Self-Care, What it means to me

I know this is cheesy but before the long weekend during my meditation this line from the Shania Twain song You’re Still the One came to me as if I was saying it to myself, “looks like we made it, look how far we’ve come my baby.” This past year has been a year that I completely devoted to myself and my self-care. If you read my last article, you would have discovered that I am a Codependent who because of her codependency, had fallen into a depression. Now that I understand my codependency and how to recover from it, I no longer allow it to define me. It is through my practices of self-care that I have been able to recognize old habits, behaviours, and relationships that no longer serve me. To me, self-care is more than just your physical maintenance. It is so much deeper than that. Sure, getting your hair and nails done have you feeling better, but it is not as long-lasting. To me, self-care means taking care of all aspects of the self. It means taking care of your body, mind, and soul. Your mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

Self-care is not a one size fits all, and what I practice in my self-care routines may not feel authentic to you. However, my goal for this article is to have you thinking about what you can do for yourself today that will have you feeling just a little bit better about yourself and your life in general. Lately, I’ve found myself saying “vibrate a little higher Alex.” Everyday, I do my best to find a way to raise my vibration, and my sense of worth. What can I do today to make this day a little brighter, a little happier for myself and those around me? To me, that is what self-care is all about. So here are my steps to taking better care of the self:

  1. SPEND TIME WITH JUST YOURSELF:  You must spend time with yourself, so that you can eventually connect with yourself on a deeper level. You must have time completely alone so that you can get in touch with your thoughts and feeling without outside influence. You need to spend some quiet time alone so that you can get to know what your body, mind, and spirit needs. You cannot properly take care of yourself if you don’t know what you need, and the only way to find that out is to spend some good quality time with yourself. Cultivate a relationship with yourself.
  2. BE COMPLETELY HONEST WITH YOURSELF: How are you feeling? Be honest. You know when you’re lying to yourself, so don’t waste your time and energy trying to convince yourself that you’re “fine.” The universe always finds a way “to put you in your place” so to speak, and then you have no choice but to really deal with your feelings, so you might as well just be honest, and avoid any further pain. I know this sounds really simple, and it really is, however, if you’ve never taken the time to check in with yourself, this can feel really uncomfortable. It gets easier the more you practice. I promise! So, for example, if you’re feeling tired? Why is that? What is draining you of your energy? What can you do right now to recharge? What can you give back to yourself so that you can feel restored? Ask yourself these questions no matter what the feeling may be. If the feeling is happiness, sit in that feeling, soak it in, and think, how could I grow this feeling? What can I do more in my life to try to cultivate more of these good feelings? Whether the feeling or emotion is positive or negative, sit in it for a while, try your best to understand it so that you can find ways of letting it go, or letting it grow.
  3. TAKE ACTION: So, now you’re completely alone with your thoughts and feelings. You’ve been completely honest with yourself about how your body, mind, and spirit is feeling, and you’ve identified the predominant feeling, now what? Well, that is completely up to you, and intuitively you will know exactly what you need to do, or maybe there is nothing to do but to just let it be. The more time you practice being with yourself (not distracted on your phone, or watching television) the stronger your intuition becomes and the better you’ll be able to identify what you need and how to get it. This is the best part of self-care! This is the part where you nurture yourself, and give yourself all of the things that really no one else can provide. Shower yourself with love and affection.

For me, I always start my day by spending quality time alone, planning out my day, meditating, working out, sometimes I read or listen to a podcast and then feed myself my first meal of the day. I do my best to find time in the morning completely devoted to myself and my needs. Sometimes, I have to do this after some of my morning clients but I always find time for myself to be alone. This sets the tone for my entire day. This is when I’m able to identify the actions that I need to take to elevate myself in the areas that I feel need more love and attention. To me, this is self-care. Self-care is taking the time to develop a strong relationship with yourself so that you create value for yourself. The more you value yourself, the better you’ll take care of yourself, and the better others will treat you. Take care of yourself, vibrate higher, and watch your life change for the better.

Photo of Alexandra Rinaldo at Sandbanks Provincial Park wearing a pink racerback tank top

A photo of me at Sandbanks Provincial Park

 


Codependent. I’ve become a Codependent in Recovery

It’s funny, I knew that my family was codependent before I knew I was. I even told my therapist how I thought my parent’s have a very codependent relationship, not being able to really see myself. I knew my parents were codependent because I was Codependent also. In fact, I intuitively knew I was Codependent because I was already following the Twelve Step Program to Recovery for Codependents before I spoke with a therapist at all. Once Codependency was suggested to me by my therapist, I realized that, that was exactly what I was suffering from. It was so life affirming to know that I was on the right path. That I’m doing alright. I’m exactly where I need to be, and I’m going to be fucking okay! It was the biggest thing that happened to me so far this year. I’ve slowly but surely lost my confidence over the course of my twenties. I lost the ability to trust myself and to properly take care of myself as a whole. If I’m going to be real, I’ve never had so little in my entire life. So little money, so little security, so little motivation, so little energy, so little of basically everything. I’ve made myself very small. Like I tried to explain in my last post called Forgiveness which I hope you read, because forgiveness is what really got me to finally move towards a healthier, happier version of myself. Forgiveness was and is the only thing that has allowed me to forgive myself, and to finally give myself the love and compassion I deserve. I’ve been punishing myself for far too long. It is the shame, guilt, lack of self-worth, pain, anger, grief, lack of trust in everything and everyone, that has kept me in a dark place thinking that all of this obviously happened to me because I deserved it. At my very core I believed I was a bad person, who had to fight extra hard to receive love and keep it. In fact, I felt like I had to fight for everything I had in life, and I had to fight to defend it all too. Why? Well because I thought everything that was important to me would be taken away from me at any point, and I had many, many reasons as to why that would be. All of this stemmed from my childhood.

