The Fear of Co-Dependency and Lack of Individuality

I have a fear, and it is something that I think about constantly. This particular fear of mine dictates how I navigate my marriage and how I live my life. This fear is so terrifying to me that I make an extra effort to make sure that it never comes to life. So what is this fear? I am afraid of losing my individuality and becoming co-dependent.

I was fifteen years old when Stephen and I first started dating. The aftermath of the sexual assault was still fresh and my relationship with my parents was lacking. I didn’t really have friends, and I felt alone. I was desperate to find love, to find someone who wanted to spend time with me, to just find someone who found me to be somewhat worthy of them. I always envisioned having a partner who I had that special connection with. I used to wonder what it would feel like to have someone hold me, to laugh with me, to tell me that they were in love with me. I was craving it so badly, that when I found it, I gave into it. 

Stephen was everything to me. He was my world, and I became so engulfed in love that I lost myself. I placed all of my happiness onto him, and I became the person that I thought he wanted me to be. I stopped hanging out with the few friends that I had because I wanted every free moment to be spent with him. If I couldn’t see him over the weekend or after school on weekdays I would be devastated. He brought so much light into my world of darkness that all I could see or focus on was him, resulting in me forgetting about me. 

The sad truth is that Stephen never made me feel like he should be my reason for living. That was all me. I think I just got so sucked up into a world where I could finally trust someone. I finally had found someone who was authentic and sincere, and he genuinely cared about me and my well-being. I felt safe with Stephen, and I saw a forever life with him. He was mine. My life was just revolving around Stephen. 

My co-dependency started to become scary when I couldn’t recognize myself anymore. I became increasingly jealous and territorial. When I found out that he held another girl’s hand in band practice, and he didn’t have a choice, I made him delete her from social media. When I found out that another girl had a crush on him and told him and he kept it from me, I wrote an article and printed it on the front page of the school paper. I was ruthless. I was even disgusted with myself, but I was not going to let anyone or anything take Stephen away from me. I had too much to lose. 

Around a year after we started dating, Stephen had reached his limit with me and my behavior and attempted to break up with me. He expressed that he couldn’t handle my jealously anymore, and he didn’t like that my whole world revolved around him. Which, to be honest, is completely understandable. I had a big dose of reality when we had that discussion, and that fog that I was in for the past year finally cleared up. 

I had realized that I willingly gave up everything that I was for this relationship, even though I never had to. Stephen loved me for me, and he never asked me to give up on myself for us. I couldn’t believe that I did that to myself. I put myself this incredibly unhealthy situation, and I promised myself that I would never do that again.

I am truly lucky to have the partner that I have. He never makes me feel like I have to give up any part of myself in order to please him. And if I were to be honest, if he did have that kind of expectation from me that would be a deal-breaker. I am unwilling to change any part of who I am for anyone, even him.

There was a situation that happened not too long ago that was kind of the inspiration behind this piece. As you know, I have a thing for tattoos and piercings, and for a while, I was fixated on getting my septum pierced. I wanted it so badly, but Stephen does not like them and told me no. First of all, no one, not even my husband, is going to tell me “no” about something that I want to do to MYSELF. I will gladly hear and appreciate any opinion that you may have on any matter, but anything that I want to do for myself or to myself will ultimately be MY decision. I didn’t end up getting the piercing because the jewelry that I wanted was going to be way too expensive, but had it been more affordable I would have gotten it done. 

I have this viewpoint about my marriage that I am not sure a lot of people agree with. I am so overprotective about maintaining my individuality that I almost look at my marriage like a separate partnership. I love Stephen so incredibly much, and he means the world to me, but he is not my world. I will never allow myself to do what I did back when we first started dating. The moment I place all of my happiness and everything that I am into his hands is the moment that I will lose myself. So when I say that we are in a “separate partnership,” I simply mean that I want us to make decisions together and live our lives together, but I also want us to be our own people. If I want to travel on my own without him, then I am going to do it. If I want to hang out with my friends without him, then I am going to do it. If I want to do something to my body then I am going to do it. Even if he hates it. He is not my daddy, he is my husband. And I am his wife. Just because you are in a committed relationship doesn’t mean that you need to forget about yourself. 

Like I have said, I am deeply, deeply in love with Stephen. He is an amazing human being and I am lucky to have him as my husband. I respect the hell out of him, and we really are a great match. However, in order for me to live the life that I want to live, I can’t put him and his desires before my own. I am not living our life, I am living my life, and I am trying to make the best of it. Stephen just so happens to be an incredible part of it all.

