CNM 048: Codependency, The Fight Of Your Life – with Jessica

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In this episode, we’re talking to Jessica who has been a long-time podcast listener with a success story to tell.

Every now and then I like to mix it up a little bit with personal success stories.

What’s so inspiring about this story is Jessica’s sheer grit and determination to have a better life, and the way she frames her “disease” of codependency as being more of an opportunity for learning and growth rather than a handicap.

Get ready to be inspired. Here’s the interview!

Interview on Codependency Healing and Recovery with Jessica

Brian: Hey, Jessica. Welcome to the show. We’re glad to have you today.

Jessica: Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited about this.

Brian: We’re excited to have you on. We’re going to have you telling a personal story. You’ve done a lot of work in recovery and we want to share that with other people for inspiration so thanks for coming on and being willing to share that.

Questions: You mentioned the first time that we talked that you had this kind of ‘identity crisis’ at a certain point in life. I just wonder, what was life like for you up to that point? And can you tell us about the ‘identity crisis’ that you had?

Jessica: Absolutely. I come from an abusive home. My mom is very emotionally, mentally, verbally, and physically abusive. Both my parents were alcoholics. But my dad hid it a lot better than my mom did. I was bullied throughout school and early in my career. I had a lot of trauma growing up as a child too. My dad died when I was twenty-three and my mom just died a couple of years ago.

From all that, I really became like the quintessential codependent. All of my happiness came from external forces; from work and my romantic relationships. I really aimed to please. I went above and beyond with little or nothing in return. I had zero boundaries and I felt very unloved no matter what I did.

About a year ago, I hit this really low point in my life. My mom was really my codependent anchor. I enabled her, I pleased, and I was always problem solving with her. I actually got sicker and it got continually worse. Then the year after she died, I felt very lost and very empty. I really needed to fill that void so I put all of my energy into my work and in romantic relationships and trying to make them work. I was involved with a married man, something I swore that I’d never do.

Everything came to an ultimate bubble and that bubble really burst at the end of August of last year when I had my one year review at work. I was expecting to go in and hear, ‘You’ve done a great job. We love you. You’re fantastic,’and get all this praise. But instead I got, “We’re reorganizing the company. You’re going to get a different title. We’re going to give you a raise. Typically we should give you this much but we’re going to give you a little bit more.”I took the delivery of it very personally. I walked away from that not hearing, ‘You got a promotion and a raise.’ I walked away from that feeling like I wasn’t worthy and I wasn’t worth it because I didn’t get all this praise that I was expecting.

So I hit this major low point where everything was falling apart. There’s an episode in your podcast (I think it’s Dr. Dean Robb) and he says that there’s like this ‘rock bottom’ that you hit and I really hit this rock bottom. With that, there is this identity crisis because there’s this part of me that’s trying to get out and be authentic. But I’m so fake all the time and I’m doing all these things that aren’t meaningful to me. Even though I have the great job, I have the car, and I have a beautiful home, I was miserable. That was a major turning point for me where I realized something was really wrong and I needed to make some changes.

Questions: There were several mini crises that all culminated in this for you to realize that you needed to do something about it. How much do you the feel the volatile home that you described had to do with the relationships that you got into as an adult?

Jessica: Oh, I think it had everything to do with it. The more I’ve learned over the past year, the more I really recognize that a lot of that came from the way that I was raised. I grew up in that environment where there were a lot of addiction problems, fighting, negativity, and abuse. My adult relationships were really a reflection of my childhood home environment – my emotionally unavailable dad; I was getting involved with emotionally unavailable men – because there was a part of me that was trying to fix that relationship with my dad in my present life. It took me a long time to recognize and realize that.

Now I’m not seeking the emotionally unavailable guy. Now I’m like, “Oh, I want someone who’s emotionally healthy and who wants to be in a relationship.”That was a big turning point as well. I always really hoped that someone will come along and rescue me from my life. I’ve been involved with drug users, alcoholics, and narcissists. I recognized that was because of those learned dysfunctional behaviors.

Questions: Whenever you came to this conclusion here, I wonder what it was like at that point. Did you start to investigate this thing? How did codependency come to your awareness? What did you learn about it and what did you start to do at that point?