Some of you might be wondering what Codependency is and what it means to be Codependent? Well, I think Melody Beattie does the best job describing what Codependency is and how to overcome it. I bought both of her books; Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring For Yourself , and The New Codependency, the second my therapist recommended Codependent No More, and they have been the most influential books for my healing. Through reading these books, I learned a lot about myself, my family, and how to finally take care of myself in the way that I need. Like I said before, I was already doing a lot of the things that Melody recommends for recovery, but she really helped to give me a deeper understanding. Plus she really does a good job of teaching you how you can apply her teachings to your life with activities and examples from her life and the lives of other Codependents she has come into contact with. So, what is Codependency? “The behaviours associated with Codependency- from controlling to caretaking are behaviours that saved our lives when we didn’t know what else to do. In most situations, whether alcoholism was involved or not, codependent behaviours are what anyone might do if he or she walked for five or ten years in our shoes… Codependency is normal behaviour, plus. There are times we do too much, feel too little, or overly engage. We forget where the other person’s responsibilities begin and our responsibilities stop. Or we get busy and have so much to do that we neglect ourselves.” (Melody Beattie) You don’t necessarily need to have addiction in your family in order for you to become Codependent. In fact, Codependency is quite common, and it starts in your childhood. That is where we learn these survival mechanisms by experiencing trauma. Trauma is anything that happened to you that you were not able to understand, and so you respond emotionally. It could be as simple as someone consistently calling you names, and making fun of you. You don’t know why this is happening to you, but it keeps happening and it hurts.

A lot of the things that hurt us as children we did not completely understand, especially if our parents or guardians never took the time to explain our pain or emotions to us. Children absorb a lot of their environment without fully understanding it, we try our best to rationalize our pain to ourselves by telling ourselves stories about why those bad things happened to us or the people we love. Usually, the explanation that we land on is that we are responsible for what happened to us, and it is because we are bad, dumb, ugly, stupid, insert any reason. These are very naive, childlike beliefs about ourselves that many of us carry on into adulthood. The only way to let go of these limiting beliefs is to  finally face the root cause of these beliefs. The root cause is the trauma that we experienced as children, all the “bad things” that happened to us. That means we need to go back to our childhood trauma, understand the pain and emotions associated with that trauma, accept what happened, and move on. We need to find the lessons in those experiences so that we can learn and grow, until you do that, you will forever repeat the same pain over and over again. You will become small, like a child.

Everybody on this earth wants to be seen, heard, and recognized. That’s all we want. We want to be understood and loved. Sometimes the trauma that we experience as children was simply not being seen or heard; feeling ignored, or abandoned in some way. This may not have even happened to us on purpose. I mean, how could our parents be the parents we needed them to be at all times? They’re human, and therefore, they have, and will continue to make mistakes. As children, we don’t understand this. As children we think our parents know everything. We only learn that our parents don’t know everything, and aren’t perfect once we begin to learn and have new experiences outside of the home. However, our brains and our bodies remember everything that has ever happened to us, whether it was a positive experience or negative experience. Especially as a child, if you cannot understand what is happening to you or around you, you will forever carry the pain and the emotions associated with that pain in your subconscious and in your body. Just because you don’t think about it all the time, doesn’t mean that it’s not there. The pain is there, and you will start to create patterns in your life that mimic the same trauma that cause you that pain in the first place. “Bad things” or the same “bad things” will keep happening until you recognize the pattern. It takes a long time, and a certain level of awareness or consciousness for you to finally accept your family’s shortcomings, and that doesn’t usually happen until adulthood. That doesn’t happen until you finally take responsibility for your own life. You see, it is not just your parents that have a major influence on your life and your beliefs. It is also your grandparents, and your siblings. It can sometimes be your cousins as well, especially if you had a very close almost sibling like relationship with your cousins. I know I did growing up. You basically need to recognize the humanity in everyone, including yourself. No one is simply bad or good, we are human. We all experience pain, and if we don’t ever find a way to overcome our pain, we will only continue to live out that pain, replay our childhood, and then pass that on to the next generation. The easy thing to do is blame someone else for our pain. They did this to me, and so therefore I’m like this. Blaming, anger, hate, denial, repression, don’t stop the pain, and they don’t end the cycle. In fact, those things keep the pain alive. It starts to become comforting because it’s all you really know. The more you do this, the more frequently you’ll repeat the pattern of trauma, and the worse the consequences.

