Yet another essay about want and need and overcoming codependency

From the archives:  This post was originally published on Fetlife a few years ago.  I’m starting to transfer some of those posts over here.


This one’s hard for me to write. I’ve started it several times and abandoned it along the way.

It’s about need.

In a previous writing that a lot of you did read, I explained that I’m acutely aware of the “distance” between want and need.

There is a difference to me, and I take that difference very seriously. What I want and what I need two different animals and relationship-wise, I can survive (and thrive) on the basics: honesty, trust, desire, passion, respect.

Those are needs. Gotta have ’em all.

But here’s where I never want to go (again). While I accept that I need those qualities in a partner, I don’t want to mistake that for needing a partner.

Likewise, I don’t want to be needed.

Wanted…..fuck yeah. I want like nobody’s business and being wanted is fantastic. Shit, that’s right up there in the “need” category with “desire,” right?

But needing a person – having him be my life support, or vice versa – being someone someone cannot live without….

I can’t. i can’t go there. That’s dangerous territory for me. That’s the space where I lose myself and all my wants (and needs) become swallowed up by someone else’s.

That’s how I end up living with a hoarder in a two-story, four bedroom storage unit with no space for myself and getting sick frequently from the filth.

That’s how I end up playing “cab driver” for someone and all their friends, driving all over town days on end to make it convenient for someone else to see me.

That’s how I eat my cold dinner alone while my boyfriend spends an hour on skype with his other girlfriend after he ate his dinner hot with his cock in my throat.

See, that’s the shit that belonged to the old me. That’s the shit that happened when I let somebody become a need rather than a want.

I can live without a want. I don’t make those kinds of sacrifices for “wants.”

“Oh, but phi – those were just really bad partners.”

Uh-huh. And in this life there is no guarantee that every partner will be perfect. Nobody is. Even me. (I know, so close….)

Which is why I also don’t want to be a need. I’m not saying I don’t want a partner to desire me or be sad if things don’t work out. There are certainly connection, attachments, and feelings involved. I just …I don’t want to be the cause of someone else’s utter devastation. I don’t want their next breath to hinge on my sticking around, even if I’m not happy.

It’s about personal responsibility for me now. I’m in charge of being the decision maker in my life. I’m in charge of keeping myself from exhibiting the natural instinct to give until there’s nothing left. I’m in charge of me.

In the bedroom, that’s another story….

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Learning to love without solutions: further insights from a recovering codependent

Many years ago, I had a friend, Brian, who went through therapy and was able to accept that he had codependent tendencies. With his therapist, he began to set boundaries, and by talking about it with his friends, he kept cementing the new value-set in his brain.

Problem was, Brian turned into a bit of a cold-hearted prick in the process. Having to keep reinforcing those boundaries made them stronger and stronger until he went in the complete opposite direction and stopped caring for anybody, ever.

By then, I had been made aware of my own codependent tendencies through my own therapy sessions. What I hadn’t done yet was accept them as a problem. I thought it was still possible to be healthily codependent, and didn’t want to change. I certainly didn’t want to turn into what Brian was turning into.

It’s not easy, you know? For me, rules are comfortable. Black and white. Yes and No. Stop and Go. But reality? It was easy for me to say, for example, “I will never again date someone who suffers from depression.”

And yet….

I have. More than once, since Tony.

It’s a boundary I tried to set because I knew where my personal boundaries are weakest. I want to help people. I’m a problem solver. And depression isn’t a problem that can be “solved,” it’s more like a condition that gets “managed.” I’ve learned a lot over the past few years on where and when to set that boundary and now have allowed myself to get close to people with depression again without falling back into my default responses anymore.

I care for them, and when I start to feel responsible for their feelings, I know it’s time to take a step back and remember that it’s not my job to “fix” anything. My job is to be a good person who cares. That is all.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s easy to stay on either side of that line – codependent or cold and distant, but to locate the healthy boundary and camp out there is sometimes more challenging.

Based on the definition I’ve seen on “empaths,” I’d say I’m probably somewhere on that spectrum, though I’m not woo-woo enough to say so with much certainty. I feel people’s feelings like they’re my own. It’s great when they’re happy, and it’s distressing when they’re sad.