Jessica: It was actually a friend of mine who has been through codependency recovery himself. He suggested that I read this book called Codependent No More. I picked up the book and as I started reading it, I thought, “Wow, this is my life. This is everything that’s going on in my life.”Every page I turned I was like, “Oh, my goodness.”Then as I started down that rabbit hole, I just started going deeper and making discoveries about myself. Then I was turning to more books looking for more information. Then I decided that I really need to focus on this recovery. I want to change my life and I need to change the things that I’m doing in order to do so.

Then I picked up Facing Love Addiction. Then I picked up a book called Adult Children of Alcoholics. Then I still wanted more, so I started looking through podcasts and found this podcast. Everything that I’ve been learning, especially through this podcast, has been so concise and so helpful. When I was listening to certain episodes about your shame core, toxic shame, and all these other things, I thought, “Wow, this is incredible, and this is actually a ‘thing’ I’ve been trying to deny for so many years that, ‘No I’m fine, I’m going to be okay,’ but it’s really not, it’s actually a real thing.”There were a lot of things that I started to do after learning from the books, the podcasts, learning about my true self, mining my shame core, doing inner child healing, and stuff like that. Those really helped me reflect on the past and understand that behavior so I could look at the future and how I want that to be different.

Question: Whenever you picked up that first book, Codependent No More,and then that led to another book and another book – correct me if I’m wrong – it sounded like it made sense to you and it described you, but did it motivate you immediately when you started reading those books, or did you have to read several things and then find the podcast and then just one day you said, ‘Okay, enough is enough, I can’t deny this anymore. Let me do something about it?’

Jessica: The denial was before I picked up the first book. But once I started reading Codependent No More, everything really started to make sense. All of my behaviors; my all or nothing mentality, the way that I conducted my work life, my social life, and everything like that, really started to make sense. The denial was before but no matter how many times my brain thought, “No, everything’s fine,”I couldn’t deny it anymore.

Question: Once you got this knowledge and had this epiphany here, what sort of things did you start doing at that point that helped you start to turn things around?

Jessica: Oh, my goodness. That could probably take our twenty-five minutes alone but when you grow up in an environment with addictions, you need to ask yourself, ‘What are my addictions?’I had to really look at my life and think, “Okay, what are my addictions? My addictions are work, love, cigarettes, and sometimes, alcohol.”Sometimes I could really binge in alcohol. I derived myself worth from work and I derive my happiness from romantic relationships.

Cigarettes are still a challenge for me and still something I’m still working on. I want to have that nipped in the bud here very soon. I learned to trust myself and what I was thinking. I learned to stop and ask myself questions. When I’m angry, I would stop myself and I would ask why; “Why am I angry right now?”When I’m sad I ask myself, “Why am I sad?”What do I need? What does my body need? What does my heart need? What does my brain need to get through this thing? What emotion am I feeling? In codependent behavior, you really ignore your emotions. When you’ve been ignoring your emotions for thirty some years, it’s really hard to recognize what an emotion is. I really had to learn that.

All of this stuff that I was going through with podcasts, books, and all of that stuff was stuff that was happening in my everyday life. There’s a podcast – I can’t remember who it was – but they’re like, “Stop and ask yourself the question, ‘What am I feeling right now and why am I feeling this way?’”Take a moment away from the craziness and give yourself a moment to work through what you’re feeling, experiencing, and why you’re experiencing it. As you’re going through the books, it gives you a description of why you have that behavior. It really all boils down to our environment growing up as a child.

Questions: When you were coming to these realizations – you’ve talked about the books, podcasts, and some really wise things that you just mentioned that you started to do to feel you’re on emotions and so forth – I wonder, what kind of support did you pick up at this point? Did you actively seek out people to help you along this journey or was this mostly self-work that you were doing?

Jessica: This has been all self-work. I didn’t go to therapy or discussion groups. I did go to Al-Anon for about five sessions but it really didn’t feel right for me. They have a particular structure and that structure didn’t work for me but it does work for a lot of people. I know a lot of people who’ve been very successful with Al-Anon but it wasn’t for me. This has really been my own journey.

For me, one of the biggest things that has been helpful and very revealing is my own journaling. I’ve been journaling since I was thirteen years old and I continue to do so. It’s very important. But a part of my healing, growth, and recovery was when I went back to those journals that I started writing all those years ago. From there, I was able to recognize patterns that I was continually doing whether it be with romantic relationships or with work; feeling unworthy, and why I was feeling unworthy, and all of that stuff. That was also very helpful and very revealing.

Questions: Tell me more about the journal. Was there a specific method that you used for journaling? How often did you do it? What did it really do for you?