The Real Monster: Anxiety

I have never really been afraid of monsters. I grew up watching Jurrasic Park on repeat, as a child I would play pretend games with imaginary monsters that I would bring to life, and I was always invested in ghost stories. The things that gave me a true fright were things that could become a reality. For example, thunderstorms that triggered a tornado warning would send me into a fit. I would hibernate in the basement clinging onto my dog Daisy in complete hysterics until I knew that the threat was gone and we were going to be safe. When my parents decided to divorce, I was consumed with making sure that my parents were okay. I remember always thinking about them and wondering if they were ever going to find happiness. I was in second grade at the time, but I was so consumed with what my family was feeling that it felt like it was eating away at my young soul. Little did I know that I was already being introduced to one of the scariest monsters to have ever existed: anxiety.

As I have stated many times, clinical depression is something that I have struggled with for as long as I can remember. My mom even told me that she knew something was off with me before I was five years old, but back then mental illness wasn’t really something that was talked about. I remember seeing a school counselor for a short time when my parents decided to divorce, and then many years later going to see my first psychologist. Although it was many years where I wasn’t speaking to a professional about what I was feeling, I always knew something was off about me. As cliche as this is, I literally felt as if I lived in a literal world of darkness. I was consumed by sadness, resentment, and anger. I was constantly isolating, (although that has still not changed) and I never actively sought out friendships. I was content with being on my own overthinking every thought that I have ever had and accepting that feeling the way that I felt was normal. I remember being overly concerned for years about my dad. My mom was happy and in love with my now stepfather, and I wanted that for my dad. I would spend hours a day worrying about my dad and what his and our future looked like, to the point where I would go into a panic. I wanted the world for my dad. I wanted every bit of happiness that the world had to offer to him to be his. I wanted him to find a partner and to fall in love, and I wanted him to enjoy every moment of his life. I would think about these things constantly, driving myself absolutely crazy. So when my dad met my stepmom, I was over the moon with excitement because I felt like everything that I have ever wanted for my dad was happening to him. But then the worry of him finding happiness turned into worry about him losing it, and then I was consumed with worry that his relationship with my stepmom wouldn’t last forever. That constant worry wasn’t warranted though because they were and continue to be a healthy and happy couple, but I just wanted my dads’ happiness to be infinite. Looking back, I can now see that my worry about my dads’ happiness was probably one of the first anxiety-inducing situations that I was apart of, and I wish that it was figured out years ago that anxiety was one of the things that I was feeling.

As I progressed in age I, of course, came into more anxiety-inducing scenarios. One of the more traumatic things that I experienced that I still have trouble with was my sexual assault. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say that I have learned more about that incident the older I have become. Looking back at what happened and after speaking to a couple of professionals about it, I have learned that I was essentially brainwashed, manipulated, and “trained” by this person since I was eleven to be a certain way with him. When the big incident occurred, I immediately broke down. I remember talking to my therapist at the time about it and her wanting to report it for statutory rape, but I wouldn’t let her for reasons that I don’t want to get into. After that happened I blamed myself for years for allowing it to happen. The big incident happened when I was fifteen, and it was just within the past year that I have been able to accept that it wasn’t my fault. I now look at the situation with complete disgust, and I can see it for everything that it was. I will say this though. After seeking out help for coping with what happened it almost makes me feel worse. I feel so violated. I feel like something was stolen from me. Every time I think about the whole situation I want to break down. This incident has a way to pop into my mind at the most inconvenient times, and what sucks about it is that when I think about it I literally feel like I am taken back in time and forced to relive everything that I went through. I can feel what I felt, both mentally and physically, and I feel frozen. My anxiety just completely takes over me, and I feel like I can’t breathe. My heart starts racing, and I need to remind myself that it isn’t happening now, it happened in the past. I would say my sexual assault is one of the biggest reasons why my anxiety is so horrendous.

Although I have always been pretty content with not involving a lot of people in my life, I do feel like my social anxiety just keeps getting worse and worse. I don’t do well with meeting new people, in fact, I have had to have therapy sessions in preparation for meeting new people and for being in groups. I don’t really know what it is, I just get really bad anxiety around new people and big groups of people. I get anxiety while driving, while going to the doctors’ office, and even shopping. Every time I feel like something might be wrong with my animals my anxiety spikes. I feel like my life is controlled by my anxiety, and it makes me feel so fragile. My anxiety is one of the main focuses of my therapy sessions, and I feel with every session that I have I become one step closer to breaking free of my anxieties grasp. 

My anxiety and my depression have this hold on me. Every day I work hard to better myself, but I have my ups and downs. I don’t think I will ever be free from my anxiety, but I do think that with time and hard work I can handle it better. After everything is said and done, your life shouldn’t be controlled by monsters, but by you.

Regrets

I hate when people say that they live a life without any regrets, but only because I can’t possibly fathom how that could be true. There are times, especially when I am in my “lows,” where all I think about are my regrets, and I wish I could change things in my past. I try to look at everything that I do as a life lesson, but damn, some things that have happened really haven’t taught me anything other than I can be an imbecile sometimes.

