May 10, 2016

Shining a Light on Codependency.

Wiki Commons

How a simple act of mispronunciation illuminated a murky corner of my life.

I’ve been thinking about codependency: what it looks like, what it does to us and how to recognise the difference between a healthy and nurturing reliance on others for our functioning and self worth, and more problematic patterns of dependency that ultimately impede our growth and block us in our quest for genuine connection.

I’ve been unlucky in relationships. I’ve loved and been loved, sure, and I’m grateful, but I’ve never found a true or lasting fit. And despite my longing for that experience of being truly home with another person, something has always chaffed.

For want of another word, I’ve never found a love that felt blessed, at least not for very long. That’s a story in itself of course, and quite boring unless you happen to be in it. But I find myself now in the enviable position of having a) a pattern to observe, and b) of having run out of fingers to point at others to account for my own choices. And I can see, with alarming clarity, that no matter what I could say about my ill suited loves (lots), I also can say of myself that I’ve run away or clung too tight.

I’ve abandoned myself to the meanest of love offerings and turned my back on the more generous. I’ve lived paralysed by indecision and disappointment for years at a time. And being caught up in the drama of it all, I’ve never really faced myself. That’s a draining and unhappy way to live. So I am on a quest of sorts, to bring some wisdom to my own history and patterns and to look honestly and deeply at these with a view to freeing myself from the ones that are working against me.

We all deserve to honour ourselves that much.

It’s a difficult undertaking. I quite frequently suppose I have myself all sorted out. And then, sure enough, my same story will manifest itself in some new, difficult to spot, way. And I’ll wonder if I’ve learned anything at all. Still, knowing what we do is surely a step toward doing something about it. And sometimes a door to such knowing opens for us quite without our own conscious effort. Perhaps that means we are ripe for the knowing.

Today my six-year-old daughter opened such a door for me as she stumbled over my grown-up words, mispronouncing them in just the right way to illuminate my understanding of some of what I do.

Here’s what happened.

Reading over my shoulder, my little sidekick came across the word codependent. Mummy is at it again. She had a few stabs at it: “comment,” “cod…”

“Codependent?” I offered.

She had a few more tries before giving up. “I don’t get it. We… don’t… at school.. what is it again?”

She’s only six. “Hm, it’s a bit grown up,” was all I could come up with.

So, “toe-contentment?” she ventured. Aaah, no, kid. Children’s attempts at words are a delight. So off she went and I carried on with a smile. And then I sat down with this little truth bearing error.

On reflection, as a person with a sort of unfortunate toe consciousness—a) I can’t touch them (gasp), and b) a close inspection would reveal that I nearly lost my second-to-little toe once to the violent effects of a shod horse’s hoof and it looks a bit funny, which is likely why I stop myself from touching them—I feel that my little Jyoti has shone her inner light on my mind to reveal “toe-contentment” as about the very opposite of codependency.

Toe-contentment is about being genuinely okay with yourself. Codependency is about not being okay. And that not-okayness manifests in a million behaviours and patterns and consequences that the entire internet will be very happy to illuminate for you. But back to toes and being okay with ourselves.

To start, I’d like to say, dear toe, I’m going to appreciate you. For one, thanks for holding me up even though you look funny. You, toe, are quite good enough as you are; mostly functional, a bit unusual, always there when I need you. You neither need to attempt great toe feats that really should be performed by the whole foot in order to buy love, nor throw yourself into the service of other hurt toes to feel worthy of your own resource consuming existence. It’s great to serve others, toe, but not if serving others is about filling the missing toenail space in your own toe-ness. That’s codependent not toe-contentment. And self-sacrificing for the fulfillment of self doesn’t really work out well if that’s the deeper motivation. We have to give to give, in the end.

Also toe, you deserve a good shoe, a healthy boundary, between you and the tarmac, between you and the much harder feet of larger mammals. (Take a look at yourself, really.) And you needn’t feel guilty for establishing your position strongly within that foot protecting device. If you don’t so establish yourself, no one else will, and you may find yourself too regularly stubbed on rocks when you go wandering “into the wild” unprotected, or, more likely, squashed and trodden on by others who don’t respect your naked toe-ness. A hurt toe can lose its authentic pinkness and even drag the whole foot down, and that would be a sad loss for all toe-kind.

And you know, here’s a difficult truth. Sometimes, for one reason or another, some of you toes find it difficult to retain your best visions of yourselves when others around you don’t reflect that bright vision back. This is a pain that isn’t only felt by toes. Not everyone loves us all the time. And if we do tend to need that external validation a little too much, being confronted with un-love can leave us struggling to value and love ourselves.

This is a hard, blister inducing, reality. And some cope better than others.

But cope we must. Leave these rubbing spots un-tended and the wounds that result can put the whole foot out of action. Another sad loss for toe-kind. The answer is a safe space for introspection and growth. Growth, either in terms of establishing a more resilient sense of toe-worth, or, in terms of making changes where they are called for. Stop the press, self-acceptance doesn’t always mean we’ve got everything right. We can embrace growth and self acceptance at the same time. After that, yes, maybe some nail polish and a bit of fancy foot work on the dance floor. Sure.

Most of all, toe, I want to say you are great, just by being a toe. And by helping other toes to function as toes by hanging around splendidly with your slightly funny nail. And by being attached to a funny, skinny leg that is attached to a funny body that holds up a funny head that sometimes, but no longer, doesn’t appreciate the great contributions of small things like toes and seeks its fulfillment in other less fruitful ways.

Enough, toe, you are doing well enough.

If you climb the highest peaks, wonderful, if you stay home, fine. The inside is what counts. Toe-contentment, it’s where it all begins.


Author: Dhara Des Fours

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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