Looks like I did it again: Codependency recovery
September 23, 2015 8:06 AM   Subscribe

I have been recovering from codependency personalty disorder and it's going EXTREMELY well, but I think I've fallen into another relationship with a codependent. I am at the point where I am over it and want to focus on myself once and for all. How do I just freaking STOP?!

I was diagnosed with a slew of mental health disorders (codependency personality disorder, chronic depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anorexia, see a pattern?) last autumn when I had a nervous breakdown and suicide ideation/malnutrition left me in a mandatory outpatient program for two months. Yeah. It got that bad. I was raised the child of a narcissistic mother who did her best to hold me back in life, and succeeded to an extent (luckily I was intelligent and somehow strong enough to circumvent most of it so that I could earn an advanced degree, secure a decent job, become independent, etc.). My personal growth and identity formation stopped in late high school because she focused primarily on me once my sister got the hell out of the city. And of course, she taught me to basically be her servant, never to ascribe to anything other than being her servant, put my needs and wants and identity aside to please her, and, as I watched her get abused by my alcoholic father pretty much my entire life, I believed she truly was a victim that I could make happy despite how she tore me down with neglect and abuse. Since I didn't have any friends or family to model (she succeeded in isolating me as well) it took me basically my entire adult life to realize how fucked I was mentally and to escape. So I guess I've just basically spent the last 15 years being some sort of robot programmed to fix and help people, jumping from one broken relationship to another, and ignoring my self and my needs and wants, although not to the fullest extent. I was recovering on my own fairly well in grad school as I finally earned autonomy, respect, watched myself develop a voice, became ingrained in social circles, finally learned some healthy socialization skills, until I entered an abusive relationship with an alchoholic and took a job that landed me in another similar servant role with another narcissistic woman. Sabotaged myself again and again without knowing it. The coping and survival mechanisms I had set up in my early 20s to protect myself from the sort of verbal and emotional abuse I endured since my teens just stopped working as I had nothing to lift myself up with (my grad school mentor and this job basically crushed my confidence in my intelligence and my abilities. which was the only thing I took pride in AT ALL), and I basically nuked my entire life to escape everyone and everything. I entered a dark depressive period where I developed anorexia, alcoholism, became numb, lost, empty, nihilistic, borderline Satanic, a bit of a druggy, attempted to destroy myself in every way possible...it was truly horrifying now that I look back on it.

Flash forward to a year later with effective, intense therapy, a great GP, and no contact with my mother, a new (wonderful) boss that respects me, and I have been feeling AMAZING. Just...amazing. I am doing everything I've ever wanted to (such as participating in art shows locally, traveling, developing new skills, etc.), I have a lot of self love, good friends (maybe?), I have a healthy diet and exercise, and I am finally starting to not feel trapped or doomed and my moods seem to not fluctuate as much...

..but I entered a relationship again. I knew I shouldn't have done so, and I fought against it, my body tried to throw everything at me against it (anxiety, insomnia, etc.), but this fellow is a friend that I was crushing on before I had my breakdown, he's very much (on paper) the ideal mate for me, and I also figured we were on the same page re: desires and life goals because he...basically convinced me we were. He succeeded in tearing down my boundaries, which I guess are still weak (because everyone wants love and companionship, right?), and now I see that I am sabotaging myself AGAIN, because I am now understanding that most of what he claimed was either embellishment or a lie. I turned down what would have been a life-altering job opportunity in Denver, where I could be close to my half-sister and her family (possibly the only healthy people in my life), because of this fellow and I am kicking myself for doing so, because I, once again, placed my own desires below those of another. I don't feel like my life or identity rides so heavily on this fellow at all, and in fact, he seems to be depressed and lost and have a lot of codependency on ME, which is starting to grate my nerves. I'm becoming numb and lazy and miserable again because he's entirely too preoccupied with me and doesn't seem to have a life/future outside of talking to me, eating, having sex, going to shows, or clinging to me. Since we've been together I feel like my progress has halted and I have started to focus on helping HIM find a new career and happiness so that we can function as a couple, possibly, and I am TIRED.OF.DOING.THIS.TO.MYSELF. I DON'T WANT THIS, WHY DO I KEEP DOING THIS?! I understand that codependency is a tough disorder to break if you aren't vigilant but goddamn WHAT DO I NEED TO DO TO STOP THIS?!

I am still in therapy regularly and it is very, very helpful, but is this just how it goes? Just a series of bumps in the road before I finally get it through my thick skull and stop sabotaging myself? Are there resources for this in between stage (I have a few books I read to basically jolt myself back into reality every so often) where my sense of self and boundaries are still weak? How do I fill the need for companionship (or just non-loneliness) during this period while not relapsing or attracting other codependents? If any of you have been in my shoes, how did you finally break the pattern?