In a nutshell, that’s basically what happened to me. I spent the majority of my life repressing my emotions and the pain associated with those emotions until I could no longer deny my own unhappiness. I became Codependent because I have been repeating my childhood pain over and over again by using the same Codependent childhood survival mechanisms. I’ve repeated the same toxic boyfriend relationship, and the same toxic best friend relationship until now. All of the pieces that I’ve written so far this year is not me trying to relish in the past, no. In fact, that’s me trying to make sense of the past, forgive my past and move on. Honestly, all I’ve ever wanted was someone to tell me that it’s going to be okay and that I’m not crazy. I finally got that when I spoke to my therapist on a phone session. She told me that my reactions to what happened to me with my family were completely normal, and that I’m going to be okay. (If you’re wondering what I used for therapy, it’s an online therapy called Better Help) I felt for the longest time that I was fucked up, that something was wrong with me, and that’s why I could never find love or happiness. Part of me knew this wasn’t true, but after repeating the same trauma over and over again it’s really hard to believe that. The more you repeat the same pain that you don’t fully understand, the more powerful your reaction to that pain is. The more emotional you become, the more bitter you become, the more naive and irrational you become. You become small, and childlike. You see this all the time. When adults have temper tantrums in the supermarket over a couple of cents on their grocery bill! They’re not upset with the cashier or the store, that’s stupid! We all know that’s stupid. They’re just projecting their own pain onto someone else because they don’t know what else to do with it. They don’t fully understand it, and they don’t want to feel this way anymore, so they do their best to get rid of it in any way they know how. I’m here to tell you that the only way to become healthy and happy again is to go through your pain. Face your pain, feel your pain and the emotions that come with it. Once you’ve weathered the storm, you can come out the other side with a deeper understanding of yourself, and the people in your life. That is when you can finally accept the things that happened to you, and move on.

Some of you may be wondering, well how do I do that? Well, in my post called Stronger Than Me I quoted the Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh where he talked about your pain and anxiety as your baby, and you must embrace that baby, take care of it, in order to get a relief. As an adult, you must go back to that inner child and explain their pain to them in order to get a relief. That does not mean that you make up a new story as to why you’re suffering, No. It means you need to detach yourself from the events that caused you pain and suffering in order to create awareness and consciousness. You need to understand that these things didn’t just happen to you, in fact they can happen to anyone, and they happen all the time. They didn’t happen to you because you “deserved it” they just happened. You need to take yourself out of the situation in order for you to be able to see clearly. It is from a state of consciousness that you will finally be able to understand the events that happened to you, find the lesson in those events, be grateful for that lesson, and move on. You can find the good in everything, you just need to be conscious in order to see it. Buddhist principles can be found in various recovery programs. Detachment and awareness are fundamental to recovery, and Buddhist traditions. Prayer, meditation, yoga, and the quest for knowledge and wisdom, are some of the things that I used to raise my level of consciousness so that I can heal myself, and move on. I was stuck for a while, not realizing how stuck I was, until I could see others moving past me. That was a painful realization for me. I was holding myself back, and I didn’t know why. Now I know why. I’m aware of my pain and what caused it. I’ve been actively letting go and becoming the person I want to be. I’m evolving and it feels so good. I’m letting go of my survival mechanisms because I no longer feel the need to survive, I want to thrive. I want to be happy, I want to grow. Now, I’m going to list some of the care-taking, hero complex, characteristics in this post so that you can have a better understanding of me, and who knows, maybe yourself? I don’t know. I’ve spent a lot of my life-giving and taking care of others because that’s all I knew. That was how I got the recognition I needed as a kid. Like I said before, all people want is to be seen, heard, and recognized. For me, I was always coming to the rescue, putting myself in the line of fire. Sacrificing myself for the good of the family. My family was my life, as a child, they were what I needed to survive, so I did everything to protect my life and my family. These behaviours became more and more self-deprecating as I grew older. The more I tried to care for others, put their needs in front of my own, save them from themselves or their situations, the more my needs got ignored. As an adult, the only person you need to take care of is yourself. When you’re a child, you don’t understand that because someone always took care of you. As a child, when we see your parents in pain or your siblings in pain, we do what we know, we react, we don’t think. So, we do what our parents did for us when we were in pain. For me, I nurtured and took care of those in pain. My first reaction was always to come to their rescue. Now that I am wiser, I understand that it is not up to me to come to anyone’s rescue. In fact, I can’t save anyone from themselves. It is exhausting to even try, and believe me, I’ve tried. Over and over again until I myself was exhausted of all my energy, and resources. I guess that’s what I needed to do to finally wake up and recognize that I have no control over anyone else, and I can’t help anyone else the way I want to if I don’t learn how to help myself first.

You see, Codependents mean well. In fact, they can be some of the most loving, generous, and caring people on earth. The problem is, many Codependents give from a deep need to be loved and accepted. They give in order to get, and they begin to feel resentful when their efforts are not appreciated in the way that they hoped. They are so busy taking care of and worrying about everyone else, that they fail to take care of themselves. In fact, many of us believe deep down that we are incapable of taking care of ourselves. We take care of others so that they in turn take care of us. We become very needy and dependent people pretending that it is the people we take care of that need us when really we need them just as much. We act as though we are the strong, and responsible ones, when really we feel very lost, but we do what we know in order to get the things we think we want. I’m very grateful that God has given me the chance to be able to see both sides of the Codependency coin. I know what it’s like to be very Codependent, but I also know what it’s like to be very independent. When I went away to school at Wilfrid Laurier University, I had the opportunity to be my own person, and it was some of the best years of my life. I paid my own rent, bought my own groceries, paid for my own reading week vacations, I worked hard, and I got to see the fruits of my own labour. It gave me a sense of confidence and a sense of self. I can’t say that I was completely independent but I got a taste of what it was like to do something completely for myself and how good that feels. Even when I did bodybuilding, that sport was completely for myself and I worked hard to move from bikini to figure in just 11 months to win second place. I’m proud of that. God has given me glimpses of what is possible for myself if I show myself the love that I deserve, if I gave myself all of my energy. I know that I can take care of myself, and in fact, I really don’t have a choice. My depression showed me that I can no longer live this way as a Codependent. I have run myself dry, I have nothing left to give to the outside world, it is now up to me to fill my own cups. I had to ask some of the people I loved the most for space so that I can do just that. That was not easy for me. For a while I didn’t know my own worth outside of my relationships with others, so I would pour my heart and soul into those relationships not realizing that they loved me for me, not for what I did for them. I didn’t realize that I was enough. That me, being myself, was enough for someone to love me and want me in their life. I know that now because even after asking for space, not only did they understand that need, they respected and loved me for it. I’m so grateful. I know that I am worthy of all the things I want in my life because I see it in others. God shows you the things that you could have through other people. God is showing you what is possible if you believe that you are worthy. How do you become worthy? Through healing, and self-care which is the highest form of self-love. You must show yourself the same love you would a wounded child for you to be able to move on and grow from any blockages in your life.

