Hi, my name is Teresa Kay Means and I am 32 years old. I am codependent. I am also in recovery for numerous other mental health issues including childhood trauma. I have been in recovery and treatment for as long as I can remember, as well as my children. I am a single mother of four, ages ranging from 8 to 16.
I have been in recovery for more than 15 years and I have "relapsed" many times, just like many of you. People say I don’t understand. I do understand more than they realize. I know that we must change the toxic people we are around, places we go and things we do during recovery. Since I've done those things, I have been so much happier and am bettering myself once again.
If you have been around Celebrate Recovery for any length of time, you have probably heard the term codependency. To me it is an unhealthy love addiction and a tendency to excessively be a “caretaker” in ways that are detrimental to relationships and quality of life. It consists of placing a lower priority on one’s own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others. Codependency can also be characterized by denial, low self-esteem, excessive compliance or control patterns. This describes my behavior for many, many years.
So what did codependency look like in my life? It looked like trying to keep the ‘peace’ and make everyone happy. It looked like trying to be what others wanted me to be and never knowing who I truly was. It looked like trying to control and fix other people that I loved; to be what I thought God wanted them to be or really, what I wanted them to be. As a result, I was always anxious. I made sure my siblings and everyone around me were doing what they were supposed to be doing to keep "anything bad from happening" or making sure my loved ones were “safe” at all times, beginning at a very young age. I was constantly trying to "help" and “please” others.
Do you see the insanity of codependency? I can’t keep everyone “safe” and “happy.” I can’t make people do the right things, and fix all of their problems. In those attempts, I put aside my feelings, wants, needs, and desires and pushed them aside until I would finally overreact to some insignificant event. The end result was anxiety, depression, anger, unhappiness, broken relationships, becoming suicidal and being called crazy. For my recovery essay I will be writing an open letter to my 16-year-old daughter.
I just want to say I’m sorry you had to become part of a vicious cycle. I’m sorry you had to see the worst parts of the world before the best. I’m sorry I had to work long hours and go to school leaving you at daycare for others to tend to your needs and ignoring some. I’m sorry I didn’t know how to respond to everything the way I should as a parent. I know how you must feel as a child, because I was a child like you with those same thoughts and feelings, except I didn’t have a parent that understood or advocated for me.
I’m sorry that you grew up with a codependent mother that had you at age 15. I didn’t have anywhere to turn where I felt understood, loved, or supported; except for you. I’m sorry you witnessed over and over again all the abuse, violence, hate and selfishness in this world all too soon. I’m sorry you have to grow up in a world where it’s more socially acceptable to take a pill and “get better” or abuse drugs and alcohol than it is to speak about mental health issues. I’m truly sorry you have seen so much in life that you don’t want to be kind to others, in fear you will get treated poorly. I want you to know that we choose who we want to be around, no matter how much we love them. I hope you have seen I have been trying to change this vicious cycle.
I’m sorry you grew up watching me helping so many people, that I forgot to help myself along the way. I’m sorry I can't get disability because of my work history and education. I’d make great money working, but still wasn't making enough to make ends meet. I was sacrificing all my time helping others and I forgot about those who needed me the most: myself, you and my other children. I’m very sorry that many of our mental health issues are genetic and we really didn’t do this to ourselves. I’m very sorry it can affect every aspect of our lives including our relationships, religion, careers and even our way of life.
I have always loved learning and helping others my entire life so much that it depleted and disabled me. While trying to go to two schools and work from home, I missed my children’s lives and wasn’t available when you needed me the most. Yes, I have been the woman who worked and studied hard, but I wasn't successful. Maybe in society's eyes, but not mine. I just wanted to be an amazing mother. Not a perfect one. I just want to be the best I can and help others see they are worth more than they are settling for, not depleting myself in the process. I’m sorry I’m not the mother I dreamed of or imagined to be, but I will never stop trying. That is my life goal.
Most of all I’m so sorry you have to witness the family you love so much including siblings, enduring similar issues in silence as if we should suppress our trauma and feelings. I’m sorry you had to see how crooked the authorities can be and learn at a young age that if you defend yourself or open up about what’s going on that you will get stigmatized, mocked, degraded, bullied, slandered and lied to. They are already displaying codependent traits and they don’t deserve that. I'm showing them you can be kind and compassionate but still have healthy boundaries.
I’m so sorry you had to see we don’t have many resources or options in this world. All we can do is work on ourselves and be the change we wish to see in this world. Our truth is good enough. We deserve the same love, respect and rights as everyone else. We deserve to value ourselves. Recovery works if you truly want it to, with or without the help of others. All I know is I am me and that is all I will ever be. Growing, learning and trying to be the change I wish to see in this world starting with myself; then with my children. I will never stop fighting. I love you more than you could ever imagine.