It’s 6 o’clock in winter, so as we pull up to a dingy little church hall I can’t see much, but I can make out that its walls are mottled at the edges with grime, and the feeling of dread begins to sink in. I’m not sure why I agreed to this. Somewhat bolstered by the encouraging words of my friend, we make our way inside. My chest is flushed and I am completely out of my depth, as I approach a cluster of people speaking softly but jovially, clutching their hot drinks. I awkwardly try and avoid eye contact, the decision whether or not to go to the kitchen and make a hot beverage of my own weighing heavily on my mind. Would this make me part of the ‘in crowd’, or would this only serve to foil my already thinly veiled attempt at normality? Mercifully, I am not given long to ponder this dilemma and the tension is broken as someone slightly more official sounding leads us in to the main room. This room is very dimly lit, perhaps to alleviate the tension of the situation, perhaps I am not alone in my anxiety!? Of course I’m not. I’m not, because I have just entered a Co-Dependents Anonymous meeting.
I have been in many supposedly ‘therapeutic’ situations in my time, and this was certainly not one of them. So how did I end up there? A friend at the time, that I had met on my psychotherapy course at University (ha) was finding the literature and meetings surrounding Co-Dependents Anonymous very useful, and thought I might also benefit from embracing their values. I was skeptical at first, and remain so to this day, but there’s no denying that there were several strong and unexpected emotional responses during that one hour I spent in that meeting. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you would be forgiven for thinking ‘You, strong emotions?! Never!’, but these feelings were akin to the ones I experienced when hearing Nelson Mandela’s Make Poverty History speech at Trafalgar Square, i.e. so unutterably all-consuming that it gives you the shakes. I can’t make any further comparisons between the two, but I can speculate on what it was that invoked such a strong response within me.
I have always fluctuated between reluctant acceptance and adamant denial that I should, would, could ever need anyone else to fulfil me as a person. I wonder now, looking back, if those moments that I thought were acceptance could have ever been true, as every inch of every pore in my mind and body were trying to propel me away from the truths that the people in that meeting were speaking. I am an incredibly proud person, and assume myself to be completely independent and free, even though circumstantially I suppose I’m not right now. The worst punishment you could inflict on me would be pity. It’s the combination of this pride, and this need to present as a strong and feisty person that has kept acknowledgement of any codependent traits in me at bay. I find it hard to reconcile that the two can exist alongside one another.
I want to be the anchor of my own ship, the roots of my own tree and the stability in my own life. I am, sometimes. Interestingly, there seems to be a direct correlation between my self-worth at the time, and my desire to have another bolster me. I wonder if this isn’t true for everyone, recognised co-dependent or not. It’s a complete aberration of my personality, I hide nothing, nothing is a pretence or off-topic, I am proud and bold and free. What part of me decided that needing others is a fate worse than hell, that should be hidden and guarded at all costs? Ironically, in my semi-conscious efforts to banish those emotions completely, I have ended up with a collection of neuroses surrounding rejection that are as brittle and fragile as an osteoporosis sufferer’s bones.
I have a chronically lacking sense of self, and am on a constantly changing mission to find projects and people to help fill my identity. A scuttly little hermit crab, moving from shell, to coke can, to coral, never able to decide which one she likes the best. The projects come and go with very little emotional trauma, they can’t say no, I make the rules. People, however, are unpredictable. They are volatile, and quite irritatingly, creatures of free will. It’s a troublesome thing that once I have decided I enjoy what that person gives me, it is out of my control. I will do anything to preserve and protect that bond, I don’t doubt that this is at least to some extent exacerbated by my tendency towards splitting (a BPD term for idolising then resenting any individual, or vice versa). I’m not sure how much of this is down to my need for consistency and stability (due to my inherent lack of both), or whether I’m literally Glenn Close. In the interest of self-love, I am going to opt for the former…
There are a set of 12 steps in CoDA, borrowed and adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous, that one is expected to adhere to and keep in mind at all times. I won’t list them here, partly because I’m not sure if I’m actually allowed to, and partly because most of them are about relinquishing control to a higher power, which no matter how hard I try I just can’t take seriously. The first on the list, however, resonates somewhat.
- We admitted we were powerless over others – that our lives had become unmanageable.
I am sure that these are all issues that I will have ample time to explore in a more general psychotherapeutic setting. I haven’t managed to achieve the above. Fortunately, I don’t feel that my life is unmanageable, but my fragile, homeless hermit crab is still doggedly clinging on to the notion that one day she’ll find the right shell. In that meeting, her notion was threatened. In that meeting, the hermit crab was forced to imagine a world where she would be happy naked, where she would need no shell. When that hour was up, I left that room. I can both joyously and definitively say that I will never return, but I’m not sure that room left me.