Here are some of the characteristics of Codependency. Like anything, there is a spectrum of Codependency, not all of these things will resonate with you, but, if a majority of these things resonate with you, it may be worth your time and energy to explore this further. Recovery from Codependency is not as painful as you might think. In fact, it’s really fun and exhilarating when you start to give yourself all of the things you’ve spent so much time giving to others. It feels really fucking good. Good luck guys! And if you want to connect to discuss this further? I am very open to that! I wanted to share some of the things that have been the most influential to my own personal healing because I think it’s worth sharing, you never know who might be able to relate.

Excerpted from Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself

Characteristics of Codependent People

by Melody Beattie

  • Care-taking: Codependents may:
    • think and feel responsible for other people for other people’s feelings, actions, choices, wants, needs, well-being, lack of well-being, and ultimate destiny.
    • feel anxiety, pity, and guilt when other people have a problem.
    • feel compelled almost forced to help that person solve the problem, such as offering unwanted advice, giving a rapid-fire series of suggestions, or fixing feelings.
    • feel angry when their help isn’t effective.
    • anticipate other people’s needs.
    • wonder why others don’t do the same for them.
    • find themselves saying yes when they mean no, doing things they don’t really want to be doing, doing more than their fair share of the work, and doing things other people are capable of doing for themselves.
    • not know what they want and need or, if they do, tell themselves what they want and need is not important.
    • try to please others instead of themselves.
    • find it easier to feel and express anger about injustices done to others, rather than injustices done to themselves.
    • feel safest when giving.
    • feel insecure and guilty when somebody gives to them.
    • feel sad because the spend their whole lives giving to other people and nobody gives to them.
    • find themselves attracted to needy people.
    • find needy people attracted to them.
    • feel bored, empty, and worthless if they don’t have a crisis in their lives, a problem to solve, or someone to help.
    • abandon their routine to respond to or do something for somebody else.
    • over-commit themselves.
    • feel harried and pressured.
    • believe deep inside other people are somehow responsible for them.
    • blame others for the spot the codependents are in.
    • say other people make the codependents feel the way they do.
    • believe other people are making them crazy.
    • feel angry, victimized, unappreciated, and used.
    • find other people become impatient or angry with them for all the preceding characteristics.
  • Low Self-Worth: Codependents tend to:
    • come from troubled, repressed, or dysfunctional families.
    • deny their family was troubled, repressed, or dysfunctional.
    • blame themselves for everything.
    • pick on themselves for everything, including the way they think, feel , look, act, and behave.
    • get angry, defensive, self-righteous, and indignant when others blame and criticize the codependents something codependents regularly do to themselves.
    • reject compliments or praise.
    • get depressed from a lack of compliments and praise (stroke deprivation).
    • feel different from the rest of the world.
    • think they’re not quite good enough.
    • feel guilty about spending money on themselves or doing unnecessary or fun things for themselves.
    • feel rejection.
    • take things personally.
    • have been victims of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, neglect, abandonment, or alcoholism.
    • feel like victims.
    • tell themselves they can’t do anything right.
    • be afraid of making mistakes.
    • wonder why they have a tough time making decisions.
    • expect themselves to do everything perfectly.
    • wonder why they can’t get anything done to their satisfaction.
    • have a lot of “shoulds.”
    • feel a lot of guilt.
    • feel ashamed of who they are.
    • think their lives aren’t worth living.
    • try to help other people live their lives instead.
    • artificial feelings of self-worth from helping others.
    • get strong feelings of low self-worth embarrassment, failure, etc. from other people’s failures and problems.
    • wish good things would happen to them.
    • believe good things never will happen.
    • wish other people would like and love them.
    • believe other people couldn’t possibly like and love them.
    • try to prove they’re good enough for other people.
    • settle for being needed.
  • Repression: Many codependents:
    • push their thoughts and feelings out of their awareness because of fear and guilt.
    • become afraid to let themselves be who they are.
    • appear rigid and controlled.
  • Obsession: Codependents tend to:
    • feel terribly anxious about problems and people.
    • worry about the silliest things.
    • think and talk a lot about other people.
    • lose sleep over problems or other people’s behaviour.
    • worry.
    • never find answers.
    • check on people.
    • try to catch people in acts of misbehaviour.
    • feel unable to quit talking, thinking, and worrying about other people or problems.
    • abandon their routine because they are so upset about somebody or something.
    • focus all their energy on other people and problems.
    • wonder why they never have any energy.
    • wonder why they can’t get things done.
  • Controlling: Many codependents:
    • have lived through events and with people who were out of control, causing the codependents sorrow and disappointment.
    • become afraid to let other people be who they are and allow events to happen naturally.
    • don’t see or deal with their fear of loss of control.
    • think they know best how things should turn out and how people should behave.
    • try to control events and people through helplessness, guilt, coercion, threats, advice-giving, manipulation, or domination.
    • eventually fail in their efforts or provoke people’s anger.
    • get frustrated and angry.
    • feel controlled by events and people.
  • Denial: Codependents tend to:
    • ignore problems or pretend they aren’t happening.
    • pretend circumstances aren’t as bad as they are.
    • tell themselves things will be better tomorrow.
    • stay busy so they don’t have to think about things.
    • get confused.
    • get depressed or sick.
    • go to doctors and get tranquilizers.
    • became workaholics.
    • spend money compulsively.
    • overeat.
    • pretend those things aren’t happening, either.
    • watch problems get worse.
    • believe lies.
    • lie to themselves.
    • wonder why they feel like they’re going crazy.
  • Dependency: Many codependents:
