Mental Health Matters: Codependence

I discovered the idea of codependence last year around August. I was displeased with my daughter’s choice of boyfriend, as I had been in the past, and was looking for reasons why she seemed to have fallen in love with the same personality – again. Google is one of my best friends, so I used it to search for specific traits that I’d noticed in both her current and former beau.

No matter what phrases I used, codependence popped up. So, I clicked on a link and read the characteristics:

Low self-esteem

People pleasing

Poor boundaries

Reactivity

Caretaking

Control

Dysfunctional communication

Obsessions

Dependency

Denial

Problems with intimacy

Painful emotions

codependencyJeez Louise! You know those movies that show people’s lives flashing before their eyes prior to their deaths? That’s how I felt reading this list of descriptions. It was as if someone had written an outline of my life. I stopped worrying about my daughter and the men she’d chosen and instead began reflecting on myself and the choices I’d made from childhood through adulthood. The proverbial light bulb went off and I realized (as my sister once said) I’d been codependent as f—k!

From the low self-worth of abandonment to the eventual numbing of painful emotions established in adolescence and further perpetuated as a grown woman, I exhibited each codependent trait. I was stunned, but suddenly, my life made sense.

While most wouldn’t describe me as a people-pleaser, there were specific people I rarely told, “no.” My grandmother was one. The example I repeatedly describe is when she’d told me that she wanted me (and the rest of our family) home for Christmas. We could do what we wanted for other holidays, but December 25th was different. So, even though Dwight and I moved our family a thousand miles away, we drove up and down the interstate every other year for seventeen years with our daughters in tow just because I thought I had to and also because I feared telling her no. I’m not sure what I thought would happen if I said, “We’re not coming,” but I avoided the conversation and disappointing her for almost two decades, all while ignoring how the situation affected my family and me.

Another way codependency showed up in my life is through a lack of boundaries. I could write another twelve posts about this, but I’ll just share two specifics. Prior to 2014, I had no personal boundaries “based on awareness of my own unique needs.” It’s easy to do this when you’re unclear about who you are. How could I know what I needed if I didn’t know who I was as an individual or what I liked? As a result, whatever others liked, I liked. Whatever they wanted to do, I did. You’d never hear me say, “No. I’m not doing that!” It was more like, “Sure. I’m down with anything.”

Similarly, I had very few relationship boundaries. I’ve written before about the ease with which I can become friends with others. However, in the past, I’ve also befriended former students, even when they were still under my tutelage. Years ago, each one had access to me through my cellphone, where we’d chat for hours, discussing their personal business, and depending on what was happening in my life, mine too. I wanted to be a “caring teacher,” but blurred lines and unresolved issues, helped me to become a codependent one as well.

As a current teacher educator, of course, I advise against this; it’s unprofessional. However, reflecting on those ten years, it’s clear that poor boundaries permeated both my personal and professional life in another attempt to prove I mattered.

Another clear way codependency manifested is through control. For much of my life, I didn’t feel as if I was in control of myself. As an only child in a family of older relatives, times were far and few between when I knew what was best for me. Also, losing my mother at sixteen and being sent away at seventeen showed me that I was in control of nothing. Anything could happen at any moment. This led to two issues: I trusted everyone’s opinion, except my own, and I eventually tried very hard to control everything around me, including other’s actions, so as not to be caught off-guard by life, ever…again.

This revelation of codependency really changed my outlook as it gave me a new way to take responsibility for myself and my behavior.

From this point on, I’ll continue to share how I developed healthier coping mechanisms, in addition to conversations with those in the field who can support us in actualizing healthier lives.

Until then, tell me…are you familiar with this term? Have you ever been codependent?

Source 1

Source 2

Virtual Book Reading: Video and Update

Last Saturday, we held a successful virtual book reading via Zoom and FB Live. About 40 people floated in and out and we are very appreciative.

Also, y’all know I’m always writing about relationships and how we can do a better job with relating to one another, so I gotta say THANK YOU to my grannie and aunt and sister-friends from all walks of life who showed up. Sending gratitude to the following bloggers who also made a way to pop in from Nigeria, the New England area, Oregon, and Georgia:

Omo Ackin

E

Lady G

Pam

Kim

If you missed it, here’s the 2-hour recording:

 

Monday Notes: Virtual Book Reading

For those of you who have not been able to attend our face-to-face book readings, and because it isn’t feasible to convene in person, a few of the co-authors of Daddy: Reflections of Father-Daughter Relationships will be hosting a virtual book reading on Saturday, June 27th from 2:00-4:00 PM (EST). 

