Nine Months, One Lifetime, Part 4

The Bait

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!

Nine Months, One Lifetime, Part 3

I arrive home from my first therapy appointment. I share with my husband my experience. He asks me what I thought about the therapist. I said, “She’s OK” and show him the recommended book, Codependent No More. We chat a bit about me not knowing what to do at check out. He assures me everything is fine. I kind of am able to put it aside, but truthfully, I tuck it all away inside.

I am a bookworm. I love books! I own hundreds of books. I have a list of want to ‘own or read’ that surely rivals the Library of Congress catalogs. I welcome reading Codependent No More, especially learning that the answers to my current life flailing’s were within these pages. That is right, all the answers to correct whatever is wrong. That very night, I embark upon the ‘Introduction.’ Here are a few enticing sentences I highlighted:

            I saw people who constantly gave to others, but didn’t know how to receive. I saw people give until they were angry, exhausted, and emptied of everything.  

            Yet, these codependents who had such great insight into others couldn’t see themselves. They didn’t know what they were feeling. They weren’t sure what they thought. And they didn’t know what, if anything, they could do to solve their problems…

            Sadly, aside from myself, nobody knew how badly I felt. My problems were my secret.

            I was so responsible, so dependable. Sometimes I wasn’t sure I had a problem. I knew I felt miserable, but I didn’t understand why my life wasn’t working.

            I saw people who had gotten so absorbed in other people’s problems they didn’t have time to identify or solve their own. These were people who had cared so deeply, and often destructively, about other people that they had forgotten how to care about themselves. The codependents felt responsible for so much because the people around them felt responsible for so little; they were just taking up the slack.

            And, the pain that comes from loving someone who’s in trouble can be profound.

            It’s difficult to convince codependents – those who by comparison look, but don’t feel, normal – that they have problems.

These few insights lured me into a place of hopeful thinking. All I needed was to complete this book, attend and talk in a few therapy appointments, and I could wrap this investment of time and money up in about (my thinking – 20 chapters, read one a week and do the exercises, see the therapist every other week) 20 weeks, about five months! I can do this; this is nothing! I like to read; I like to write; and I like learning. I will know what is wrong; what to do to fix it; and permission granted to speed along my fair maiden! And, they lived happily ever after! The end! WHAT A FANTASY! I had no inkling about what lie ahead!! Ignorance is NOT always bliss!

I buzzed through chapters one and two like they were children’s books, picking up ideas, words and phrases like fatigue; some things were becoming an effort; my family and friends think I am a tower of strength; always in control, always ready to help; fear; believing lies; sick of shouldering the burden and feeling responsible for the success or failure in relationships; guilt; I’m falling apart very quietly; have I been depressed for years?; I should be able to snap out of this; long ago I had shut off my need to give and receive love, I had frozen that part of me that felt and cared, I had to  survive; I am trapped and cannot find my way out; something dreadful that I couldn’t explain had happened to me and has now snuck upon me; “adult child”?

The only chapter assignments thus far were to purchase a large notebook and record my responses to assignments, the above being the first, identifying these things (and people, which I did in my large notebook!) All done in two days! Hmmm…this might move a bit faster than I first calculated. But…all this is something to be considered. Little did I know that this was like peering at the Hubble Deep Field, ten billion light years away!

You can be assured that I did not stop at chapter two. In fact, I sailed through half the book and exercises up to chapter eleven by the time of my next appointment. I learned a couple definitions of codependency. One particularly stood out, referred to by Robert Subby in his book, Co-Dependency, An Emerging Issue seemed most to have a ring of truth for me:

      “An emotional, psychological, and behavioral condition that develops as a result of an individual’s prolonged exposure to, and practice of, a set of oppressive rules – rules which prevent the open expression of feeling as well as the direct discussion of personal and interpersonal problems.”

