Wife of a recovering addict: Part 3 – Recovering codependent

This is part of a series: Wife of a Recovering Addict. If you haven’t read the introduction, click here to catch up!

Hi! My name is Maryann. I am the a daughter of the King of Kings. My current struggles are people pleasing and codependency. I also have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety.

If you have ever attended an Al Anon meeting or Celebrate Recovery meeting, my statement above is a normal way to introduce yourself. It allows me to accept my flaws and move towards more healthy habits/boundaries as well as state that I am a believer in Christ. One of my unhealthy habits is being a codependent, also known as a people pleaser. It is still something I struggle with today but I have learned how to navigate the feelings and thoughts around this boundary in a way that still allows me to fill my cup – as they say – with desires, interests, and passions. 

Codependency is characterized by a person belonging to a dysfunctional, one-sided relationship where one person relies on the other for meeting nearly all of their emotional and self-esteem needs. It also describes a relationship that enables another person to maintain their irresponsible, addictive, or underachieving behavior.

Psych Central

All the things

My entrepreneurial spirit has caused me to have my hands in many things. Not only do I create content for this blog and its corresponding social media platforms but I also run my own business, Maryann Clark Coaching: Radiate Life, and co-host a podcast – Filipino Momcast. I also serve in our home church in as a certified discussion group leader for our MOPS (Mother’s of Preschoolers) mom’s group, co-led Moms for Mental Health, and community outreach. Oh yes, my everyday life also includes managing a home and relationships with my husband, five kids, two dogs, 2 hamsters, 1 cane toad, and 1 sulcata tortoise. Eeeekkk!

When I list everything out it is no wonder I am exhausted all the time. To be truthful, prior to the pandemic, I was serving in more church ministries. I love serving our community but with the pandemic, I had to be truthful with my true capacity was/is especially as I supported my kids, husband, and myself mentally. I’ve honestly said ‘no’ more this year and its been hard but I know its for the best. Understanding how much I can juggle physically and even more important – mentally – has been my greatest challenge.

I never want to let anyone down, cause them to not like me or make someone upset. These are the symptoms of my codependency – making everyone around me feel comfortable even if I feel extremely uncomfortable. If these sentiments feel very familiar to you, you may need to learn how to say ‘NO’.

Enabling

In Celebrate Recovery, I learned that my codependency and people pleasing was a destructive behavior that enabled my husband to continue his addiction. I know enabling isn’t a common term to understand especially if you haven’t heard the term before. So I will try and explain it to you in the best way I know how.

enable – give (someone or something) the authority or means to do something.

Oxford Dictionary
  • What was I enabling?
    • My husband’s drug addiction.
  • How was I enabling?
    • I was allowing him to continue the unhealthy behavior because I didn’t want to cause a fight or create any type of rift between us.
    • I didn’t follow through with boundaries that I set for our relationship when it came to drug use. I would it to continue to happen.
  • Why was I enabling him?
    • I was enabling him because of past childhood needs that weren’t met. I learned through recovery, that my unhealthy codependency and people pleasing was a way for me to ensure that I ‘felt’ loved from him even if it went against my moral code. Since we have kids together, I wanted to create an environment that had a traditional dual parent household even if that meant that I wasn’t standing up for myself and my children. I just wanted to be validated, loved, and accepted – at all costs. Which was unhealthy, damaging to my mental health, and to ruining our marriage.

The art of saying ‘NO’  

Did you know that the word ‘NO’ is a complete sentence. I learned that and I was floored! In the beginning of my recovery. I had a really, really hard time stating what my boundaries were in our relationship.

A boundary is a limit or space between you and the other person; a clear place where you begin and the other person ends . . . The purpose of setting a healthy boundary is, of course, to protect and take good care of you.

Positivepsychology.com

The hardest part about setting boundaries is the reaction you will be receiving from setting that boundary. Know you don’t – I repeat do not – have to change your boundary just because someone reacted in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable. The boundary is for you not for others. My greatest fear what that if I said what I truly felt, my husband would leave. At the same time, I knew wholeheartedly that his drug addiction would ruin us if I didn’t hold fast to my boundaries.

Here are my boundaries:

  • If you use again, I will take the kids and leave.
  • You must get help for your addiction for us to stay married.
  • You have to look within yourself for the reason you are using for us to continue to stay married.

My boundaries weren’t unreasonable. They were what was best for our family. The person who had the hardest time was me because I was terrified he would no longer love me but he stayed. We both stayed. We went to recovery meeting weekly and worked our own programs. Recovery saved our marriage. It continues to save our marriage today.

