the dark clouds could not enter, and where we could only be our best selves?
Initially, in this perfect world I crafted daily, I could be myself freely and with no fears. He could be himself shamelessly, showered with adoration. With long kisses we glued back the broken parts of our addicted, imperfect persons. We swapped the old stories in each other's head for new ones. I replaced his stories of shame for acceptance and validation. He replaced my stories of fear with loving promises and new narratives. Where my mind called me fat, his voice called me "his curvy goddess". Where his mind called him coward, my voice called him "my brave stallion". Our tongues savored the words "girlfriend" and "boyfriend". We quickly replaced those with "husband and wife". Wife. How I adored his voice calling me that. Husband. I loved how it rolled off my lips seductively unto his.
But our relationship, sadly, was not a healthy one. There was no coherency or constancy to our feelings or desires. There was no foundation that was solid. If I have to be completely honest, his love always felt shaky. One foot in, one foot out. Our whole relationship was dependent on his mood, work, or mental state. Our happiness was grounded on fleeting life events and people, rather than grounded firmly in our hearts. It was conditional and ephemeral. Living in this eggshell reality panicked me, and kept me in a constant state of fight or flight. It was exhausting, the effort I had to put into keeping our world afloat. That was, of course, until the next episode of overloaded lust and adoration, in which he brought me back to the warm love of his eyes and the universe would be right once more. Here and there, he loved me so hard that everything, all the waiting and doing, was exponentially justified. Every now and then, the veil over his eyes blew off and I was "the most amazing gift given to him". He saw me in a world where nobody could. He knew me, all of me - and accepted me just as I was.
I lived for those moments the way a prisoner lives for the 5 minutes of sunlight in the day.
Codependence is the word that describes how I put this man and my desire for him before my own self. All. The. Time. How I made up for his lacks by overcompensating or justifying; by unconsciously telling myself I didn't need to be treated with the same devotion, honor, respect and priority that I was giving him. How he would learn to do this, eventually. I hoped. And in the process of loving him so much I stopped loving myself. I forgot about myself. About my needs. My worth. My inner light. My truth. My ability to breathe without him. I forgot about My life.
Our Neverland world became the home of my codependence. We were each other's drug; our love/lust the biggest high. I chased it so hard and fast I lost myself in the process. I left me behind,my knees scraped on the ground, looking up with desperation as the other Me ran fast for 6 years, chasing this man whom I called my life.
Only to find out recently that he never wanted to be chased. Or to be my life. Or to be my husband. He was one foot out and I had no feet to stand on my own.
So here I am today. With my scraped knees, laying on the gravel where I left me six years ago. Lost and confused and feeling like my heart is bleeding more than it should. Or maybe not. I don't even know. I have been searching for answers as to why I feel so empty. And now I know. Codependence has stolen my soul. And I let it.
I feel empty inside of a shell made of wind. The silver lining is that I took step one. I have understood my problem. I have a name for the monster that has been killing me for so many years. The one I am now trying to kill - or at least get the hell off my back. From my past experience as an alcoholic, I know the battle will not be an easy one - but I also know that it can be won. Much like it is impossible to explain the joy of sobriety to a person who just quit drinking, I think it is impossible for me to understand what lays on the other side of codependence and the process to get myself back Home to Me. But I know it will be good.
So here I go. Once more and for the first time. Waging sword, but only defined by what I see. Frida Kahlo out of the bedframe, naked and smiling at Joan of Arc.
Click. Fuck. Let's go. It's time to kill this monster.
Time to let go of that hand. And grab my own once more.
Pamela is a Certified Professional Recovery Coach & Educator. She has been in recovery since 2009, and is a passionate about breaking the stigma surrounding addiction. Please share this post with anyone in your life who may benefit from a little information about drinking and recovery. Sign up to her www.sobermami.com page for more blogs and future recovery online courses and tools.