Jessica: Truth be told, I don’t journal every day. I journal when I’m really compelled to do so. It started in high school. First, it was poetry so it was really interesting to read those poems now because they’re all about this great love, being rescued, and how horrible my homelife is. I really want things to change and I’m optimistic. Sometimes they’re like really dark and like, ‘What’s the point of life? My life is meaningless. Everything is worthless.’But sometimes I’m optimistic. I just feel compelled to do it.

When I journal, I don’t think about someone reading it. It is where I allow myself to be as true as possible to my own self. I’m not fearful of someone reading this book and judging me. I’m not worried that someone’s going to read it and be negative towards me. It’s really a safe environment for me to truly reveal the things that I’m feeling, thinking, or fearful of. I can write what I want out of my life, where I wanted to go, how I wanted to go, and what I’m feeling good about or optimistic about, the wins and the losses. It’s really a safe place.

Brian: Sure, sure. This work sounds like it’s just been sheer hunger and grit. You haven’t really built a team of, let’s say, personal advisers at this point, it’s mostly just been reading and just your own sheer hunger which is really great. It’s great to see that someone can make such great progress on their own, basically.

Questions: Through this journey, you mentioned having a difficult situation at work where the review didn’t go like you wanted it to and you were attracted to maybe the wrong partners. What has changed in those relationships? Did you come to a point where you needed to do something differently as you were doing this work with respect to those relationships? Did you set any boundaries, look at things a different way, or back off? Can you describe that?

Jessica: This has actually been the most interesting part of the recovery process for me because my relationships have changed so much. Some of them have been long-term friends and one of them is a relationship I had with a hair stylist.

I had a long-term friend whom I’ve known for eighteen years. As I was going through my recovery, I was talking to her about it. She was like, “You know what? You’re getting really weird and I can’t do this with you anymore.”That was actually a really liberating experience because I thought, “You know what? We’re no longer aligned,”and that means I’m no longer bound by the things that I was before. By that I mean that I always try to please her. She was one of the people in my life who I always wanted to think that I was cool. I just wanted to make her happy.

When that happened, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. I’m really glad that happened because it liberated me. I have friends now that I’ve been friends with for the last five years, and as my mentality changes and I start to learn and grow, there are people in my life now that ‘their vibe is not my vibe’. I see their Instagram stories and I think, “Who are you and what are you doing?”I can’t be a part of that life anymore like the drinking, partying, and all of that stuff; that’s not my vibe anymore.

The other side of that is the smaller relationships.  I had a hair stylist for twelve years and I would always just go into her and say, “Hey, do whatever you want, just make me feel good.”But now I know what I want and I tried describing that to her. I ended up with orange hair one time and I cried. I was so upset about it. It was a really good indicator to me that relationship had changed, we were no longer aligned, and I needed to find a different relationship.

There are relationships that are coming my life. Because I’m changing, people are attracted to me. Now I have friends that are healthier and happier. I have one example. I have this friend whom I consider a “pure” – I know it’s an interesting term – but she grew up in a very happy and healthy environment. Her parents are very loving and kind. They’ve probably never had a fight in their life. They’ve always been very warm, encouraging, and everything like that. A few months ago, we had a conversation and I connected with her.

Now, I’ve always connected with people because of trauma, tragedy, and negativity; basically a contest of whose life was crappier. But I connected with this “pure” as I call her (and she knows this too, and we have a little laugh about it), and we talked about art and things that make us really happy. We talked about where we want our lives to go, what our goals are, and what inspires us.

It’s been this really interesting transformation in my relationships. Those relationships that were really negative naturally just fell away as I recovered and went through this transformation. And people who were much better for me and more encouraging, loving, and kind were naturally coming to me. It’s a very interesting part of this that I’ve recognized.

Brian: Yeah, that’s really inspiring.

Question: What do you think are some of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned through this journey?

Jessica: Oh, my gosh. There are so many lessons.

One of the biggest ones is really trusting myself. I eluded to it a little bit earlier, but when I’m going through something and I hear myself say, “You know what? Do this,”and then there’s the other voice that says, “Oh, no, no. Do that,”you really go with that instinct and start really trusting yourself. When you listen to it and do‘that thing’ It works out really well, or when you recognize, ‘I didn’tdo that,’ andthenall these things were a ‘domino effect’ because of that.