    • don’t feel happy, content, or peaceful with themselves.
    • look for happiness outside themselves.
    • latch onto whoever or whatever they think can provide happiness.
    • feel terribly threatened by the loss of any thing or person they think provides their happiness.
    • didn’t feel love and approval from their parents.
    • don’t love themselves.
    • believe other people can’t or don’t love them.
    • desperately seek love and approval.
    • often seek love from people incapable of loving.
    • believe other people are never there for them.
    • equate love with pain.
    • feel they need people more than they want them.
    • try to prove they’re good enough to be loved.
    • don’t take time to see if other people are good for them.
    • worry whether other people love or like them.
    • don’t take time to figure out if they love or like other people.
    • center their lives around other people.
    • look to relationships to provide all their good feelings.
    • lose interest in their own lives when they love.
    • worry other people will leave them.
    • don’t believe they can take care of themselves.
    • stay in relationships that don’t work.
    • tolerate abuse to keep people loving them.
    • feel trapped in relationships.
    • leave bad relationships and form new ones that don’t work either.
    • wonder if they will ever find love.
  • Poor Communication: Codependents frequently:
    • blame
    • threaten.
    • coerce.
    • beg.
    • bribe.
    • advise.
    • don’t say what they mean.
    • don’t mean what they say.
    • don’t know what they mean.
    • don’t take themselves seriously.
    • think other people don’t take the codependents seriously.
    • take themselves too seriously.
    • ask for what they want and need indirectly–sighing, for example
    • find it difficult to get to the point.
    • aren’t sure what the point is.
    • gauge their words carefully to achieve a desired effect.
    • try to say what they think will please people.
    • try to say what they think will provoke people.
    • try to say what they hope will make people do what they want them to do.
    • eliminate the word “no” from their vocabulary
    • talk too much.
    • talk about other people.
    • avoid talking about themselves, their problems, feelings, and thoughts.
    • say everything is their fault.
    • say nothing is their fault.
    • believe their opinions don’t matter.
    • wait to express their opinions until they know other people’s opinions.
    • lie to protect and cover up for people they love.
    • lie to protect themselves.
    • have a difficult time asserting their rights.
    • have a difficult time expressing their emotions honestly, openly, and appropriately.
    • think most of what they have to say is unimportant.
    • begin to talk in cynical, self-degrading, or hostile ways.
    • apologize for bothering people.
  • Weak Boundaries: Codependents frequently:
    • say they won’t tolerate certain behaviours from other people.
    • gradually increase their tolerance until they can tolerate and do things they said they never would.
    • let others hurt them.
    • keep letting people hurt them.
    • wonder why they hurt so badly.
    • complain, blame, and try to control while they continue to stand there.
    • finally get angry.
    • become totally intolerant.
  • Lack Of Trust: Codependents:
    • don’t trust themselves.
    • don’t trust their feelings.
    • don’t trust their decisions.
    • don’t trust other people.
    • try to trust untrustworthy people.
    • think God has abandoned them.
    • lose faith and trust in God.
  • Anger: Many codependents:
    • feel very scared, hurt, and angry.
    • live with people who are very scared, hurt, and angry.
    • are afraid of their own anger.
    • are frightened of other people’s anger.
    • think people will go away if anger enters the picture.
    • think other people make them feel angry.
    • are afraid to make other people feel anger.
    • feel controlled by other people’s anger.
    • repress their angry feelings.
    • cry a lot, get depressed, overeat, get sick, do mean and nasty things to get even, act hostile, or have violent temper outbursts.
    • punish other people for making the codependents angry.
    • have been shamed for feeling angry.
    • place guilt and shame on themselves for feeling angry.
    • feel increasing amounts of anger, resentment, and bitterness.
    • feel safer with their anger than with hurt feelings.
    • wonder if they’ll ever not be angry.
  • Sex Problems: Some codependents:
    • are caretakers in the bedroom.
    • have sex when they don’t want to.
    • have sex when they’d rather be held, nurtured, and loved.
    • try to have sex when they’re angry or hurt.
    • refuse to enjoy sex because they’re so angry at their partner.
    • are afraid of losing control.
    • have a difficult time asking for what they need in bed.
    • withdraw emotionally from their partner.
    • feel sexual revulsion toward their partner.
    • don’t talk about it.
    • force themselves to have sex, anyway.
    • reduce sex to a technical act.
    • wonder why they don’t enjoy sex.
    • lose interest in sex.
    • make up reasons to abstain.
    • wish their sex partner would die, go away, or sense the codependent’s feelings.
    • have strong sexual fantasies about other people.
    • consider or have an extramarital affair.
  • Miscellaneous: Codependents tend to:
    • be extremely responsible.
    • be extremely irresponsible.
    • become martyrs, sacrificing their happiness and that of others for causes that don’t require sacrifice.
    • find it difficult to feel close to people.
    • find it difficult to have fun and be spontaneous.
    • have an overall passive response to codependency–crying, hurt, helplessness.
    • have and overall aggressive response to codependency–violence, anger, dominance.
    • combine passive and aggressive responses.
    • vacillate in decisions and emotions.
    • laugh when they feel like crying.
    • stay loyal to their compulsions and people even when it hurts.
    • be ashamed about family, personal, or relationship problems.
    • be confused about the nature of the problem.
    • cover up, lie, and protect the problem.
    • not seek help because they tell themselves the problem isn’t bad enough, or they aren’t important enough.
    • wonder why the problem doesn’t go away.
  • Progressive: In the later stages of codependency, codependents may:
    • feel lethargic.
    • feel depressed.
    • become withdrawn and isolated.
    • experience a complete loss of daily routine and structure.
    • abuse or neglect their children and other responsibilities.
    • feel hopeless.
    • begin to plan their escape from a relationship they feel trapped in.
    • think about suicide.
    • become violent.
    • become seriously emotionally, mentally, or physically ill.
    • experience an eating disorder (over or undereating).
    • become addicted to alcohol and other drugs.