Here is the link: The Silent Pandemic: A Disease Impacting Daughters

Here is the password: 5LEDVW

We hope you’ll join us! If you cannot attend, then please ask any questions in the comments, so they can be answered during our talk.

Mental Health Matters: Sex as Escapism

heart_7

The day my father asked me to leave home, I awoke to three or four trash bags filled with my belongings. They slouched in the middle of my bedroom floor. The day before, I’d thrown myself a seventeenth birthday party surrounded by family. But I’d also just gotten in trouble at school for forging a tardy pass.

“You’re moving to Covert with your grandmother,” my father announced. “You walked around here frontin’ yesterday, like everything is okay. YOU’RE SUSPENDED!” he yelled.

I was baffled. I thought that was protocol…walking around and pretending everything was okay when it wasn’t. I’d pretended my mother’s death hadn’t bothered me the previous nine months, and no one berated me about that. Why was having a party while suspended an issue?

But it was too late to argue. My father’s mind was made up. I moved as soon as school ended in June.

By September, my grandmother had convinced my father that he needed to relinquish his parental rights so that she could “legally take me to the hospital,” if necessary. So, the three of us drove to a small Michigan court, where a judge bestowed my grandmother with the title, legal guardian.

My father droned on about the court appointment being a “formality.” He’d “always be my dad,” he said. I wished I had an appropriate response. A tear or a lip quiver would’ve added affect. But I was dead to his speech and to mounting situations outside of my control. Life had finally completely numbed me. During his soliloquy, I zoned out and devised a simple plan for my new existence: befriend no one, complete senior year, and leave as soon as I crossed the graduation stage.

That was the plan, until I went to a computer class called, Basic and met a boy.

heart_8

He was a year younger. He played football, ran track, blew the saxophone in band, and was his class’s president. He made time for me and he made me laugh. More importantly, he made me forget about my mother’s death and my father’s abandonment. He made me forget that I wouldn’t finish high school with friends I’d known since the first grade.

Initially, we talked on the phone for several hours. He lived five minutes away from my grandparents’ home and his house was on the way to my work-study job, which made stopping by convenient. Soon we traded phone conversations for sitting on his mother’s couch, where we watched their floor-model television and kissed. Our time together quickly turned to sex. I enjoyed it. It was liberating in the most poetic way. When we were together, my pent-up emotions floated free like colorful balloons toward a bright blue sky. I repeatedly chased the euphoria.

I was so in love with the idea that he loved and wanted me that I wrapped myself around him. I mattered. He and I ebbed and flowed through teenage love. There was no way I would let him go. To do so would mean returning to earth to face the reality of my circumstances, which were outside of my control, and I wasn’t ready.

heart_9

Instead, I (unconsciously) learned men, sex, and relationships could temporarily fill a void. All three helped me escape to a place where I temporarily felt better about myself. As long as I had one, then I knew I was worth something to someone, even if the moment was fleeting. Either of the three were easy to attain, especially in undergrad, where my deeper issue flowed with a sea of everyone else’s rampant hormones and fluid identities. Throughout my life, there were times when I had all three simultaneously in different faces, constantly seeking a high, never quite reaching bliss, still feeling shitty about myself. It would take years before I’d understand one thing about trying to fill an empty space with men. You can’t. There were never enough to make me feel whole. Ever. It was always an impossible endeavor.

***

Parts of this piece were first published on PULP, a sex/uality and reproductive rights publication celebrating this human coil.

This blogger’s poem aptly describes what I’ve experienced.

Elizabeth Fitzgerald explains how escapism is a part of the fight, flight, or freeze group, which can manifest in codependent ways, including addiction.

Mental Health Matters: Feeling My Feels

When I first received a packet of information from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services outlining the events that led to my adoption, I called my then best friend to read her the contents. At first, her sniffles were low, but eventually they began to drown out my words.

“Why are you crying?” I asked.

“It’s just…so sad,” she began.

“Don’t cry,” I insisted. “Don’t cry for me.”

