Choosing Differently

I’ve been thinking a lot about this “I break relationships” mentality I have carried around about myself, and I’m coming to a new conclusion.

I actually don’t break every relationship I find myself in.

Rather, I find myself in lots of unhealthy, breakable relationships.

There is something about people who, like me, were raised in dysfunctional homes, which is attracted to the “addict” personality.

Regarding alcoholics, the Big Book says:

Selfishness–self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt (Page 62).

I have found this to be true of alcoholics and addicts of all types, regardless of whether they are choosing to use their given substance at any given time.  The using might stop, but the self-centered behavior remains.  This is only my personal opinion, of course, backed up by the experiences of my Al-Anon friends to the man.  It has also unfortunately, been widely tested by me over the years, as I seem to have an attraction to people such as these–friends, work situations, spouses, and lovers alike.  But still, it is not empirical data, just personal opinion.

I have historically been attracted to people who are predisposed to attempt to manipulate my emotions and cross my boundaries.

How can I blame someone for hurting me, when I have a proven track record of putting myself with such people who are likely to hurt me?

What happens next is the broken relationship part.  I place myself in a relationship with a person whose behaviors are triggers for my unhealthy, codependent behaviors.  I then find myself constantly monitoring myself, working the steps hard, calling my sponsor frequently, and journaling for hours in an attempt to not react with unhealthy codependency when faced with those triggering behaviors.  I do not resent this, because it is good for me to practice intentionally relating in healthy ways.  However, I’m beginning to see that these types of relationships are going to be way more likely to fail.

Wouldn’t it be easier to simply not become emotionally entangled with such individuals to begin with?

Well, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  So I’m doing something different this time around.  I’m at the very beginning, getting-to-know-you stages with a very nice gentleman, and interestingly, I’m finding his emotionally healthy, non-controlling ways strange and foreign!  There is no game playing!  He’s attracted to me, wants to be with me, and shows it by calling me regularly, either to talk at length or to simply have a two-minute “how’s your day going?” conversation.  He doesn’t disappear when I show any desire to be with him (though I don’t really have much opportunity to test this, as he calls me before I have a chance to miss him!).  He doesn’t run hot and cold.  He doesn’t try to manipulate my emotions.  I so far feel no unhealthy desire to do the “right things” or win his approval, as I have in the past with family, friend, and romantic relationships.  In short, I do not have to work hard to fight off my codependent tendencies.  They are simply not being triggered.

Obviously, I don’t know yet where this relationship will go, and I’m taking it very slow, of course.  Snail’s pace, really.  My breakup was tough, it was only six weeks ago, and I have no desire for another broken heart.  My heart still hurts from this one.  But if you’ve read my blog, you may know that I like to analyze myself, and to learn and grow from my mistakes.  It will be very interesting (and fun) to see what happens as I continue to spend more time with a man who does not tend to trigger my codependent behaviors.

Sometimes the meetings are hard to process.

I go to meetings to process my stuff.  But sometimes the meetings are hard to process.  Tonight I met a woman whose 5-month-old daughter was killed by her alcoholic husband, 4 weeks ago.  My heart breaks for her.  My pain seems petty and selfish in comparison.  Also, I wish my own children were in this state right now so I could hug them hard.

Then, a newcomer shared about being in a relationship with an alcoholic in recovery, and how she didn’t like how the relationship was changing her.  How she seemed preoccupied all the time about winning his approval.  How she sometimes caught herself trying to manipulate people and circumstances to win his approval.  How it made her feel desperate and dependent and unhappy and not herself, and she wanted to stop, because she really loves him and is afraid she is going to fuck it up.  I don’t even know where to start processing that one, except to say, sometimes you serve the newcomer, and sometimes she serves you.

Aging well

I will turn 40 next month.  I don’t know why I’ve been so introspective about this.  After all, I’ve not given other “milestone” birthdays much thought.

I gave birth to my second son twelve days before my 30th birthday.  Caught up in the all-consuming days that were motherhood to a toddler and a newborn, and living with a husband who did not generally give gifts, I am not sure I even noticed my birthday pass.