The preceding checklist is long but not all-inclusive. Like other people, codependents do, feel, and think many things. There are not a certain number of traits that guarantees whether a person is or isn’t codependent. Each person is different; each person has his or her way of doing things. I’m just trying to paint a picture. The interpretation, or decision, is up to you. What’s most important is that you first identify behaviours or areas that cause you problems, and then decide what you want to do.


Heroes

June and half of July has been a roller coaster for me. So many amazing things happened! I also learned a lot. I guess that’s why I wasn’t able to be as consistent with my blog writing this past month and a half. I was in the thick of life. I finally feel like I have processed enough of what happened so that I can sit down and write this next piece.  I’m calling this blog post heroes because I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be a “hero.” I remember that I used to say “Oh God, please save me,” a lot. Up until very recently this would be a common reaction from me when I was stuck in a very awkward or uncomfortable situation. A situation where I felt that I had absolutely no control over. I’ve realized over this past year that the only thing that I actually have control over is myself, and my life. I have control over my choices, my thoughts, and my feelings. With the help of a higher power, God, the universe, whatever you want to call it, you can achieve and do absolutely anything. For a lot of us that is very hard to believe. Especially when you feel trapped in a very dire situation. A situation that seems like there’s just no way out. It is very easy for us to be convinced of our limitations, rather than our powers.

This year, I set the intention that I wanted to rediscover my power. Everyday I’ve done my best to “save myself” from my own despair. Everyday I’ve done something good for myself. I’ve become my own hero. I’ve looked both within myself and to those around me for their wisdom and positivity. I realized that if I want to change my life for the better, I cannot assume that I have no power in the situation. I cannot continue to assume the role of the victim. There is nothing wrong with asking God for strength, but ultimately it is up to you to make a change. Throughout this year, I’ve been writing a lot about my past. Your past helps to inform you of the person you presently are. It does not however, inform you of your future. You do not need to repeat the past, and continue to live in a cycle of unhappiness if you don’t want to. Living in the past does bring unhappiness because it keeps you from the present, and you miss all the amazing things around you. It has been said that depression has you holding onto the past, and anxiety has you fretting about the future. They are two sides of the same coin. Either way you are not living in the present. I’ve been writing about my past and posting these stories on this blog as a way of letting go of the things that were keeping me from being present. The things that were preventing me from my own happiness. Once I hit my own bottom; I realized that I’ve been repressing these stories of my past and my feelings about them. I was doing my best to pretend that they either weren’t real, or that they weren’t as bad as they really made me feel. It is this denial, shame, and guilt that brought me to my knees. It was the most humbling experience of my entire life. It was then that I realized that I needed to surrender to my past. I needed to allow myself to actually feel my pain. To grieve for my losses, and let them go, so that I can make space in my heart for the love, and happiness that I deserve. I also needed to stop blaming myself for what happened in my life. I’m not a bad person, these things didn’t happen to me because I deserved them. Far from it. These things just happened, I didn’t choose it. However, holding on to this pain has you gravitating towards the familiar. It has you unconsciously choosing to relive this pain over and over again. It has you convinced that you deserve whatever happens to you because it keeps happening to you.

This is simply not true. You know that because through this process of healing, you are starting to see the role that you play in your life and the choices you’ve made in your life thus far. It is through your healing that you’ve begun to realize that all these “bad things” aren’t just happening to you. In fact, there are many people out there who know the pain you’ve experienced. It is comforting to know you’re not alone. It makes it easier for you to feel and express your pain openly and honestly. The more honest you are with yourself about the things that are happening in your life, the more aware you are of the “problems” the better you’ll be able to solve them. You can’t fix something that you’re not aware is broken. And you know what? Maybe I’m not broken after all! Maybe there’s nothing wrong with me, maybe my feelings, my thoughts, my emotions, are all completely normal reactions to the things that I’ve been through. I’m human just like everyone else, I just seem to have forgotten that fact. The most loving and genuine thing that I have been able to do for myself is to openly talk about my pain, it has allowed me to forgive myself for what happened, it has humbled and humanized me. Giving up my power in this way has slowly helped to align me closer with God, closer to real power.

