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Art with Erika

the journey of an artist – painting life with purpose

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dysfunction

“12 Steps” – November 17, 2017

My newest drawing “Calm”, was going to be the introduction to a collection inspired by my own journey and experience with 12 steps of recovery for co-dependency, but I feel that my heart and spirit is telling me that this post is where this journey will start and where it will end. This is enough for now.  Still, I wanted to give a short overview of my experience with the 12 Steps.

There’s “The Bottom” and Then There’s “Rock Bottom”

“Rock Bottom” is what a person has to hit in order for genuine change to happen. There is a place called “The Bottom”, which looks like “Rock Bottom”, but it’s not.  When a person has reached “The Bottom” they might realize that something is wrong in their life, and they might even realize that they have a problem or that they are the problem, but they haven’t come to terms with changing and healing.  They continue on in their same lifestyle for the most part, getting caught up in drugs or alcohol (or anything they are addicted to, which could literally be anything), or they could lose themselves completely within other people.  Their lives have become out of control, but not so out of control that they won’t stop themselves from their patterns of destruction and abuse. This pattern of “false realization” might happen once, twice, or too many times to count, but for whatever reason this person continues to point the finger at everyone else while holding their self-proclaimed title of “victim”.  All of this is called denial.  This is also why people bounce in and out of recovery: they haven’t had enough.

A person who has hit “Rock Bottom” has gone so far beyond this point of denial that there is no more slack in his rope for him to walk anywhere but straight into recovery. This point is relative; it is different for everyone, and every person comes to this point in their own pace and timing.  A person knows when they’ve hit “Rock Bottom” only when they’ve hit it, and not a moment before. There is an internal shift, and the world around them looks different than it ever was before the moment. For some people this moment comes after chemical addiction has robbed them of their family, friends, and life. For others, the inability to control the people around them has caused them to lose control of themselves entirely and they collapse under the pressure. Everyone has a breaking point, but the most important thing to take away from all this is that you can’t force somebody to heal, you can’t fix anybody, and a person’s “Rock Bottom” can only be determined by that person and no one else. They have to be willing and able to change, and more importantly they have to want to change enough to do so. “When they are sick and tired of being sick and tired, only then will they will do what they need to do to change.”

What the 12 Steps Helped Give Me

After I pieced together that I was a codependent person who chose to be in relationships with abusive people, I sought help. For a very long time I thought of myself as a victim who kept falling in love with people who turned out to be abusive, later on. I kept pointing the finger at everyone else except myself, and it wasn’t until I pointed the finger at myself and took a good long look in the mirror that I realized that I was my own worst enemy. I was the only person who was in control of my life.  I learned that I was not in control of anyone else’s life, and no amount of lecturing, finger-pointing, blaming, or fighting was going to change anyone around me. It is not my responsibility to be responsible for people who are irresponsible. The only person that I am responsible for is me.

Through the 12 step program, I would learn how to build genuine self-esteem, confidence, and a healthy and realistic love for myself, for the first time in my life.  Most of all, this program helped me build a loving, balanced relationship with God.  (My version of God was warped by abuse)  And although all of this growth will always be a work in progress, I am much further along than I ever have been before. I feel like I am living a life that was meant for me for the first time, with God’s genuine guidance and love. I feel like I can say “no” to people without feeling guilty for hurting their feelings. (It’s still difficult, but I’m always practicing)  I don’t have to stretch myself too thin, or take on too much, and I have given myself permission to enjoy life, because it is meant to be enjoyed above all else. This is what the 12 step program gave me.  It gave me a sense of peace, freedom, and calm. It helped me center myself, it helped me solidify my spirituality, and it helped me set the stones to become the person who God had intended me to be all along, and maybe even a more whole and more compassionate version because of the adversity.

