Sara Zarr Was Here

Author. Person. Restless Christian humanist skeptic. Recovering codependent perfectionist. Manufactured in a plant that processes peanuts. Also making a long-running appearance at
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I’ve been thinking and reading about codependency and being the child of an alcoholic a lot lately. I go through this periodically, when I realize that self-awareness doesn’t always equal change, or when I start getting close to certain emotions, or when I’m convinced I’m acting like a freak and pushing everyone around me away, or when I’m under a lot of stress and having trouble coping in general.

I’m going to guess some percentage of you out there reading this fall into the category of coming from an addicted or codependent home. If you do, but you haven’t understood or read up on how this can possibly affect you as an adult, it can be really helpful to try it. Whenever I crack open the classic ADULT CHILDREN OF ALCOHOLICS, I feel slightly less alone, slightly less crazy, slightly less irrevocably fucked-up. It can actually be a comfort to read the list of characteristics. (I particularly struggle with #s 1, 4, 5, 7, 8, and 9.) Then there is all the codependency stuff and all its children and related compulsions. If you grew up in an addicted family system I definitely recommend the ACOA book and also CODEPENDENCY FOR DUMMIES. When I read good stuff on these subjects, I often feel a glimmer of hope and self-understanding.

But sometimes all that information and realization is not comforting. Sometimes it just provides an opportunity to sit there and have a good cry because the light really shines on how far you are from where you wish you were. I hate the way this issue has affected my life and relationships over the years. I hate how it’s hurt me (and maybe others, but I really think 99% of the time they don’t even know the crazy that’s in my head). I hate how it makes me feel weird and afraid and self-loathing/self-judging. I hate how my default feeling is “confused and uneasy.” I hate how afraid I am of being abandoned in even the tiniest way. I hate how it makes me doubt myself—never mind everything I’ve accomplished and overcome. All day today (maybe because of the ongoing upheaval of moving and packing and sorting and feeling overwhelmed) I’ve sort of had a movie reel in my head of My Most Painful Moments and How I Caused Them and Am Not Fit for the Job of Being Human. I can see the friendships I’ve neglected because it felt too hard to do the work, and the ones my issues helped break, the hopes I’ve let rust, the dreams I bailed on for the immediate comfort of fleeting approval, the Self I’ve never cultivated because I didn’t really know how and learned instead to look outside of me for it.

I know it’s always a little disorienting to read stuff like this from people who seem to have it pretty well together. And I do have it pretty well together. My life is in great shape. I have meaningful friendships and a good marriage and a healthy career. But inside my head, there’s often a different, distorted reality fighting for control. And when I get stressed, I start being afraid the distorted reality is winning and that I’m going to ruin something or everything by acting on that belief.

Look, when I post this kind of stuff, it’s not so much that writing in a journal isn’t enough for me. I actually don’t feel the need to talk about it. But I do feel like I want to say to anyone out there who is similarly in pain, you’re not alone. Especially I want to say it to those of you who have carried it around all by yourself and didn’t know that this feeling of crazy is normal for those of us who grew up in an emotionally and/or physically chaotic environment. There’s tons of research that says it would actually be weird if we didn’t turn out like this. So hang in there. There’s enough love for us, and we can learn little by little how to give and receive it without fear.

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