Thanks and much love.
posted by Young Kullervo to Human Relations (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Are you still with this person? Step 1 is getting out of this relationship.

Step 2 is waiting a good long time before getting into another relationship. Just hang out with yourself and your friends and family and put the chase for love on the side.
posted by xingcat at 8:12 AM on September 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am still in therapy regularly and it is very, very helpful, but is this just how it goes? Just a series of bumps in the road before I finally get it through my thick skull and stop sabotaging myself?

Yes. Moving forward and then back and then forward again is exactly how people learn new skills and patterns. And it sounds like you recognized this pattern much more quickly than in the past, and are wanting to do something to change it, which is progress!

I love this poem for thinking about this issue:
Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

By Portia Nelson

I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost ... I am helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place
but, it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.


III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in ... it's a habit.
my eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.


IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.


V

I walk down another street.
Sounds like you're at Chapter III, maybe? You've fallen in out of habit, but your eyes are open, you're taking responsibility, and taking action to change?
posted by jaguar at 8:21 AM on September 23, 2015 [67 favorites]


How do I fill the need for companionship (or just non-loneliness) during this period while not relapsing or attracting other codependents?

A real key to breaking out of this pattern is recognizing that you cannot fill every void all the time. Sometimes you will have to sit with the void. You'll have to be aware that you feel lonely and that you would prefer to have companionship, and then be aware that this will not kill you, and then aware that this too shall pass.

You say you have good friends and at least some non-toxic family and a therapist; these are the people to reach out to in your lonely moments. They won't feel right at first, because they won't scratch the codependent itch the way a damaging, drama-filled relationship will. But they will occupy your mind and your time.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:30 AM on September 23, 2015 [12 favorites]


I just wanted to mention that it's definitely not abnormal to find yourself recreating those tried and true patterns, time and again, over and over. I know we wish not to in our conscious brains, but it is so, so, so ingrained.

I liken this to us traveling on a coil, where we start at the bottom and circle up the coil, around and around. As we revisit the same patterns with each rotation, we learn a bit more each time, each instance being less painful with less collateral damage and is detected by our conscious selves earlier than the times previous. In general, we live and learn. And live and learn.

Be grateful for your gift of awareness.
posted by lock sock and barrel at 9:07 AM on September 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


How do I fill the need for companionship (or just non-loneliness) during this period while not relapsing or attracting other codependents?

Do things in groups, in public. It's very hard to get hyper-entrenched with one person when you're with two or three people, and when you're riding bikes/walking around the zoo/going to a movie/doing volunteer work together. Be suspicious of people who try too hard to get you alone or take you aside or try to bond with you in a way that excludes other people (I call this "cornering" and it's the sort of thing that feels really creepy to people who aren't prone to codependency but can make a vulnerable person feel special - watch out for it.)

Socializing with a single individual is dating, whether you call it that or not and whether it is with a person you are attracted to or not. It manufactures intimacy. Don't date for now. No dinners for two, no hanging out in private.

And then, yes, learn to be alone with yourself when you can't be in a group.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:29 AM on September 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


I want to start out by telling you I'm so incredibly proud of how far you've come. You've worked really hard and it's paying off.
DO NOT BEAT YOURSELF UP. Improving yourself and your life after life long mental illness/abusive family issues is unfortunately a life long process. We cannot erase the past we have, we can only learn from it and keep working to be better. You're always going to have to work at it. I think the biggest battle for me in my journey, has been recognizing it exactly as you have. That's the hardest but most important part. If you know you're doing something, you know you need to change it. You're in therapy, you know you need to DTMFA and you can do it!
I experience a lot of guilt because of my past mistakes and it's hard, but once again DO NOT BEAT YOURSELF UP.

Good luck! You can do it.
posted by shesbenevolent at 10:07 AM on September 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Just to clarify, the fellow I am in a relationship with is not an unkind or abusive person, so far...I think? He's very sweet, just super anxious and needy and preoccupied, which make me a bit unnerved. I just think he is also a codependent who hasn't begun the process of addressing his issues like I have. I've even told him as much. I think his breaking my boundaries and the instant need to be in a relationship rather than take thing slow is because he NEEDS a relationship, with anyone, whereas I was at a point where I liked him and wanted to date, maybe, BECAUSE I liked him, but to take thing slow and focus on myself and my goals and basically not repeating my shitty patterns. I caved in to the pressure and constant "are you even interested?!" and the threat of his dating other people (even name dropping or inviting other women to common gatherings to hang out as some sort of display of "see I have options") which I should have said "fine, do that" to but...again, transitional phase, still a bit weak and I let my liking of him get in the way of my own recovery and my own desires.