By this time, I was 32 years old and had mastered muffling and numbing my own sorrows. I wasn’t going to sob about my own life, and I certainly wasn’t going to allow anyone else to mourn for me.

I suppressed the pain of discovering I was an abandoned five-month-old baby with the other emotional trauma I’d endured. The only thing about stuffing emotions into an abyss is that they’re never really gone. Pain. Sadness. Anger. Whatever emotion you’ve attempted to ignore stays with you. I learned this nine years later when I was 41.

moon_womanI’d decided to do a relationship meditation hosted by Oprah and Deepak. I thought the meditation would help me have a better relationship with my husband, father, cousins, and in-laws. What was surprising is the meditation really focused on the relationship I had with myself. This was achieved through chanting mantras and answering journal prompts. One of the questions asked this: What, if anything, are you afraid of finding out about yourself? Or something like that.

At first, I didn’t want to write the truth. But, after realizing I’d be the only one reading it, I decided to be as honest as possible. I scribbled these words: There must be something wrong with me for me not to have any parents.

And then, I cried.

I cried for the five-month-old version of myself, who must’ve been terrified being left in an apartment for days. I wept for a baby who was separated from her mother. In that moment, I realized I didn’t need permission to empathize for myself. So, I also cried for being adopted and not told to feel anything about the finding years ago. I grieved losing my adoptive mother. My final tears were for my adoptive father, who, no matter how much he uttered, “I love you,” had shown otherwise.

That day was pivotal. I’d waited my entire life for someone to green-light my emotions when really, I held the power all along.

moonAfterwards, I stopped stifling tears and emotions. I began using honest communication in most situations. I refused to follow family and society’s made-up rules of engagement. From that day forward, I knew it was better for me to share emotions than it was to harbor resentment and damage myself further. This ranged from answering simple questions, like “How do you like working here?” to harder ones, like, “Why haven’t you invited me to your parties?” with truth. With many people, I ceased hiding my emotions, and subsequently, protecting theirs. I don’t mean to say that I trample on others’ feelings; that would be insensitive, but rather, I don’t hold back for fear of what others will think. I don’t owe anyone a lie or a watered-down answer because they’re ill-equipped to deal with how I feel or because they’re not used to hearing a different opinion.

Since that day, I’ve also learned how to move through emotions and determine why I’m experiencing a specific response. I have a phrase: I feel (fill-in-the-blank emotion) because of (fill-in-the-blank reason). It might look like this: I feel resentful because my family doesn’t consider how I feel around holidays. Sometimes I share these sentiments; other times, I don’t. The important part is to know how I feel and move through it.

Sometimes tears arise because I’m triggered by past life events, like the time I was watching TV and a woman and her mother were shopping for wedding dresses. I remembered how I shopped for dresses by myself and it made me sad. Being able to acknowledge that emotion and then pause for a second has been more supportive for me than pretending feelings don’t exist.

Finally, because I’m now more inclined to feel my feels and process emotions, I’m less likely to use unhealthy coping strategies. I no longer rely on people, relationships, or sex as a means to improve my mood or self-esteem. As a result, my relationships have improved because I’m interacting from an authentic space, not from a place of suppressed hurt and anger.

For me, an ability to feel has been liberating.

Source

 

Monday Notes: Putting People In Boxes 📦

274c37f1-2160-49fd-830b-7fbc98aa85e0Last weekend, my family and I celebrated my goddaughter’s birthday. Our hotel had board games and a pool table in the lobby. Thanks to Dwight, we had an impromptu game night that lasted to midnight.

As is common for the 21st century, I took some photos and posted them to social media. A few people were surprised that I posed with a cue. And I was surprised they were surprised. Sometimes I’m able to let comments like these roll off my back; but this time, I was bothered, not only by their surprised reactions, but also by their accusations that I couldn’t possibly know how to shoot pool.

***

My great uncle, Uncle Webber taught me how to play when I was around 12 or 13 years old. He and Aunty Belle had just bought a home in Maywood, a Chicago west suburb. They had one of those garages that dips under the house. When you exited the car, you opened the door into the basement.