Learning to trust myself, my feelings, and going through that process has been a really big lesson. Like I said, learn to stop and ask yourself questions, give yourself a minute. Sometimes we don’t always get to have that minute to stop and be like, ‘What’s going on with me right now?’You react and then when you reflect on that later you’re like, ‘Oh, I reacted in a default manner.’It’s really difficult changing your defaults, but recognizing that you reacted in a default manner is already process and growth.

Boundaries, I have to say, has been one of the biggest ones. Boundaries are so hard because you don’t want to upset anyone and you don’t want anyone to be angry with you. But what I learned is when you implement one small boundary, when you can say “no” once where you’re like, ‘No, I don’t want to work overtime today, I really can’t. I’m really tired right now. I really need to rest,’it empowers you to make another boundary and then another boundary.

Then all of a sudden you think, ‘Wow, I have these healthy boundaries where I’m not just giving everything to everyone all the time. My cup is not empty because I’m not giving it all away when there’s nothing to refill it.’You’re refilling your own cup just by having a boundary. That’s been an incredible lesson that I’ve learned as well.

It’s also been helpful to learn what’s meaningful to me. People, I believe, strive for happiness in life. I now strive for meaning. What is going to be a meaningful adventure for me or what are the things that I’m doing that are meaningful? It’s not about having things or people, it’s about having relationships and doing things that are meaningful. Those are the things that I’ve really learned that are very important for me now.

Question: What would you say is the biggest victory you’ve had so far?

Jessica: This podcast is pretty cool (laughs). It’s the relationships that I’m having with people. People recognize that there’s a big difference in me, and that’s a huge victory. It’s like when people are working out now we say like, ‘It takes you six weeks to notice and twelve weeks for everyone else.’When people are starting to recognize that there is such an emotional difference in you, that’s a major victory.

I feel so much healthier and so much lighter. I don’t feel like a seven forty-seven airplane anymore, I feel like I’m like one of those little propeller planes and I can go further and faster. I’m so much lighter. I’m not carrying all that baggage and I’m excited to get up and see a day. I have more good days than I have bad. Those are really big victories for me. I don’t just have one (laughs).

Brian: Yeah. That’s wonderful.

Question: The first time we talk, you told me a quote, “The truth will set you free but it will make you miserable,”or first it will make you miserable. Can you elaborate on what that means to you?

Jessica: Oh, yeah. Let’s face it, this is really hard work. The journey into yourself, I believe, is one of the hardest of them all. You never know what you’re going to find and start digging up. That’s really scary.

I recognize that codependency is basically a “disease.”I have been so trapped by all of these things that have happened, all this trauma, all this stuff. Learning the truth of it, stopping being in denial, really recognizing that, and digging deep is very hard. It takes a lot of emotional energy; you feel broken, you feel sad; it’s really awful stuff. But once you start digging and going through it, you start feeling lighter and freer.

There’s an analogy in a book that I was reading, Adult Children of Alcoholics. There’s this broken car, your windshield is cracked, your tires are flat, and the engine isn’t running. There might be a rip in the seats and things like that. At one point, it’s broken and it doesn’t run anymore. It’s no longer functioning. So, if you start to fix one little thing a day – fix the window, get a new seat cover, take the engine in, get a little bit of work done on it, put some gasoline in it – each day, little by little, if you work on this car, it eventually starts running again. That’s how I feel about this journey. It was really awful. The truth in learning those things about myself was really gross. But now, I feel so much freer knowing and recognizing that.

Then when I go through something in my life and I’m thinking, “Okay, what’s happening here? I’m reacting. These are things that are happening,”and I recognize that. Then I can do it differently and get a more positive outcome, and that is so freeing and so liberating.

Brian: That’s great. It sounds like you’ve made a whole lot of progress, again, without much outside support – which is really very remarkable.

Question: What are some things that you still find yourself struggling with today?

Jessica: Ooh, I definitely still struggle with expressing myself to others in what I need and what I want. There’s still a little bit of fear. I’m not without fear on a daily basis. For example, a friend of mine said, “Hey, I really want to get together with you.”

I said, “Okay, great. I’m free Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday.”

They said, “Oh, I’m not free on those days. I have this, this, and this.”

I’m said, “Okay.”

Then two days later they say again, “Hey, I really want to get together with you.”

And I say, “Okay, I’m free Saturday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.”

They say, “Oh, I can’t do these days.”

So I say to them, “Look, you want to hang out, I tell you these days that are available, and you tell me that you’re busy. You tell me what works for you and we’ll find a time.”