On my 21st birthday, I was newly divorced, living in a crappy, roach-infested walk-up in Circleville, Ohio, working 8-5 as a receptionist for a plastics factory, and working many nights 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. at Burger King.  I had no friends in that town, and very few friends, period, as I was in transition from married life to single life, from school at a small-town branch campus to school at the massive Ohio State University, and I honestly worked too much that summer to even consider making a friend.  No one took me out to a bar on my 21st birthday, and I honestly don’t remember the day at all.

The day I turned 18, I packed all my belongings into my boyfriend’s Ford Escort and left my parents’ house while they were at work, walking away from a tuition and room/board scholarship at Capital University, and walking away from my parents and my sisters, ages 15 and 4, whom I would not see for the next two years.  I didn’t know that I was headed for a two-year marriage characterized by abuse, infidelity, and poverty.

None of those birthdays register clearly in my memory, yet as 40 looms closer I ponder.  It feels like a new stage in my life.  It feels like a transition.  A turning point.  A clean slate.

The thing all those birthdays have in common is chaos, the kind of chaos that goes hand-in-hand with codependency.  When I left home at 18, I was ill-equipped to deal with living life, loving people, and chasing Father.  I did not have life skills; instead, I had coping skills – ways to cope with the chaos that living in dysfunction brings.  For years, my adulthood was characterized by chaos, because when there was no chaos, my coping skills were not necessary.  Unwittingly, I created familiar chaos in every situation I encountered.

As my 40th birthday approaches, I can say with certainty that my life is characterized by the opposite of chaos.

My serenity has nothing to do with the circumstances in my life.  Full credit goes to my Father in heaven, who lavishes unmerited favor upon me despite my emotional brokenness, and to the program which is Al-anon.

As a matter of fact my circumstances, at the time of this writing, are not making me happy.  Someone I love very much is not in my life now, and though he is in poor health, I can be neither a comfort nor a help.  I miss him acutely every single day.  Many plans I had for the summer must be altered to exclude him.  Furthermore, I will be attending a family reunion this weekend, and being with my family of origin is always a stressful time for me.  Finally, my children will be spending the next 3 1/2 weeks a state away, visiting their father, and I have the strong, conflicting feelings of both needing the break and dreading it.

No, my circumstances are not all rainbows and unicorns.  Serenity is not synonymous with happiness.  The difference for me, at 40, is that I am no longer subconsciously manufacturing circumstances that damage my serenity.  I am not looking to create chaos or magnify the chaos that already exists.  Serenity flows not from circumstance, but from knowing that my Father is with me despite external circumstances, and from knowing that I can trust him with the things I cannot control.

My friend played her guitar and sang a song for me the other night, and I cried while she sang, because the song’s lyrics reminded me that 40 is coming quickly, and it does not look like I had planned for it to look.  Now, I am choosing to listen to it and instead, allow it to remind me that, as always, Father’s plans for me will turn out better than my own…even when I cannot comprehend how this can be so.

Working, Living, and Growing Together

Photo credit: Unity of Lake Orion

My sponsor loves the Twelve Traditions of Al-Anon.  She gets really excited about them, and she always wants to work a Tradition at the same time we’re working a Step, whether it’s one-on-one or at a meeting.  She says the Steps are for our personal growth, but the Traditions help our interpersonal transactions, which is why she sought recovery in the first place.  For a while, she seemed to me the only person so concerned with the Traditions, and it kind of made me want to discount it as her “thing,” really unimportant, but something about which to humor her.  I figured, unless I took a leadership role in Al-Anon, the Traditions were not relevant to me. Continue reading

How Important Is It?

Photo Credit DC BasketCases

I have the blessing of eternal perspective, when I remember to use it.  My life here is less than the blink of an eye when compared to eternity.  Father tells us we are eternal beings, whose souls will live on long after our bodies are dead.  When I meditate on that, it humbles me.  It makes me desire to have an eternal impact as I move through this temporal life. Continue reading