I continued reading a couple more chapters in the book, Codependent No More, and writing out the exercises at the end of each chapter in my big notebook. I accomplished chapters 11 and 12 by the next appointment. Chapter 11 stabbed into low self-worth. Did I really have low self-worth? Really? That chapter is smothered in yellow highlights. Chapter 12 dealt with changes, disappointments, losses, and the grief process. In an academic way, I took in the information and did the ‘homework,’ Was I really learning? Absolutely! Was I able to break my life down and apply anything? Absolutely not! There were ideas and concepts that made a whole lot of sense; I saw myself in considerably much of what I was reading. Truthfully, I remained busier than a Wham-O Super Ball thrown down the highway. I did not have the skill sets to break down my life and understand psychological issues on a deeper level, for that matter, I did not know there were deeper levels. I was skimming the surface of a very deep therapy and personal abyss. I thought the therapist would begin discussing what I had already handed in at this next appointment.
I was uneasy heading out to the third appointment, given what had occurred at the second appointment. Believe you me, I learned quickly that I was responsible to get checked in one way or another. Thankfully, when I arrived a receptionist was at the desk, checked me in, I took a seat in the waiting room, and the therapist came to get me shortly thereafter. My thoughts – thank you, thank you Jesus that there were no mishaps, I got it all right!
I entered her dim office and sat down in, what would become my permanent chair choice, the chair right by the door. Her disposition seemed different. The atmosphere seemed lighter; something about her had changed. She smiled at me, was very warm, and quite attentive as we talked. Now I presumed we would get right into discussing my ‘homework’ assignments – not at all! She dove directly into our marriage.
The first issue she opened up for discussion was the inequity and division of labor within our household. We discussed my husband working full-time in the corporate offices of a large local retailer; he had been there nearly 15 years, maintained an excellent work record and attendance, and was a very steady loyal man of routine. I was two and one half years into my fifth job (by choice) working full-time in the accounts department of a local hospital. I must admit, I liked all the various jobs I had worked, but occurrences that disagreed with me, schedule changes, or staffing/environmental changes sparked disunity within me and I would move along – nine months, two years, eight and a half years, two years, ten years. I never had difficulty securing employment. I was always a faithful employee; I learned fast and worked fast; I maintained high accuracy and work performance; and I was on top of everything. In fact, in this current job, I collected one million dollars in outstanding receivables in less than six months; there would be no bad debt happening on my watch. So, together my husband and I consistently earned a respectable wage; we had carved out our career niches – the difference being, all else! His company never offered overtime. It seemed that every employer I worked for offered abundant overtime. Of course, I worked as many hours as possible and of course, he never minded; we both always welcomed the extra income in our successful endeavor to pay off student loans early.
On the other hand, home had become a circus for me; I was the seal trying to balance the ball on the end of my nose. I was doing ALL chores – laundry and ironing; cooking and dishes; dusting; vacuuming and floors; bathrooms; kitchen; budget and paying bills; keeping track of birthdays, holidays, and gifts; prescriptions and supplements; lists for groceries, personal care needs, and household products ; mowing and raking; little home repairs; washing and vacuuming vehicles; hosting our friends for dinner; etc. Oh, if I asked him to help, he did with minor dragging, but we functioned like the tortoise and the hare. I knew what needed to be done, jumped right in to get it done without grumbling or much thought, and consistently maintained a meticulous organized home. He had no sense of owning home responsibilities, motivating himself to help, and from my vantage did not really seem to care. There were a few times I came to the end of myself. We had serious conversations about him helping. One particular time, I worked a double plus shift getting home at one o’clock in the morning. For some delusional reason, I thought he would have cleaned house that evening given I worked an eighteen-hour shift and we would have the weekend to rest and do something fun. When I opened the door, absolutely nothing had been done – NOTHING! In the blink of an eye, my mind went racing to his past. Had he betrayed my trust and our established accountability? Not in the ways of his past, but in ways I could not define at the time. A demon rose up out of the dust of my weariness. I spewed venom demanding to know what he had been doing all this time. His response, “I made a conscious choice to do nothing!” He arrived home from work, fixed himself dinner, and relaxed watching TV all evening. The battle became fierce until three AM! There was nothing forgettable or forgotten about those two looooooooooong fierce hours! He always sincerely said he was sorry; he always promised to change and do better; and I always extended grace (so I thought!) Yet, within two weeks, he would fall back into his role of not helping out and not owning any responsibility and I would fall back into my role of shouldering the weight of the world and doing everything. He was not male chauvinistic; he never treated me as a submissive female set on earth to serve him. We were both cut out of far different cloth, but I had no understanding of those concepts. The glue that held us together was our spiritual convictions, a dear friendship we had developed despite our fractured imperfect selves, and our beliefs that we treat all people with dignity and respect. We were never condescending or belittling to each other and we never called each other names. He lived in an oblivious carefree world. I lived in a hyper-everything world. By year 15 of our marriage, I was feeling used, taken for granted, taken advantage of, and unloved by a gigolo.
I was tired. Parts of me felt like I had been in a severe accident, had been in a coma for the first 36 years of my life, and now teeny tiny parts of me were waking up, and I did not recognize this place. I never said those words to the therapist because I did not recognize any of that until much later. The therapist listened intently and though I do not remember verbatim our conversation, I remember feeling like for the first time ever someone was listening; someone was hearing; someone was caring and that right there was the bait dangling on the hook.
She advised me to start asking him for help. I told her I did not want to be his mother; I should not have to ask him for help; he should be a responsible adult. I told her about some friends in a similar yet much worse situation. We would go to their house for dinner and play Euchre or Hearts. Her husband was male chauvinistic and expected to be served, was condescending, and I could go on. When we left their home some evenings, my husband would comment on how sorry he felt for her. It was disparaging and disheartening for me that he could see and attest to her misery and had zero compassion for me. One time driving home, I said to him, “How is it that you can feel sorry for her, but not for me?” He fell silent and did not want to talk about it.
The therapist also suggested I stop doing any chores related to him – his laundry, his ironing, paying the bills, etc. She said to let him run out of underwear and see how he feels about that. She said to let the lights be shut off once and see how he responds. I could not do those things. It felt cruel and irresponsible to me. Between the book and her minor suggestions, I tucked some thoughts away. I needed time to think through and gain more understanding before making choices that certainly seemed unkind. In no way did I ever want to hurt him, harm him, or burden him. The mind is a battlefield, particularly when you simply do not understand or ever experience healthy dynamics.
The homework was never mentioned. The book was never mentioned. Without knowing it, I was in thick therapy fog. I was a blank slate, vulnerable, and completely ignorant of therapy! When matters are left open-ended and unspoken, my mind splinters into various parts trying to understand. Was this book just some additional enhancement to therapy that I needed to dissect and comprehend in view of our discussions? I really did not know, but I did not have the skill set quotient. What I did know is that I would be continuing through the book because I thought that was an expectation as part of therapy whether mentioned or not. For me, it was like academic homework. I would get the assignment completed to the absolute best of my own ability. I would figure this out!
To be continued…
Love you, mean it!