There are times when I look at friends who have been dealt a healthier life, and I do become jealous.  They were taught how to create boundaries, and they were taught how to say no.  They were taught how to value themselves, they were loved unconditionally, and as a result they had lived relatively healthy lives with minimal to no abuse.  I do not wish for anyone to go through abuse, but I understand that hard times hit all of us in one way or another.  Some of these things can be prevented, and some of these things we cannot prevent, no matter how hard we try. The only thing that we can do is to learn and grow from our trials and the brokenness that has been passed onto us by the broken adults in our lives. 

calm RBG - square - low res 1

Wholeness and Beauty in Brokenness

In Japan, broken pottery pieces are mended together using gold, so that their cracks are highlighted.  The Japanese people believe that the hardship that these pieces went through have made the pottery more beautiful.  Their stories and their trials have made them uniquely whole, and have made their journey more valuable.  I do believe that adversity needs to be present in a person’s life in order for them to become completely whole.  There is a certain knowledge and understanding that is obtained through the breaking and mending process, and maybe it is more of a form of compassion than anything else. Regardless, one person’s recovery story is a shining light for people who are currently going through recovery or who have not found the courage to start yet. This is why it is so important to be open about recovery, and to try to share our stories.

Our society in America is not one that is fond of mental health practices as a whole. I know a lot of people who think that psychologists are nut cases, and that the people who go to them are crazier than the psychologist herself.  The 12 step program is wrapped up in this malicious way of thinking. No one should ever be made to feel that they are stupid, or that they are less of a person because they are trying to better themselves.  Mental health is equal, if not, more important than physical health, and it does effect physical well-being more than people realize.  So many ailments and diseases (including cancer) stem from stress and a lack of mental rest and balance.

It would benefit every person to read about the 12 step program. I believe that everyone can walk away learning something either for themselves or for a loved one.  Everyone knows somebody who is an addict, or somebody whose life is spiraling out of control (or maybe just annoyingly unbalanced and subtly unhealthy), and it might be you, or it might be a loved one.  It’s great for everyone to have this information under their belt so that when adversity does hit (and it will), every person will be prepared for what comes next.

AA, Al-Anon, Co-DA, and every other 12 step recovery group follow the following guide (revised for each group of people dealing with different ailments – the list below is for Co-DA – Codependents Anonymous).  I do encourage people to look up more information so that they might help themselves or people around them.  Just remember that the 12 steps is a program that has to happen through the pace and willingness of the addict. 

The 12 Steps of Co-Dependency

  1.  We admitted we were powerless over others, that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understood God.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other codependents, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Each step is to be taken at the right moment, and it is a process that cannot be rushed.  The more thorough, honest, and self-aware a person is, the more they will get out of the program.  Many times, individuals have decades of abuse to work through.  I have noticed that people who start the program in their mid life, which is usually the case, have exponentially more baggage than those who start in their 20’s or 30’s. (not all of the time, but most of the time)  As a result, a lot of people have to work through the program multiple times in order to get to the REAL root of ALL their problems: themselves.

A lot of people work through the program the first time continuing their finger-pointing victimization process instead of looking at themselves, and they can get stuck in this mindset for another decade or two over the course of their recovery.  There are a lot of people who stay stuck in recovery, forever pointing fingers and holding grudges.  A person will change when they are ready to change, and nothing that you do can push them to move faster.  But, understanding human brokenness, and practicing empathy and compassion, is something that all of us need to do if we are going to survive this crazy roller coaster ride. 

Some people never have to get on the roller coaster, and some people don’t know what the roller coaster feels like. Some people have been on the roller coaster and have ridden it enough times to know that they don’t want to ride anymore. And then there are people who think they want to get off the roller coaster who really don’t want to. It’s not our job to unbuckle the people from the roller coaster and force them down the stairs and off the ride. But understanding how they got on there to begin with, understanding the physics of the ride, and the passengers, and understanding what it takes to step off the ride can help those who need help when they ask for support.  So please, read through at least some of the program, because being aware and being conscious of other people and their battles, is what brings us all closer together. The compassion that we practice makes this world of much better place.

calm - RBG low res
“Calm” – 2017 – Digital Painting – Photoshop – Erika Robertson

“The Codependency Dance” – November 15, 2017

Note: Narcissists and the codependents can be any gender. In a majority of cases narcissists are men who seek female codependent counterparts. For the sake of this article the narcissist will be referred to as “he” and the codependent will be referred to as “she”.  These labels are not intended to be limiting.

