Thursday, August 12, 2004

searching for answers

i have had some searches on my blog for things lately that make me wonder if the person searching has found what they are looking for.

one of the searches was just the word 'codependency', another was for 'spouse has problems with pornography'. both searches brought those people to my site and it's sparked some thoughts about both, i think i'll blog a bit on the subjects to see if anything pulls together.

for most of my life i have known i was an addict. i stopped drinking alcohol early in my college years because i knew i was getting very near the danger zone. i don't touch it now because i know what sugar does to me, i can't imagine how comforting alcohol would be. i've blogged often that i can switch and trade addictions and compulsions, and it's less about the actual fix for me then it is about the numbing effect that that behavior brings.

but it was the day that i realized i was a codependent, a co-addict, that a light bulb turned on in my head. i truly began to understand this baffling concoction that addiction brings to relationships, namely my marriage.

my therapist kept trying to address my codependency in our sessions. i argued with her for months. i am the addict, liam is the codepenent. nice, neat and tidy. she knew that one addiction doesn't exist in a vacuum, and she could see the signs of codependency in my life. so she kept challenging me to face the things i didn't want to face.

i kept insisting 'no, i am the addict.' she'd disagree and challenge me. i thought i had it all figured out. but finally what she was telling me rang true, my denial started to crack. i started to see that there was evidence that it wasn't as neat and tidy as i was trying to make it.

it was then that i started to look at the issue of time when the the ah-ha moment came. the penny dropped. liam is a work-a-holic (now self admitted). how i never figured that out is beyond me. the clues were right in front of my nose. he finished his bachelors degree in 3 years instead of four, overworked in every position he had and was killing himself in his pastorate. and i (we) never 'saw' it. afterward things came into focus.

this was also hard to spot because my co-dependency doesn't fit the books at first glance.

because of my conservative christian heritage a 'help meet' for my husband was 'all' i was ever supposed to be. so i became the best damn help-meet anyone could ever ask for. i am not the compliant, meek helpmate though. i am the challenging, inspiring, sharpening help-meet (read 'pain in the ass' here). it wasn't until i realized that it was fulfilling a huge amount of need in my life that i could admit and face my co-dependency. i was living vicariously through liam. i had no life of my own. the church raised me well. i was the 'woman behind the man', and shriveling and dying because of it.

one of the concepts that i now teach our youth comes from this realization. i call it 'new math for relationships'. teen age relationships are usually intense and very co-dependent. like two ticks, and no dog. our culture tells them 'you are not complete unless you have a boy/girl friend.'

i try to help them understand that 1/2 + 1/2 does equal a 'whole', but those two 1/2's will never be 'whole' by themselves. taking that math analogy one step further, '1 x 1 = 1' and the magnification that happens is what god intended in the 'one flesh' idea. i try to encourage them that instead of spending all of their time trying to find their 'other half' they should concentrate on becoming whole in and of themselves.

if i am only 1/2 without liam i am unable to magnify our relationship, the converse is also true. if liam is only a 1/2 person (who i complete) we can't function apart and there is no depth to the relationship, or our personhood. only when two whole people enter the relationship can wholeness truly occur.

therefore a working definition of co-dependency could be when 1/2 a person is trying to find a matching 1/2 person to fill the void in their life. like velcro 'loops' looking for the 'hooks', 1/2 people spend their time searching for fulfillment from another person, instead of from life, or god.

for most of my life i have been 1/2. liam has been 1/2. our marriage has been this struggle to suck the sustenance out of the other, and not finding enough there, we then turned toward our own addictions to fill the void left from the dissatisfaction. it was only when we started to become whole as separate entities that our marriage could magnify, be deeper, fuller, more than it ever was. instead of expecting liam to meet my every need i became able to self-nurture and care for myself emotionally, spiritually and socially.

it has not been an easy road. the path is bumpy. much is out of my control. i hate that. i like to be in control. most of the problem that comes from this fact is that it's usually one person in the relationship who finds wholeness and healing first. this upsets the balance and causes a lot of friction and stress in the relationship. recovery of wholeness is a personal journey. i can only do my own work, recover my own wholeness. i cannot do this for liam. he must desire it and do the work for himself.

in the beginning this was excruciating for me. 'if you loved me you'd...' 'can't you see how this is hurting us???' 'why can't you...' 'if you'd just...' our walls echoed with my pleas for movement but it only placed distance between us.

during this phase of our marriage i heard fil anderson (another self-admitted workaholic) talk about running on empty, and spending a day alone with god. after the session i raised my hand and asked how once we experience wholeness do we motivate those around us to desire wholeness. his answer first pissed me off, but about a month later i 'got it'.

he said that the other day he was at krispy kreme and there was a man enjoying a fresh glazed donut, he was savoring it, enjoying it more than anyone ever should. it wasn't long before fil found himself joining him with his own donut.

i thought 'that's your answer? sit there and don't do anything?' i was angry, i wanted to 'do something', to control or force the issue.

what fil was saying was that i needed to live whole, savor my own recovery and eventually those around me would see me savoring life and find themselves hungry for it. it hasn't been easy. i wanted to force liam into recovery, to drag him there. i didn't care if he wanted it for himself - i demanded it now, on my time.

it didn't work, i couldn't fathom not doing anything because i wasn't really whole at that point, i wasn't able to savor my wholeness, i still wanted to fill the missing parts of me with him.

living whole is like irresistible grace. rules and legalism (forcing someone into recovery) only shames and proves to them how far they are from the mark. grace says it doesn't matter and draws them close. wholeness is like a magnet, it radiates health, healing and grace.

once i was able to step away from my codependent behavior with liam and savor my own wholeness (it is fleeting, and i haven't arrived, please know that i don't think i have) i became able to set down the remote control i had tuned onto liam. the grace that stepped in allowed for conversations and healing. not forced 'i'm gonna tell you what to do' conversations, but questions, give and take, real communication that lead us into couples' counselling.

it was/is healing great amounts of issues that kept us from relating and accepting each other as we are. it brought/brings healing to wounded areas that we didn't even realize were baggage from our families, it has brought levels of intimacy to our marriage that we never dreamed were possible. we worked through the 12 steps in a format called open hearts, again by patrick carnes. i highly recommend it for bringing a gentle healing to relationships and marriages.

i also tell my students that 1/2 people only ever attract 1/2 people. whole people avoid 1/2 people like the plague. if they are only 'the loops' looking for that other 1/2 of velcro to stick to that is all they are ever going to find. wholeness draws wholeness. like i said above, it's a magnet. 1/2 + 1/2 does equal a whole. you can manage a life long marriage with that kind of math. but god desires magnification. he longs to have marriage be a picture here on earth for us that mirrors the trinity, that brings community, communication and wholeness. magnify those around you, multiply wholeness.

1 comment:

flybenji said...

This was a great article. I have been in many relationships with female sex addicts (incest or sexual abuse victims). They could see sexual addiction in me but not themselves. Stories on my website. & I have a page on help for sexual addiction that is really good. I admire you & your partner for having the courage to face sexual addiction & co-sexial addiction. Not many ever get there.