You see, silence and secrets fell on me like snow on the mountain peaks. I never spoke to anyone at any time about my childhood; about feeling alone in this life having to figure it all out for myself; about learning to survive on my own; about my husband’s problems and the struggles in our marriage; about an entire host of things inside of me that I did not, could not, and should not discuss, and furthermore did not weigh in as conscious topics to be discussed. For the first half of the book I sponged in information, identified concepts, learned characteristics, learned about detachment, undependence, removing the victim, the concept of setting myself free, and living my own life. I cognitively had an influx of information. Now I am one to extract knowledge, think on it, dwell on it, break it down, shred it apart, ponder on the pieces, mince it to fragments, toss it into the fire for purification (scripture reading and prayer,) and construct my truth. This I had done and I was all set for appointment number two!

This time, I did not feel like I was driving to my funeral; I was filled with a little more confidence; I knew where I was going; I was prepared with my homework in hand; and I moved with familiarity. I arrive at the facility around 5:30 pm for my 6 o’clock appointment. I assumed I was to check in with the back receptionist as I did on the first visit, as the sign indicated. When I got to the back receptionist, there was no receptionist; in fact, there was no receptionist at either the front or the back desks. I thought maybe because the appointment was after normal business hours that I should wait in the back waiting room, where I sat at the first appointment. I sat there thirty minutes; no one came, not one person. There was not another patient, another therapist, another body anywhere; there was silence. At 6:30 pm, I thought perhaps I was wrong on the appointment day and/or time. Maybe I already missed the appointment, maybe I wrote down the wrong day, maybe I’m not supposed to be here, maybe I went to the wrong place and don’t even recognize it, am I in the right place, and onward my inner confusion mounted. I decided I would leave and be done with this entire unsettling mistake. I stood up quietly and quickly began to make my way to the exit. I get a couple steps past the front receptionist desk and here, “Deeon?” I turn around and there stood my therapist in her stilettos and fine clothing. She asks, “Where have you been?” I said I was in the waiting room where I was last week, there was no receptionist to check in with, and so I waited back there. Now, I am quite keen on discerning people; she was miffed! She looked at the clock, and said, “Well, we have a half hour, so let’s go to my office.” I felt like a child being whisked away to the naughty room. I sincerely felt terrible about the confusion. When we sat down in her office, she asked why I had not gone up to the receptionist area again to check in. I again stated there was no one there. She boldly told me that I was responsible for checking in, otherwise no one would know that I was there. Between her edge and my guilt, internally I took full responsibility for the mishap, blamed myself, and completely lost my voice to speak. I have no idea what she said for the remaining twenty minutes, not a clue. Departing, I took a deep breath and said, “What would you like me to do with this homework?”   She said, “I’ll take it” and she did. And then she further stated in a nonchalant manner, “There is no one to check you out or set up another appointment. You will need to call in tomorrow to schedule your next appointment.”

I was never so glad to step out into the dark night and cold air. On the drive home, I wondered if I was losing my mind. What are you doing? Why are you doing this to yourself? Maybe I should not be doing this. I do not think she likes me. Why doesn’t she like me? Why didn’t she check for me in the waiting room? I do not think I should call tomorrow for another appointment. I think I should stop now. Maybe this is how therapy goes. Maybe you are the one responsible. Maybe they do not tell you how to do things to see how you will do things. Maybe you are being over-sensitive. Perhaps your misery is actually just your own melancholy, your personality type. Maybe some pastors are right – maybe my issues are really a deeper spiritual challenge. But, I read my Bible every day on morning break, I pray every day throughout the day, I go to church, I try to live a responsible life of integrity, and I certainly sacrificially help others. What is wrong with me? You know that self-talk? I had so much chatter going on in my head; I thought a large family of hungry squirrels had taken us residency.

By the time I arrived home, I was convinced this was not what I should be doing and shouldered the responsibility for this failure. Now, my husband is an easy-going type of guy. Through the years, I have learned that he will take the opposing side, but had not wisened up to that yet. I shared with him the situation and he convinced me that everything would be fine, I needed to call the next day to establish my next appointment, it was just a coincidental mistake, and she likes me otherwise she would not have told me to call for another appointment. In his own ignorance, he neutralized and counterbalanced my thoughts, he too not knowing what lurked ahead. I called the facility the next day. My next appointment was scheduled out for two and one half weeks later. Truthfully, that did not set well with me either, but I thought it must be normal. Despite my internal uneasiness, I did not know what was abnormal.

To be continued…

Love you, mean it!