Healing from Co-Dependency
Going to the depths to find connection with God.
by Julie Guirguis
Tears stung my red, puffy eyes. My heart felt like a thousand daggers had been thrust into it. As I watched Paul walk away, the knot in my stomach told me it was over. I struggled with the urge to run after him and force him to stay. My feet felt like they were stuck in cement.
Although I knew our relationship was unhealthy, I didn’t have the strength to leave Paul. Staying in dysfunction was familiar; it was the unknown that scared me. I had invested so much time in this man emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and financially.
A typical day consisted of accompanying Paul to the methadone clinic in the morning, then watching him shoot it up on the train or at his place. I would lie to the doctor to get a script of pills for him, clean up after him, take responsibility for his actions, and justify his behavior to family and friends.
I thought I was helping Paul, but I was actually hindering him. My repeated rescue attempts allowed him to continue a destructive course and become more dependent on me.
As Paul’s reliance on me increased, I developed a sense of reward and satisfaction from being needed. I became compulsive about it, fearing that if I didn’t continue, he would leave me. Being abandoned was my greatest fear.
I often entangled myself in toxic relationships. I left them feeling used, abused, and brokenhearted with the continual question “Why does this keep happening to me?”
Not long after Paul broke up with me, I met another man named Mark in my psychology class at TAFE (technical and further education). I was attracted to his mind and creative spirit. But not long after I met him, he pulled out of TAFE because of personal reasons.
Mark and I didn’t cross paths until a year later, and we started going out. Not long into the relationship I noticed he was an addict. Every time we went out, he popped pills and washed them down with large amounts of alcohol.
Six months later, I attracted yet another addict into my life — Kevin. His drug of choice was heroin, which he hid well for a long time. One day I bumped into him at Kings Cross, a notorious area for scoring drugs.
“What are you doing here?” I questioned, already suspicious.
“Uh . . . I’m just meeting someone,” he stammered.
“Your pupils look pinned and your eyes glassy.” Kevin knew that I knew, but he still tried to hide it.
He continued to be deceitful. When I realized I could no longer trust him, we broke up a couple of months later.
But I was oblivious that I was also an addict — not to drugs or alcohol but to people with problems. Unaware of my co-dependency, I repeated old patterns in each new relationship.
My emotional state was a vacuum, living in relationships that thrived on constant crisis and drama. Driven by a sense of obligation and duty, I desensitized and became numb to protect myself.
How did I get this way? I had come from a loving Christian family. My older brother had been born with an intellectual disability, so from an early age, I helped mum look after him.
Caretaking caused me to be caring, attentive, and sensitive to the needs of others. I put their needs first, neglecting my own. Because of my upbringing, I believed this sacrifice was noble, even Christlike.
So much being placed on me at an early age made me super-responsible as an adult. I couldn’t distinguish between my responsibilities and others. I fought battles I didn’t need to fight and forced outcomes that were better left in God’s hands.
I was like Martha in Luke 10:41. Jesus told her, “Martha, Martha . . . you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed — or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (NIV).
I was so absorbed in caretaking that I didn’t have time to sit at the feet of Jesus.
Worse than Martha, my identity was based on how well I could care for people, especially in intimate connections. When they failed, I blamed myself, convinced that I had not done enough to make things work.
I learned later that though co-dependency affects relationships, it ultimately reflects the problem you have with yourself. After a string of broken relationships, I knew something had to change.
I read many books on co-dependency and discovered that I would enter unhealthy relationships with men because I didn’t like myself and didn’t want to be alone. Instead of having a healthy relationship with myself, I made other relationships more important. Over time my own needs, thoughts, and feelings revolved around men.
I had a knack for pinpointing people’s defects but was oblivious to my own. To correct this, Jesus encouraged me to look at myself instead of at others (Luke 6:41, 42)
Instead of following the commandment to “Love thy neighbor,” I distorted it to “Love my neighbor instead of myself.” Having a martyr mindset served as a substitute for real love.
After witnessing Paul shoot up in his groin for two years (that was the only vein left on his pin-cushioned body), I couldn’t take anymore. I tried to plead with him to stop, but he couldn’t see a way out. He was addicted to drugs, and I was addicted to him. He chose drugs over me and said I was better off without him, abruptly ending the relationship.
At first, my world fell apart. Being single was unfamiliar territory, leaving me vulnerable and raw. My self-worth revolved around having a significant other. I let go of the delusion that Paul would change and get clean. This letting go involved grieving over dashed hopes and dreams.
But letting go also provided opportunity for me to love myself again. My single years were some of the best of my life. I used this time to get to know myself as a person. For all the years I spent caretaking and looking after everyone else, I now poured into nurturing, loving, and caring for myself.
I regained a sense of self and became stronger on the inside. Taking time out for me provided balance and serenity.
Connecting to God
Being single also gave me a chance to connect to God wholeheartedly. No longer was my self-worth stemmed in relationships with men but was anchored in my relationship with Jesus.
This allowed me to get back to my creative passions. Painting and writing had been talents I had buried during my relationships. I now had time to refocus and even use them as therapeutic tools. I journaled to God every day, excited about my transformations and having Him as a source of real love and joy.
After taking a break from men and reconnecting with Jesus and myself, I am now in a loving, healthy partnership with a special man. We respect each other’s boundaries and are open and honest with each other, so there is no need for control and manipulation.
Although my previous relationships brought me great pain, they also led me to the path of healing and learning about what healthy relationships are. I am grateful for the lessons learned and growth that has come because of my journey.
The New Codependency by Melody Beattie (Simon & Schuster, 2009)
Disentangle: When You’ve Lost Your Self in Someone Else by Nancy L. Johnston, MS, LPC, LSATP (Central Recovery Press, 2003)