Used To Be Pretty

codependency Some folks seem to have this idea that if only they have more or get more or get something different, that all of the Bad Things in their lives will be magically fixed. This is a troublesome mindset. I think it’s related somehow to the bullshite idea that if you think positively enough about something, you will change the vibrations of the universe and Good Things will come to you. Or that if you pray in the right way or with the right words or facing the right direction that your prayers will be answered. This is a fallacy; a mirage; a fantasy that we, as a creative and intelligent species has developed over the thousands of years of our existence.

A new car will not fix your life. Getting a dog will not make things better. If what you need in your life is love and support, the first step needs to be for you to learn how to acknowledge your own weaknesses and challenges and to learn how to work through them (or in spite of them). If there are problems in your personal life that are dragging you down, getting married isn’t going to make those problems go away. In fact, it could compound them, because not only are you going to have to learn how to deal with your own problems, you’re going to have to learn how to compromise when your partner is dealing with their problems.

Maybe look at your goals. Write them down. If there are a bunch of superlatives in there, that ought to be a huge red flag. And by superlatives, I mean that if your list of goals is “be the best mother ever”, “have the best things”, “be the happiest”, “get the best paying job”, you’re probably setting yourself up for disappointment. The thing about goal-setting is that it’s not as easy as it sounds. How do you set goals that are challenging, but attainable?

Royalty-free image is "Ever So Lonely" by TreeFaerie from stock.xchg
Royalty-free image is “Ever So Lonely” by TreeFaerie from stock.xchg

For most of my life, my main goal has been “to be better”. It’s vague. And it often hasn’t been directed at anyone but me. With a few exceptions.

My mother was an addict. She was an incredible woman and I miss her very much. Most of the time. There are things I do not miss at all. And there are aspects of her behaviour that I see in myself and I don’t know how to change them.

One of the goals I set when I was Quite Young was that I didn’t want to be a drinker. I wanted to be “better than that”. Better than stumbling around the house. Better than puking and drunkenly telling my kids that I had just had some bad pizza. (Kids are smarter than that, btw. I knew it wasn’t bad pizza.) Better than refusing to pick my kids up from a 10pm drama performance in -40 weather because I’d been drinking since I got home from work and shouldn’t drive, but then deciding it’d probably be okay and getting into an accident with three teenage girls in the car and having my license suspended and having to send the girls home in a taxi and having to be dropped off at home by the police and lying to my husband about why I couldn’t drive for 48 hours. Better than that. Better than that *behaviour*.

I wanted to be better than a B in school. I wanted to be better than being told to sit the bench for the whole volleyball game. I wanted to be better than not knowing the meaning of ‘cacophony’ but thinking it was a cool-sounding word and using it (incorrectly) in an essay. I wanted to know more than I used to know; to learn more than I used to learn. I wanted to always improve.

I did learn, through many years of misery, having to accept that I was not, and could not be all things to all people, that when you constantly have to fight with a loved one’s addiction for attention, and when you constantly wonder why you have to work so hard to get such a little bit of praise, you get left with this big, huge, gaping hole in your ‘I am worthy’ bucket. You have to learn how to fix that hole or else you’re going to start using the same tricks your addicted love one used. Maybe it won’t be substance abuse, but it could be. It could also be: emotional manipulation; attention-seeking behaviour; inability to accept criticism; inability to accept contrasting opinions; helplessness…and a whole lot of other issues.

Look, I’m not a super genius. I don’t buy in to most of the psychiatry-babble-mumbo-jumbo catchwords and phrases like “codependency” and “enabling” and “victim”. A former friend went through family counselling when we were in our early 20s and by the eightieth time I heard “codependent” and “enabler”, I just wanted to pierce my own eardrums with the solid bits of shoelaces. I’m sure these words are meaningful to *someone*. But at a certain point, you have to stop labelling everything for ease of classification and get to the meat of the issue. And the meat of the issue is “why is it so difficult to feel loved and appreciated?”

The answer to that is not “because I don’t have a dog” or “because I haven’t bought a house” or “because I only have one child”. The answer to that is elusive. It’s painful. It’s often “because someone close to you was incapable of showing you love, so you have to relearn what love really is.”

Royalty-free image courtesy of Lace Jones via stock.xchg
Royalty-free image courtesy of Lace Jones via stock.xchg

I’m guilty of all of the bad mojo in that list, by the way. I tried for many years to tie my self-worth to the opinions of me that others around me had, because I had no idea how to do otherwise. I always need(ed) to be the centre of attention. I need(ed) to be right all the time. I didn’t accept criticism. I mean, it’s not that I didn’t accept it gracefully. I didn’t accept it *at all*. I felt like every time I didn’t get my way, I was being personally attacked. I thought that I was a victim of others’ cruelty. (I wasn’t, you know. People are lovely. I was just very broken.)

When someone loves you, it doesn’t mean they’re always going to agree with you or “take your side”. When someone loves you, they’ll want to be honest with you, and they won’t want there to be ‘sides’. When someone loves you, it doesn’t mean they’re going to do everything you ask them to do; it means they’re going to want to work *with* you and they’re going to learn to share responsibility and labour. Love is challenging. Relationships are hard, hard work. And that work is rewarding.

It’s one thing to ask for someone’s opinion and then disagree with their opinion. But when you ask for advice and then completely disregard the advice and turn the entire discussion into an argument over who is right, I usually just walk away from the thing entirely. I suspect it’s a maturity thing. I’m not sure if I’m the mature one, walking away.

But how did I learn this stuff? To be honest, I have no idea. Probably “the hard way”. Years of hurting people. Battling mental illness. At some point I guess I figured that the only person who could change my life is me, and that the only way I could change my life is through hard work. I was extremely fortunate to have supportive and encouraging family and friends. I owe them everything.

All of this hard work – I guess this is why I don’t much like it when someone has a “poor me” attitude, and why I turn my back on manipulative behaviour and what my co-worker calls “crazy-making” (when someone creates “sides” for an issue and tries to make you choose a side. Usually their own). It’s why I don’t mind saying that I’m not interested in hearing the negativity; it’s why sometimes I’m not supportive of a decision. I don’t have to like what you do to love you. Sometimes, it’s okay to disagree.

cenobyte is a writer, editor, blogger, and super genius from Saskatchewan, Canada.


  1. This is my fourth attempt at a reply. The others I deleted because I started dredging up all of the shit I went through growing up, the bullshit and mental fuckery people I should have been able to look for support turned those roles around. Guilty of falling back into being the victim instead of the survivor. You and I have very a similar story, and from what I’ve read from this entry you’re a survivor also. Bravo

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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