In their basement was a pool table, and that’s where I learned to play. Uncle Webber taught me. He taught me how to hold the cue. He showed me how to chalk the cue, and he helped me understand the rules of the game. Because I visited Aunty Belle and Uncle Webber often, I frequently practiced basic rules, like hitting the ball on a specific side to execute a shot.

I’m not saying I walked around the west side with a cue in my back pocket, hustling people, but I learned enough to know how to play. Just like riding a bike, those lessons stayed with me. When Dwight suggested we play the other day, I reviewed them and proceeded as I remembered.

But you can’t say all this on social media. There isn’t enough room, and it’s social media inappropriate, I suppose. Instead, I posted a few one-liners and lol’d my way through.

This has happened before. People are shocked that I do something other than teach or write. Playing pool is just one example. People are amazed that I cook food, which seems absurd, considering how much I like to eat and that I have a family, who throughout the years, has required meals.

I get that we can’t know every single facet of everyone’s identity or life. But that’s exactly why I think we shouldn’t assume that the 2-3 parts people show us is all they have to offer. Most people are multidimensional. While I teach for a living and write to promote thought, I also cook, play Spades, volunteer, read tarot cards, workout regularly, dance, and practice yoga.

Let’s stop putting friends and family in boxes and actually try to get to know one another. It could be as easy as starting a conversation that begins with, “I didn’t know you did blah blah blah,” which could lead to a cool story and a deeper understanding of an individual.

***

A few hours after I wrote this, I saw this video on FB that shows exactly what I’m saying:

Monday Notes: Friends

December 7th, 2018, I took a girls trip with five women. I’ve known one of these women since first grade and the others since seventh. While many of us have gotten together separately over the years for high school reunions or visits back home, the six of us hadn’t been together as a group since high school.

I admit I didn’t know what to expect. But I’m happy to report that it was one of the best trips I’ve taken with a group of women. We all got along just as we had over two and a half decades ago. It’s as if we were the same people, just 45 years old, with more life experiences to share.

Afterwards, I found myself reflecting on what made our time together so special.

img_8603-1We’re similar. All six of us attended an academically talented and gifted school called, Whitney M. Young for both the Academic Center (7th-8th grade) and high school. At the time we attended, it was the best high school in the nation. Meaning, we’re all not only intelligent, but we’ve also faced some of the same challenges throughout life when it comes to education and career choices. I mention this not to brag, but to highlight that when friends are similar at a core level, then deeper conversations ensue. Most of the time, we didn’t have to provide background information prior to talking about a shared issue.

We respected our differences. Prior to this trip, I believed that friends are such because they have similar interests; therefore, there is little need for compromise. You know what I mean? But that weekend revealed that while we are similar in some ways, we’ve grown to be different in others. That Friday, one of us wanted to sing karaoke, so we made our way to City Walk’s Rising Star. Another friend exercises daily, so she awoke each morning before everyone and walked on the beach. To our surprise, one woman enjoys watching NASCAR; so, we all paid our $20 and toured Daytona International Speedway. These are just three examples. While we weren’t necessarily fully invested in each other’s events, we each partook. I can only speak for myself in saying the reason I participated in everything is because we were there to visit with one another. Whether that be at a fancy dinner, on a jet ski, or at the pool, I was happy to compromise to hang out with women I considered to be friends.

We listened. On this trip we had constant, intimate conversations. We not only revealed events that had happened over the years, but also how we felt about these experiences. Not once did I feel negatively judged for sharing myself or my shortcomings. At no point did I think, “I shouldn’t have said that” for fear of the side-eyes or subsequent comments that accompany saying something not aligned with society’s values. Once again, I attribute the warmth of this inviting and supporting environment to the quality of women I’d unconsciously chosen to befriend years ago.

I’ve spoken a lot about relationships on this blog. But this trip solidified my overall feelings about them. Whether friend, familial, or romantic, good relationships feel warm and loving. They are non-judgmental and, in some ways, symbiotic. They are as natural as the ocean’s waves and as long lasting or fleeting as the sand that surrounds it.

As of today, that’s my answer on this topic. Let me know what you think.

