Journal: Emotional Triggers

What follows includes details of a conversation and interactions between my qualifier and myself. I include them not as an effort to target or have my qualifier’s words, thoughts, choices or actions identified to blame. I am well aware of what Evron is responsible and accountable for. However, this is about me learning to apply new actions and new processes in working through my co-dependency.

After being out of work and having no income for a month, Evron accepted the first “permanent” job offered. As is his pattern, almost immediately he’s questioning it, finding fault with the co-workers, the company processes, and details of the job itself.

His dad died of a brain aneurism this year. Evron’s auto response to stress is anger and, as most of us do, he creates and increases his stress with his thoughts and inability to pull back in the moment. So, as he’s been dealing with this new job, his anger responses get triggered and he feels his blood pressure rising and pulsing in his head, and he gets scared and thinks about his dad.

In conversation this morning he says he doesn’t know if he can work for this company. I tell him that if he wants to keep looking for another job to go to, I would support him in this.

Silently, I think that I hope he doesn’t quit before lining something else up with a firm offer. Other thoughts start circling around about what I think his chances are based on all the different factors and what I think I know about the job market and current HR screening and recruiting processes.

Running underneath all these things are feelings of anxiety, dread, and fear.

He says something about wanting to go in and find a way to calmly or gracefully “back out.” I ask, “You mean quit?”

I work to keep the extra thoughts and fears tamped down and just listen and validate his thoughts and feelings. Internally, I start feeling rising pressure in my stomach, chest, throat, and head. I try to control my breathing and keep listening.

He tells me he wants to go in and tell his new boss the things he doesn’t want to do, tell him the conditions he wants to work in.

I go still and silent because I get overwhelmed with fear and don’t want to just go off verbalizing all the swirling thoughts and fears. I also don’t want to start rationalizing and reasoning away what either of us are going through.

I’ve spent over sixteen years doing each of those things. I do those things believing, thinking, and hoping I can change Evron’s feelings and behaviors. I have placed my faith in a man with fears, faults, and failings as deep and overwhelming as my own.

If I act out worse than he is, maybe it will wake him up and he will see what he’s doing to me, us, our family. No, that doesn’t work, it just fuels and feeds his stuff and we do and say stupid and hurtful things and the emotional fallout affects and damages all who are around, the children. That’s partly why my relationships with my adult children is so damaged.

If I gloss over the very real fears and feelings, that we are both experiencing, and try to reason and rationalize them away to get him to come to the same understanding and realizations I have about the situation, he feels discounted, ignored, diminished and invalidated. All of which cause him to shut down in silent, seething anger and I wind up feeling everything I was already feeling AND I feel rage building from my own feelings of being shut out, invalidated and ignored.

So, none of that works, for either of us.

All I can do is change what I do and say in response to those reactions. So, I did. At least I made the effort.

I tried to explain that I didn’t want to say anything to invalidate his feelings or thoughts. I attempted to explain that I was being overwhelmed with feelings of fear. I let him know that I was trying to not say or do anything on the basis if the feelings, that they were my feelings, and I wasn’t blaming, accusing, or criticizing him.

He didn’t get it and felt that my feelings rising up somehow meant I wasn’t listening or understanding him. That wasn’t true and I explained that. He couldn’t receive that.

The thing is, he didn’t have to. I wasn’t responsible for making him understand or accept my feelings.

The reality is I can’t change, fix, or control him and his feelings. At this point I can’t even change my own instant emotional reactions. As I have been writing this and accepting the reality that my fears and anxiety were already there, waiting to rise up, I realize they have been present for more than 20 years. Closer to 30 years really.

Feelings of uncertainty about the security of our . . . my future.

Our housing is secure and we have made it through tough times worse than this. I know and believe that there is a power greater than us that provides and has always carried us through. So, the fear and anxiety is from somewhere, somewhen else.

If I had chosen the same path, actions and words as in the past, I wouldn’t be able to recognize and understand this truth.

Step 1: Admitting Powerlessness

We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable

As a co-dependent person, this is an incredibly difficult admission to make. It’s even more difficult to fully accept and believe wholeheartedly. At least it has been for me.

I have spent the last 16+ years of my life striving to fix my primary qualifier, Evron, the man I love and the father of my youngest child. I have also spent that time trying to mold, mend, and manipulate others in my life, especially my two oldest children, who are now adults, into loving, accepting and seeing the things I see in Evron.

The fact of the matter is that broken, wounded, and hurting people are drawn to and attracted to each other like opposing magnetic poles. The areas of psychic, mental, and emotional delay and damage are equal and opposite, thereby creating an irresistible and undeniable field of attraction.