There are going to be times when I have to step away and turn up the emotional A/C. I might go silent for a little while, or not ask things like “how are you?” It’s not that I don’t want to know, it’s that I’m feeling a little bit vulnerable myself and think if the answer is “I’m not well,” it’s going to turn into one of those things where I’m going to absorb those feelings and try to “solve” them.

I got to the point for a while where I got into the habit of never asking “how are you?” It put some of my friends off. They thought I didn’t care. I do care, but….

My old pattern was something like this:

Phi: How are you?
Friend: Eh. Not so great.
Phi: What’s wrong?
Friend: (explains the problem)
Phi: (tries to solve it)
Friend: (pivots and turns the problem into a different problem)
Phi: (tries to solve it)
Friend: (pivots again and turns the problem into a different problem)
Phi: (starts to get frustrated because it feels like this person just wants to be upset)
Friend: (feels even worse because phi is now frustrated with them and they feel worthless)

In order to break that pattern, I stopped asking “how are you?” for a while. A long while. And I fell out of practice of reminding people that I really do care about how they are. I drew the imaginary line from “I’m not doing great” to “please give me advice on how to solve it.” Today, I try to only offer advice when it’s explicitly asked for, but sometimes that old behavior comes out. I frequently have to remind myself that someone admitting that they’re not feeling great is not an automatic request for advice.

You’d think that would be a really basic concept to comprehend, but for me it wasn’t. And it’s still something I struggle with from time to time.

But, just like it’s not my responsibility to solve other people’s problems, it is not other people’s responsibility to mitigate their feelings around me. I have to learn to shield myself and focus on healthy reactions to everyday situations.

I want people to trust that I care for them and understand why I can’t let myself feel responsible for their happiness, and I want those same people not to feel responsible for mine. I’ve worked hard to overcome some of those patterns, and I’m strong enough (and honest enough) to recognize when I need to take a step back.

It’s usually when my reaction to someone else’s distress falls along the lines of “how did I fail? or “what did I do wrong?” or “How can I fix it?” that I know it’s time to reset the tent back a little further from the line.

There are many people in my life, past and present, that struggle with varying levels of anxiety and depression. This isn’t about any one of them in particular. It’s about me. It’s about recognizing that I can care, and I can be present without losing myself in the process.

I don’t have to go all Brian on them.

I don’t know who I am without you

Today at work, I mentioned to my coworker about my weekend, and with a happy sigh and a smile after describing something he (my partner) either said or did, I said, “I love him….”

She paused on her way out of my office and turned around and asked the question:

“I know it’s not fair to compare, but…is it the same or different as it was with Tony?”

It’s timely she asked, because just yesterday I was pondering how the tone of a statement I’ve said and heard many times has changed over the past few years.

I don’t know who I am without you.

Who I was with Tony would have said those words laced with romantic overtones. In fact, I probably did say them. They’d have been absolutely true, but at the time, I thought that’s what love was. The inability to extricate myself from my relationship to him.

When he passed away, something extraordinary happened: I survived.

That’s right. All those times I had said, “I’d die with out you,” turned out to be wrong. I didn’t die. I wasn’t immediately ready to get on with my life – that was and continues to be a process, but I didn’t cease to exist.

I also had no identity of my own. I was Mrs. ______. I was Tony’s wife. I was caregiver, step-mother, bread-winner.

But, I had no sense of who I was without defining it by my relationship to him or others.

We’ll fast forward many, many months. I entered into a D/s relationship that started online and long-distance, and then became in person and fairly close to 24/7.

Remember, I was in a different place then, emotionally. Newly-widowed, still trying to figure out what my life was about, reestablishing my priorities, and not really wanting to face reality yet – I let someone else (someone I trusted) take control over me.

I won’t paint the picture with swaths of black. There was good that came out of that relationship. I got my house cleaned up. I ate healthier and exercised more. I quit smoking. I started focusing at work a little more. I did responsible things for myself because he wanted me to. It was what was in my best interest.

I became VERY needful of his guidance. I wasn’t in an emotional place to guide myself to where I needed to be. I just wanted to hide under the covers and have someone wake me up when it was over.