Most of the regrets that I think about are from when I was in high school. Back then, I didn’t have a filter, I thought that my opinion was the right opinion, and I acted before I considered the repercussions of my actions. I have hurt people with my words, and I have been punishing myself for those instances ever since the moment the words left my mouth. I graduated high school seven years ago, and I still can’t seem to forgive myself and let go of the mistakes that I made back then. Perhaps this will be an issue that I will have to deal with forever, and to a certain extent, I definitely deserve it. I used to act on my anger and frustration, and when I would do that, I wouldn’t care about what harm my words and actions would cause. When someone hurt or upset me, all I would see was blood, and I wanted to hurt people like they hurt me. It was not wise, I was not being logical, and I was just being mean. Grown-up Brookana definitely wishes that I could go have a major talk with teenager Brookana, because teenager Brookana used to be really superb at turning on the “bitch switch.”

I briefly spoke about this before, but one my biggest regrets was how I treated my mom and step-dad. I punished them for years, and as I got older, I knew how to push their buttons better. I was incredibly vindictive, and I wanted to hurt my mom by withholding a relationship from her. I knew my mom loved me, and I loved her, but I was mad at her and I wanted her to know that I was angry. I would ignore her, I would blow her off, and I would leave her out of things that was happening in my life. For example, junior year of high school the journalism team threw the talent show, and I was going to be one of the emcees. It was a big event for me because I was never into sports and I wasn’t apart of any clubs, so my parents never got to see me involved with any school functions. Well anyways, I didn’t tell my mom about it, and she only found out about it after someone else had mentioned it to her after it had happened. That was deeply hurtful for her, but at the time, I didn’t care. I was so cruel to my mom and my step-dad, and I regret that because I hate that I caused them so much pain for so many years. As I have gotten older and as I have matured, I have been able to see them for the people that they are, and my parents are incredible. My mom will have hour long conversations with me when she is exhausted or has a migraine. Last year, I had to have two major surgeries on my hand and my mom flew down to Dallas both times to take care of me. If my brothers and I were on a railroad track with a train heading our way my mom wouldn’t hesitate to push us out of the way. My mom has a beautiful soul, and I can’t believe that I hurt her so badly in the past. My mom is literally an angel in my life, and I love her so much.

With my regrets, I know that I am basically mind-fucking myself every time I think about them. When I think about them I become borderline obsessive, and it eats me alive. I think about all of the scenarios that those situations could have turned into and how I could have saved myself from hurting others. I think about why I lashed out, and why in some cases I completely overreacted. I wonder if my words haunt the other person as much as they haunt me. I wonder if I should reach out to the other person, or if I should pretend like nothing ever happened. I have confided in Stephen about my regrets, and I truly envy his mindset. Stephen has never really done anything to be sorry for, so he doesn’t quite understand why I have all of these ghosts. His advice is to “stop thinking about it” or “get over it” or “that was so long ago, it doesn’t even matter anymore.” Is it bad that I find those statements to be maddening? Like yeah, that’s great and all, and I really fucking wish that I could get over it that easily, but obviously I’m struggling here. Thanks Stephen for your awesome advice, but my obsessive mind won’t let me forget what I have done.

Please don’t judge me, but there have been times where I was driving myself so completely crazy with my regrets that I once looked into hypnotherapy to see if it could help me forget. It is so odd, I can cope with my bi-polar disorder and depression and I can cope with my diabetes, but these regrets are something that I just can’t shake. I don’t think hypnotherapy would do anything to help me, but in a way I am glad that I wouldn’t be able to do it because that would be the easy way out. I made my mistakes, now I need to learn how to forgive myself and to cope with the past.

The truth is, I don’t think that I have ever said or done something that was truly horrible and devastating. The worst thing that I have ever done was to my mom by blocking her out of my life, but we are in such an amazing place right now and we will only continue to grow our relationship. At the end of the day, I actually have learned somethings from what I have done. I have learned how to control my emotions so that if I do need to say something to someone, I can have a clear head space to avoid hurting them. I have learned that not everything that upsets me needs to turn into a battle, because usually when that happens it goes from bad to worse. I have learned that I don’t need to be friends with everyone, because sometimes toxicity will leak into your life that could cause a lot of harm. I have also learned how to reflect on a situation that turned out poorly, and learn what I could do differently the next time.

Honestly, I doubt that people who say that they don’t have any regrets actually feel that way. I mean, if that were true, that is amazing and I would be jealous, but if I were to guess I bet those people just know how to cope with their regrets better than me. I am hopeful that one day I can breath in and then exhale out my regrets, and finally be able to forgive myself, but for now, it is a work in progress.