Expressing myself in that manner and saying that to a person – my heart stopped, my hands were sweating, I hyperventilating almost, and my stomach was in knots – doing those things are still very scary for me.

I have fear for future romantic relationships. I worry about what’s going to happen. I have questions like, ‘Am I going to just default back into my codependent ways?’That will be an interesting test. I really struggle with my defaults too especially when I don’t have time to stop, step back, lock myself in a closet, and think, ‘Okay, what’s happening here?’I can analyze that I struggle with some of those defaults. Those are the things I’m still really working through. Expressing myself is a really challenging one for sure.

Question: Just a curious question – do you have a plan for whenever you come to those future relationships. For example, are you really thinking through, ‘What am I going to do in that situation?’or you’re just kind of crossing your fingers, hoping for the best?

Jessica: Cross my fingers, hoping for the best. I’m not going to lie.

Brian: Hey, there you go, that’s honesty. At this point, you’re in a great spot, you’ve done some heavy lifting, you’ve really gotten yourself in a nice spot, still some work to do certainly but you’re doing well.

Question: What would be your biggest piece of advice for somebody that’s in your shoes that you used to be in?

Jessica: I would honestly tell them to just keep fighting. You are so worth it. This is the fight of our life for our life. If you’re unhappy and you don’t know why, stop and listen to yourself and your ‘true self’. It knows what you need, you just need to listen, hear it, and just keep fighting for it. It eventually gets less hard. It can feel really hard sometimes, it just gets less hard. I would just say, just keep on fighting, you’re so worth it.

Brian: Awesome.

Question: Is there anything else you want to share with the audience before we wrap up for good?

Jessica: I’m going to be very honest and very open here. I’m not aiming for perfection. I’m not aiming for the unrealistic idea that I will be one hundred percent healthy. Stuff happened to me and it happened in my life and it was horrible, traumatic, and downright unfair. I will always know that I don’t think it will ever be gone. I don’t think that this will ever be gone from my life. It’s a part of me and it’s helped shape me. I’m focused on turning these negatives into positives to help me in my career, life, and things like that.

There are skills that we gain as codependents and one of them is definitely being able to walk into a room, take the temperature of that room, and know exactly what’s going on. We know if there’s tension, we know if somebody’s mad, and we can really pick up on those things. That really allows me to be successful in my career. I’ve now also taken these negatives and started putting them into something. I’ve started painting a lot. I’m really expressing myself and telling the story in my paintings.

One of the most recent ones I did is called Paradigm Shift. It’s all about taking that ‘all or nothing’ mentality and how I’ve transformed that. Now, I’m really embracing the gray area. We can really take all this stuff and turn it into something positive. Just because these horrible things happen doesn’t mean that we have to have a horrible life. We can choose. We get to make the choice of how we want to live our life. This stuff can be a stepping stone for us or it can be a stumbling block. Just like everybody else, we get to choose what that’s going to be.

We’re more educated now than ever. There’s a good chance that the reason that this happened to us in our childhood is because our parents were codependents and they did the best they could. They didn’t have things like all of these books, podcasts, and stuff like that. We get to be educated, fill our tool box with all of these tools, and we can do an even better job.

We didn’t ask for this but it doesn’t mean that we have to live like this. We really have this incredible choice in finding comfort in the discomfort. It can be very uncomfortable having all of this stuff but there is a comfort to it and a way that we can positively spin it. It doesn’t have to be so awful and so hard.

Brian: Wow. Everybody should go back and listen to that advice one more time. That was great. There are lots of really good stuff there. I love how you reframed the , ‘Oh, woe is me,’to ‘Hey, no. This can be a strength. This thing, this unfair thing that I went through, I can actually choose to look at it a different way and turn it into a stepping stone rather than a stumbling block.’It’s really, really powerful.

Thank you so much, Jessica, for being on the show. We’re glad that you were able to come and share this. This is going to be a huge inspiration for a lot of people and we’re glad that you’ve taken the time to do this.

Jessica: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so happy to share this story. I really hope that if you’re going through it, you find some help or some little nugget that just helps you on your own journey because it is an incredible journey.

Brian: That it is for sure; the fight of your life as you said. Thanks again. We’ll keep in touch and we’ll talk to you later.

Jessica: Okay, sounds great. Take care.

Brian: You too.

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We Want To Hear From YOU!

What did you think of Jessica’s story? Is there anything she said that you can implement in your own journey? What else do you have to add to the conversation? Comment below!