Growing up, I didn’t receive a lot of validation. Oh, I longed for it, but it was seldom given. It turns out, invalidation is one of the most important ingredients to the recipe for being codependent.
Codependency, in my case, rooted in my childhood from a few other things too. Namely, a lack of nurturing, fear of parental anger toward each other and myself, emotional and “acceptable” physical abuse in the form of heavy-handed spankings and slaps across the face that sent me sailing across the room, and having an alcoholic father and a codependent mother who was also a child of an alcoholic father. Cycles do tend to repeat. There was a great deal of emotional trauma in my childhood, and only in the last couple of years, have I begun to understand the connection between those early years and my lifetime quest to find self love.
I did a really great job of covering up my inner conflicts for most of my life. I married my high school sweetheart at age 23, made a successful career for myself, and had four beautiful children for which I found my purpose. Raising my children was the most fulfilling thing I had ever known, and their unconditional love seemed to complete me. Before I knew it, I was an over-achieving, perfectionist, super mom. I was running my own business, working late at night to keep up on the bookwork, nursing my babies, running myself ragged keeping up on laundry, cooking, cleaning, raising a large garden, canning vegetables, anticipating every need for my workaholic husband, and the list goes on and on. My need to please and prove was keeping everyone happy…everyone, that is, except for me.
The problem was, I was doing all these things hoping for validation and not necessarily doing them because they brought me joy. Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t trade one single day of motherhood, and many of those things are non-negotiable. Our children deserve to be loved and nurtured and well cared for. My kids did and still do bring me more joy than I can ever explain. Compounding the problem, though, was that no one was really validating me for any of these things anyway. I didn’t realize back then that my own validation was all that I needed. Instead of feeling fulfilled, I started pushing down disappointment and sadness, and, without knowing it, resentment and anger started to build.
I’ve since learned a lot about codependency, and one of my favorite teachers on this subject is Lisa A. Romano. Lisa says, “Emotions are meant to flow. When pushed down, we begin to rot from the inside out.” I was a master at pushing the feelings down, and finally, all that rotting garbage began to fester. It wasn’t pretty. I first identified it as a midlife crisis. Six years later, I now see it as a spiritual awakening, and as my other great inspiration, Brene Brown, describes it, my soul was breaking out of my body. Oddly enough, that probably sounds a little more eloquent than rotten garbage oozing out of the trash can of my soul, but for those that witnessed it, they’d probably describe the latter.
It all started to rear its ugly head when my oldest two children were leaving the nest. I didn’t understand what was happening right away, and I did everything I could to research it and try to fix it. After all, I was great at fixing things, or so I thought. It didn’t go quite as smoothly as I’d have hoped. My marriage fell apart, and all of my repressed feelings started to come out sideways. I went through a period of self destruction and tried to escape my reality and pain in a myriad of unhealthy ways. I eventually hit my rock bottom and figured out I had to look within. No one else was going to save me.
Fast forward, I’m finally recovering, but it is not without a lot of hard lessons and a whole lot of what I call tender loving soul care. Coincidentally, that is the term I coined to describe my own blog.
As a new guest blogger for The Working Single Mom, I can’t squeeze my entire detailed journey into one article, but I hope that I am able to continue to tell you about my path to healing and inspire you to find some self love too. As a mother, there is also room for personal happiness and fulfillment, creative living, and finding your other passions and purposes. We are allowed to have more than one.
The key to my recovery has been facing my feelings, looking at deep wounds and sitting with that pain, a whole lot of inner child work, learning about my codependency, and working diligently to heal all of these areas. I’ve learned a lot about self care and have started practicing mindfulness and meditation, yoga, and journaling. I’ve worked with three online counselors at different phases of my healing journey. I have started writing as a hobby and a passion, have discovered a love of nature photography as a form of meditation and gratitude, and started antiquing with a dear friend as a fun hobby and a small business venture. Not only that, I’ve learned to set boundaries in my life and surround myself with positive, healthy people. And even though it still takes a conscious effort not to want to be validated for all of my progress and success, for cooking great dinners, and wearing my 50-year-old heart on my sleeve, I know I am healing, and I am finding joy in wholehearted living.
Yesterday, I took my two daughters to a Broadway show called Bandstand. That in itself, was a new and enjoyable experience for the three of us. There was a great line in the play, and it resonated with me. It went like this, “Don’t sing because you want the lead. Sing because you need to sing.”
If you decide to read what I write, that makes me happy. I hope that I can inspire others, however, I am not writing to gain praise and validation. I’m writing because I need to write. It helps me to heal, validate my own experiences, and most importantly, it feeds my soul.
If you were to sit down and think about what makes you happy, I can bet that many of you do not know the answer. When we are raising kids, we sometimes get lost in the shuffle. A mother’s identity is usually just that; a mother. I can tell you there is more, and it is not selfish to find what stirs your soul. In fact, if you are taking care of your own needs, you will be better able to love and care for your children.
I write because I need to write.
I ask you now, not what you have to do, but what is it that you need to do? Deep down, you know the answer. Just listen and let that answer lead you. Your soul is begging you to ask the question.