I was only five but this memory is still vivid: a room lined with bunk beds, the smell of artificial peaches and my first roller skate barbie. Where were we? The walls of the room were bare, and there were so many beds. Who were they for?
I remember my mom frantically putting groceries in a fridge before a woman hurried over to scold her. She wasn’t supposed to do that. She called my mom by name, and talked to her like she’d tried to pull this manoeuvre before and got caught again. There was a playground, but it was empty. A cafeteria, but it was empty too. Where was my dad?
It was a women’s shelter, but that piece of the puzzle was given to me much later. My dad was an alcoholic and my mother was an active enabler, codependent in their relationship. Every member of our family had an important role to play in the vitality of our dysfunctionality, but I wouldn’t be aware of the codependent patterns that were meticulously rooted within me until I began my own intimate relationships with addicts.
Twenty-three years went by and there I was, twenty-seven years old and sitting in a circle of people who had a member of their family attending the rehab centre we were sitting in, like I did. The faces around me were exhausted, concerned, and confused. Every one of these people tried to save their loved one from addiction. They had been lied to, emotionally abused, cried themselves to sleep, given money for their loved one to buy alcohol, worried all night when they didn’t come home, made compromises with them that went against their values and missed out on many experiences because their partner would be tempted to drink. They had had enough and this was their last resort.
I took a look around the circle. These people had come here to seek an understanding of why their loved one was an addict. They needed answers and were desperately hoping they’d find them here, but they wouldn’t. The painful truth was we didn’t end up in this family therapy session because of our addicted partners.
The weakest and conditioned parts of ourselves were triggered in our relationship with them, but they did not put those traits there. These traits were deeply rooted inside us and conditioned at a young age. We had the disease to please. As we got to know each other better we noticed we grew up to be accommodating, self-less, hard and “self sufficient”. Self abandonment was praised for being heroic.
We realised the people we attracted wore chaos on their sleeves, like my dad once did. We were equipped to handle their chaos, and trauma-bonded to people to whom we could freely release our codependent nature as the helper, the problem solver, the controller and the caregiver.
When I was ready to leave my partner I was filled with anger, resentment and all the emotions I wasn’t “allowed” to feel while he started his recovery journey. I moved into a space, where I could live alone, and began to painfully sit with myself. Although feeling alone was a familiar feeling, actually being alone was a foreign one. No distractions, just me.
Looking around my new apartment I remember the sterile room lined with bunk beds, the smell of artificial peaches and my first roller skate barbie.
I will not end up there, I thought. The pain I felt dissipated and a seed was planted that night. One that would root deep within me and one that was determined to grow.
Jessica Jones is a teacher living in the Manitoba prairies. For the past year she has been actively writing and sharing her experiences with co-dependency, alcoholism, and the impact it’s had on her and her relationships. Her interests include psychology, photography, and her brand-new podcast called Mulch. For more stories and articles by Jessica follow her on Instagram @from.mulch, listen to her podcast Mulch or visit her website frommulch.com.