Codependency & Coo-Coo for Cocoa Puffs

My priest suggested I read “Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie as part of my continued healing journey with my severely alcoholic mother. That was in 2016. I read the first thirty pages then set it aside . . . with good intentions of picking it back up “when I have the time”. Never mind the other twenty books I’ve read in between then and now. Insert eye roll.

Today I picked it back up. As I read through the checklist of characteristics many codependents possess (check, check, checking them off), I laughed aloud. I had made grandiose promises to myself to no longer “save the day” when it came to my mom. Yet I slowly found myself back in my roles of peace-keeper, savior and good daughter, helping her clean up the splattered messes left behind. Literally and figuratively.

Yesterday threw a big ol’ muthafugga of a wrench at my head.

I had taken Mom to see her primary care physician on Monday. I nodded in agreement as the PCP alluded to alcohol-induced dementia, possible stroke, or brain injury from her multiple falls (into her fridge resulting in a broken ice-maker, onto the toilet, backwards onto the kitchen floor, out of her bed, and others she cannot remember but evidenced by bruises).

On Tuesday, I escorted her to the imaging center for an MRI. Then tucked her safely into her bed in her independent-living-retirement-community apartment afterward. Leaving instructions for the angels and saints to keep her from falling out of bed again.

Wednesday, I joined her for an assessment by a Council on Aging representative. Mom was a hot mess. She answered a phone that wasn’t ringing. Insisted my deceased father come out from the other room. Told me my nephew cut his right hand off and asked me if I was going to cut my own throat. Then later asked my sister if “Teri’s post office would accept my beans”. But, between those moments, she was lucid and funny and engaging. Her normal goofy, yet lovable, self. I was advised she qualifies for quite a few assistance benefits. Yay for that! However, she (meaning I) would need to complete another application, wait two months, and pray for the best in the meantime. Ah, the red tape of bureaucracy. Not that I’m not grateful for the help!

Later that day, I received the wrench-to-the-head call. Her PCP phoned me herself to discuss Mom’s lab and MRI results. The MRI results showed “moderate atrophy and shrinkage of the brain, indicating dementia” and lab work indicated “dehydrated and not eating” a.k.a. vodka-for-breakfast. No brain bleed, no stroke. Exactly as anticipated. And my internal reaction was: “Well, shit.” My good-daughter backpack just got heavier.

I am truly sorry my mom is struggling. Watching her spiral downward . . . quickly . . . is breaking my heart. But, there’s this other part of me that wants to have a little kid temper tantrum, stomping my feet and yelling, “You did this to yourself, Mom! Why am I supposed to make it better? I didn’t ask for this! I have my own freakin’ life to live. I was supposed to finish my book this week while Maddie was at Grammy’s in North Carolina. I have MY life to live.”

Just being real.

As her doctor stated on Monday, “The damage is done.” This is no longer about her making a conscious choice to poison herself with booze. Her liver is screaming, NOPE. Her brain is shriveling up. And her coo-coo for cocoa puffs is showing. I mean, Dad, my sister and I used to see that side of her, but now it’s a little more evident to the rest of the world.

So, how does one reconcile this conundrum?

My heart and soul is urging me to help her. This will leave me cocooned in my codependent relationship with my alcoholic mother. My hope is, when all is said and done, she will know she was loved and cared for, regardless of the pain she inflicted through her selfishly choosing alcohol over her kids (she literally said this to a counselor when we were teenagers . . . “If you are asking me to choose between alcohol and my family, I choose vodka”). And one day, I will wriggle my way free of the confinement, spread my beautiful butterfly wings and soar.

I might occasionally have a little whine-fest (different from wine-fest!) about it as I wrestle with her demons. But, then I’ll step outside, thank God for the gifts of nature as I mindfully enjoy the moment, take a few cleansing breaths, consciously release the tension, smile at the bright red cardinal singing to me from the treetop, promising him, “I know, Dad. I’ll take care of her.”

 

Podcast Episode 26: Suicide Awareness

Episode 26: Suicide Awareness

During this podcast, I sat down with Stephanie Potter and her granddaughter, Emma, co-founders of the non-profit agency Rob’s Kids. The motto of this organization is:

rob's kids 4

As described on their website:

“Over 98% of the funds we raise go directly to programs that promote and improve children’s mental health.  Programs we support include: Mentoring programs, after school programs, food assistance programs, scholarship programs, various community projects through out the year.”

Emma & Sammie
Therapy Dog, Sammie, mid-smooches with Emma Potter during podcast recording session

The traumatic impact of Emma’s father’s suicide on her older sister, Sam, resulted in her sister spending time at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital with a diagnosis of depression and also post-traumatic stress disorder.

Listen in on iTunesBlubrry, or directly from my website as Emma & Stephanie discuss Rob’s Kids, the impact of suicide on their lives, their healing journey thus far, art therapy, signs of depression, seeking help, their heroes, and so much more.

As I say in my podcast closings, “remember to be gentle with yourself.”