The world of psychology uses “the codependency dance” to describe the intimate relationship between two very broken, dysfunctional, opposing, but balanced people:  the fixer and the people-pleaser (the codependent), and the controller and taker (the narcissist) The destructive behaviors that each one has formed throughout their childhoods and into their adult lives seem to complement each other perfectly. The two of them mesh together in a seductive and dysfunctional dance where the codependent individual will give up her power and the narcissist will thrive on that control and power so that no one’s toes get stepped on.

The Dancers

Codependent individuals are enamored with the needs and desires of other people. They were groomed in their childhood to be servants and later in life they find themselves on a dance floor where they are attracted to people who are a perfect pairing for their submissive dancing style. They are natural followers, and most of them find narcissists extremely appealing because of their charm, confidence, boldness, and dominant personality.

The perfect dancing partner for a narcissist is someone who lacks self-worth, confidence, and self-esteem. A narcissist looks for a dancing partner who he can manipulate, so that he can control the dance. He looks for someone who has a warped sense of reality and codependent people fit this role perfectly.  Individuals who have grown up knowing who they are, who are confident in their capabilities, and who are strong-willed (or normally-willed) rarely stay with the narcissist long-term, because they are able to see the red flags of the narcissist’s selfish personality early on.  (ie: they don’t put up with crap, like gaslighting).

Codependent people confuse caretaking and sacrifice with true love and loyalty. They are dedicated to their partners but feel used, which makes them bitter later on.  Her hunt for love is ultimately an unconscious motivation to find someone who is “familiar”. (Familiar isn’t always good)  It stems from childhood trauma and the lack of healthy love, respect, and being cared for by adults.  She fears being alone and her compulsion to control and fix things at any cost motivates her. She is comfortable in her role as a martyr who is endlessly loving, devoted, and patient.  She dreams of dancing with somebody who loves her unconditionally.  She believes that she must sacrifice herself in order to obtain this love because it is the only way that she has ever known how to express love.

Codependency dance - RBG - square - low res 2

First Dance, Honeymoon, and Return Home

In her eyes, at first sight, the narcissist is the embodiment of Prince Charming. He woos her and caters to her every whim, makes her feel like she is the center of the universe, pours out excessive expressions of love (love bombing), and he does his best to figure out what it is she likes and what she is looking for in a mate so that he can wear that mask for her, in the beginning. 

The honeymoon phase of the relationship lasts anywhere from a handful of weeks to about six months (but for more experienced narcissists, they could keep up the act for years) and after this threshold is approached the good graces of the narcissist start to dwindle swiftly. Complements and catering to his new love have been replaced with gaslighting and correcting, and she takes the criticism because she believes that he loves her and that he knows what’s best for her. If she argues with him, he will convince her that she is wrong, and because of her weak self-esteem and trust in him, she will slowly start to adopt his mindset and become the image that he wants her to be. She holds on, hoping for things to get better, and hoping for things to go back to the way that they were before; she hopes that after a period of time her partner will finally start to understand her real needs instead of critiquing her over and over again. She doesn’t know that he doesn’t have the ability to truly empathize with people. She has been trained to withstand the pain, and to power through, like she did when she was growing up. Her whole dysfunctional life has led her up to this dysfunctional relationship and she executes it beautifully.

In a sense, the narcissist is never completely whole without a partner to dote over his every need. As she is compulsively corrected by him, she starts to become a memory of herself for the sake of him, their relationship, and for her own survival. Any deviation from his plan is met with aggression and sometimes violence. His partner, always seeking the love that he had given her at the start, is forever confused. She doesn’t know what is false or what is true anymore. She will believe cunning lies that come from his lips, because he is a master gaslighter who is able to whip up verbally abusive concoctions that cause her to believe that she ‘needs to be corrected’.  The narcissist will isolate her, and start to cut her off from the rest of the world, including her own friends and family. She will become completely dependent upon him for every need, and she clings to him for safety.

Her gauge of reality is so warped that she wouldn’t even know what to do without him because she has completely lost herself and her ability to make decisions without his direction. She doesn’t want to make him angry by moving in any direction other than what he has designated for her. She will adopt the image of the type of woman he is attracted to, she will eat like him, she will absorb his political and religious beliefs, she will consult him on what she should wear, how she should talk, what job she should take, what she should and shouldn’t approve of, what friends she should have, what family members she can’t be around, how she should be in the bedroom, and how their home should look. She becomes a tool for him to use, so that he can create an environment for which he can impress people, not an environment where she will feel comfortable.

