I didn’t realize I was codependent until pretty recently. Like just in the last few months.
It took being divorced to discover this. In fact, I’m not sure I ever would have figured this out if I had stayed married.
The first time I heard the word codependent was in reference to alcoholics. I thought it was just a thing that applied to spouses of addicts. Or children of addicts.
I was wrong.
At first I was completely codependent in my relationships with men. All of them.
I only felt attractive/important/valuable/worthy/whatever when I was dating someone. When someone wanted to be with me.
I was only okay when someone else told me I was okay. I only felt attractive if someone told me I was attractive. I only felt loveable if someone told me I was loveable.
The quality of the person tellling me these things didn’t matter. As long as they told me.
I ended up in unhealthy relationship after unhealthy relationship.
Before I ended one unhealthy relationship I lined up a new unhealthy relationship to jump to so I was never alone, because I was incapable of believing I was worthy of much of anything by myself.
So I went from fucked up relationship to fucked up relationship with men.
I allowed myself to be treated like shit by different men for thirty years.
I never really thought they were the problem.
I thought I was the problem.
I was cheated on. I didn’t leave.
I was physically abused. I didn’t leave.
I was verbally and emotionally abused. I didn’t leave.
I was financially controlled. I didn’t leave.
I was gaslit and convinced I was going insane. I didn’t leave.
Because an unhealthy relationship was better than no relationship.
No relationship meant I wasn’t wanted by anyone. And not being wanted by anyone wasn’t tolerable. It was excruciating.
I knew I needed to leave my marriage for a long time. A long, long, long time.
I was married for sixteen years and I knew it was a really unhealthy place for me to be for most of it.
But I didn’t trust myself. I couldn’t listen to my gut. I had made so many shitty decisions when it came to men that I just believed the problem had to be all me.
I spent over a decade trying to change things about myself that I thought might make things in my marriage better. I wasn’t making changes for myself. I was making changes for my ex husband, telling myself over and over and over again, maybe if I change this, then things will get better.
I changed so many things about myself I didn’t even know who the fuck I was anymore.
When things weren’t going well – which was about 95% of the time – I was not okay. I couldn’t function after big fights (which happened often). I was starting to doubt everything about myself. I was honestly starting to lose my mind.
It took me about thirteen years of marriage to start working on things that I wanted to work on for myself. Thirteen years for me to start changing things not to make my ex-husband happier, but because I thought they might make me happier.
After a few years of starting to focus on myself and lots and lots and lots of therapy, I filed for divorce.
It was the day before our fifteenth anniversary.
Seventeen months after that we were offically divorced and I moved into a new house.
I had managed to escape the I’m-not-okay-unless-you-tell-me-I’m-okay codependent life I had been leading for twenty years.
For the first time ever in my life, not only did I not need a man to feel good about myself, but I didn’t want one.
I had gradually begun the process of disentangling myself from the final codependent relationship I would have with a man.
Unfortunately as I gradually unraveled the codependence I had clung to in my relationships with men, I just transferred all of it to my relationship with the kids.
I didn’t need to be in a relationship with a man in order to feel okay about myself anymore.
But now I needed to be needed by my kids.
And I needed them to be okay in order for me to be okay.
I didn’t realize what I was doing until just a couple months ago when I hit a new rock bottom this past October.
I was physically and emotionally depleted.
I was so consumed with the guilt of divorce and the experiences my kids were missing out on that it was all I could think about. It was where every bit of my energy was going.
My kids have definitely been missing out on experiences they would have had if I had remained in my marriage. The younger kids will never get to do some of the things the older kids got to do.
I was convinced they would be devastated. I truly believed it. And in convincing myself the kids would be devastated, I was destroying myself.
This guilt and near obsession with trying to control the experiences the kids were having when they weren’t with me started driving me almost as crazy as remaining in my marriage had.
I had to start letting go.
It was borderline excruciating at first. What kind of mom doesn’t do everything she can to do everything she can?
But the more I let go, the more I let go.
My letting go muscles started getting stronger and stronger.
And the more I can let go, ironically, the happier I am. The calmer I am. The more relaxed I am. The more productive I am. The more confident I am.
In fact, since I started letting go and putting my energy into focusing on myself and what I can control, just about every aspect of my life has changed.
I’m in a better place financially. I’ve lost weight. I’m sleeping better. I’m taking better care of myself. My house is WAY more organized. I’m much less irrationally emotional. I’m more patient. I don’t lose my shit.
And I like myself now.
I thought my kids’ lives changing in the last two years as a result of my divorce would be potentially devastating for them.
I was wrong. Not about potential devastation, but the cause of it.
My kids will be okay if they don’t all have exactly the same childhood experiences for a few years of their lives.
But having a mom who has never really truly focused on herself? A mom who was never capable of having a healthy romantic relationship? A mom who spent their entire childhood focusing on everyone else other than herself?
Well the codependent cocktail of those things definitely has the potential to be devastating.
I cannot wait to give my kids the mom they need. The mom they deserve.
They haven’t even really met her yet.
Neither have I.
I can’t wait for all of us to get to know her, and for the first time in my life, I’m not just willing to head into the unknown.
I’m really, really really looking forward to it.
Let’s fucking go.