Today’s interview is with JoAnne, a retired addictions/mental health counselor and a woman who also walks this journey of codependency. She recently published her first book, “Trust The Timing: A Memoir of Finding Love Again”, which can be found on Amazon. Please be sure to check our her blog, Anything Is Possible, as she shares her journey and inspires others!
Tell us about yourself.
In January, I retired from a 30 year career as an addictions/mental health counselor. Now, I focus on writing and art, and just published my first book, Trust the Timing, A Memoir of Finding Love Again.
How did you know you were codependent?
It was in the late 80s, when I started attending workshops for my job, and saw that I had most of the characteristics of codependency. I figured I better look into it further.
How do you think you became a codependent?
In kindergarten, I loved being praised for being a “good girl.” That role was enhanced over the next several years when my mom’s depression flared up. She was hospitalized with nervous break downs, especially when Dad was in Vietnam. Besides making good grades, I coped by being quiet, drawing, and making up stories in my head. I couldn’t fix mom, but later in life, I tried to fix everything else, becoming Ms. Responsible, with periodic lapses of chaos.
Describe codependency in one word?
Do you find being a codependent an embarrassing label? If so, why?
Not these days. In some ways, it’s freeing! It comes in handy when I’m trying to explain why I’m setting boundaries, like saying no. Setting boundaries is part of my recovery. Sometimes I use the term “people pleaser” if I think people will understand that better.
What were your biggest fears relating to your codependency?
That I wouldn’t be good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, etc. As I started to understand my issues better, I had a fear of losing myself, being consumed by other people.
Do you feel that your codependency controlled you?
Yes. When my 20 year marriage ended unexpectedly and the divorce was final, I had no idea how vulnerable I was and entered into a year-long relationship that was very unhealthy and emotionally abusive. I went from Ms. Responsible to the pit of codependency trying to please someone who was totally wrong for me. When the relationship ended, it was like waking up from a nightmare. That was 15 years ago.
What was the turning point that caused you to seek help or learn more about codependency?
Though I had read a lot about codependency prior and gone to a few meetings, it was the stress of that unhealthy rebound that brought me to my knees and got me to really work on my recovery: going to meetings, getting a sponsor, writing, praying…
Who did you hurt the most with your codependency?
Myself mostly, but I feel like I also neglected my children emotionally during the divorce/rebound. But there were other times, when Ms. Responsible did too much for them. I think I might be too hard on myself about that.
What does “detachment” mean to you?
Stepping back emotionally, and sometimes physically, to get perspective. It often involves taking slow deep breaths.
What does, “Stay on your side of the street” mean to you?
For me, it means to stop trying to fix other people’s messes and focus on my issues, my part.
What does, “Get off the dance floor” mean to you?
When people are arguing, or when I’m being criticized or baited, I don’t have to respond. I can step back and just observe – both the people and my own feelings – without saying anything right away. This is especially important when I’m Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. (HALT)
How did you deal with boundaries in the past and how do you deal with them today?
In the past, my boundaries were soft or non-existent. Now, I clarify (for myself) what my non-negotiable boundaries are. When I’m struggling with maintaining a boundary, I write it on paper and/or pray about it. I’ve worked on saying no to requests for my time, or when I”m tempted to say yes, I say, “let me think about that, and I’ll get back to you.”
Have there been any dramatic changes in you, your attitude, or your life since starting your journey of recovery?
I have learned that I am valuable and that my time is valuable, that I don’t have to be producing something all the time, that I deserve happiness, comfort and peace as much as anyone else, and that it’s okay to let someone take care of me sometimes. I’m enjoying life more and honoring my true self.
What is the hardest part of staying focused on yourself and your recovery?
It’s amazing how busy I’ve been since I “retired.” I have so many interests and options that I can get pulled in different directions. I have to prioritize and schedule my time.
What is the easiest part of staying focused on yourself and your recovery?
I’m enjoying loving myself and becoming more authentic. It feels like coming home.
Without all the drama that codependency brings, do you find life, work, and relationships boring now?
Not at all. Life is never boring. It is more peaceful. I appreciate nature, art and being myself.
What are some of the tools you use to help you stay in your recovery?
I go to Christian based 12 step meetings, I use prayer, meditation, singing and reading things that nurture me and strengthen my recovery.
Do you have a favorite quote or mantra that helps to keep you going?
Include yourself in your circle of compassion. (A therapist told me that.)
What words of encouragement or advice do you have for others who are seeking information or beginning their journey of recovering and healing from their issues of codependency?
It’s going to take time. New behaviors might feel strange at first. But don’t give up. Ask for help, and not from just one source. You are deeply and profoundly loved. This journey will be worth it!
Do you have anything else you would like to share about your recovery from codependency?
Thank you for these questions. Answering them has been therapeutic!