For me initially, the answer was a big fat no! I knew that I was in a relationship, long before I entered the rooms of Al-anon, with someone whose behaviour was affecting not only my way of thinking (yes I was crazy thinking) but also my self-esteem and my very existence and that of my children’s were in jeopardy.
I, with hand on heart, didn’t know what “take care of you” meant. I didn’t even know how to love myself or look after myself. It drove me nuts when people would say “take care of yourself”; I didn’t have a clue and would get angry with them because they didn’t even give me a clue how to start doing that. I knew one thing, I was desperate for some self-care, I knew I had to look after myself if I was to even continue existing anymore on some sane level, I was that desperate. How had I ended up like that?
It had all started off in my childhood –as it very often does- I didn’t learn any healthy boundaries or self-care from my role models. They were doing what they had been taught in their childhoods, and I’m not complaining about them, as I know they were doing the best they could at the time. But I now needed to work on me, I needed to learn how to set healthy boundaries and learn some good basic self-care. But where did I start?
A few places actually. I did go to my GP she has been a wonderful help and supporter, she referred me to a therapist called Therese Hicks who in turn referred me to Al-anon. I’m not going to say it was an easy road, it was I’d say more difficult than living in denial, but in the end, I wouldn’t change any piece of what I have now for the world. I can see the benefits of what I did as also having rippled out to affect my children and grandchildren. Enough about me, what can you do to help you? I would start by looking at what the definition of co-dependency means and the symptoms of co-dependency. You can check these out on my blog post:
Helping Yourself (In other words know as the art of self-care). Co-dependency can be difficult to change alone, as co-dependent behaviours are often learned early on and reinforced over many years. It is hard to change your behaviours, but, it is also possible and so worthwhile not only for you but the other family and friends in your life. Resolving co-dependency can improve relationships, decrease anxiety and depression, and improve your self-esteem. You do find serenity and happiness again or for some, it’s the first time they feel like this. So how and where do you start?
GP First: If you are suffering from anxiety and depression go see your GP, explain what’s going on in your life. Remember you can write it down first before you go, I’d recommend this, and bring someone with you to support you.
Ask for a referral to a therapist, you will need their support to help you rewrite the tapes in your head and change all those negative thoughts into positive ones. Believe me, you can do this! They will also help you learn about the mind, body and spirit connection to release trapped trauma, build healthy boundaries and welcome positivity back into your life. Don’t you owe it to yourself and your children and their children to change these patterns of behaviour?
Read one of the books listed below. Information is power! It’s now time for you and getting your power back. These books do explain a lot of questions you’ll have and explain why you need to change your behaviour. Think of it this way, you are currently doing a dance with the other person, let’s say a waltz, but you cannot keep doing this dance anymore or you will collapse.
It’s now time to change that dance to a tango, for instance, once you start doing the tango your partner has to change their steps to match or you simply won’t be able to dance together anymore. Sounds simple I know but it will happen if you work at it. Don’t think you will find all the answers in books, you won’t believe me I went down that rabbit hole. The books are for information purposes only.
Join a support group, like Al-anon particularly if you’re in a relationship with someone who has an addiction. If you cannot find Gam-anon or Nar-anon in your area don’t worry Al-anon groups will also welcome you. These support groups will help you learn to trust yourself again, you will find friendship and understanding that perhaps other family and friends won’t be able to give you. You will learn to laugh again in those rooms too.
Talk to a good friend, they will be invaluable. Be careful here, choose your friends carefully. You may gain new friends along this journey and you will lose friendships too, but these are the people who are not your real friends anyway. Say goodbye to those negative vampires too. Make a list of all your supporters.
Improving self-care: Let me say that by going to your GP, getting a therapist and support group you’ve already started some great self-care. But Self-care involves looking after your physical body, your mind and soul. So maybe it’s time for some checkups you’ve been putting off such as a dentist or eye care?
Your GP will check you over physical too. We often neglect ourselves too much when the other person becomes the centre of our world. You can no longer look after anyone else until you put your own oxygen mask on and learn to look after yourself properly.
Self-care also incorporates eating at least three meals a day, doing some exercise –go for a simple walk, get out in the fresh air -, meditation just to relax –relaxing was a completely foreign concept to me, I learnt mindfulness but you can also just listen to some music or breathe by taking a breath for a count of 7 and then exhale for a count of 11-, taking time out to have a hobby –you will probably not know what you even like anymore, don’t worry take a night class, try lots of things until you find something you enjoy just for you, and meeting with your friends/family.
