One morning, not too long ago, I woke up quite bedraggled: tired, listless, unwilling to start the day. As my first commitments were not until the afternoon, I sank into the lethargy, hoping a few more minutes would suffice. Within a half-hour of futile indulgence, not only was I still tired, but there was fear also: why was I so tired? I had just slept nine hours, shouldn’t that be enough? Why did I feel so weak…was I sick? Allowing fear to run amok in my (now) chaotic mind, thoughts of devastating but unrealistic illnesses bulldozed through my psyche increasing the ante. I finally surrendered to this onslaught, stopped thinking and just felt the fear. I let it shiver over me and I hugged myself in the face of its vulnerability. Eventually the irrational gave way to my truth; I wasn’t so much tired (or sick), but in avoidance. Through obsessive and irrational thinking I was avoiding what was really bothering me: the mundane day-to-day stressors that can cloud one’s horizon every so often. Realizing this, I voiced these seemingly minor worries and reassured myself, while comforting these fearful parts. Feeling better and somewhat more energized, I got up and went for a walk.
The sunshine was brilliant as only a long awaited April sun can be, and spring flowers smiled in the promise of longer days and bluer skies. I walked along feeling less tired and no longer fearful, when a silent and insidious critique of others, close friends and strangers, crept over me. The inner harangue went on for some time before the beauty around me made me stop and ask, “Jo-Ann, what it is? This anger is irrational, what are you really feeling?” And, once again, I recognized some anxiety, although this time it was masked by anger. I voiced my fears again, giving them more expression and more reassurance. I went deeper with my self care this time around, realizing that these “minor” fears were more potent than I had initially judged.
Emotions, especially ones that frighten us, are easily masked by other, shall we say, more convenient ones. People will cry when they are really angry or joke when sadness overwhelms them. For me, feeling tired, expressing irrational fears of disease, and/or angry thoughts, are ways to avoid the everyday stressors of, for example, social anxieties and financial concerns. These concerns can make me feel vulnerability and, no pun intended, it is not my strong side. I put up masks or defenses to hide from these feelings and, in doing so, deny a part of myself that wants expression. The ironic thing about these masks is that the more one tries to deny or repress the feelings beneath them, the harder the feelings will work to express themselves. The result is that the mask has to become harsher, more extreme; more irrational. Just like that morning when I was incredibly tired, had unrealistic fears of sickness and was unjustly critical of my friends — all were attempts to distract myself from feeling the normal vulnerabilities of everyday life.
In codependence, a part of us feels we don’t have the right to express. That expression could be anger, sadness, fear or even love; we feel we have lost that right because there is either a lack of safety or we judge ourselves as “lesser than”. When my codependent parts go to these extreme lengths to distract myself from feeling vulnerable, I deny myself a chance to be authentic and open to life. I create a false self that not only hides from fears but in doing so, hides from joy. You cannot have one without the other: if we fear dying, can we really enjoy living? If I hide from anger (my own or others), am I creating a true sense safety for myself?
Charles Whitfield, M.D., author and therapist, says that in the recovery of codependence you have to “get down on the floor and wrestle with each feeling”. You have to “recognize it, feel it, experience it, work it through, use it, [to finally be able to] let go of it”. And so it was with me. It was not until I gave my vulnerable parts enough space and time to express their fears, that I could really let go of them and enjoy the beauty and abundance the day had to offer.
Jo-Ann Svensson teaches “creative codependence” and is a Certified ARC Health Practitioner.