He asked me one night, over skype – what I would do if he were to suddenly disappear. I panicked. Full stop. I panicked hard. Hyperventilating, indescribable fear. I could not stand the thought of losing another one. He realizes now (and feels terrible for) his mistake in asking me that question.

But in that case, “I don’t know who I am without you” was not romantic. It was laced with fear. I was not yet ready to face the world alone.

That relationship ended when I started coming back into my own. There were some issues I won’t get into, but I was starting to get a sense that I was taking orders from someone whose wants no longer seemed to align with my best interests, and it started pushing me further and further away from wanting anything resembling a 24/7 relationship or a “Dominant.”

That’s when the real work began. It was slow. I’ve written about it time and again. I asked myself a lot of questions. I dug down into the why of my decisions and my needs and figured out who I wanted to be and charted my course to get there. Sometimes people helped along the way – people who gave me advice that worked. Sometimes I learned from the terrible advice (or actions) of others who showed me very clearly who I did not want to become.

And now, here I am.

“I don’t know who I am without you.” That phrase falls flat now. It’s not romantic. It doesn’t cause panic. It just doesn’t ring true at all.

I know exactly who I am. I know who I am, and I know that I am changing. I know that I have goals and aspirations that are all about me, and that – when I am ready – I will work on achieving those goals for myself.

I know who I am without him. And, I love him. Those two statements are not in opposition of each other anymore.

Willie Nelson and Monstrous Gorillas

I’ve got Willie Nelson’s nasal voice in my head singing “you are always on my mind,” on the upswing.  The first time he says it in the verse when it sounds hopeful, not the second time when it sounds complacent.

Last night I had a dream I was driving a white van with a bunch of people in it.  People I care about were in it.  And it was like a desert-like environment.  Not exactly a road, but definitely there was only one way to go through.  The problem was there were these GINORMOUS gorillas patrolling and trying to stop the vans from getting through. When I say ginormous, I mean roughly three times the size of the van.

Part of me wanted to stop and take stock of the situation.  Check for a pattern in their movements, like you would in a game of Donkey Kong, so you know when it’s safe to jump.

Part of me wanted to let someone else take the wheel so I wouldn’t be responsible for all the lives on board if I failed in getting us across the expanse.

And the whole time, pedal to the metal.  Full speed ahead.  Trying to calculate on the fly whether to swerve or head straight and try to outsmart the monster trying to derail us.

Ever have those dreams when you get stuck in a critical moment but the action continues? Like when you’re running toward a door and the door isn’t getting any closer, but you’re still running and reaching the door feels imminent.

That’s what was happening in that dream last night.  I was in a constant state of having to make that decision.  Stop or go? Hand over the keys or be self-reliant? Take the risk for the ultimate reward or turn back and halt progress?

*You are always on my mind….*

That time it was on the downswing.  Is complacent the right word?  Resigned, perhaps.  Or, in a better mood, secure.

Letting go of bad habits isn’t easy to do.  Sometimes you’re not even convinced the habit is so bad. Is it so wrong to be the person they turn to when their day is going astray?

The difference is, I think, in the desire.

Is it wrong to be that person?  No.  Is it wrong to WANT to be that person?  That’s where shit gets tricky.  If you start to look forward to being the stronghold at their emotional ground zero, then you might start to rely on that position to feel validated.  You might even start to find a silver lining in their sadness.  Hello codependency.

Are these two threads even related?  The Willie Nelson song and the dream, I mean.  Loosely, yes.  I don’t know how deeply I want to explain their relationship, but there is one.

Old me, or previous me, or the Phi that Was would have been classified as fairly high up on the needy scale. I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with being needy, but moving away from that classification helped me become a better version of me.  One that’s more in line with the view of myself I enjoy having.

I recently accidentally upgraded to Windows 10.  I was half asleep and the computer told me to restart for the update and I thought it was the regular kinds of updates.  Turns out it was the entire operating system update.

I’ve not yet changed it back. I haven’t had anything other than minor inconveniences with Windows 10, but there’s certainly a lack of the comfort in knowing where things are and how things work that I had with Windows 7.

The new Phi is a little bit like that.  There’s a familiarity in old habits that are not so easy to disregard. The familiarity with old relationship styles, old communication patterns, old yearnings to “be the one he turns to when he’s sad.”