Divorce

My parents separated when I was in second grade, and their divorce was one of the best things that could have happened. I don’t remember much from when they were married, but the memories that I do have are not that great. I just remember constant fighting, and a feeling of unhappiness that filled the home.

I still remember the day that my parents officially separated vividly. I don’t really think about it that much anymore, because it was a day that I try not to recall. It was the day that my family was no longer a family, and it was the day that I watched my dad leave. Although he was not too far away from me, he no longer lived with us, and it tore me apart. It was a really intense day, and it will be one that I know I will always remember.

The divorce made a huge impact on my childhood. As in most divorces, my parents kept a lot of things from my brother and I in order to protect us. I don’t really remember my parents ever talking bad about each other, but there were a couple of slip ups made by both of them. A lot of the information that I have about their divorce and the causes behind it actually came from family members on both sides, which looking back at now, was wildly inappropriate. Something that still really bothers me is that a family member told me something that completely changed my view of my parents when I was in second grade, and if they would have done the adult thing and kept that information to themselves it would have saved me from a lot of emotional torment. I have come to notice that people are selfish in divorces, and sometimes they don’t care what the aftermath looks like as long as they can hurt the other person. I am sure that the family member who told me that information thought they were helping my parent that they are related to, but they ended up doing more damage to my brother and I than anyone else.

The divorce made me feel like I was living in a world of pure toxicity. I felt loyalty to my dad and I felt guilty that I still loved my mom. My dad never made me feel like I couldn’t have a relationship with my mom, so feeling guilty about wanting that was my own issue. However, as I got older, and as other people felt it necessary to tell me more things about my parents and what their relationship was like, I started to separate myself from my mom. When you’re a teenager, your hormones and emotions are all over the place, and the stuff that was said to me caused so many issues for me. I started to hate my mom, and that hatred was like drinking poison. I felt so disgusting inside, like my soul was rotting away from years and years of toxic waste that has just been piling up. I was an emotional wreck, and every thought I had was about my mom and my dad and the past. Those years where I couldn’t forget about the divorce were eating me alive, and no matter how much therapy I had I just couldn’t let go. It was as if the divorced handcuffed me to a life a resentment and hostility, and no matter who tried to help me they couldn’t break the cuffs. It was awful, but the worst part of it all was that I was the one that allowed that hatred to consume me.

I think it was in junior year of high school where I kind of had an epiphany. I just remember thinking about my parents divorce and how it had affected me, and I realized that by me holding on to this anger that I was torturing myself. I also thought about what my life would have been liked if my parents stayed together. It would have not been a good life, it would have not been a stable life, and it wouldn’t have been a life that would have resulted in my brother and I having success. My mom remarried and had another son, and I absolutely adore and love my step dad, Jeff, and my brother, Logan. My dad never remarried, but he has been with his partner, Tina, ever since I was in seventh grade. Tina has always been incredible to my brother Nicholas and I, and I will always be appreciative for that. If my parents had stayed together, all of these people that I love so much wouldn’t be apart of my world, and a world that they aren’t apart of is a world that I don’t even want to think about. After thinking about all of this, my world and attitude completely changed. It was like I inhaled in my last breath of toxic air, and when I exhaled, every negative thought about the divorce left my soul. I forgave the events that I hung on to, I became appreciative for the life that I was living, and most importantly, I invited my mom back into my life.

I know that my parents did everything that they could to prevent my brother and I from feeling the pain from the divorce, and as much that they tried, that pain was invited in by other people who couldn’t obtain self control. A lot of pain could have been avoided if people were respectful and kept what they wanted to say to themselves, but hopefully this was as much of a learning experience for them as it was for me.

My advice to parents who are going through a divorce is this:

  1. Don’t talk bad about the other parent in front of your kids.
  2. Don’t allow others talk bad about the other parents in front of your kids.
  3. Your kids can and will pick up on what you are feeling, so try to keep as much negativity away from them as you can.
  4. No matter what your kid tells you about how they feel about the divorce, put them in therapy. It will only be beneficial in later years.
  5. When you decide to separate, have a respectful sit down conversation with your kids to explain what is about to happen.

This list is just a couple of things that could help your kids during the process of divorce. As a child that went through this, I know that this could have helped me cope with my parents divorce a lot faster.

Now that I am twenty four, I have an amazing relationship with both my mom and my dad, as well as my step-parents. I am able to see my mom for who she is, and I am able to appreciate everything that she has ever done for me. It does make me feel upset that a relationship with her was robbed from me in the past, but that is why I cherish every conversation and hangout session now. My dad is still the dad that I have always known and loved, and I still treasure him as much as I did back then. At the end of the day, I am grateful for my parents divorce. I hate the way it happened and I hate the person that it temporarily turned me into, but all of our lives are better now because of it.