Tuesday, August 22nd 2017

Confessions of a codependent

Part 5 of 7 in a Soul’s Code series about codependence

pk-parents-p-shopped.jpgBY PAUL KAIHLA — I grew up with a mental illness, my mother’s.

That’s not a very funny thing to say, but it is a really codependent thing to say.

My mother developed schizophrenia when I was a young boy (in the image at left, with parents). The lone psychiatrist in the small, remote factory town we lived in may have been as disconnected as my mother was at times: he prescribed her amphetamines.

The standard treatment for schizophrenia is to administer drugs that tamp down the patient’s dopamine receptors — and an over-active mind that crosses a line into delusional thinking and auditory hallucinations. Amphetamines would have the opposite effect.

What followed were years of suicide attempts, hospitalizations and acts of arson on our own property — family photos, articles that had the misfortune of being the color red, and on a couple of occasions, even buildings.

Early on, I realized that my mother was tragically not well in her mind. In fact, I internalized an awareness that she was a danger to me.

As soon as you say something like that to yourself — this person is too messed up to be a parent — you’ve emotionally orphaned yourself. It’s kind of a reverse-abandonment: You’ve psychologically disowned your parent.

But instead of cutting my parents off and disowning them in reality — a common response among those with a similar background — I tried to help my mother as I grew older and more resourceful.

If I “fixed” her, my internal logic went, I could once again have a mother.

My mother’s well-being became almost a parallel career that absorbed vast swaths of time, energy, travel, vacation weeks and so on. In something like a game of unconscious blackmail, her crises became a highly effective way for her to get my attention.

Her words and actions would sometimes trigger anxieties like . . .

What if she stops taking her pills? What if she doesn’t make friends in the new building I put her in? What if the RN quits?

Those weren’t even really my fears; if I experienced fear it was more like I was afraid of having to feel her pain, to turn an old phrase.

What I ultimately realized was that the concept of “enough” didn’t exist in this scenario. In other words, if my goal was to make my mother better, to make her whole, I could never reach that goal — no matter how many quanta of words, people, time or money I threw at the situation.

More important, I unplugged from that equation I framed in my psyche as a young boy: if I can defuse this ticking time-bomb that could go off any moment, I’ll be okay. I let go of the need to “fix.”

The process involved learning to see my mother for herself rather than what I needed her to be. And learning to be myself rather than playing out the role of a person who placates or pleases to get what they need.

This is the story of a personality, and therefore, falls into the realm called psychology.

The spiritual journey here, I believe but cannot prove, lies in the realm of what the author Caroline Myss calls a sacred contract.

That path points to this sharing, and hopefully helping others who feel trapped by family obligations or demands. It’s not about fixing the world but connecting with others as we mutually discover its mysteries, and our own true natures. But that’s another story :)

Feel free to share a “confession” of your own in the Comment form below . . .

NEXT: Psychology’s answer to codependency

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9 Comments on “Confessions of a codependent”

  1. My heart opens to this story, Paul. I believe this could be my story as well. I remember someone jokingly telling me, "You're not content to feel just your own pain; you want to feel everyone else's pain as well." Codependency in a nutshell.

    Just like everyone has a skeleton in their closet, everyone has a degree of codepency; most are in denial about it.

    Sharing our wounds leads to sharing our awakening...the realization that our own wholeness is the great healer of us...and the universe, for we are all one.

  2. Nice piece, Paul, thank you for writing it.

  3. Thank you, Paul! Thank you for your courage, authenticity, beauty and sensitivity; thank you for sharing. I also share a process and journey with my mother. My realization was that I never accepted my mother for whom she was. Your writing reminded me of the love that exists in our wish to ‘fix’ and heal everybody.
    As one that is influenced by the field of psychology, I want to add that the way to the goddess passes through our mothers.

  4. Blessings to you, Paul, the blessings of having yourself, of valuing all that is you, of having affection and understanding from Other without having to do anything for it. Sending my affections,


  5. PS That is an absolutely lively, life-filled, living joyful photo of young you!

  6. thank you paul for having the courage to share so much about yourself and your history with this powerful piece.

    i struggle, as do a lot of people, with viewing my parents as just people..nothing more, nothing less. do i owe them anything because they brought me into this world? no more or less than i "owe" a person i see walking down the street beside me. i owe them respect as fellow human beings who are going thru their own issues (some of which they have passed along to me), but i don't need to carry them for life (either emotionally or financially).

  7. Paul,

    I'm at lunch at work and read your article because, well, I wanted to know who this Paul K. person was. And I realized "why" we've been introduced by Ms. Bev.

    I detest, loath and despise the word codependence. For me it brings up memories of the Bradshaw/Williamson inner child and the 80's self-help centrifuge that sucked in so many people, including me, to come learn about blame and self-pity; and spit them back out years later as exhausted psychotherapy patients (both emotionally and financially). Hillman's take on that is quite interesting -- I've been researching the Soul's Code lingo, too. That was a completely new term to me, I like new terms.

    Then I realized I just had my defense mechanisms up and running like clockwork. That word grates on me like fingernails on a blackboard. It's the old you spot it you got it routine -- (sigh).

    I could take my childhood, send you a couple of stories and we could compare notes on mothers, except mine suicided when I was 10. I used to think that was a trump -- but at the ripe old age of 43 I realize it was a relief. I didn't have to endure more than 10 years of the insanity, as a child or as an adult.

    The anguish in your words, in your honesty and the admittance that you could not help her and sought freedom/control through the need to help... I've been there and still live there on some days. I saw thoughts that you just expressed that set my hands to shaking and I knew it was an "a-ha" moment.

    Yeah... I'm here. Ready to go to work. When the student is ready...

  8. Thank you for sharing your story, Paul, and breaking ground on yet another tabu subject that has not been brought to light by many people. There are zillions of people with similar stories, to be sure.

  9. I like this essay, Paul, nicely done. I think some of the other readers comments are also interesting. I accept that my father is a sociopath and I accept that I can never have any kind of functional relationship with him.

    All my life I have been told "Of COURSE you love your father" and heard exhortations that I should "try harder" and "reconcile" with him. So many people seem to think that a child has no choice in the matter but to love and sustain abuse from a mentally ill person just because that person is a parent.

    In all cases, I believe love is a choice, not a biological requirement or hard-coded emotion due to shared genetic material. Fortunately, my problematic parent is capable of taking care of himself so I have been able to step back and away from his mental illness and abuse to take care of myself. It sounds like you have learned a lot from this and I commend your awareness on this issue.

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