Actually I type that and wow, huh...
posted by Young Kullervo at 10:56 AM on September 23, 2015


yeah when you write that out he sounds kind of like an asshole, doesn't he?

and the threat of his dating other people (even name dropping or inviting other women to common gatherings to hang out as some sort of display of "see I have options") which I should have said "fine, do that" to but...again, transitional phase, still a bit weak

Yeah wow no, that's not a "fine" thing for him to do at all. I mean, fine for him to say "ok, if we're not exclusive we're not exclusive," but for him to throw it in your face like that is a high-school level dickhead move. I mean really, is he 14? That's about the last age someone can get away with pulling that crap.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:29 AM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


It sounds like you are developing some great coping mechanisms to manage the issues that you have had in your life and that right now is a great time for you to be on your own and navigate independence and really feeling what that feels like. You will be lonely sometimes. It's a great time to work on building friendships and healthy platonic relationships where you can practice setting boundaries in a lower stakes interaction.

Relationship-wise I'd hold out until both of the following conditions are met: 1.) you feel comfortable being single and independent and that you feel that you are in a healthy place with regard to your mental health and personal well-being and 2.) you meet someone who is also emotionally healthy and can enter into an emotionally healthy relationship with you. You have enough on your plate to set your relationships up for failure by choosing people who are feeding into unhealthy patterns from your past.


Lastly,
is not an unkind or abusive person, so far...I think?

Also, I want to gently encourage you to get to a place where you can say this definitely about your significant other without any reservations. I found "…I think?" unnerving for your sake. Please, work on the boundaries and emotional health before navigating relationships, as a kindness to yourself.
posted by mermily at 1:24 PM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is something I've dealt with. For what it's worth, Natalie Rue at Baggage Reclaim has done amazing work writing about these sorts of relationship issues. She just started a podcast, too, and I *think* it was in her most recent episode (#5) that she talks about the phenomenon of women dating guys they otherwise might not go out with, but for the fact that the guy likes them so darn much.

This line in your post jumped out at me:

I turned down what would have been a life-altering job opportunity in Denver, where I could be close to my half-sister and her family (possibly the only healthy people in my life).

I wonder if you've considered that there are ways in which you "benefit" from not going to Denver, and that getting into this relationship allows you to hide from the tough parts of uprooting your life and committing to a new direction instead of coasting along with the status quo. I'm in the process of uprooting my own life right now to move across the country, and it has been astounding to me how tempting it is to lose myself in other people's drama instead of focusing on the work I need to do during this transition, but having recognized the connection it's been a lot easier to keep my focus and my perspective.
posted by alphanerd at 1:59 PM on September 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


It takes practice. I took an entire year off from dating in order to take care of myself and get healthier, learn to be a better parent, etc. And the first guy I date after that I fall for. And he was not a healthy choice for me. But I recognised it 3 months in, ended it, and dated happily ever after with the guy who became my primary (and only) partner at the moment. Who is super swell and super sweet and who has been treating me well since we met in July 2012. Like, the whole time!

Codependency is a bitch. Everything is. I mean, I had to talk myself out of buying a new ice cream for a kid who dropped hers with her dad sitting right next to her. WTF?

And this is after nearly 5 years in Al-Anon, no fooling! Still, my life is a zillion times better than it was before I found an approach to co-dependency that works for me. I know that I am allowed to have limits and while I forget that sometimes, I forget it a lot less often.

Keep loving yourself and loving on yourself and do not be mean or harsh toward yourself in any way for this development. It's how life and growth operate. Feel free to correct your course in a way that makes sense to you, including investigating moving to Denver for a different job. Or not.

I used to think I was obligated to be nice to men who liked me because I didn't know any better. I was genuinely confused. I thought if anyone liked me or loved me or was related to me (or, heaven forfend, all three), then I owed them my life, basically. As it happens, I was grossly misinformed by watching my mother, who relied on me emotionally when I was a child while being a doormat to virtually everyone else. She had her reasons, and I'm an adult now.

So when I slip, as I did last week when a distant acquaintance called from jail (what???) and asked me to do things for her and I automatically agreed and then she kept calling, I take a pause. I am not accepting her calls now while I figure out what else, if anything, I am willing to do for her. (Which I'm pretty sure is nothing.) And then I will write and let her know. I need practice setting limits when I am taken by surprise. So guess what? I got practice. Life is like that.

