Codependent? Reclaiming Our Losses Step by Step

Diane Jellen

hands with chain around both wrists

You may have seen the cartoon of a person reflecting, “Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” As a codependent, I know that of all the things I’ve lost during my lifetime, I miss my childhood the most.

It’s true. Those of us who come from homes where alcohol or drug use was considered normal learned early in life that we had to be alert for whatever disaster would develop. And there was always a crisis looming up ahead.

I was only five when my alcoholic dad left home. Mom never asked me, but I decided it was my job to help protect my baby sister and calm my defiant older brother. Never mind that I was only a child myself.

But that was then. With the support of friends, family, and 12-Step Programs, I am discovering truths that have re-shaped my thinking. This breakthrough has motivated me to share with others how we can all challenge the stinkin’ thinkin’ from our pasts. We can reclaim our losses step by step.

As a youngster trying to find my part in our splintered family, I lost myself to the Good Child Role. My individual needs vanished whenever I assumed my mom needed me to defend her over any and every little thing, real or imagined. In high school, I was someone you could count on to make you feel good about yourself. Whenever a friend wanted to know: “Do these jeans make me look fat?” I was the person they turn to. Ignoring the loss of my own self-esteem, I’d answer with a little white lie: “Not at all. You look great!”

When it came time to marry, I searched the available guys until I found one I could take care of. I looked and looked until I found a man who needed me. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one searching. The man of my dreams was on the hunt for someone just like me. Someone to enable him as his mother had done. Long before the term designated driver was in vogue, I was the woman who would drive him home after a night of drinking. With naïve enthusiasm, I was convinced this would satisfy the deep emptiness we both harbored.

As comfy as snug-fitting gloves, my need to fix and his search for a fixer went hand in hand. During our long marriage, however, our troubled relationship began to constrict my emotional well-being. Without realizing it, I had lost myself while trying to fulfill his many needs.

Unhealthy approval-seeking and trying to please everyone was another indicator that I had lost what little self-worth I had left. When flattery came my way, it was never about my deeply-held compassion. No, my managerial/controlling skills defined me. I was Diane Dependable, the gal who got things done. You’re so organized, Diane. How did you manage to do all this in such a short time?

Efficient preparedness goes hand-in-hand for most enablers. It was these codependent skills that helped defuse many unpredictable family dramas. And because I never learned how to play when I was a child, I didn’t know how to play with my own children. Really, how could I possibly relax with four kids when I was the sergeant on guard duty 24/7?

In time, most dysfunctional relationships lose their happily-ever-after veneer. In our addict/co-addict marriage, lack of intimacy and trust, along with increased verbal aggression, began to erode our happy family façade. Denial had convinced me our lives were manageable. In reality, there was nothing amiable in our household.

Eventually, denial was no longer possible and my husband left our home. Addictioncampuses.com lists addiction as the third most frequently cited reason for divorce.

After my divorce, I attended a workshop. In one of the sessions, we were encouraged to role-play with the other attendees. How childish, I thought. When it’s my turn, I’m going to pass.

They wouldn’t let me pass. I had to play along.

The role-play scene began with a male participant and me at a divorce seminar where we were to engage in a conversation without mentioning our reason for being there. Not surprisingly, I opened with, “I like your sweater!” What I didn’t tell the man was that there was a hole in the back of his cardigan. That would have been the honest thing to do, but then again, honesty wasn’t my intention. It was more important for this stranger to like me. I didn’t realize lying to myself was the ultimate in self-abasement.

As time went on, I evolved from pretending everything was okay. I attended group thereapy, joined a singles group, and I went dancing. My current playtime includes caring for my friends’ pets. The unconditional love from my canine and feline companions lifts my spirit. Think about it: pet sitting is the perfect profession for a codependent. All I have to do is speak a one-word command to them: “Sit.” “Stay.” “Come.” “Drop it.” Not like trying to control an out-of-control addict!

What about you? Are you ready to play? To dance? If a dysfunctional lifestyle stripped away your carefree childhood, now is the time to reclaim your lost youth. You can start by getting a sheet of paper or a clean page in your journal to write down the answers to the following question. Elaborate on your answers, and don’t be afraid to have fun. Draw pictures, use colored pencils.

What have you lost that you miss the most?

  1. Your childhood.
  2. Your self-worth.
  3. Your sense of humor.
  4. Your capacity to see yourself as someone very special.
  5. Your ability to reward yourself for a job well done
  6. Confidence
  7. Honest communication.
  8. Your ability for sound decision-making.
  9. Your dignity.
  10. Your Spiritual compass.
  11. All of the above and/or something else.

In Ecclesiastes 3:4 NLT, our Higher Power reminds us there will be a time of relapse, a time of recovery, but with Him we can learn to balance loss with play. “There is a time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance.”

Let the dancing begin.

Diane Jellen has worked at several treatment facilities in PA, FL, and the School District of Palm Beach County Alternative Education Department. Diane is the award-winning author of My Resurrected Heart: A Codependent’s Journey to Healing, and Heaven Heals a Broken Heart, available at www.dianejellen.com.