I came to the realization that for the past six months I have been going through the grieving process. It wasn’t until yesterday that I fully realized that I haven’t properly grieved for my past losses. I have had some major losses, but I never gave myself the chance to fully embrace all of my emotions, thoughts, and feelings at the time of loss. Unfortunately, I have been conditioned to repress my feelings. I have always been an emotional person, and I have always been shamed for it. This never helped me to cry less. This never helped me move forward. This never made me become a healthier person. Being teased and made fun of for my emotions has been a regular practice my entire life, from my parents, to teachers, to my grandparents, and so on and so forth. Imagine being a child and never fully understanding your emotions and your feelings, so you cry because that’s all you know how to do, but at the same time you’re being told in many different ways to stop crying. That you’re a baby, you’re “sensitive.” As if there was something wrong with you. Now imagine internalizing that, telling yourself that you don’t need to cry. That everything is going to be okay, when it really doesn’t feel that way. Imagine repressing your anger, fear, guilt, sadness, and grief because you didn’t want to cry. Because you didn’t want to feel weak. You didn’t want other people to think you were weak, or that you can’t handle it, or that you’re not okay. Imagine convincing yourself that you’re fine, lying to yourself enough times that you began to believe it. Then one day, all of these feelings that you never had the chance to fully express and let go of come tumbling back? That’s exactly what happened to me. It was extremely overwhelming at first. When I broke down on New Years Eve, that’s exactly what happened. The flood gates opened and all my emotions came pouring out. I could no longer ignore it, I could see it coming too. My emotions were boiling over in December. I just did my best to keep them back, something I’ve been doing for years. However, the New Year came and I could no longer hold them back, and that was it. I finally surrendered and let myself feel things I haven’t felt in years. You could say that I had become comfortably numb, and disconnected from myself and my life.

My New Years Eve 2018 experience was a gift. I had no choice but to surrender and be honest with myself and my loved ones. I was not okay. I was hurting and I was in pain, and I’ve been in pain for a really long time. I just never really knew how to get rid of the pain, I just kept doing what I was taught. Repressing my emotions, and taking care of others. I had become very codependent. I was the classic “hero” and caretaker, because of this I was never fully able to grieve my grandmother’s death at eight years old. I do believe that’s when this whole codependent thing started. My Mom lost her last parent, and found out she was adopted all in one year. Crazy right?! Imagine how hard that would have been for her at the time. Imagine, how hard that would have been for my Father who is not very emotionally intelligent (most men of his generation aren’t) who felt helpless at my Mother’s time of need. He wanted to help her but had absolutely no idea how. Either way, no one could help her, grief is a process you have to go through on your own. I’m sure he could have been more supportive, but what’s the point of playing the blame game now? My parents did their best to process the death of Nonna Battaglia, and so did I, but my Mom did lean a lot on her children. I guess she felt as though we were all she had, and her soul’s purpose for living at that point. That’s a lot of pressure. I, only being eight at the time did not fully understand what was happening but I did know that I was needed. I was needed by my family, and that made me feel loved.

Ever since Nonna died I was given more responsibility, maybe more that an eight year old could handle? I don’t know, but growing up I definitely felt a sense of duty and responsibility towards my sisters. I had to help take care of them, look out for them, this was my responsibility. I also felt responsible for my parents, and to some extent I still do (it’s something I’m still working on). I could see the pain that they were in, and I wanted to do everything and anything I could do to help. Because of this, I don’t think I really got to process all of my feelings about what happened until I wrote my letter to my grandmother earlier this year. I finally let go. Looking out for my family, putting their needs before mine was a survival mechanism. If I kept my family happy then I would be happy. My family would be safe, and I would be safe. That was the logic. I never wanted anything to break my family apart, and so I did everything in my power to protect them and therefore myself. I don’t think I could handle my family falling apart, and trust me there were some scares growing up! I don’t think I would have become so codependent if there wasn’t a real threat to my family life, and my well being.

You see, once Nonna Battaglia died, my family on my dad’s side were the only blood family that we had left, and they definitely made sure that we knew it too. Family was used as a tool of guilt, manipulation, and emotional/verbal abuse by my Grandparents. My Mom was constantly reminded that she was adopted, that she had no one, and so on and so forth. She was made to feel unworthy. This was damaging to me, and my family. My Grandparent’s on my Dad’s side were very toxic. Not only did my Grandmother die at 8, everything I knew and loved about my Dad’s side of the family was beginning to fall apart. No matter how awful things have gotten between my aunt and grandparents on my dad’s side, I still love them. That’s what hurts the most. I loved them and yet they continued to hurt me. At first the anger, and mutual hatred stayed contained within the adults of the family, however, the grandchildren eventually took notice. That’s when I started to come to the defence of my mother and father. Almost every time we went to visit my dad’s side of the family or they came to visit us, I always felt as though I had to be on defence. Another survival tool. I felt like I had to fight for my family. I constantly put myself in the line of fire to protect my mother, to protect my family, and most importantly to protect myself. Because I was always speaking up for my family and for myself, this caused a big rift between myself and my Dad’s side of the family. It didn’t help that I am so much like my Mother either. My Dad’s side of the family for whatever reason never fully accepted my Mother. This conditioning has made me a very reactionary person. It’s not hard to get a reaction out of me, but this is not me. This is how I’ve been conditioned to be.

