My Recovery Story – Overcoming Codependency
When people hear the word recovery the first thing they usually think of is an alcoholic or a drug addict. These are common reasons one might need recovery, but there is a quieter, less talked about reason that I would like to shed light on by sharing my own experience with overcoming codependency.
Codependency is when a person’s need for approval or validation from another person allows them to be controlled or manipulated, or a person who attempts to manipulate or control someone. They are willing to compromise their own values, choices, and behavior at the expense of their personal well-being. Codependency refers to a mental, emotional, physical, and/or spiritual reliance on a partner, friend, or family member.
Hi, my name is Carianne and I am in recovery from codependency. I was born into a middle-class, family of dysfunction. From birth to 12-years-old we moved four times. From 2nd to 5th grade we lived in Lodi, where my mom’s side of the family is from.
Memories of my childhood are a fragmented blur. It is difficult to recall many warm and happy memories. My parents fought most of the time and my dad was unavailable emotionally as well as physically. He never hugged me, spoke to me, or told me he loved me. I was NOT daddy’s little girl. He rarely spent time with the family. If he wasn’t working he was isolated in the garage tinkering. At the time I never questioned it, I didn’t know any difference, but the wounds it caused and the scars that were left would be revealed much later in life.
Growing up I heard stories about my paternal grandfather being an angry alcoholic. He would often yell at my father and belittle him, and sell my dad’s toys to afford his habit. My grandmother was an enabler. She worked very hard at making excuses and ensuring everything looked good to everyone on the outside. She used my dad to impress others. She dressed him up, put him in piano and tap lessons, and showed him off to all of her friends. He became very resentful of her for this. His upbringing explains his inability to form connections to others.
To make matters worse, when he was around the age of 50, it was revealed that he had been adopted by my grandparents. My grandmother’s niece had become pregnant at the age of 16. Since my grandparents couldn’t have kids of their own they pressured her to let them adopt her son. She eventually gave in to their pressure when my father was a month old. They had my dad’s name changed on his birth certificate so that he would be named after my grandfather. My dad was very hurt and angered by this discovery.
My maternal grandparents were the core of our family. Their house always felt like home, and it is where my happiest memories were formed. Grandma and Grandaddy were gentle, loving, and so much fun to be around. I always felt comfortable in their home.
While my dad continued to isolate himself from us, my mother was trying to hold everything together. Because of this though, she too was often unavailable. She was working, taking care of the house, and trying to raise my brother and me pretty much on her own. During their 10 years of marriage, they separated and got back together multiple times, finally divorcing when I was 9-years-old.
Church was a staple in my life growing up. I was raised Seventh-Day-Adventist and attended the Adventist school. Not long after my parent’s divorce I was baptized. I believe this was one of my first attempts to fill a void that was beginning to grow inside me.
When I was 12-years-old, both of my parents remarried, just a few days apart from each other. My mother’s new husband lived in Fresno, so we packed up and moved away from the only life I knew. I left behind my friends and family that I was close to, and I had no say in the matter.
Everything changed when we settled in Fresno. My mom, tired of being a single parent, gave up all parental responsibilities to my step-dad. This was a turning point in my life because this man did not want us. He was 18 years older than my mom. All of his kids were grown and had lives of their own. We struggled with the typical issues that, over time, became worse and worse.
My step-dad became verbally and sometimes physically abusive. He often told me I was stupid, worthless, and that I would never amount to anything. Over time I began to believe his words. I had no self-esteem or sense of value or worth. I began failing in school and making unhealthy, impulsive choices. This created more problems and a caused an unhealthy cycle of stuffing feelings and continued impulsive choices.
After my parent’s divorce, my dad had little to no involvement in my life. He only saw me when my mother made him spend time with me. He never asked to see me, never called me, and never sent me cards or gifts on my birthday or Christmas. Once he got remarried his new wife made visits with them more regular. I began spending every school break with them. He was still emotionally unavailable but my step-mom, who had no children of her own, was always kind and loving toward me.
At the age of 14, I was looking for anyone and anything that would make me feel. I needed something to fill the hole that was growing bigger and bigger with each new hurt. I felt so helpless and alone. It seemed there was no one taking care of me or protecting me. I was left to my own devices to cope with the chaos in my life. I longed to be accepted, loved and cared for. I molded myself into my friends, losing my own identity. I liked what they liked, thought what they thought. I showered them with gifts, did whatever they asked, and if they didn’t ask, I’d find a way to do something for them. I found my value and worth in helping others and giving myself. I found this especially true with boys.
