Over the holidays I talked with a couple of girlfriends who were heartsick over games of emotional tug of war, also known as codependence. Codependent love goes like this: Here’s all the shitty, unreasonable, terrible, horrible, no good things this person did and here’s all the great, rule-following, generous, responsible, hard-working, sacrificial, exhausting, never-ending, perfect things I did so they would act right and by right I mean my definition of right. Also here’s a list of all the tragic things I’ve endured in this mockery of a sham of a merciless bitch called life which I consider even more of a reason for them to love me and by love me I mean stop insulting me, using me, being hurtful, avoiding responsibility, abusing themselves, or lying and instead disprove my deepest fear, which is that I’m worthless, unlovable and don’t deserve to be treated any better than this. Sound familiar? It’s ok; if you grew up with any kind of adversity you probably inherited this way of thinking and acting. It’s also ok if you’re not ready to admit you grew up with adversity, pressure-free zone. Your mom’s a saint. I lived roughly half my life unconsciously, by similar lines of unreason because for a long time blind obedience kept me safe. Resentments don’t begin to build till we’re in our grown-up lives and realize we forgot to learn how to live and love in healthy ways. Instead of being waked up to the truth, which generally requires us to face real hurts and make inconvenient, disruptive changes, we ramble on in anxious monologues of futile defense while continuing to attempt to earn something which should’ve come without a You Owe Me. Why should I change? They’re the one causing all the problems, right? It’s the world, the world should change. I’ll just stand here firmly rooted in my rightness, a petrified statue, pointing all the fingers while the earth turns for me. Other defenses made in fear come out when we’re trying to hide or avoid something we don’t know how to fix. During the worst part of my anorexia a male nurse with a pot belly, point blank told me I couldn’t lose any more weight, it was physically impossible and I was going to die. A real Ray of sunshine. Anyway I think his name was Steve. He was trying to take away the only thing I had to shield myself from unmanageable truths. Feeling just as warm and dimensional as the paper I was sitting on, I called him fat and launched a mauve kidney shaped, hospital bowl at his head. Being mean and stubborn didn’t change the fact that I was dying, nor did it erase the reality I’d eventually choose to deal with. How do we turn around before it’s too late, other than being pushed to the edge of a ledge?
We do the same with beliefs built on foundations of fear, relentlessly chasing the unsaved with mouthfuls of warnings, accusations, comparisons and hints of a promise we too, question. Maybe if I throw gobs of Jesus at you the world will feel less scary and I’ll feel more lovable. The expedition of Faith begins on a trail called Truth where we encounter Grace. She’s my favorite since I tend to make the same mistake more than once. We gamble with everything till we run out of chips. Everyone’s ‘when’ is different and after years as a both a clinician and person in recovery I can definitively guess, interventions dripping with agendas don’t work. If you get saved I’ll feel like a good pastor, sister, churchy-person, friend and maybe feel more sure about God. If you get better I’ll feel like an effective, clinical interventionist who can eradicate child abuse and maybe my own pain too. If you quit drinking you can finally be the person I’ve always needed in my life. Yikes, huh? Barking scripture, treatment plans or shouting excerpts from the unwritten social contract are the same as standing in the mud, pulling hard on your end of the rope. Sometimes we garner supporters, other people we tell our sad story to, to help us win and make them see which results in a sometimes entertaining, mostly time consuming, elaborate failure. Again, it’s ok. Really. There’s always at least one good reason we hold on to the rope with both hands, for dear life. It’s like forgiveness; if I drop the rope does that mean they’re right? No it means you’re free. The thing that keeps us spouting scripture and ranting rationalizations is thinking the right words will save the day and the easy answers we seek will be gently placed on our doorstep while we’re comfortably snuggled up in bed.
My hypochondria’s been a relentless beast the past couple of weeks (decades). I’m prone to beating myself up over it and have a tendency to think I should be spotless by now instead of reminding myself of all the good; the truth is it’s all good. A couple of days ago an acquaintance asked how I was doing then casually tossed out, well, you do need something to worry about. Sometimes we say spiny, aloof things when we don’t know what else to say, probably because digging into the why scares people and takes a lot of time and effort. It doesn’t always need to be a production. Glamour magazine has a regular feature called Hey, It’s Ok where a smart, witty columnist who sounds like your best girlfriend grants you mercy for hiding dirty dishes in the stove, pretending you never got the text or sleeping in your mascara. I hate dishes but loved this column in junior high. It helped me relax and laugh at things I worried about. The column never tells you what to do, it just speaks a little light into some universal-ish, mostly female truths. Having a truth we feel insecure, embarrassed, ashamed, mad, frustrated or sad about validated, without judgement helps. It takes the blinders off creating space for us to consider how we want to deal with the situation. Or, at the very least turns the volume down so we can take a break from carrying it. Life is a terrifying, beautiful adventure. We can’t know and control everything.
So, in this month geared towards overly ambitious self-improvement goals and a time when churches are encouraging members to purge their guts, souls and closets of excessive, sinful consumption, hey it’s ok if you’re not mastering the art of human perfection. We’re all works in progress.