Start to live your own life: that doesn’t mean excluding your partner but if they don’t want to come alone go anyway!
Create a Bad Day Care Kit: Movies/TV show you love to watch; Music playlists that are uplifting; Books you love to read; Places to visit you love; A list of your supporters; Treats – these cost very little or nothing and should be given daily; Rewards – cost money and should be given to mark a goal you’ve set for yourself; Pamper kit: sometimes we forgot how to pamper ourselves so make this box for yourself, include candles, perfume, bath products, nail varnish, body lotion etc; Affirmations, poems and pictures that give you a lift.
Affirmations: Start by telling yourself some positive things about yourself Write them down and leave them on mirrors or around the edge of your computer screen. I use to change my passwords to reflect an affirmation I was working on so that I had to type it in every day when I logged onto my laptop. I still have words and phrases around the edge of my laptop to remind me to work on me daily.
Setting boundaries: Setting limits with others forces them to learn to take responsibility for their own lives and facilitates self-reliance. It also allows the person who is co-dependent to invest time and energy into himself or herself instead of another person. Big one Learn TO SAY NO! As a co-dependent, I’d say you’re already great having a To Do List well let’s introduce a Not To Do List also. Hand back any and all responsibilities that are not yours, sometimes it’s easier to start with work or with other family, friends or neighbours than your partner.
Take a piece of paper and write out these 3 questions:
- What are all my responsibilities now?
Are any of these belonging to someone else? Hand these back!
Are any of these not within my control? Let these go! Learn to say YES! But only to the good stuff that serves you now.
Fixing vs. support: Support includes empathetic listening and encouragement. On the other hand, fixing is swooping in and solving problems for other people that they are capable of solving themselves. You have to learn the difference.
Detach with love doesn’t mean you don’t care it means you do enough to say I trust you enough to live your life and make your own decisions without my interference. Melody Beattie’s book has a great chapter on this concept.
Helping others in productive ways: Fulfil the need to help others in a productive and healthy way, such as volunteering, instead of through personal relationships that may be unhealthy.
Be careful not to replace one person you’re helping with others. So maybe wait to start this until you get some good healthy boundaries in place first. Learning about family patterns: Understanding the unhealthy co-dependent patterns in the family will help make a personal sense of how the family relates to one another and how these patterns of relating have transferred to other outside relationships.
John Bradshaw’s book on Inner Child work is a brilliant source of information on this. Completing your own inner child work will help you overcome and resolve a lot of childhood issues and I would highly recommend for anyone with co-dependency to do it.
Domestic violence: If you have or are experiencing domestic violence please reach out for professional help. Remember domestic violence isn’t just about physical violence it incorporates so much more. Get informed and look after yourself. Refuge (http://www.refuge.org.uk/) has a great website that gives you a lot of information on how to incorporate a safety plan, keep yourself safe online etc.
Women’s Aid (www.womensaid.ie) has resource workers who will meet with you and advise you on how you can get help for yourself and your kids. Domestic violence not only happens to women but to men also if you are a man and have concerns regarding DV please contact www.amen.ie Flac solicitors (www.flac.ie/help/centres/) offer free legal advice to anyone.
Further Information and Resources
Co-dependent No More and Beyond Co-dependency both books by Melody Beattie: A brilliant resource to read and have on hand.
John Bradshaw book: Home Coming; Reclaiming and championing your inner child. Great resource to use with your therapist.
Boon Suzette, Steele Kathy, Hart Onno Van Der: Coping with Trauma-Related Dissociation: Skills Training for Patients and Therapists. An excellent resource, when working with your therapist on trauma with dissociation and how to build your life again.
Craig Nakken: The Addictive Personality. Gives you a great understanding of the addict’s personality and the “dry drunk”.
Robin Norwood: Women who love too much.
Louise Hay: You can heal your life. An oldie but goodie working on yourself and affirmation work. Brilliant book I highly recommend this one.
Al-anon Ireland for family and friends of alcoholics: http://www.al-anon-ireland.org/
CoDa (Co-dependents Anonymous): http://coda.org/
Nar-Anon Family Groups for friends and family of addicts: http://www.nar-anon.org/
Gam-Anon Family Groups for family and friends of gamblers: https://www.gam-anon.org/
My own website for daily motivation tips, blog posts and how to contact me: https://deborahbyrnepsychologyservices.com/