The first time I heard the term “Codependent”, I was writing an assignment for my ex-husband’s social work assignment.
Funny, not funny yet so ironic.
The textbook read something like the Oxford definition of the word:
“Excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one who requires support on account of an illness or addiction.”
It spoke of a relationship that was based on each other’s dysfunction and how the motivation behind the forming of that relationship often stemmed from one’s own “need to be needed.”
My heart pleaded “GUILTY” and I was confronted with not only my own heart condition within the marriage relationship, but also outside of it. I never spoke a word of it, stored it in the “Memories” folder of my brain and moved on with life. (That WAS the last assignment I did for him though. Hello?!)
“Codependency” then confronted me years later. The term was used in its old school form “co-addict” within the pages of a book I was given at the event of my marriage break up. This beautiful psycho-therapist who had returned to her homeland of Ethiopia after studying in the US and working in the area of addiction, had just taken a book from her friend’s shelf the week that she met with me for coffee.
We were “co-labourers” in the mission field of Ethiopia and found ourselves serving for many of the same projects, which prompted us to investigate the reason for this, over a macchiato. The day we finally got around to catching up, was the week I had finally separated from my alcoholic husband. With this at the forefront of my mind, I poured my heart out to her as coffee was being poured out for us. She told me of this book called Women who love too much, and lent it to me alongside her professional support as I read through it.
Women who love too much spoke about the codependent/co-addict women who often end up in relationships like mine. This book opened my eyes to the reality of what my previous 20 years of relationship had been governed by- his addiction and my manipulating and enabling behaviour. It drew my attention to the tendencies that are described in this post about codependency and it had me cringing at the me I used to be.
It was confronting and it was real. I read it religiously over a couple of weeks, trying to slowly digest the rawness of its contents.
While being confronted with this, I was also trying to grapple with the effects of my separation as a missionary alone with four children in a country that was experiencing political tension at the time. Taking on the responsibility of the only change I could make -for me and my kids, the reality of the recovery journey I had to embark on, eventually forced me (in a good way) to come to Sydney.
Here, over the last two years, I’ve taken on board the advice the book gave, but also put some things in place that have come as an organic response to the flow this current has taken us. “Waves” are described as “a disturbance that travels through a medium from one location to another.” This marriage breakup was a disturbance that caused a wave to move us from Africa to Australia and the medium was the Holy Spirit. He moved us. He protected us, and He essentially has guided me through this journey of recovery.
- “A Disillusioned Marriage”– was the prophetic word given by a visiting preacher from the Pulpit of Beza Church on the eve of our departure from Ethiopia. I knew it was speaking to me but I didn’t know what it meant. I was disillusioned. My marriage wasn’t what I thought it was. The week I landed in Australia, I attended a conference in the Central Coast where one speaker had a CD all about being Disillusioned-I bought it. She (Alicia Britt-Chole) described it as “A gaining of reality”, or the “dissing of an illusion.” What I thought my marriage was, did not match up with the reality I was confronted by when I admitted that I was not responsible any longer for my partner’s behaviour. I had to make an intentional choice to no longer live in an illusion but to ask the Holy Spirit to help me align my thoughts and life with His reality for me.
- “The Serenity Prayer”– Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. The day I landed in Sydney, there was an Al-Anon meeting happening around the corner of our house we had moved into with my mum. She came with me as a support and I met with other people who had been in or were in, relationships with addicts. We were all admitting to our own addictions, submitting to the 12 step recovery program and allowing stories to be told within a safe environment set up to help people like us. I admitted that I had no power to change and needed the Holy Spirit (my Higher Power) to assist me in that. And He did. Getting in a support group like that, not only helped me to see that I wasn’t the only one who had experienced what I had experienced, but it also reflected back to me, through the stories of others, how necessary it was for me to break this cycle of addiction.
- “Its not your responsibility”– As I sat in a counsellors office, having a final “closure” mediation with my ex-husband, I heard a still small voice counsel me out of the physical tension I was experiencing. After apologising for all the manipulative behaviour and lack of accepting him for who he was, then asking one question of him, he started to react in a way that had become his norm. My norm was to take on the responsibility of that reaction and feel bad, guilty and try to appease the behaviour…but then I heard those words. And they didn’t just pop into my head, they were taken on board by the counsellor in the room. He assigned the responsibility back to the one who had decided to react like that and intercepted it from being passed off to me. I walked around a lake that day, over a bridge called the Jubilee Bridge, and understood that I had been emancipated from the slavery I had been brought under by my codependence. I. Was. Free. 2018 took us to another level as I began the year reading the book “Boundaries” by Cloud and Townsend. Game Changer. “Let your ‘No’ mean ‘No’ and respect other people’s ‘No'” became our family theme. Circumstances and challenges have caused my children and I to go to new levels in establishing boundaries for ourselves. I’m being coached through the online group by Dr Henry Cloud- Boundaries.me. One of the key causes of codependency is a lack of boundaries, so while I haven’t quite arrived, those fences are definitely being built and its great!
- “Listen to the Holy Spirit 100%”- Last year I had a dream that I was dropping my kids off in a van then got onto a motorbike. I was riding the bike for a bit and it was sunny so I put my sunglasses on…then it started raining so I took them off and as I continued down the road I saw a van on the side of the road that had been in an accident and had casualties inside…but I kept on riding. The motorbike turned into a push bike and then eventually I started walking up a hill. As I walked up the hill, I heard a voice from behind me saying “Who do you listen to? People? Or the Holy Spirit?” The voice came from a beautiful little girl who kept walking passed me as she said “Listen to the Holy Spirit 100%! Listen to the Holy Spirit 100%!” This was a reminder to me that, no matter what the conditions, or the crises, the vehicle I’m being transported on in life’s journey or who I’m riding with- the Holy Spirit’s voice needs to be my dominant guide. Too often I have lived to please people- to help people- and to trust people. At the end of the day, if my motivation is driven by what the Holy Spirit has to say to me, then I must trust that He will get me to where I need to go and that I will cause no harm to myself or to others. Isaiah 30:21 says “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” That’s His promise to us!
- “Shine!” This program that I was introduced to at Hillsong Church, is all about empowering women to know their strength, worth and purpose. It helped me to come out of my insecure ways, low self-esteem and think positively about the visions that God has given me for my future. It wasn’t just a support group for women but an outreach of God’s loving hand to show me a better way. It was a tool that is research based and offers Cognitive Behavioural therapy within the confines of a loving environment. I sat through three semesters of this program before I actually got to help facilitate it for a group of women in the community who had been in similar situations to me.
In Luke 22:32, Jesus is talking to Simon Peter and warning him about his imminent betrayal. In light of this, He encourages him with these words “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Even though Simon Peter denied he knew Jesus, Jesus was praying for him not to lose his faith. And that when he came through, that he would encourage others. Jesus never disqualified Peter as an apostle but knew that it would give him more authority in encouraging others, because of his failure.
Though I have felt like I failed in this area of codependency, I have actually passed. I have passed through the recovery process and am in a stronger position now to tackle the challenges that come my way. I am able to resonate with the stories of those who feel like they are under the same slavery. And therefore, I am able to offer them hope and strength.
God turned around the ashes of my codependent nature and gave me a beautiful dependence on Him. I love Him for that. His Holy Spirit is the best source of comfort and guidance- may it be yours today too.
Look out for my book where I talk a bit more about this part of my journey.