Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Codependence Cycles

I'm a product of having been marinated in family codependence and addiction.

I'm imprinted with it, ever affected by it, and that lens will be part of my perception forever.

That being said, I've spent a lot of time learning to be aware of it, getting to know how it colors my perception, my desires, my attractions, my knee-jerk responses, my fears, my insecurities, my sense of power, need for control, etc.

And of course, many of my relationships have existed somewhere on the spectrum of codependence, either asserting and living with too much distance or demanding and/or giving in to demands for too much unhealthy intimacy. Of course, true intimacy as Rilke reminds us is the optimum balance of independence and togetherness. Standing side by side, supportive but not asking for support, offering and taking without leaning, or maybe taking turns leaning from time to time.

But as a child of codependence, my hyper awareness of the cycles sometimes makes me paranoid. Perspicacity only takes you so far. Sometimes the cut and run response can be overwhelming. We're not taught how to stay when things are tough. We have no experience that someone in a downward spiral can make the choices that take them out of it. All I've ever seen is my father in crisis and then back in denial. Nothing in between. Even my mother, who claims to have done so much work on herself, seems not to know how to pull herself up short when surrounded by crazy and make different choices.

After reading an embarrassing amount of self-help books, one of the things I listen for are the old family voices that offer false proverbs and axioms in moments of fear. Last night, the shitty jewel was this old addiction standby: "To be in love is to be in craziness. If you want intimacy, you sign up for the other person's crazy. That's the way to truly be together."

And of course it's not true. And of course, it's more than just an addict's proverb. It's also the root of romaticism. Anyone see What Dreams May Come? Or read it? Buy it? They're soul mates. Everyone knows it. They both know it. But one goes crazy, and the other doesn't. He dies. She kills herself. He goes to heaven. She goes to purgatory. He goes to save her. But the only way to save her is to join her. Enter her crazy. When he does, she can see him and therefore see her own reality as false. (Spoiler alert: They make it to the other side.)

But here's my question: in moments of fear -- faced with a partner's crazy -- how do you strike the balance between holding their hand while they hurt and not being held hostage by their fear? It's terrifying. What comes up for me is, "What if I just don't know how to be there for another person in a healthy way? What if this is just an unhealthy relationship, and I'm giving in yet again? How can I trust my own reactions, much less those of a partner who's acting out of fear? But if I walk away, am I just abandoning someone I love, deepening his own traumas?"

It's haunting to hear a partner living out old fears. There's a palpable reality shift, and you can both hear it. Suddenly, one of you is not in the present. Suddenly, one of you is acting a role. There's the shimmering moment when you both can sense an opportunity for healing. Your partner can make a different choice and prove to himself that things can be different. You can demonstrate that this is not the past; you are not that ghost; things can be different. You talk through it, and suddenly, the room lightens. Your stomach unclenches. You are both in the present again, and you've chosen life and love. You've chosen health and wholeness. You're together. You're stronger. A fissure has seen light and moved to fuse.

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