I had a secret for the longest time. It was my best kept secret and it was the hardest to reveal to anyone. I didn’t keep it because anyone told me to outright, but the message was clear. “Don’t expose the secret.” It started when I was young but I have to say this first, I don’t find fault with my parents for any of this because they were doing what they knew to be best and they love me and wanted to protect me. Plus, it wasn’t their secret, it was mine. Regardless, from a young age I understood that what other people thought mattered: reputation and image became vitally important. Fear of man and shame ruled me for so long as a result. They were the reasons I couldn’t expose the secret. They came before what I thought and usually what God said. Other people couldn’t know, even my parents. It’s how I lived my life. Fear was why I got married (and divorced) twice before realizing what my secret was. It’s why I denied that it was possible that drinking could ever be a problem for me for the longest time. Shame and fear kept me from living my own life and made me protective of every detail of my life. They made it so important to keep the secret secret. So at a young age (I’m not sure exactly when), I allowed part of myself to break – to severe – in order to protect my deepest, darkest secret: me.
I’m not sure that this is how every (or any other) codependent’s struggle begins, but I know it’s where mine began. It wasn’t until I was 30 years old that I even realized that I had no clue who I was or what I needed for myself. I knew who/what I was expected to be and I knew the needs of those I loved, I even knew their hopes, dreams and desires. But not my own. My hopes, dreams and desires then were shaped and molded by what I thought others wanted me to hope for, dream and desire.
By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I knew there was something wrong with my thinking but my secret had become so secret that even I didn’t know what it was. I searched for answers about what might be wrong with me. I went to doctors looking for a diagnosis. Was I clinically depressed? Did I have anxiety? Could it be ADHD? Was there some sort of imbalance in my brain chemistry? I met with psychologists and psychiatrists and my family practitioner when time allowed for me to focus on me… But mostly, I was focused on everyone else’s stuff.
The neighbor having marriage trouble, my ex-husband’s custody struggle, the drama my coworkers drummed up at work, you name it. As long as it was someone else’s garbage, I was probably all wrapped up in it. I was only trying to help though… Right? One of my favorite sayings (jokes) amongst recovering/recovered codependents is, “I see you have a problem. Allow me to fix that for you (whether you like it or not).” After all, you wouldn’t want anyone else finding out about it, would you?! Looking back, the funny part is that 9.8 times out of 10, when I got involved to help clean up someone else’s mess, it only got worse.
Finally, in the midst of my second divorce, I agreed to check out a recovery meeting with a neighbor. I cried so hard through my first few meetings that I could barely choke out any words. I was completely broken and God was slowly and gently revealing my secret to me. After going to a few of the meetings and listening to the other women in the group, it was clear that codependency was operating in my life. And that my secret couldn’t stay secret if I wanted true and lasting change.
I was going to have to start figuring out who I was and weeding out who I wasn’t. I was going to have to start valuing myself and demanding the same from my close relationships. I was going to have to come out of hiding with my struggles and just be me no matter what others might think of me. I had no idea that the journey God was starting me on could be a lifelong trek.
It’s been almost 5 years since I walked into my first meeting and there are moments when I have to choose to let go all over again. Moments when I realize that I’m white knuckling control over some situation… A wise friend once told me that the things we think we’re controlling usually have control over us until we relinquish them to God and surrender to His will. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that’s pretty much a daily thing for me now. But Jesus did some pretty heavy lifting in my life and when/if I start to hear the familiar knock of codependency at my door, it’s a lot easier to say, “Hey, God, it’s for you.”
I’m still discovering who I am – who God made me to be. But it’s a much more simple process now that I have regained the freedom to be me and let others be who they are. I don’t have to fix it. I don’t have to react. I can just be and act as I want to act. Jesus and the 12 steps gave me that freedom.