As a child I was powerless over the emotional and psychological neglect and abandonment I experienced. I learned self-reliance and self-containment at a young age. I was part of the generation that earned the term latch-key kids. I learned to think, speak, and act rationally in order to communicate with the people in my world. By the middle of my adolescence I was the only functional adult in my private life. The legal adults were so caught up in their relationships and traumatic lives that it fell on me to handle the adult responsibilities.

However, to the world at large I was just another teenage girl in the mid-80’s and I didn’t have legal power or authority to act on the things I believed it was my responsibility to take care of since none of the adults in my life could or would.

I saw my hopes and dreams of achieving something better and different from the damaged lives of those who had preceded me disintegrating. I was 16 years old, feeling useless, trapped, thwarted, hopeless, and helpless. These are the feelings that have driven me throughout my life and my relationships ever since.

27 years ago, this month I succeeded in running away from home. I carried with me the internalized distorted beliefs that I was the only one who could fix things and that I would do my best but it would never be enough because I didn’t have what it took to succeed where everyone else in my life had failed.

I decided that I even though I wasn’t able to accomplish what I needed being where I was and relying on the people in my life, I would find the people who would help me make the changes. The thing was I attracted and was attracted to the wrong people, and kept winding up in helpless situations.

By the time Evron and I met, I was determined to be powerless no more.

I’m tired. Exhausted really. I’m sick in mind and body. For over 20 years I’ve been repeatedly diagnosed with depression and fibromyalgia. The symptoms of both, I have come to believe, are rooted in 30-40 year old feelings and thoughts founded on people, places, and events I was powerless over, but have been striving to overcome by my own power and will in my words and actions in all of my relationships ever since.

I am powerless over the people in my life. I do not have the power to change their thoughts, feelings, attitudes, choices, words or actions. My efforts to do so have damaged my relationships with loved ones and ended relationships with others I cared about and respected. My co-dependency has cost me my dreams, put me in debt, and compromised my mental and physical health. My life is unmanageable.

Tools of Recovery: Online Resources

Yesterday I talked about the importance of attending meetings and how they work in general. True confession: I have only attended face-to-face meetings very sporadically and infrequently this year. Honestly, consistently attending meetings has seldom lasted more than 1 – 3 months.

I have a lot of reasons, rationalizations, and excuses: finances, transportation, childcare, and the logistics of meeting times/locations are the concrete issues that my denial, avoidance, and compulsions exploit and I have allowed to keep me sick, tired, and miserable.

Thankfully, there are all kinds of resources online for supporting recovery. The following organizations have websites full of information and resources for finding recovery support:
Al-Anon Family Groups
Alcoholics Anonymous
Clutterers Anonymous
Co-Dependents Anonymous
Emotions Anonymous
Gamblers Anonymous
Narcotics Anonymous
Overeaters Anonymous
Recoveries Anonymous: Compulsive Spending
Sexaholics Anonymous
Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous

Their sites offer a variety of resources, including where, when, and what meetings are available. Meetings aren’t just local, face-to-face gatherings. There are also online, email, and telephone meetings, which are included in each site’s meeting search engine.

The meetings that I have been most successful with are hosted by an online organization centered around OA, The Recovery Group.

There are online meetings hosted here every three hours around the clock every day on the Threes, Pacific Time: 12, 3, 6 A.M. & P.M. While this organization is focused on compulsive eating behaviors and disorders such as overeating, undereating, bingeing, anorexia, bulimia, and sugar addiction, the meetings really focus on the process and tools of recovery. This group also recognizes that there are usually co-occurring compulsions, disorders, and/or addictions and there are email loops and list serve groups that address those issues.

Another online resource I am finding invaluable is 12Step.org. The Tools section has downloadable worksheets and links to other downloadable resources to help focus and guide the hard work of the recovery process.

My intention is to utilize some of these tools as part of this blog as I chronicle my process and the progress I make in overcoming my hurts, hang ups, habits, addictions, and compulsive behaviors.

To summarize: When you are ready to stop hurting and start healing, regardless of the many obstacles and challenges that may be present in your life, there are a multitude of affordable (free), accessible, and approachable resources available to help you on your way. Your Higher Power knows what you need and has made provision for you to have it, you just need to step into it. Many people have been where you are and are volunteering their service to maintain these sites and want you to experience the same freedom and healing they have.

Tools of Recovery: Meetings

If you have never attended a 12 Step Recovery meeting, it can be a very enlightening, positive, and helpful experience. Sometimes, the face to face ones can be quite entertaining depending on who the speaker is or how people choose to “share.” However, if you have never been to a meeting, it can be intimidating and feel overwhelming just being there for the issues that qualified you for a seat. Factor in a complete unfamiliarity with the format, routine or expectations and it could cause the most stoic observer to quake in her boots.