If any of this resonates with you, I want you to know that you are not alone. I am sharing my side of our story because our story isn’t unique. While some partners aren’t addicted to drugs, there may be other unhealthy consuming behaviors damaging your relationship. While it may seem impossible to put up a boundary in fear of guilt or shame, know that you are doing the best for you and possibility your family. This behavior needs to be address and your partner needs help.

Resources

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
AA Meetings in your area
Celebrate Recovery meetings in your area

Pandemic dilemmas

Let’s just address the elephant in the room. We are in a full blown pandemic and it doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. So celebrations will look different right now. Everything looks different this year. To be honest, we will probably be in this season until the end of 2021. So learning how to clearly state your what you are comfortable or what your boundaries are during this season is very important especially for your mental health.

This year has taught me how to choose what functions, events, and meetings I will say ‘no’ to. It hasn’t been an easy to say that simple sentence. ‘NO’, triggers all of my codependent feelings and thoughts. So I have learned to say a simple statement that I use on a regular basis –

“My plate is full right now.”

This statement allows me to put a boundary while still giving a vague explanation of what my schedule is like right now. Truthfully, we don’t need to explain ourselves. Like I said, ‘No’ is a complete sentence. It may be obvious why we aren’t gathering right now and if others can’t respect your boundaries – that is not your problem.

I know in the Filipino culture, it is frowned upon to say ‘no’. Moreover, boundaries are more of a western concept so learning to politely decline isn’t always easy. As it is part of the bayanihan spirit to always lend a helping hand. I have lived my life this way for as long as I can remember – helping those around me. I have also taught my kids the bayanihan spirit and they are the type of kiddos who will always lend a helping hand. This collectivist culture has its benefit as we will always help other but it can also be hard to set boundaries on what we can help with because it is ok to say ‘no’. 

Bayanihan. Pronounced like “buy-uh-nee-hun,” bayanihan is a Filipino word derived from the word bayan meaning town, nation, or community in general. “Bayanihan” literally means, “being a bayan,” and is thus used to refer to a spirit of communal unity and cooperation1.

Questions to ask yourself

I have learned over the last few years questions to ask myself before I commit to another event/function/meeting. The next time an opportunity arises and you are presented a function you are unsure, please ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are we still in a pandemic?
    • If the answer is yes, please follow CDC and state guidelines. This is the only way we can mitigate the spread of the virus.
  • If I do this [insert event/function/meeting here] am I ok with missing [family time/self care time/etc here]?
    • If the answer is no, then do not commit to the event/function/meeting
  • Is my answer an absolute ‘YES’?
    • If not, it’s a no. You will hold resentments towards the individual who invited you. 
    • The Christ Follower caveat to this is to listen to what God has told you about this event and if it is in line with His promises. His promptings will always be in line with His Word.
  • What am I willing to give up if I commit to [event/function/meeting here]?
    • Again, if its a ‘no’ then don’t do it. 

There are many versions on these questions but you generally get the point. Sometimes saying no means sacrificing time with those most important to you and most of the time, I am not ok with doing that. So I will decline the invitation. I recently decline an opportunity to lead a women’s bible study table as well as attend a women’s bible study at a friend’s home. I politely decline the first invitation but agreed to the second invitation. Committing myself to the second invitation proved to be too much for my schedule, so halfway through the bible study, I politely removed myself from the group. It was not an easy decision and I don’t regret the interactions I had with the ladies in the group but I had too many things on my plate (see above) and I was beginning to feel very very overwhelmed. Once I left that group, I was able to focus more on my current obligations.

How to say ‘NO’

This might be an easy thing to say to people but for me it is the hardest sentence to muster. Here are a few ways I have said ‘NO’ in the past few months.

  • I’m sorry my plate is full.
  • I don’t have the mental capacity to add another thing to my schedule right now.
  • My schedule is jam packed right now. I can’t.
  • No but thank you for thinking of me.
  • I am not able to right now but please keep me in the loop for the next opportunity to serve.

Theses statements allowed me to say ‘NO’ in the most polite way possible without disclosing my current schedule as well as my feelings towards the event. I challenge you to use one of these. They work!

I’d love to know what resonated with you the most.

Remember…its ok to NOT be ok. Tomorrow is a new day!


Wife of a recovering addict – part 2: we look just like you

This is part of a series: Wife of a Recovering Addict. If you haven’t read the introduction, click here to catch up!

Chris and I were your typical 1st generation Filipino American couple in the late 90s to early 2000’s. He was bald, listened to Bay Area hip hop, lived in Daly City, and drove an old Toyota Corolla. I wore tube tops or something that showed my mid-section, mastered the black cat eye liner look, lived in Milpitas, listened to Wu-Tang and DMX; and drove an old Toyota Corolla. If you know anything about the Bay Area during that time, you know that basically all the Filipinos lived in two cities – Daly City and Milpitas. Our matchmaking was conceived on an AOL chat room by one of Chris’ friend, Jeff. He had a ‘friend’ who was going to San Jose State and pitched that he needed someone to hangout with. As a newly graduated high schooler, I was open to anything especially meeting a guy from ‘DC’. So we met in my parents’ driveway and went to the every mall in The Bay. From that point on we were inseparable.