* Every few days I will be posting links to various episodes from The Healing Place Podcast from 2018 thus far. I am excited to have more therapists, trauma-gurus, and ACES experts lined up over the next few weeks for interviews. I would love to have YOU join me, as well. If you are interested, please send me a private messages through this site and I will send you my podcast interview questions for you to review.

I am a huge fan of lifting one another up as beacons of light for those who are struggling, looking for guidance, or lost in the dark. I would love to offer my podcast as a platform for your voice about your mission and passion. My goal is to provide motivational, inspirational, and healing stories for my listeners.

Defining Resilience: Step 2 – Seek Out and Nurture Supportive Relationships

A sneak peak at a portion of my upcoming Hope for Healing newsletter scheduled for delivery August 1st. Subscribe at Hope for Healing newsletter or on my website at www.teriwellbrock.com. Thanks!

Defining Resilience

Step 2: Seek Out and Nurture Supportive Relationships

Before diving into step 2, a reminder about resilience: it is defined as the ability to overcome adverse conditions; with healthy bonding relationships, guidance, support, and compassion as the catalysts. Basically, it entails having the capacity to bounce back from stressful or overwhelming experiences.

What are some steps we can take to ensure we are building resilience in our lives?

  1. Focus on the positives
  2. Seek out and nurture supportive relationships.
  3. Utilize self-care strategies. 
  4. Take action steps to create positive change.
  5. Work on healthy habit formation. 
  6. Find a guiding hand to hold.
  7. Learn to become our own hero. 
  8. Be gentle with ourselves.

Today we will cover Step 2: Seek out and nurture supportive relationships.

The day my therapist said to me, in reference to my then-BFF, “Teri, you need to put some healthy boundaries in place,” I just stared at her befuddled. I truly had no idea what a “healthy boundary” looked like. Growing up in a co-dependent relationship with my alcoholic mother, I had spent my youth playing the part of the peace-keeper and “good girl” in order to create some sense of calm within the chaos. My sister and I have discussed, on many occasions, the impact physical abuse and emotional abandonment had on our future relationships. We agreed we had no concept how to even go about putting healthy boundaries in place and why that was critical for establishing and maintaining healthy relationships, friendships, and partnerships.

Here are five “healthy boundary” suggestions followed by five relationship-nurturing ideas to incorporate into your own life:

  • You are allowed to say “no”: Practice doing it. It may be difficult, at first, but you will soon reap the benefits of more time, less resentment, and empowerment within your own life and decisions. If you do not want to do something, then don’t do it. And if someone is upset by that then you know that relationship needs some boundary work!
  • Expand your circle: One of the first indications that I was in an unhealthy friendship with poor boundaries was when I was criticized by that friend for becoming more involved in my daughter’s school activities and developing new friendships. Broadening my circle and developing a tribe of supportive souls not only shined a light on the unhealthy patterns, but helped me create new healthier habits within those friendships.
  • Notice any unhealthy habits: I had a tendency to latch on with a death-grip, almost to the point of obsession, to those who loved me even after knowing all of my deep, dark secrets. I had such a deep-seated fear of abandonment that I would spend more time trying to keep the peace and play along, even when I disagreed with something, that I lost myself in the process. Once I started to become aware of my unhealthy habits, I was able to re-direct myself toward healthy boundaries.
  • Be honest: I kept quiet for far too many years because I was afraid that speaking up would result in being left. Once I realized that I was entitled to have not only my opinion but a voice to speak it, and that the reactions of others, whether they sent me packing or not, had nothing to do with me and everything to do with where they were on their own journey, I found solace. There is a release that happens in accepting “abandonment”. Knowing others might walk away when you put healthy boundaries in place is an indication that they still have work to do in their own lives. However, many will stick with you as you learn to speak your truth, and even more will gravitate toward you.
  • Know your worth: Knowing your worth on every level and protecting it are critical to maintaining supportive and healthy relationships. Your healthy boundaries include physical (no one should touch you in a harmful way), emotional (being ridiculed is unacceptable behavior from others), spiritual (you are most assuredly entitled to your beliefs), cognitive (mind-games can be a controlling aspect in particular relationships, especially those involving narcissists). Be sure to utilize positive affirmations and practice them daily (“I am worthy”, “I am kind”, “I am lovable”, etc.).
As you move away from toxic relationships, you will notice a shift occurring as those healthier habits attract more positivity into your life. Use this as an opportunity to create new friendships. Reach out to others in support and notice as they return the gesture. Some ideas to consider:
  1. Join groups that spark your passion or pique your interest – such as volunteering at an animal shelter, a rock-climbing club, your church choir, a car enthusiasts group, a small business association, etc.
  2. Reach out to those who allow you your boundaries – notice new people who come across your path and respect those boundaries.
  3. Engage in support groups (in person or online) – such as Al-Anon, parenting groups through mental health agencies, faith courses offered through churches, etc.
  4. Write thank you notes, texts or emails to those who offer supportive roles in your life – offering gratitude for the positive support not only keeps it in perspective for you, but helps others realize the impact they are having in the lives of others.
  5. Offer your support to others – by reaching out a helping hand you can start to develop reciprocal relationships in which you help one another when needed.

