Letting go is difficult when you don’t want to do it. It’s when you want to but can’t that you really get into trouble. Madness can set in, turn you into the emotional equivalent of a launderer obsessed with an inexplicably persistent stain. You’ll scrub until the cloth before you falls apart, yet, to your own amazement, witness the stain remain. You may, in turn, scrub away at other stains on other quickly disintegrating garments. Never able to rid yourself of the stain. Never knowing why. Never witnessing your pattern.
Such is the story of my life.
I’ve remarked upon my journey from the loss of my relationship at length in the past few weeks. I hit a few bulls-eyes, discovering my childhood fears and neediness that have persistently led me astray. But more pressing arrows missed their mark by a mile. The depth of my problem and the ease with which I had any chance of side-stepping it were sorely misunderstood. Denial will do that to a person who cannot grasp the consistency with which their actions have been repetitively sealing their fate.
Anyone raised in an alcoholic, addicted household at a young age gets taught a lot of inappropriate lessons. Like that the people closest to you will allow things to fall apart unless you try desperately to stop them. Or that you are not allowed to dissent, or fear, or be angry about the abusive behaviors all around you. Or my favorite: that all of this is absolutely normal.
Any adult raised bereft of the emotional support and love any child deserves will seek at all costs to ensure that kind of abandonment never happens again, generally by suffocating the life out of everyone around them. They may perpetuate this behavior in their education, stifling opportunities for learning. They may bring this behavior into the workplace, damaging opportunities for advancement. They may thrash thusly about with their partners–one after another–killing love and kindness.
They are not drama queens. They are not malevolent. They will never be doing it on purpose. They may never know that they are doing it. And almost no one around them may have any idea what’s really going on inside: they are gripped by a problem larger than they are.
That’s been my story for 36 years. My life is an unmanageable mess of threadbare garments and persistent stains, with much damage done to me and those whom I’ve loved, and many years of hopelessness to forge any other future. At least, unexpectedly, until now.
My hope lies elsewhere. It was unable to arise in a family of long-term alcoholics and substance abusers. It is not to be found at the core of my problem, my lifelong compulsive desire to attempt to control others, over which–and over whom–I know now I am powerless.
It was, however, desperately sought in my darkest moment, weeping uncontrollably on the floor of my apartment, begging God to show me why I have no control over respecting the boundaries of others. Or over my life. Or over myself.
My hope emerged, shortly thereafter, in a place I never intended to be. In a deeply humble admission before a roomful of strangers. In a first step. I ask understanding from no one but God. I ask forgiveness from myself. My chances of either are, at least, no longer foreclosed.
My name is Michael.
And I’m a codependent.
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.