It is extremely important to understand detachment, which we discussed in week 3, as it is impossible to move forward unless we begin that process of turning our focus inward and separating our worth and identity from someone else and from his/her unhealthy behaviours. This is hard work and it takes time to learn self care for codependency.
Before we move on to self care, more of my own story illustrates the importance of detachment.
As described in week 3, once I shifted my thinking about the unhealthy relationship I was in, I was then able to begin my detachment work. Although I was still living with an alcoholic man, much of my detachment work focused on physically distancing myself from him. Because I was working several jobs and going to school full time, I was not in his presence often. Of course, this helped me begin the work of detaching myself from him emotionally and psychologically, especially as I began to be validated outside of my relationship with him. After a year and six months, I graduated from school with my teaching credential, secured a teaching job in a different town, and left the relationship. There were times when I thought about this individual, and there were a few occasions when I talked to him over the phone about financial issues which still involved me.
However, about two months into my new life, I was surprised when I received a call from him inviting me to dinner. He said he wanted to talk. He said he needed me. At that moment, I was pulled back in. We made arrangements to meet for dinner at a restaurant in a small town between the two cities in which each of us was living. During the days before the dinner reservation, I found myself worrying about him and wondering if what I had done made him worse. After all that I had been through and accomplished, I still felt responsible for him and his feelings.
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This is very important. It is critical to detach ourselves – physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Although we may not be in the presence of the one whom we have been rescuing and controlling, as codependents we carry that emotional and psychologically burden with us. So, we must work on all three areas of detachment. Until we do so, we aren’t quite ready to move into this step – Self Care.
Self Care is self-explanatory. However, it too, like the other recovering concepts with codependents, feels foreign. In the past, in order for us to feel good and complete, we have been taking care of someone else. Now, in order to heal, we must start taking care of our own needs, wants, and desires. Does this mean we are being selfish? You better believe it does! And probably for the first time in our lives. All kidding aside, this too is hard work.
To get started, begin with the following exercises:
- Each day, take a pulse on your own feelings. Ask yourself, this question. What am I feeling and why? Write this down in a daily journal. The point of this is to get in touch with your feelings, not someone else’s. Be honest with yourself. Whether you are in a good place or in a troubled place, write down your truths and validate them. You have a right to your own feelings. And you have an obligation to attend to them.
- Secondly, answer or reflect upon the following questions. What do I want to feel? What do I need? And how will I get there? Don’t get overwhelmed. Start with a daily goal. For example, for the day at hand, do you want to feel comforted? Who or what contributes to that sense of comfort? Arrange for a phone call to chat with a healthy friend, treat yourself to a long walk, or revisit spiritual practices or rituals that renew and revive your being. Keep your focus inward. Stay in tune with what you are feeling and what you need.
- Thirdly, ask yourself these questions. Where and how do I invest into myself? How can I give back to myself? Although this is similar to the second exercise, start thinking about what is important to you. What are your interests, hobbies, talents, gifts, and passions? Whether it is gardening, playing an instrument, going back to school, or joining a club or group, each day set out doing something that reflects an investment back into you.
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With all three of these exercises, you may feel uncomfortable or uneasy at first. However, with time and continued work on your self care, a sense of renewal will emerge. And as you continue to heal, it will become easier and easier to detach yourself from your unhealthy codependent behaviors.
Returning to my personal struggle, I illustrate that although my natural instinct was to be pulled back into my codependency by agreeing to meet with my alcoholic abusive ex, I was no longer the same “codependent” as I was two years previously.
Driving through the pouring rain in an unreliable car was no easy task as I made my way down the busy highway to the restaurant. Arriving late, my former partner was already intoxicated. There was an awkward greeting followed by small talk. Shortly after dinner was ordered, the pathetic man sitting across from me told me of his ongoing troubles and then he asked to borrow money. Over the next few minutes I watched his mouth move as he continued his poor-me scenario, but I didn’t hear a word. I thought about all the good things in my life. I thought about how hard I worked to detach myself from this unhealthy person and this ugly situation. I tapped into my spirit of renewal and mustered up my strength. And as he slurred his words reaching for his drink, I grabbed my purse, paid for my dinner, and left the restaurant. This was a crucial turning point for me as myself care kicked into high gear.
Remember, recovering in not a straight line moving upward. It is like a jagged staircase, a few steps up, a few back down, and then up again. Keep going and keep growing. And, tap into compassionate resources to support your journey.
Publisher’s Note: Holli Kenley is an American Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the author of “ Daughters Betrayed By Their Mothers: Moving from Brokenness to Wholeness” and “Power Down & Parent Up!: Cyber Bullying, Screen Dependence & Raising Tech-Healthy Children”