Generally speaking most meetings will follow a similar format of gathering together and having the meeting open with a call to order, going over the purpose of the meeting, a recitation of the 12 Steps and perhaps the 12 Traditions, and a centering prayer, commonly the abbreviated version of The Serenity Prayer. At some point there will be a call for anniversaries or birthdays and chips or key tags may be handed out and newcomers welcomed. Hopefully, the introduction period included the basics of meeting protocol.

Then a topic and speaker will be introduced. Sometimes the topic is focused on a specific step or tradition. Other times it will be determined by the speaker and be related to an aspect of the recovery process. A subtopic may be introduced as well. A key point to keep in mind is that the speaker is going to be someone who has been in the program a while and has a history with the same issues that brought you through the doors. He or she may look and sound like they have it all together now, but once upon a time they may have been lower than you feel you are in that moment.

Once the speaker is finished, the floor will be opened to “sharing.” This is when attendees may speak about their experiences in dealing with the topic of the meeting or their personal recovery process. This is the part that can really trip people up if they aren’t careful. It’s very easy to listen to someone else’s “share” and start focusing on that person and how messed up things are “over there.” The temptation to find fault with anything and everything that is said, how the attire looks, even the manner of speech and presentation style is very great. Alternatively, the negative self-talk that has become the voice of the eternal, internal nag will call your sorry self into poor comparison to what that other guy has managed to accomplish while you have squandered all the gifts and blessings you were ever given away for no good reason, “you’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good,” on repeat and rewind in your brain.

This is the time when you most need to do whatever it takes to silence your brain and truly listen to what is being said, so that you can hear what your Higher Power wants to know. Even if you have trouble believing in or accepting a Higher Power, the Higher Power believes in and accepts you and you are in that meeting to have an encounter with your Higher Power.

After the final “share” the closing may consist of hand holding, some kind of affirmation, and a statement along the lines of, “Keep coming back, it works if you work it, so work it because you’re worth it!” During the closing process there may be some announcements.

At the end of it all there may an opportunity for socialization or to talk to someone about resources and literature explaining more about recovery.

Meetings are one of the keys to the recovery process because they get us out of our self-imposed isolation. Being in a meeting puts us in a position to realize and understand that we are not alone, other people have and are experiencing what we are going through, in one way or another. They are filled with people who can offer understanding, acceptance, encouragement, support and accountability in a way no one else in our lives may be capable of doing.

To summarize: Stop isolating and get to a meeting in whatever way and by whatever means work for you. If you can’t get to a meeting that is specific to your substance/behavior of choice, then find the closest 12 Step meeting regardless of whether it’s the same exact issue as yours or not. You may hear something your Higher Power wants you to know, like You. Are. Loved. Unconditionally. You may be the channel through with the Higher Power communicates to someone else who is there. Either way, you are not in this alone, there are others who want to find a path to health and sanity too. Start walking beside them and let them walk beside you instead of going it alone and trying to swim against the tide of those around you who aren’t yet hurting enough to change.

Hello, my name is Carmen and I am a co-dependent

In actuality, Carmen, is my pseudonym so that I can maintain personal anonymity and preserve the anonymity of those whose lives are intertwined with and intersect mine. For the purpose of this blog and for my process I am going to do my very best to not use any information that may identify any person in my life.

I am a forty-something woman with adult children and a young child at home. I live with my primary co-dependent qualifier and have been in a very long-term, toxically co-dependent relationship with him for over fifteen years. My co-dependency and this relationship have greatly impacted my adult children and contributed to strained and difficult relationships between them and myself.

There are many factors in my decision to continue the relationship. My reasons are my own and I am not here to rationalize, defend, justify, excuse, or explain this decision to anyone. I have decided that the issues that are present in this relationship will be present in any relationship I pursue with anyone, whether it is a platonic friendship or a romantic one, because the underlying patterns of thought, ingrained behavioral responses, and chaotic emotional reactions will go with me into any relationship I engage in.

Therefore, regardless of how challenging or difficult it is, I am committed to working through my recovery within the context of my existing relationship my my qualifier and other people in my life.

In addition to the co-dependency, I experience untreated mental and physical health conditions which have symptoms that play into and are exacerbated by the co-dependency. Again, these may be factors but are not the focus of this blog, so I will do my best to refrain from writing about them.

This is my effort to get and stay focused in a structured and disciplined way on the recovery process and not tell other people’s stories or allow myself to get bogged down in the details, to the point I just stay stuck in my muck.

Thank you for visiting and joining me on this journey of healing and recovery from co-dependence.