 

Codependency dance - RBG - square - low res 1

The Breakup

Narcissists are rarely faithful to their partners. If the relationship does not end with the narcissist cheating on her, and leaving her, it usually ends when she starts to discover her real self, and when she starts to find her own independence.  He needs to be with somebody who obeys him at all times.  Unfortunately most codependent people are deep into a dysfunctional relationship when their eyes start to open. She fell in love with an image all those years ago, but that image that he presented to her was not a real person. During a break up, and throughout her relationship with him, she mourns the loss of this image. She confuses the image with the abusive person.  The breakup will be a vicious battle between the functioning, healthy, and newfound realizations of her personality and the manipulation and tyranny of the narcissist. When a breakup finally happens, the narcissist will never provide closure and draws out the breakup as much as possible.  Stalking is not uncommon, and could continue for many years down the road.  Most narcissists like to keep tabs on their former partners.

Codependent individuals desire balance and harmony, but they typically fall for people based on initial attraction, and unfortunately this initial attraction is most prominent with narcissists because of their charm and boldness. If she finds herself without a partner to dance with, she doesn’t wait for somebody who is healthy, but she jumps into another dance, usually with the same type of person. Loneliness is too much for her to bear. She will continue dating the same type of person over and over again, and endure the same kind of abuse, until she realizes that she is a broken person and that she needs to fix herself. Until she learns that she is the root of all of her own problems, that she is the one who chooses abusive partners because of her own brokenness, and until she heals herself, she will keep on dancing the same dysfunctional dance.  The cycle continues until it is broken (and it usually continues for decades, through generations of family members).

His Crap and My Choice

This codependent woman was me.  As I said before, I grew up in an extremely abusive home, and the adults in my family did a fantastic job at raising me to be an excellent codependent woman.  They taught me the turns, the dips, and the footwork, so that when I became a young adult and ventured into the dating world, I would know how to dance with narcissists.  I would be lying if I said that I never enjoyed the thrill of each one of them in the beginning.  Each one was a ‘love-bombing’ prince and I was a lonely princess.

Not all of the men that I have dated have been narcissistic. I have dated a number of young men who have been absolutely pleasant, wonderful, and kind.  They were people who I took for granted because of my own brokenness.  I didn’t know how to love with proper boundaries and I still feel guilty for the pain that I had caused.  For that, I am sorry.

As for the three who were narcissistic, I don’t feel guilt except for the damage I did to myself.  I can’t feel guilty for men who had knowingly abused me and “debated with me” about the justifications for their actions.  I have been manipulated, I have been brainwashed, I have been made to feel like the scum of the earth, I have been the punching bag for their failings, I have been hit, I have been sexually assaulted, I have been verbally abused, and I have been mentally abused.

Sometimes, people are dealt crappy cards.  Crappy things happen to awesome people.  No one can control everything that happens to them, but, each of us has control over HOW WE REACT to the crap that is thrown at our feet.  We can either choose to step in it, or we can choose to walk away. 

Two years ago, a familiar pile of abusive crap was thrown at my feet.  I was tired of the same dysfunctional patterns, but I didn’t know why they were happening to me.  I was angry with my unhappiness and empty romantic relationships.  I confided in my friends who turned around and told me that I was my own problem.  THAT made me angry, but they were right.  I realized that I had dated a string of abusive people, but that I was also in control of my own narrative, and that because I was in control that it was my fault for making the choice to step in the crap in the first place.

So, I took a good, long, glaring look at that smelly, steaming piece of rancid crap at my feet.  Then I mustered up the courage to look up into his proud ‘know-it-all’ face.  And for the first time in my life, I made the choice to walk away from the abuse.

The first step to recovery is realizing that there is a problem…

But, breaking up with a narcissist is not something that you just do, either…

Codependency dance - RBG - high res
“The Codependency Dance” – 2017 – Digital Sketch – Photoshop – Erika Robertson

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