Monday Notes: “Umi said shine your light on the world”

img_9353“Shine your light for the world to see.” It’s a quote from a rap song that I’d heard decades ago (Mos Def). But I’m really feeling it after our D.C. book reading. Just like the previous two, this one was completely different as well. The Jacksonville book talk was more like a starter event. The authors had never publicly read their stories before, so the energy was a mixture of excitement and nervousness. Though each writer’s voice was clear, it was quiet.

img_0768Three months later, we’d moved 345 miles north to Atlanta. Three women had read in Jacksonville, so they were a bit more familiar with expectations. Their voices were grounded, louder. This time the audience had changed. The energy was palpable in varied ways. Questions were about the writing process, as well as the healing process. How had any of us done this? This included forgiving our fathers for heinous shenanigans. This included writing our mini-memoirs for someone other than ourselves.

img_1904-1Seven months after the Jacksonville event, we convened in Washington, D.C. and everything had changed. Two readers were pros. Kotrish Wright declined the use of a podium. Instead, she used the space around her to give more of a performance act. Her voice rose and fell, like an experienced reader. Inflection was important for specific parts. Ishna Hagan read her narrative with confidence and poise. She stood in her truth, which seemed to give her power.

Tikeetha was a novice to this experience. But I couldn’t tell. She read her story with the ease of a famous author. Though her story is sad and heart wrenching, she managed to make the audience nod and laugh at all the appropriate times.

And finally, there’s me.

img_1919This time I felt like I was shining my light for the world to see. An attendee who had cried her way through a question and almost the entire reading thanked me for putting this together. She’d intended to find a way for her mother to heal from trauma and mental illness. Another woman recounted her own father-daughter situation. It was enough to be another chapter in our edited collection. She, too, admitted she needed to find a way to counter her childhood dysfunction. A friend of mine provided me with a list she’d brainstormed to broaden my reach: come to Richmond, VA and call her OWN network contact.

After this third reading, I feel like we’ve each come into our own. We’ve done much more than pour our hearts on pages for catharsis. We’ve demonstrated what love, forgiveness, grace, and healing look like. We’ve exposed ourselves in ways that neither of us believed possible.

“Umi said shine your light on the world; shine your light for the world to see.” With this project, we’ve shone brightly and come into our own. And we plan to continue in our own way.

Monday Notes: Talking About Women Behind Their Backs and Women’s Empowerment

Where does talking about women behind their backs fit into women’s empowerment? I was faced with answering this question for myself after three different circumstances occurred over the course of two months.

talking_people2Situation #1 is a combination of many experiences. It usually starts in a group DM. One person may say, “Hey, did you know that Sally did blah, blah, blah?” And because we all know Sally, but Sally’s not in the group, a conversation and judgments about her may ensue. I have been known to either start this type of dialogue, participate in the conversation, or throw in an lol or appropriate gif.

Situation #2 is also a common one I’ve found myself in. Two women don’t know each other, but for some reason have crossed one another’s paths. I associate with both women. Sally does something Sue doesn’t like and because I know both, I’m listening to each share their dislikes. I may also interfere by throwing in a, “Hey why don’t you think about it this way” because I feel a sense of loyalty to both and I’m equally associated.

teaSituation #3 surfaces every now and then. Again, it begins with my knowing two women, who also may know one another, but aren’t necessarily friends. Sue asks me a question about Sally. Just for the sake of example, it could be something like, “Why does she always wear her pants backwards?” Because I know Sally and I have insight into why her pants are always backwards, I answer. I never tell Sally; however, I do secretly continue this defense of her and her backwards-pants wearing.

I’ve decided participating in any future, similar conversations is wrong. Here’s why.

Many of you know my overall goal is to raise women’s consciousness; however, how can I be raising women’s consciousness in one breath, while talking about women behind their backs in another?

I can’t. It’s out of alignment. And I won’t be doing it anymore.

From here on out, I will not be discussing other women in the confines of text messages, DMs, or lunch dates. I also won’t be listening to other women discuss and judge women I know (or don’t know). My new direct phrase will be: Let’s talk about all the amazing things going on in your life and what you’re doing (or something similar). And finally, if someone wants to know why Sally always wears her pants backwards, I’m going to suggest that they pick up the phone and ask Sally.

Women’s empowerment is about more than writing, blogging, or speaking engagements, where women share their wounds and heal. It’s about not creating more cuts for someone we each refer to as “sis.” It’s about the way we carry ourselves when no one’s looking. This includes private conversations.

Let me know what you think, if you can relate to either of these situations, or if you have another one to share.