You are an amazing, brave, self-loving, survival ninja bundle of awesomeness that has made INCREDIBLE PROGRESS. I love that fact so much!

I have been recovering from codependency personalty disorder and it's going EXTREMELY well, but I think I've fallen into another relationship with a codependent. I am at the point where I am over it and want to focus on myself once and for all. How do I just freaking STOP?!

By practicing. As jaguar's story points out, eventually we go down another street. If we are serious about change. But that takes practice. So be patient with yourself and glory in your self-awareness. You are figuring out important things about yourself and the people around you. Nobody can do that instantly. And yet you're figuring out this situation in lightening speed compared with earlier relationships, right?

That's worth celebrating. Congrats and best of luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 5:18 PM on September 23, 2015 [10 favorites]


Two things:
1. You sound like you are being really hard on yourself.
2. Relationships are for learning stuff.

I've done that. I've hated upon myself for getting into Relationships That Are Not Good For Me. Feeling bad about being in the relationship didn't help me get out any faster, nor did it make the relationship any better. Accepting myself and my desires (Damn! You really like to do things the hard way, huh?) and deciding to give myself permission to experience and just learn has helped a lot, however.

Also, I've come to suspect that I'll always be a little codependentish, and I'll always have a thing for guys who are attracted to that in me. At the same time, I easily steer away from guys I would have been drawn to years ago. It's like the definition of mental health and well-being - it's not some magical all or nothing number to achieve (97% healthy, 3% codependent). It's a process and it can really be enriching if you focus on learning from it, instead of berating yourself for not doing The Right Thing.

To answer your questions, I've done a lot of written self-reflection. I write letters to myself, I dialogue with myself. I complain about myself, to myself, then I give myself advice about myself, then I give myself a good dose of loving compassion and understanding to myself. I ask myself what things am I learning at the moment and I ask myself how I would like to be feeling about troubling situations. My writing reflects the therapeutic process I learned in a year of therapy. Writing like this has helped me deal with all kinds of personal situations over the years. Maybe I didn't find easy solutions right away, but I was at least able to comfort myself in the process.

From what you write, it sounds like you really do have a good idea about where you want to be and how you would like to continue to feel. But you are getting bogged down by criticizing yourself. Right now you are in an amazing place to learn a whole bunch of new stuff. Problems setting limits? Perfect: identify some limits, express them and enforce them. Worried you are focusing too much on your partner? Perfect: start focusing on yourself, even if you have to fake it till you make it, and observe what happens. Doing too much for partner? Perfect: Drop doing so much, see how you feel. Not sure whether to break up or not? Perfect: Talk to your partner about how you feel, risk scary communication and get closer. Really want out but postponing break up? Perfect: Make the decision to break up and do it, confront a difficult situation with respect and kindness.

You're really doing a great job taking care of yourself! You're going to be fine! Live your experiences and trust yourself that you will learn more and more each time. There is no perfect, only better and better.
posted by Locochona at 6:09 PM on September 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I just wanted to say that all of these answers have helped me to regain perspective and are truly helpful but I have printed out Jaguar's poem, taped it in up my office, and have written it in a small notebook to carry with me as a sort of reference card for when I feel I am slipping.

I don't know what to do about the relationship, as it has its benefits and it actually quite benign and low-key (maybe a bit boring), but some of the 'start-up' pains still annoy me. I was actually filling my time with a lot of self-focus, hobbies, career-development and friends, etc. before I got into this new relationship (it's only been about 4 months, honestly) and I have been VERY careful to note all the ways in which it is influencing my proclivity for people-pleasing. However, I have stopped most of it, and caught myself when I was thinking of doing it again. Granted he, for some reason, started off going down a list of ways I should change myself, however subtly or bluntly, which I immediately made clear was not going to happen and that he could fuck off. He stopped. Yeah, I know what was happening. He was comparing me to all the other people he had the opportunity to date/sleep around with but couldn't since he rushed into exclusivity with me out of fear that I could have options as well. It still grates my nerves a bit because I honestly look back and feel like I just sort of let myself get washed away in this tide without realizing what was going on because I am, somewhat, very trusting and naive in many ways, but actually knowing what was going on deep down but denying my gut reaction to it (as usual). SIGH. Ah well. Again, yes...live and learn.
posted by Young Kullervo at 6:56 AM on September 24, 2015


You're human. You'll continue to make mistakes, because that's how we all learn things. Falling into old patterns is to be expected, and it gives us a chance to learn how to practice the new ones in more challenging situations.

As others have said, be kind to yourself.
posted by jaguar at 7:22 AM on September 24, 2015


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