I lost my virginity at the age of 14 when he said he loved me. Words I longed to hear. I gave him all of me, foolishly thinking in doing so I’d have his love forever, but, I didn’t. His love only lasted that night. The next day he didn’t speak to me.
When my mother found out what I had done I was kicked out of the house and sent back to Lodi to live with my grandparents. I was abandoned, rejected, and tossed away like trash. “You’re not good enough, you’re worthless” replayed in my head.
The summer before my freshman year I was allowed to move back to Fresno, but I had to attend the public high school. There, being more insecure and lost than before, I continued to find comfort and acceptance in unhealthy ways. This caused a continuous cycle of abandonment and rejection and a deeper feeling that I was worthless and could not be loved. I was only good for one thing.
My best friends were the stoners because they accepted me and never judged me. I was surrounded by drugs and alcohol, but I never got involved in it. My friends always advised me to stay away from it. They said it wasn’t for me. I know God had to have his hand on me during that time. I truly believe if I had been encouraged by my friends, I would have found myself filling my void with drugs and alcohol too.
At the end of my freshman year, my mother and I got into an argument in my bathroom while I was getting ready for my part-time job at Burger King. My step-dad rushed in the door and punched me in the face. He hit me repeatedly while I was pinned under him. I was finally able to defend myself and my mother went after him to make sure he was okay, while I was left bleeding and bruised. He told her she had to choose, him or me. She chose him. That summer I was shipped off to Iowa where my dad had been stationed as a recruiter for the army. Abandoned, rejected, and cast away again. “You’re worthless. You’re not good enough.”
Starting life in Iowa was difficult. I was angry, hurt, and just wanted to avoid everyone. My step-mom knew exactly what I needed so she pushed me to go out and get a job. This would force me to meet people and make some friends before school started. Her plan worked, I did make friends, the stoners. Like before, these friends never pressured me to take part in their parties.
I lived in Iowa for two years and made some great friends while I was there. Some I am still friends with today. Just before the end of my junior year, my boyfriend, whom I managed to maintain a relationship with back in Fresno, or so I thought, pressured me to drop everything and move back and live with him at his parent’s house. I wanted to finish out the school year, but when I talked to him about it he said, “I see where your priorities are.” I was afraid I would lose him if I didn’t go, so I packed up my stuff, dropped out of high school, and boarded a Greyhound bus to Fresno.
After 9 months I realized he had been cheating on me while I was in Iowa. This discovery completely devastated me. I truly believed that he was different than the others, but he turned out to be just like them. Once again I was abandoned and rejected. Having nowhere to go I was forced to move back in with my mom and step-dad.
Two months after the breakup I met someone else. He was honest, dependable, and trustworthy. I just knew he would never abandon me or reject me. His one flaw was he drank a lot. I figured he’d grow out of it or I could “fix” him. We moved in together just 4 months after we started dating.
We got married when we were 21. Something in my gut didn’t feel right, but I stuffed and ignored my feelings. I told myself that I was used to chaos and drama and this relationship was exactly what I needed. I kept telling myself I was happy and I prayed for God to give me the love for him a wife should have.
During our 20 years of marriage, I did all the “right” things. I graduated from college, the first and only one in my family to do so. I started my career in teaching, we bought a house and had two children, a boy, and a girl. The only thing missing was the white picket fence! Things seemed to be going pretty well for me, but they weren’t. I kept busy trying to make sure everything looked good on the outside. I worked hard to convince everyone, including myself, that I was happy and everything was “fine”. But over time, the lies and masks began to take a toll and I began to fall apart.
My husband was working 14 hour nights. We never saw each other, and when we did, he wasn’t pleasant to be around. He hated his job and felt stuck. He began to drink more and more for escape. He didn’t talk to us or spend time with us. I began to realize what it was that didn’t’ feel right so long ago… I was married to my father! Like my dad, my husband was emotionally and physically unavailable to me. He was great at working hard, being loyal, and providing for his family, but he was not able to connect with anyone or form intimate relationships with any of us.
