In the reading I’ve been doing over the past several days, I’ve come to recognize just how codependent my tendencies have been.
Part of my tendencies have been out of coping. When my fiance was diagnosed with cancer, I wanted nothing more but to spend as much time with him as possible and to be as helpful to him as possible. Consequently, it did mean I gave up much of myself as I was commuting 120+ miles round trip per day and often worked hours that were (probably illegally) long. His chemotherapy treatment was especially aggressive as his type of Non Hodgkin’s is aggressive. His oncologist insisted that he stay away from public spaces as often as possible and resided in a clean space. I took this to heart and made sure I thoroughly cleaned our apartment before he was released to be back home–he received his infusion in the hospital, 24 hours a day for 5 days.
During that time I’d maintained some degree of personal care, but toward the end of that 6-month period much of it was lost. I was an exhausted shell of myself, and that’s only from the caregiver’s perspective (imagine what the patient actually going through treatment feels like). The most caring thing I did for myself was find a job closer to our apartment. Finding it came after the 6 months of chemotherapy, but I’m not angry at that–I’d felt more job stability in my previous job despite the grueling hours because I was more familiar with it and had been with the company for nearly 7 years.
Codependency is, among many things, about boundaries. Boundaries are something I didn’t necessarily grow up with. I was the only child and my mom insisted on knowing where I was and, lucky for her, I was pretty darn obedient. I never had a lock on my bedroom door. The only TVs we had in the house were in my stepdad’s den and the living room–I never had one in my bedroom. Our first computer was located at the desk in the entryway of the kitchen (don’t ask me why we decided to put it there). When I got my first laptop at 18, I finally had a virtual “private space.” I lived in that house with my mom and stepdad, with one bathroom, for almost 20 years. It was rather frequent that I would wake up in the morning and my mom or stepdad would be spontaneously hosting a guest, be it a family member, neighbor or friend without letting me know.
When I think about time before that, I can see how I kind of existed at the mercy of other peoples’ schedules or pre-determined schedules (however arbitrary). I went to my biological dad’s house every Thursday night and spent every other weekend with him. While there, he spent hours in the bathroom (the reason for which I’ll reserve for another post) while I waited around alone in his house that he and my mom once lived in. The toys I had there I’d mostly outgrown by the time I was 6–most of my fun toys were at my mom’s. I did bring my special stuffed animals with me from my mom’s, but those were mostly just sleeping buddies. I have a lot of memories of imagining that the curb outside his house was the edge of a skyscraper and I had to balance along it while walking. When I lost interest in that, I was a giant peering down in the river, also known as the gutter in front of his house. The last attempt to entertainment was poking at earthworms in the gutter with sticks, but once I realized they might still be alive I stopped doing that.
My dad always had his dry cleaning hanging in the doorways, including the one to my bedroom. I might have closed that bedroom door enough times to count on one hand–which didn’t have a lock either. As I got older, I found myself changing clothes in the bathroom or closet for some semblance of privacy.
A lot of my family comes from a similar upbringing (I think). My mom tells stories about how she got angry as a little girl because her parents hosted so many out-of-town guests for weeks on end, she eventually yelled at everyone and told them they needed to go home. It’s a cute story now, but based on what I’ve heard about my grandparents when my mom was growing up I’m sure she was probably punished for being “rude.”
And that, right there, is the skewed perspective. But it’s also somewhat a cultural one. My maternal grandfather grew up in Mexico City with multiple brothers and sisters. My maternal grandmother grew up in Texas with, again, multiple brothers and sisters–she’s also made it sound like she lived in poverty as she’s imparted wisdom on me such as, If you can’t afford soap, you can still use hot water and elbow grease. (Fun fact: I’ve used boiling water to sterilize my mom’s and stepdad’s plates and utensils when they had gastroenteritis and I didn’t get sick!) They come from big families. They come from a background of little to no boundaries. But, they didn’t think outside the box either. They didn’t provide a list of hotels to potential guests instead of offering up their kids’ beds to sleep on–mind you, while the kids slept on the floor. I also imagine they probably took advantage of the kids’ perception that sleeping on the floor was a novelty.
I’m so grateful I never had to experience that. My mom loves my grandparents and, while she acknowledges they did the best they could with what (materially, emotionally, mentally) they had, she knows there are things that could have been better. She recognized that and did the best she could with what she had for me.
Culturally, there’s another thing to be said about the women in my family. For whatever reason, we seem to have been raised to be job-minded, not career-minded. The implication there is that a job is short-term and a career is long-term, as in short-term planning versus long-term planning. It begs the question, are we worth planning long term goals for ourselves? I know we should be, but I don’t necessarily feel ready for it yet and I’m 32. On trend with the rather current topic that long-term employment is shifting, my opinion about being career-minded is starting to shift too. This is based mostly on what I’ve seen my mom’s brother do over the last 10 years. He was a first-generation university graduate and he also got his master’s. He works for a county Health Department, but has started teaching courses at a university in the last few years. In essence, he’s what I’ve read Brene Brown allude to as a “slash.” Health Department Supervisor/ University Professor. I do like the idea of freedom in that slash. It’s comforting to me, because it makes me feel like I wouldn’t be putting all my eggs in one basket; however, I’m a believer that writers become masters of many things through their research, so if I pursue writing I can’t say that would necessarily be all my eggs in one basket.
So I guess that’s a long-term goal right there–writing. I’ve been doing it on and off since I was 9. But is a writer a writer if no one reads their work? Is my desire to write a symptom of my codependency?
I have to be open to finding out.
May good things come to you always.