Blessings & Babble

Our daughter has been on a tweenage metamorphosis of late. Some days she’s clad in nothing but boys’ Nike attire and others she is lounging poolside in her cute little bikini sporting her Ray-Ban-esque Dollar Store knock-off shades. As she wriggles her way toward thirteen, a re-decorating of her cocoon was obviously in order. Out with the puppy calendar, pastel-colored name letters, and all things fru-fru-ish. In with a basketball comforter, tree lights strung about her walls, fresh white paint on the once-pink mirror, and a huge Nike swoosh hung proudly (next to the giant teddy bear . . . some things are a must keep no matter how grown up you think you are).

I was fortunate enough to inherit some inspirational decor in the process: “Live the life you’ve always dreamed of. Be fearless in the face of adversity. Never stop learning. Use your imagination whenever possible. Recognize the BEauty that surrounds YOU. Remember where you came from, but never lose sight of where you are going.”

Yes. So much yes.

I spoke to my mom this morning. About twenty-three times. Okay, only about seven, but still. She was drunk and depressed. I have avoided that combo since my childhood. She babbled on about my dad visiting her (scary thought considering he’s been deceased for nine years), wearing a winter coat all night because she couldn’t sleep, how my sister Katie was coming over to take Katie to lunch for Katie’s birthday (I’m still trying to figure that one out), hugging her new picture book and crying, asking me to call the Bureau of Motor Vehicles about my nephew’s car, needing me to call back and wake her up because she was still sleeping (um, no, Mom, you are awake and talking to me right now), and arguing with her dead friends.

You are right to tell me I should put her in a nursing home, have her declared incompetent of self-care. After all, I found out she had attempted to walk to the liquor store at eighty-two years old because she ran out of vodka. In eighty-something degree heat. But, she hitched a ride halfway there (insert eye-roll here).

However, in a day or two, my phone will ring and my bright and cheery mom will start in with her sober chatter, “Hi, TT! How’s my beautiful daughter today? If you have time, will you stop by and show me how to use this new vacuum you bought me? And pick me up some cranberry juice on your way. Did I tell you about the meal I’m planning for my party tonight?” And I’ll hear all about her social events for the next week . . . dinner parties with gourmet foods all cooked by her, movie nights with her old lady friends, rosary group, and noon mass at St. Rose. Sober and coherent and oh-so-self-sufficient.

Leaving me and my sister in that limbo land. Damned if we do and damned if we don’t. A pendulum existence between she-is-going-to-kill-herself-with-booze-and-pills and why-the-hell-did-you-stick-your-obviously-fun-and-perky-mom-in-a-nursing-home?

So, here I sit. Contemplating my new office decor.

“Live the life you’ve always dreamed of.”

Is it my duty to spend my days scurrying about making sure sober Mom is nurtured and drunk Mom lives? The life I’ve dreamed of certainly does not include either.

“Be fearless in the face of adversity.”

Why is it easier to face my own demons and confront my fears than it is to make a decision about where my mom should live? Perhaps because it’s HER life and not mine. This should be my mom’s decision, yet the only choice she is making is the one that’s haunted me since my teen years, when she told the family therapist, “If you are asking me to choose between alcohol and my family, I choose vodka.”

“Never stop learning.”

Joining Al-Anon was not so much eye-opening as it was a spotlight into my soul. Listening to others speak my thoughts, cry my tears, and confess to my lifelong fantasy of walking away from the chaos wreaked by my addict mother. Learning to end my co-dependent relationship with my mother has left me feeling more battered than the days she’d scream for my dad to hit me. How do I let go of my deeply ingrained Catholic guilt? Is there a way to let an old drunk hit rock bottom without shouldering the fallout? Who else will be there to clean it all up? (asks the over-achieving peace-keeper in me)

“Use your imagination whenever possible.”

I have imagined chunks of my life away. Sometime I wonder how much time I squandered day-dreaming my escapes. As a kid, my sister and I would lie awake in her rainbow-comforter-clad waterbed, dreaming up our lottery-winning adventures. We would buy our parents the white house with the blue roof near Grandma and Grandpa’s place in Covington. Then we would buy a camper and never look back. Today I dream of living my island life with no desire to look back at the chaos of addiction. Is that an acceptable use of imagination?

“Recognize the BEauty that surrounds YOU.”

Be. You. In gold letters.

Be.

You.

I spend every day noticing something beautiful in my life. From sunsets to ladybugs (I noticed both of those today!) to peaceful moments after the babbling phone calls.

Is there beauty to be found in her nonsense? Perhaps by being me, in all of my glitter-shitter glory, I can recognize the beauty that is my mom’s lesson. She has taught me to appreciate the moments between the mayhem. In all honesty, she’s taught me to appreciate the blessings within the torment, as well.

“Remember where you came from, but never lose sight of where you are going.”

I look like her. Especially as I age. I act like her, too. That’s mostly a good thing. She’s kind-hearted, likes to throw parties, loves to laugh, has deep faith, appreciates the value of friendship, and cries over sappy birthday cards and the Budweiser dog commercials. Yep. I’m my mom. In so many ways.

However . . . I really hate vodka.