Now I felt stuck. I was completely unhappy and I saw no way out. I felt suffocated and desperate. I was so frustrated and confused. I started to not be my best self and began taking my frustrations out on my family, who deserved to have me at my best. I was becoming the mother I never wanted to be and decided I needed to get help.
The following week I started seeing a therapist. After a little over a year of working with her and not making much growth, she referred me to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with PTSD. My therapist then began talking about addiction and she demanded that I begin attending Celebrate Recovery. She told me I could not come back to her until I was in a group! I thought she was crazy, but Knowing that I needed her, I submitted.
Shortly after that, I was driving in my car and Cindy Lauper’s song Time After Time came on the radio. It was a song I heard often as a teenager, but as I listened, tears started to flow. I kept hearing, “If you fall I will catch you I’ll be waiting. Time after time. If you’re lost you can look and you will find me…time after time.” I knew God was sending me a message, through Cindy Lauper.
On my first night at CR, I attended CR 101. I remember sitting there with a big chip on my shoulder feeling like I did not belong there. I wasn’t one of those people. I believed this place was for people with drugs and alcohol problems and that was not me! When asked what brought me to CR I said my therapist made me come because she believed I had emotional addictions. They said I’d fit nicely into their codependency group. It was all I could do not to laugh. I believed I was the most independent person there was and they just didn’t know where to put me I was so screwed up.
The next week I attended the codependency group. I listened to the women in the open share group as they told their stories and I began to see bits and pieces of myself in them. With each new story, my story began to appear in theirs. I hadn’t planned on sharing anything because I was afraid the women in the group would say to me, “Go home little girl, you don’t know hurt!” I thought I’d be laughed out of the room. But something tugged on my heart and I shared what I was going through. I was surprised when Karen Smith said to me, “Keep coming back girl, more will be revealed, just keep coming back.” I was being invited back? I wasn’t being rejected or thrown out? I did keep going back and she was right, more was revealed.
After starting the 12-steps I learned about denial and realized I was living a lie. Being tired of wearing the masks and pretending everything was “fine”, my husband and I separated. I noticed a common theme from that step study. Throughout the workbooks the word I kept repeating was control. I was trying to control everything in my life.
I completed the 12-steps but didn’t feel much of a change. With the help of my very direct sponsor, I realized I hadn’t put much effort into my recovery, therefore I hadn’t gotten the full benefits from it. You see, you get out of recovery what you put into it. I knew the reason I didn’t give it my all was because, in the true form of my addiction, I got involved in another relationship to fill the new void left from ending my marriage. The relationship had become my priority, instead of my growth and healing. I was still doing things my way, on my understanding, repeating old habits. Romans 7:18 says, “For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is in my sinful nature, I want to do what is right, but I cannot carry it out.”
I signed up for a second step study and this time my common word was fear. I was afraid of who I would become at the end of my journey. I didn’t like who I was but I knew what to expect. There was comfort in discomfort. I still hadn’t filed for divorce because I was afraid of really letting go. I was afraid of what it would to do him. I was afraid I’d be all alone.
Despite my fear, I worked on each step with purpose. It was then that the miracle happened. I no longer lug around the guilt and shame of my past. I no longer carried resentments toward my step-dad and mom, and I quit blaming them. I learned to let go of the need to control everything and do things my way. I’ve learned to trust God more and more with my life, though it had been hard at times. If my earthly father wasn’t there for me and let me down, how could I trust my heavenly father to be there for me when he isn’t even here in the physical sense? But, little by little he keeps revealing himself to me and I’m learning he can be trusted above all things! I no longer feel the need to make everything perfect, or as it should be, according to my beliefs. God had given me peace during times of chaos and when life feels out of control. He has removed the anxiety I used to feel when things didn’t go as I thought they should. Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
I was finally able to file for divorce and am remarried to a man I don’t depend on for my value or worth. Things aren’t perfect, and we have our share of struggles, but now I have the tools to cope with the struggle in a healthy way. Satan no longer has his hold on me. From time to time he tries to take me back, but in those times I remind him of who I am, a child of God. I am not alone and I know for certain, if I fall, he will catch me…time after time.
In May of 2022, I will celebrate 12 years of recovery from codependency! Let my story encourage you and give you hope that there is healing from whatever hurt habit, or hangup you have.
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