I have always cringed at the word codependent. It sounds so weak, so needy, sooo…helpless. None of those words are words I would use to describe myself. I see myself as a strong-willed, independent, problem-solver-type. “That’s it,” I thought early on in my marriage to an addict/alcoholic, “I’m not a codependent, I’m a problem-solver.”
This revelation didn’t make my life any easier, as addicts and alcoholics tend to be problem-makers and can send my problem-solving into overdrive. Once my wheels start turning on solving the problem at hand, I’ve been known to go to any lengths to find the solution. However, with my husband, there could be numerous problems on any given day, and if not today, tomorrow was always near. And somewhere along the line, I determined I’d figure all of them out single-handedly and nearly drove myself insane during our 10-year-marriage.
When I waited tables years ago in college, we had a term in the industry known as “in the weeds.” Those of you who have worked in the restaurant business probably know what I am talking about and those who haven’t, have surely seen it, but been unaware of the term. Being in the weeds is when your waiter/waitress is trying to serve too many tables in the restaurant at once and they get totally stressed out and go on automatic-mode. It is the waiter or waitress scrambling around on a busy day with the deer-in-the-headlights look, ignoring your pleas for more tea, ketchup and the like. It is not that they don’t want to help you, but at the moment they have more on their plate than they can handle and they are in deep and either can’t ask for help or have no one around that can help.
Well, I was in the weeds on most days in my marriage. I was always taking on more than I could handle and I didn’t know how to make it stop. I didn’t know how or where to ask for outside help. And the truth is, I didn’t realize I wasn’t looking for any real help, I just wanted to prove that I could do this on my own – all on my own. Oh sure, I’d call all of the girlfriends on my list and week after week they would pick up the phone and listen to my woes. They gave me lots of good advice through the years and most of it went unheard. Some days I just wanted reassurance that I wasn’t going crazy and that my husband was wrong and lying. On the days I listened, most of the advice was to “leave him”, “you deserve better”, “he’ll never change”, “you don’t deserve this”. I listened to them but secretly thought, “I’ll show them. I’ll fix my husband and we’ll live happily ever after.”
You see, I saw the potential in this man that I loved with every fiber of my being. It didn’t matter what he did, how he’d screwed up or how miserable he was making my life or the life of our child. I just knew that one day he would finally see the light and realize that I was right, he was wrong, the fog would be lifted and life would be grand. So I waited, and fought and belittled and criticized and followed and begged and called and tracked down and reasoned and fought some more. I was so focused on fixing this man, and my marriage, that I spent most of my time thinking of what else could be done. What could possibly be the magic potion that would make it all come together? We went to marriage counselors, marriage enrichment weekends, church. I read books, listened to tapes, watched infomercials. We even tried rehab two years into our marriage after he stayed out all night with our two-year-old son and I became so frantic that this clarity finally came over me and I knew rehab or splitting up was my only answer. (Little did I know, that would be the last moment of clarity I’d see for a long while). He appeased me and went to rehab for a seven-day stint, only to return to his regular ways after 30 days. I went back to the drawing board and determined that if rehab couldn’t fix him, we should move back home and try life there. So we did.
Fast forward six years as I continued in my pursuit of building the perfect family life, (as if there is such a thing). You see, my perfect picture of happiness was a loving family inside of a home with a white picket fence and everything was just so. We loved each other, went to church and we were all happy because we completed each other. I didn’t believe the perfect family never fought, I am somewhat of a realist. I just believed that they were small arguments and we all learned a valuable lesson from them and then lived happily ever after. I think that most of us have this same fairy tale – that we want the perfect husband, perfect kids, perfect house, perfect life and we just keep on striving for that perfection in our lives. If something doesn’t work, we try something else. But perfection is a very personal, intimate thing and we each have our very own screwed up vision of what that entails. Once we’ve attained our vision of perfection, the vision changes, grows and takes on new form and new levels of warped perfection. It is a never-ending illusion that keeps us trapped.
So, once we moved back home, I had to find my perfect house, then labored over my perfect furnishings. But my home life was still far from perfect, so I would find project after project to work on to try to paint the picture that everything was still just so. I had some people fooled. People that didn’t know me, might have envied me. I had a good-looking husband, a smart kid, we had a house, a boat, a successful business. My friends and family who knew me best weren’t fooled, although I tried to fool them from time to time as well. “Oh, everything’s great,” I would say, and sometimes I could even fool myself. But eventually I would be brought back to the reality that things were far from great, far from my “perfect family portrait.” I was still mildly miserable all of the time, because the more money we had, the more drugs he used. And the more he used, the less he contributed to my perfect family vision. But I couldn’t let it go. I couldn’t let go of this dream that I had worked so hard to put together! Everything was working out perfectly, except for my stupid husband. Why couldn’t I get him to do what I wanted him to do and we would all be happy? Oh, that infuriated me and I just kept trying and trying and trying. Knock one of the boards in the picket fence down, pick it up quickly, dust it off, paint the outside, nail it back, repeat. From inside the house, I could see how tattered and worn that picket fence was getting but from the street, it still looked pretty perfect.
To continue reading this story, click here It’s Time to Play the Family Fued