So on a day when I don’t really hear from him, it’s easy to default to those old programs.  To blame something else, or to look at a text message as “proof” of love (and a lack of text message being the denial of love), or to wonder if perhaps he’s just having a rough day and then wonder why he doesn’t turn to me if it’s that rough.

And then NEW me, the Windows 10 version spits out an error message:  codependency is incompatible with new operating system.

*You are always on my mind….*  (Upswing). First thought of the day, last thought each night, all the thoughts in between, yadda yadda yadda.  Look, I don’t write about it much but kids, I’m legit smitten here.  Talk to people who see my face when his name comes up or when I’m in his presence.  There is no doubt of my smitten-ness.

*You are always on my mind…* (Downswing).  Hit the gas.  Plow through the day. Avoid the monsters that are trying to derail you. The silent phone doesn’t mean his heart has gone silent.

This operating system is incompatible with the impossible.

A Superficial but Relevant Take on Self-Love: (Or, How My Mom Mommy-Dommed Me Into Loving Myself)

I had a conversation with a coworker in the bathroom yesterday at work.  Yes, women talk in the bathroom at work.

Coworker: Wow, your hair is getting really long.  Do you dye it yourself?
Phi: No, I go get it done professionally. That was one of my mom’s mandates after Tony died.
Coworker: To get your hair dyed?
Phi: To take care of myself.  Get my hair dyed. Get my nails done. Get waxed.
Coworker:  And does she pay for it?
Phi: Nope. I do. She made me promise to budget for it.

The point of this post is inspired by @Innermind’s reminder of the importance of self-love, and I don’t mean masturbating which we all know I’m a big fan of anyway.

My mom might be a little bit superficial, but she wasn’t wrong. I’d let myself go. I didn’t care enough to maintain the standard of caring for myself that I’d had before life got shitty.  I’d gained eighty pounds, I was self-dying my hair and it showed, and I wore unflattering jeans and leggings all the time because I couldn’t be bothered to groom my legs.

Frankly, I’d just stopped caring.

She paid for my first visit to the hairdresser the day after the funeral. It was $200. As she pulled out her credit card to pay for it, she gave me the lecture.

“No more boxes from the drugstore. You go find a hairdresser you trust and you budget for this. No more shaving. You go to the waxing center and you get your brows and legs taken care of.  No more chipped polish and calloused feet. You go to the nail salon and get your mani/pedi every two weeks. You make room for this in your budget. You make this a priority.”

She knew this was something I had to be forced to recognize as a priority, because living as the codependent caregiver for a depressed hoarder, I’d not been one for a long, long time.

Later on, when we were going through my expenses trying to get a handle on my budget, my dad suggested I could afford to keep cable television and home phone and take on a new car lease.

“No,” I said. “That goes. That’s my pampering budget.”

My mom was so proud.

It’s been over a year now.  I have no idea what’s happened on any of the TV shows I used to watch regularly, but I take care of myself in all the ways my mom suggested.  Not only do I do those things, but I’ve also lost the weight and then some, and treat myself to occasional massages and frequent bubble baths.  If she’d been paying for it, I’d have been doing it for her.  If I were doing it for the sole purpose of attracting a man, I’d be doing it for him.

It’s because of my Mom-Dom that I found a way to do this for myself.  In the process of doing something so seemingly superficial, I relearned to value myself on on a much deeper level.

Vignettes in Perspective

I cried at a silly love poem yesterday in which a Dom loved his Brat with all her bratty ways.

There are reasons why things like that trigger me.

Here are some of them:

_____

Conversation with my Husband:

“I can’t remember the last time we had sex.”

“It wasn’t that long ago.”

“It hasn’t happened since before my last birthday. That was six months ago.”

“No, it hasn’t been that long.”

“It has.”

“Maybe this weekend.”

“You said that last weekend.”

“I’m a failure as a husband.”

“You’re a wonderful husband. But it makes me feel like you don’t want me.”

“Of course I want you. You’re the sexiest woman I’ve ever known.”

“Then why don’t you ever want to touch me?”

“I love you. I love you so much. I know you’ll leave me some day.”