Looking back, I did a lot of fighting in the past, a lot of yelling, a lot of crying. I was living in a lot of fear, and the thing is, so was the rest of my family. We all became very dependent on each other. We needed one another. In a way I’m grateful. My family is so close and loving, but we’ve been through some real shit, and none of us could really help one another get through it all because we were all experiencing it at the same time! We were all being victimized by my Grandparent’s (mostly my Grandmother). My Grandmother unfortunately has always been a very negative and unhappy person. I’m not sure she had ever been able to realize just how much power she had being the matriarch of our family. Fear, guilt, and manipulation was how she kept us around for so long, but it is also the same thing that drove us all apart. The saddest thing is, we all wanted out. None of us were happy being apart of that family, including my aunt and cousin, but when the anger escalated on Christmas Eve to a major fight, the ending of our relationship with one another, I was blamed for the entire thing. How is that fair? I was born into this family, I did not choose it. The anger and hate between my parents, grandparents, and my aunt existed before I came into being. In fact, my cousin, sisters, and I are the real victims of what happened.

Yes, that Christmas Eve when my Aunt started laying into my Father the second we walked into the door, I quickly came to his defence. He did ask me prior to arriving to my Grandparent’s place to help him “deal” with his sister, and I agreed. I agreed because I felt an obligation to my Father, and I also felt like he couldn’t do it himself. I forgive my Father for asking me, and if I’m going to be completely honest I probably would have come to his defence whether her asked me to or not. I was in university when this all happened, and at that point I was at my limit when it came to the abuse. I had enough of putting up with their bullshit and being blamed for it. Once I came to my Father’s defence that night, I couldn’t stop! Insults flew out of my mouth like rapid fire. My anger flowed out of me like a volcano and there was no containing it.

I regret that it had to come to that, however, I’m not sorry. My relationship with her, and my grandparents was extremely toxic and it needed to end. For a few years after that I stopped speaking to my Dad’s side of the family. I was way too hurt by them. For my entire life I did everything I could to have them love me, to notice me, but nothing worked. No matter what I did I was never good enough, and then to eventually be told that because I look like my Mother I’m a hateful and awful person who destroyed the family? Well it was just too much for me to bare. I never realized how much this all affected me. My Dad was just trying to make it all go away. He wanted everyone to forgive one another and be a family again, and I think part of him still wants that. At the time, the fact that he would even ask me to see my Grandparents again was extremely hurtful to me. It was as if he didn’t recognize the amount of pain they had caused me. I started to feel like maybe I am fucked up? My sisters were able to see my Grandparents again with my Father. It was only my Mother and I who couldn’t bring ourselves to see them. Maybe they were right? Were we both hateful and awful people? It certainly felt that way at the time. We seemed to be the only ones still hurt and angry about what happened.

I never went to see my Grandparents again, until I realized that my Grandfather had to get a pacemaker, and my Grandmother was diagnosed with Dimentia. I made the choice to see them again because I knew their time on earth will be coming to an end soon, and I don’t want to still hate them when they leave this earth. When I went to see them, and every time since, the past was never brought up and they never apologized to my face for what happened. It was like it never happened. I never realized how much that hurt me until now. It was like my pain, my suffering wasn’t important. It was like I wasn’t important. It was only until recently that I realized how much this effected me. Thank God I found a therapist who made me feel normal. For the first time someone acknowledged my pain, and let me know that my responses to what happened was completely normal. All I needed to know was that I wasn’t a fucked up person and she let me know that. Such a relief! You have no idea. My entire life I was asked to put myself aside for the sake of the family. I can no longer do it anymore. I’m exhausted. I need healing. My entire life I’ve been fighting and trying to save everyone else, meanwhile, all I really wanted was someone to come and save me. I never knew until now that I can save my damn self and it feels so good! I’ve been saving myself this entire year. I’ve finally allowed myself the space to be with myself and my pain. I’ve asked my friends and family for space so that I can finally take care of myself the way I need. I’ve allowed myself to live my pain and express it in a way that was healthy and productive. I’ve grieved the loss of Nonna Battaglia, my abortion, my abusive ex boyfriend, my rape, the loss of my relationship with my Dad’s side of the family, it will never be the same, and now the loss of this old version of Alex that no longer serves me.

I’ve written letters to my Dad’s side of the family and burned them. This past month I’ve learned to let go of my anger towards them, and towards myself. I’ve learned to let go of the blame, shame, and guilt that I’ve been holding on to. I did the best I could with the knowledge that I had. I felt very threatened and I did whatever I could to protect myself. Now I realize that I no longer need to fight anymore. The fight is over, and I need to let it go. I’m sorry for what happened, but I don’t take any of my actions back. I forgive my Grandparents. They were in pain, we couldn’t help them, and for whatever reason they couldn’t help themselves. I forgive my aunt and my cousin. They were in pain and suffering too. None of us could be the best versions of ourselves with one another because we didn’t know how. I’m sorry that things turned out the way they did, but maybe it’s for the best. I’m sorry Alexandra Rinaldo. Your feelings matter. Your pain matters. You’ve been through a lot and it’s okay to be sad about it. I’m so proud of you for going through the grief process even before you realized that’s what you’re doing. I’m so glad that you found the help you needed, and now it very much feels like you’re on a new path. You know that you’ve become very codependent but now you’ve been given the tools to get yourself out of the codependent zone and into a healthier version of you. It feels so good to finally understand what happened to you and why you feel the way you do. It feels good to know that codependency was a survival tool for you, but now you no longer feel the need to survive. You want to thrive and I think that you’re well on your way to doing just that. Working on your codependent tendencies is the final frontier to a happier life. You’re the hero Alex in your own life’s story, you never needed anyone else to save you, you’ve saved yourself with help from God.