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!


Don’t air your dirty laundry

The most influential person in my life is my mom. She has taught me directly and indirectly how to live as a strong, independent woman. Talking to her — or warning her — about starting a blog on mental health, with emphasis on the stigma of it within the Filipino community, was terrifying.

“Don’t air your dirty laundry,” she reminded me again, like she had several times in the past.

For the uninformed, it is absolutely culturally unacceptable to talk about your struggles especially mental health in the Filipino culture. Many people think you’re “crazy” if you go to a therapist or psychiatrist. It is a shame upon your family if anything is “wrong with you.” Thus, you don’t talk about it and shove it all down.

Always a happy face

Growing up, my mom taught us to put on our “happy face” no matter the circumstance. We should tell people everything was good even when it wasn’t.

And, you know what? I don’t blame my mom at all for teaching us this emotional defense mechanism, as it has helped me cope with difficult situations throughout my life.

Bayanihan

Seven months after I gave birth to my son (the last of my five children), I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I shared the news with my mom and in-laws. I knew, at the time, I needed their support and acceptance of this diagnosis to get better. Sadly instead of supportive statements and empathy, there were several questions about if these feelings were “all just in my head,” to just “be happy,”  and if medication was absolutely necessary. Thankfully, as the years have passed, both sets of parents are becoming more accepting of my diagnosis.

This initial reaction from both sets of my parents, actually isn’t far from what I found in a qualitative study by BMC Psychiatry:

While bayanihan (helping one another in the time of need), is a huge part of Filipino culture, mental health is the exception. Those with mental health issues are often mocked, laughed at, ostracized, or conceal their feelings in fear of dishonoring their family.

Changing the narrative

I would like to change the narrative, starting with this blog. I want to help those suffering in silence, shame, and fear. These struggles do not need to be one person’s burden to carry. We Filipinos must extent the bayanihan spirit no matter the circumstance, specifically in mental health.

I hope you join me on this journey to break the silence and eliminate the stigma of mental health in the Filipino community.

Have you experience the same reaction? Comment or share this with someone who has.

Just know –  its ok to not be ok, tomorrow is a new day! See you next week.