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In the cold, gray quiet of a January morning in 2015, I was sitting on my couch … weeping. I held a paperback book in one hand and wadded up corner of a blanket in my other that I was using to muffle my sobs so I didn’t wake anyone. It was a messy cry that left my face hot with an indistinguishable mix of substances from eyes, nose, and mouth.
The reality had sunk in: I was codependent.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t crying because I was devastated by the information. It’s true that it shattered the image I had of myself being relatively well-adjusted; but my reserve of devastation tears had been emptied the year before with my sudden divorce. Instead, the tears that day were an expression of extreme relief. In my mind, I was repeating the same prayer over and over: “Thank you, Lord, there’s an explanation!” I would cry the same hiccupy-but-relieved tears the first time I shared at a CODA (Codependents Anonymous) meeting a few weeks later. God had led me to the path that would take me out of the woods. All that remained was the walking.
That’s not to say the walking is easy. It has been painful to face my codependency, to acknowledge serious character defects, to recognize my contributions to a failed marriage. But the pain of acknowledgement was nothing compared to the years of not knowing why I did what I did.
My tearful recognition on the couch that morning came as I read a book the Lord had led my sister to give to me. Written by the gifted Melody Beattie, the book was called Codependent No More, and it is a classic text in the Recovery canon. Because I was still so entrenched in the codependent mindset, it’s almost a miracle in itself that God was able to help me see my own truth reflected in those pages. I was used to reading books to find something to pass on to “fix” someone else.
As you might know, “fixing others” is what codependents do.
We rescue, we enable, we nit-pick. But always with an eye to another, never ourselves. Why? Because codependents disconnect from themselves very early in life. They see others, rather than themselves, as their responsibility. Patterns of codependency begin early, and usually in unbalanced environments. As children, codependents do not develop a sense of who they are in the course of normal development. Instead, they learn to be whatever keeps the unstable adults in their lives happy (or slightly less unhappy).
It’s commonly known that codependency occurs widely in families where a parental addiction is running the show. This isn’t always the case, though. Sometimes, the trigger is a parent who is what mental health professionals sometimes call an Emotional Controller (EC). Regardless, the end result is often that the child makes a pattern of being what someone else wants them to be, not what they are. And then these children become adults who do the same.
Rather than knowing and experiencing life as themselves, codependents experience it as many selves, depending on who they are trying to please. They rarely engage with their God-given free will. They get so used to pleasing others, so used to filtering choices by what others want, they can even lose the ability to distinguish what they want at all. Unfortunately, many codependents (myself included), also give up the responsibility for those choices.
And this was where I found myself:
In a victim mindset, strung out on the anxiety of living a hamster-wheel existence of people pleasing, with no connection to myself or who I was in Christ. I couldn’t love anyone as myself, because I didn’t know or love myself. And even God can’t heal who we are only pretending to be.
But in recovery, I learned to start looking in the mirror. I connected to my own desires and learned to take responsibility for my (and only my) life. But something surprising happened as I tuned in to who I really was. I started to see Christ looking back at me from the mirror. And that’s where the real healing began.
The New Testament uses beautiful language to point out that it is Christ who lives in us, and that Christ in us is the hope of glory. (Col.1:27) There’s also an amazing passage in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that says,
“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
As I gazed at Christ, I was changed by what I saw.
I recently read something that was accompanied by a picture of a kitten looking in a mirror. But the reflection in the mirror was not of the kitten. It was a lion. The article was highlighting that it’s not that the kitten sees himself as a lion. That would be inaccurate. He’s a kitten. It’s that the feelings that are evoked by the image of the lion, such as wonder or reverence, are evoked in the kitten by his own image. For obvious reasons, I thought of The Lion.
I remember trying to introduce my infant daughter to herself in the mirror years ago. I say trying because even after showing her several times, she would still act surprised each time.
She would me give me a raised-eyebrow look that said, “And where have you been hiding this adorable little thing?” And, I found that I was just as excited about showing her to herself as she was about meeting herself.
I would get a little giddy pointing back and forth from her nose to her reflection’s nose, thinking, “Is she getting this?” I wanted her to comprehend both that the girl in the mirror was really amazing—and that she was the girl in the mirror!
I’m thinking maybe God has had His big hands full getting me to come to these same conclusions about myself. But I think I’m starting to get it. I have a long ways to go before I’m out of the woods, but these times of reflection assure me that the hope of glory is mine.
About the Author
Cheryl is a freelance writer, speaker, relationships and psychology hobbyist, and a sleep enthusiast. She’s a contributor at Thrive Global, and you can find her at http://cherylchastain.me, or @myveryown on Medium, Twitter, and Contently.