At 22 years old, we got married at our home church in San Bruno, California surrounded by our family, friends, and the church congregation. We also dedicated our daughter to the Lord the same day. It was a day full of commitment, hope, and love. Our lives were on the fast track to a large family, we had four kids in a six year span. At one point we had three kids in diapers. I basically breastfed babies for nearly 4 years. I was in the depths of child rearing while Chris worked full time and completed the rest of his bachelor’s degree online. We were both pushing towards a better life for ourselves and our family.

While we looked like everyone else, our lives were anything but ‘normal.’ What people didn’t see was the torment of real life emotions as young adults who were just overwhelmed by life, work, and constant relationship dynamic changes. My day to day was engulfed in keeping tiny humans alive and providing some type of structure. During these formative years, Chris was shouldering the burden of financially providing for six people on a meager salary. We only really saw him for a couple hours on weeknights and a few hours on the weekends. Most nights after work, he looked exhausted but tried his best to spend time with the girls before he sat behind his laptop for the evening to finish his latest course. It was an exhausting season where we didn’t connect on a deeper level of communication.

It was right there

Looking back, there were red flags that indicated Chris was using. Obviously during those early years, I was focused on the four people that depended on me. Chris never really drank alcohol on a normal basis and drugs were something that I never really thought about but the signs were there right in front of my face. There were times when ‘money was missing’ from our joint bank account or somehow we would ‘miscalculated’ our expenses and we were short for the month. It never dawned on me that our money was going to anything else but to our family’s needs. There were also times when I would ask Chris to go to the store. It would take him a long time to find the product at the grocery store and get back home. He used the excuse that the grocery store was overwhelming and it took ‘a long time’ to find the specific thing I was asking for. I chalked this as a ‘normal’ occurrence since he didn’t do the groceries. I was the main grocery runner – ‘of course he would get confused or overwhelmed.’ Why would it be anything else.

We look just like you

An addict isn’t always someone who is homeless, looks grungy or couch surfs from house to house. Most of the time, addicts are people who can carry on a normal life while using on a consistent basis. These individuals are dubbed “high functioning addicts.” These addicts “don’t fit the standard definition of an addict. They may not drink or use drugs every day; they may drink only the finest wines and liquors; and they may have avoided the serious consequences that befall other addicts and their families. Because they don’t fit the stereotype, high-functioning addicts can spend years, even decades, in denial. If they manage a family and career and fulfill their daily responsibilities, they reason, there’s no way they could have a drug or alcohol problem. Even if they acknowledge that they drink or use drugs more than they should, they may feel entitled to indulge as a reward for their hard work.” – Psych Central

While it may be hard to accept a loved one is a high-functioning addict, here are some symptoms of a high-functioning addict:

  • they make excuses for their behavior
  • using more than intended
  • their friends also have an addiction problem
  • appearing ill in the morning
  • losing interests in hobbies

Intervention

As per the advice of American Addiction Center, “if you want the high-functioning addict in your life to get help, discuss your concerns at an appropriate time. Wait until they appear remorseful over bad behavior…not while they are inebriated or recovering from a hangover. If you think it will help, you can also stage an organized intervention where a small group of loved ones can let the addict know how their behavior makes them feel. This should be done calmly, but firmly. Although it is up to the individual to admit they have a problem and seek help, your influence can help steer them in the right direction. Knowing they have people who care about them could be all the motivation they need to seek appropriate treatment.”

Through the years I have had many hard conversations with wives and girlfriends about their significant others’ bad habits. The first question they ask me is always the same – “Are you sure he’s an addict?” My answer is always the same – “You wouldn’t be asking me these questions if you thought otherwise.”

Trust your gut.

Lean into the uncomfortable truth that they need help. Lean into the hard feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment. Reach out to those who have walked this road before because you can’t go through this alone. Just as substance abuse is [usually] a group activity, recovery must be a group effort because we cannot be left to ones’ own will to stay sober. I have added resources to help you support yourself or someone you care about.

Resources

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
AA Meetings in your area
Celebrate Recovery meetings in your area

Remember…It’s ok to NOT be ok. Tomorrow is a new day!

What resonated with you the most in this post? What other information can I provide you to help you?

Join me next time, I will share what Celebrate Recovery looks like for a codependent and how I supported my husband during his relapse.