Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Bungee Cord Wrap

Out there in the world of adventure are some things I would like to try. I have friends who have taken up kayaking and since I enjoy canoeing, I think I could learn to like kayaking too. Though the turning over and being stuck underwater and drowning does come to mind... Maybe not.... I like to hike, so doing a zip line back down a mountainside or hillside seems like an exhilarating thrill. I'll have to be sure to take some anti-anxiety meds though, because I am deathly afraid of heights. Or, there is always parasailing, I could experience both my fear of heights and my fear of drowning in one fun experience.

I think you get the picture: I am a real chicken when it comes to "adventure." And that is why you will never, ever see me doing something crazy like bungee jumping. No way, never, nunca, forget it.

So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that I have been wrapped to a bungee cord for most of my married life.

It looked something like this: Kevin seems to be happy and doing well, so I am happy and well too. Then, look out! Kevin is falling, failing, faltering, sad, discouraged, angry, etc. and I am pulled over a cliff with him. I am free-falling, spiraling down and trying to catch him to bring him back up. Finally, I stop falling, find a hillside and begin climbing back to level ground. I am not there very long when the bungee cord that I didn't know was wrapped around me yanks me down for another ride of terror.

Replay this scenario about one thousand times and you get the picture what was once my co-dependent (idolatrous) life.

Now, we have been on a road to recovery for about ten years. It has been challenging and slow-going at times, but worth the time and effort. I am better able to separate myself from Kevin's moods. I am not continually pulled in by whatever Kevin is going through. I will be impacted by his choices - there is no getting around that. But I am learning to allow him the freedom to be and feel without my "helpful" advice. I am continually learning to separate what is his responsibility and what is mine. I recognize (most of the time) that I can't fix him. I can't own his struggles. In fact, the more I intervene and the more I take over his problems, the less he can own them himself. I'm standing in the way of his responsibility. I have to step back and give him the space to grow into the man God has called him to be. 

There are times, however, I realize I am not as far down the road as I thought I was. Sometimes, I feel that cord pulling me off the bridge again. The big difference now is that I have a level of self-awareness. 

Here are the warning signs I see when I'm wrapping myself in a bungee cord of co-dependency:
  • I feel serious anxiety around Kevin's choices, behaviors, or feelings.
  • I begin to feel angry and resentful about what he is doing or not doing, because I want my perfect plan to come true and he is messing it up.
  • Most of my prayer life seems to be about disappointment with God. A sense of entitlement comes through as I pray.
  • I begin to only see the bad and negative parts of Kevin and not the good. I tend to forget all the growth and change that has taken place and believe that we are back at square one. Notice the royal "we." Not only have I ditched his progress, but mine as well.
  • I am uncomfortable with feeling or thinking. There is a real sense of unrest in my soul and I may find myself "checking out" through staying super busy or sleeping too much or spending time window shopping online.
  • I pull away from relating to others because I will have to process what is happening within me.
When these red flag thoughts or emotions arise, I can now stop and question what is going on in me. I can ask myself some good questions. I can tell others about my struggle and find support. I can even engage Kevin in a healthy conversation about what I'm experiencing and take responsibility for me.

Life is not perfect, but I'm learning to not get pulled off the cliff quite so often.

Special thanks to Skeet Stokes for his illustrations of the chains, ropes, and bungee cords in his seminars on Family Systems.

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