What is a normal family? What is a normal childhood?
If you were a goldfish in a pet store, swimming around in a crowded tank and having big faces loom up and gaze closely at you all the time, well, to you, that is normal. But what if someone told you about a beautiful blue lake where you could swim around practically forever? You would rarely see another fish and no looming faces would come into view. Food would be all around you. You would not have to wait for a few flakes to float on the top of the water to eat. In this lake, you would have freedom.
Would you believe what you were hearing? No.
Why? What this person is describing to you is so far from your personal experience that you would be skeptical, knowing that such a place could not possibly exist. Once you were done listening to this person, you would swim away, bumping into your fellow fish and wondering about what you had heard. Could such a place exist?
If you had told me, as a child, teen, young adult and middle-aged woman that I did not have to rescue everyone by using my time, talents, money and Christian love, I would have been very skeptical. Are you kidding me? That was all I knew in my world. It started with my alcoholic mother. My earliest memories were trying to make her happy so she wouldn’t drink. I tried to be good all the time. I sought her approval as I tried to be good, and yet, despite my efforts, she drank.
I tried meeting her emotional needs by always watching to see how she was doing and what I could do to help. She attempted suicide twice, and each time, I felt powerless. No matter what I did, she lived her life her way.
I was primed for co-dependence.
My brother was mentally unstable. He hated my parents and punished them with bad behavior. He was violent towards me and would hit me whenever he could. One of my earliest memories of him was him saying, “Let’s commit suicide by eating this medicine.” I had no idea what he meant, but I went along with him. I admired him even though he scared me. I took the blame for his destruction of my parents’ property. I was so upset to see them upset that I was willing to say that I did it so we could get back to normal. I was punished all the time, for my brother would not stop being destructive. I did whatever I could do to appease my brother. I felt powerless. No matter what I did, he lived his life his way.
I was primed for co-dependence.
My earliest memories of my father was a fun, funny guy who seemed to enjoy me and my brother. He built us go-carts and passed the football. Later as he climbed the company ladder, and became an executive, he became more and more distant. He was either golfing, visiting clients or at work, even on weekends. He didn’t seem to like us anymore. I did all I could do to be a good daughter: I got good grades, listened to his stories and carried his emotional baggage about his unhappy marriage to my mom. He was very critical of everyone. Woe unto me if I came under his critical gaze. My father seemed to make everyone else happy but never had anything left over for us. Why would he? My brother was out of control, my mom drank and drank, and I was doing weird things to his house (my brother was the culprit; he never knew that) so I was that kid.
I once tracked in some oil on my shoes from playing handball in the alley behind our house. I didn’t know it until my mother found it. She was upset. My dad yelled and went into my room and broke all of my plastic and glass horses that I loved so much. He wanted me to feel what it was like to have your possessions disrespectfully treated. He would later go in, on another occasion, and destroy my brother’s drum set. Oftentimes, my dad would talk to me and make me feel important. He seemed to be the only one who cared, but he would also just disappear into his work. As the years went on, he would just talk about himself, relaying all of his unhappiness about his marriage to me. I worried about my family each and every day. My only escape was school, which I loved.
My dad, every time he achieved a new rung on the company ladder, would become more and more distant. One day, he took me for a drive up the California coast to tell me of his new life, his new love and how he would be leaving my mom. I felt powerless. No matter what I did, he lived his life his own way.
I was primed for co-dependence.
I became a Christian at the age of 14. All of my searching for peace and answers about life was over; I never felt alone from that point on. I attended a church filled with sweet saints, who became my surrogate family. They made me feel that I actually had a place in the world. I loved church: choir, Bible studies, prayer meetings, youth group, youth events, and time spent talking with my elders made my first years as a Christian rich and fulfilling. I slid my Christian morality and beliefs right over my drive for co-dependence. I was always available to help others, even at the expense of myself. I could never say no without feeling guilty, so I spent endless hours talking with people. I saw everyone as a victim who couldn’t change their circumstances, so I did whatever I could to help them.
I got involved with unhealthy churches and their leaders (I had no idea how deeply broken these leaders were or if I got an inkling, I ignored it) and I was blamed by these leaders when things went wrong. I tried to fix broken people. I felt guilty when I pursued my own gifts; I always deferred to others. I helped them but was resentful when no one helped me.
I was the Queen of People Pleasing. I smiled, laughed and was a good friend, even when I wanted to leave. But I felt secure when church people loved me. I became lost in the chaos of other people’s lives, thinking I would be the one to fix the problems. I had no boundaries. I was always available, no matter what.
Now, at age 59, I have reached the end of my tether. I now know I cannot fix people. I cannot save them. I cannot make them want to follow the Lord I love so much.
Unhealthy people are every where and I cannot help them all.
I am beginning my journey to a life of freedom in Christ: only doing what He asks me to do: Nothing more and nothing less.
Join me. You may discover, that although our lives are different, that the same shackles that are on my wrists are on yours. We both want freedom in Christ. We want to help others but not at the expense of ourselves.
Let’s pursue a healthy and Christ-like way of interacting with others, serving God and making sure we are not lost in the process.