“I’m never going to leave you. Never. I just want to feel wanted.”

“I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“You won’t ever be without me.”

Tags: dead bedroom, neglect, emotional manipulation, depression, communication, marriage, sex, codependency

_______

With the first guy I rebounded with after Husband passed away: 

“Are you going to be there?”

“I wouldn’t miss it. I’ll be there.”

“I know sometimes you don’t feel up for it, but I’d really love for you to be there.”

“I’ll be there. Nothing could keep me from being there.”

Tags: neglect, lies, depression, broken promises, rebound romance, grief, needy, clingy, disappointment

______
The day I knew it was over with that guy:

“Where is he?”

“He’s probably not coming.”

“Has he called?”

“Nope.”

“It’s your birthday.”

“Yeah.”

Tags: neglect, sadness, friendship, breakup

________

With the second man I’ve ever loved – the one who shattered my heart:

“Say it.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Say it.”

“Please don’t make me.”

“Say it, now.”

“I love you.”

“I don’t know how to respond to that.”

“You don’t love me.”

“I don’t know what love is. I don’t know if I love you or not. But I’ll promise you this – no matter what, I will always be your friend.”

“Then just acknowledge my feelings. Tell me you know.”

“Okay.”

“I love you, Sir.”

“I know.”

Tags: emotional masochism, doormat, BDSM, love, emotions, vulnerability, fear, communication, long distance relationship, star wars

______

“I want to talk to you about something.”

“What’s up?”

“How would you feel if I took on a second sub?”

“Online?”

“Yeah, just online only.”

“I guess that’s fine. I love you, but you’re on the other side of the planet. If you need more than I can give you, I don’t want to stop you.”

“Are you sure?”

“Just promise me one thing….”

“What’s that?”

“I get to be your favorite.”

“That will never be a problem.”

“I love you.”

“I know.”

Tags: poly, long distance relationships, broken promises, communication, emotions, regret, love, submission, idealism, emotional masochism, unrealistic expectations, doormat, codependency

_____

“I’m coming to meet you.”

“How long will you be here?”

“Three months is as long as I can legally stay.”

“I love you.”

“I know. Look. I can’t promise you I’m going to love you when I meet you.”

“I understand.”

“And I’m not sure if I’m comfortable having sex with you.”

“I understand. I love you, Sir.”

“I know.”

Tags: excitement, anticipation, fear, emotional masochism, unrealistic expectations, doormat.

_____

“She’s coming to visit here a week before I fly out to you.”

“Oh.”

“I’ll call you every day.”

“Okay.”

Tags: No he didn’t.

_____

“I have something to tell you.”

“What’s up?”

“I told her I loved her last night.”

“I’m happy for you.”

“You are?”

“Yes. Because now you know how love feels, and you’ll know if you love me too when you meet me.”

Tags: This is not going to end well

______

“I unpacked your suitcase.”

“Good girl.”

“You should have told me yourself.”

“What?”

“You left the open box of condoms in it.”

“Oh.”

Tags: That was fucked up.

______

“Why are you crying?”

“Because you’ve been here three days and you still don’t know how you feel about me. I think maybe you just don’t love me. I really thought you did. I felt like you did. But you love her. Not me. You’re living in my house, sharing my bed, and you go downstairs each night and tell her you love her. And all you can tell me is that you know.”

“You’re silly.”

“Let’s just go home.”

“I brought you here because I wanted to tell you somewhere special. I do love you. I’ve always loved you. I will never stop loving you. I loved you before I flew out here, and I knew it the moment I saw you at the airport.”

“Then why didn’t you tell me?”

“I’m telling you now.”

Tags: timing, vulnerability, emotional sadism, fear, catharsis, vindication, relief

_______

“I’m in pain. It’s really bad.”

“I need to drive her back to her car.”

“It’s REALLY bad. I don’t know if I should go to the hospital.”

“I need to drive her to her car and I’ll come right back.”

*30 minutes later*

“I’m sorry. I have to drive her all the way back home [350 miles away]. She’s distraught and she can’t drive herself.”

“I’m still in pain. The cramps are horrible, I think it’s going to kill me.”

“I’m sorry. I’ll get a bus or a flight home tomorrow.”

Tags: That wasn’t even the first time.

______

“I don’t feel comfortable being myself when she’s around. She gets uncomfortable when you kiss me. She doesn’t even like it when you look at me.”

“Don’t worry about her. I’ll handle her. You be yourself.”

“It won’t end well. She’ll throw a tantrum like she always does.”

“I told you I’ll handle it. You don’t have to worry about it.”

Tags: unrealistic expectations, communication, emotional manipulation, I told him so

_____

“Look, maybe just don’t be so touchy feely in public.”

“You told me I should be myself.”

“It makes her uncomfortable.”

“You said you would handle it.”

“You were grinding on me.”

“I WAS NOT GRINDING ON YOU. That’s not even a phrase you would ever use. You got that from her.”

“It doesn’t matter. You do as I say.”

“Apparently, I’m the only one who does.”

Tags: Straw, meet camel’s back.

_____

“It’s over. When you come back, your stuff will be packed.”

“Okay.”

“I can’t believe you’re choosing her over me.”

“It’s for your own good.”

“You never loved me.”

“I will always love you. I keep hurting you, and I can’t keep doing that to you.”

“Then why are you picking her? Because she’s more of a challenge? Because you have to work harder to get her to do what you want?”

“Maybe.”

“I gave you everything you wanted, and you held back everything I wanted. You wouldn’t even fuck me.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You should be.”

“I am.”

Tags: I should have started letting go then.

______

“Hey. You called?”

“I hadn’t heard from you in a week. It’s Christmas. I thought you’d have reached out.”

“So, nothing is wrong?”

“It’s my first Christmas without him. I’m not doing well emotionally today.”

“You should reach out to your friends.”

“I thought you were my friend.”

“I’m tired. Going to bed.”

“Fuck you. Goodbye.”

Tags: broken promises, asshole behavior, last time we ever spoke.

_____

And I haven’t gotten to the recent stuff.

There’s a reason why I’ve spent the last few days choking back tears.

Because the good girl never wins.

Can I need it?

We were out for a walk and saw a “For Sale” sign on a car. I reminded my dad how when we were growing up, my brother would see a “for sale” or “for rent” sign and say something along the lines of, “Papi, look. It’s for sale. Can we buy it?”

This led to a conversation where my dad admitted that he just cannot resist a good bargain. If he sees that something is available, he automatically starts figuring out how and where it will fit into his life.

“Before I know it’s available, I don’t even want it,” he says, “But as soon as I know it’s an option, I start to want it.  I know I don’t need it, but I wonder….Can I need it?”

“Can I need it?” became a meme for the rest of the day.

I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching these past couple of weeks.  I’m coming to terms with my emotional masochism and the reasons behind it.  I’m trying to decide if this is something I want to embrace or overcome. I haven’t reached a conclusion yet – I’ve just barely started this whole thought process.

I wrote a thing once on what it meant for me to be owned. It’s just a word, really – a word that encompasses a dynamic that borders on codependent for me. My relationship with my husband was codependent.  Most of my relationships have been.

Is codependent always unhealthy?

I haven’t figured that one out yet, either.

Right now, my life is really, really good. I don’t have someone special to share it with, but I’m pretty comfortable with that situation. I get to make decisions about my life, work on the projects I want to work on, and make myself a priority. I have friends who take care of some of my physical needs, and the ones that don’t get taken care of, I can live without until someone special enough comes along (which he won’t because he doesn’t exist because I’m just too fucking picky).

But that’s okay. Until I’ve learned to deal with this whole emotional masochist thing, it’s better for me to stay unattached.  Hell, I’m still detaching from the last one.

Back when I was actively looking for a replacement Dom/boyfriend/partner person, I had a personals ad on reddit that got a few hits.  Not a lot.

I was talking to one guy for a little while…maybe 10 minutes of back and forth when he sent me a message that floored me.

“You want to be owned.” He wasn’t asking me.  He was telling me.

Before he’d said it, I’d have told you it is the last thing I wanted. I’d just gotten out of a relationship where I felt owned and the breakup was devastating.

Fuck that shit. I’m never letting someone own me again.

And suddenly, it’s on the table.

Do I want that again?  Can I need it?