Now I’m on the other side of the shock and hurt, I’m in the analysis stage, where I’m trying to work out what went wrong, how did I get into this situation in the first place and how do I make sure that it doesn't happen again.
I spent my marriage caretaking my husband. It is obvious to me now that he is a functioning alcoholic – he works in a fly in, fly out job, two weeks on, two weeks off, so I don’t know what he does when he is at work, but for the two weeks that he was at home he would drink ten to fifteen cans of beer per day, plus bourbon. It is incredible when I look back on it now that I accepted this behaviour as normal. On top of the alcohol he had a packet a day, cigarette habit. No wonder we were always broke! So my question to myself is what on earth was I doing getting involved with someone who clearly had huge addiction issues? The answer came to me after a lot of Googling – it is called ‘co-dependency’.
Co-dependent people often have grown up in an environment where they have learnt to keep the peace and avoid confrontation. In families where abuse, violence or other dysfunctional behaviour exists, children learn that to get their needs met, they need to surrender themselves. In order for the child to feel safe or valued, they must conform to parental expectations. The child learns to give up their authentic self to avoid the repercussions of their parent flying into a rage, for example. The child becomes a people pleaser, caretaker, rescuer, an over-achiever or some other personality role and in the process loses touch with who they really are. The child then grows into an adult who continues these patterns of behaviour – they become the person that they think that others want them to be in order to avoid rejection and abandonment.
The concept of co-dependency explains a lot about how I behaved in my marriage and why I was attracted to a man with such huge issues. His first wife had left him because of his drinking, but I turned a blind eye and believed his version of events. When I look back I can see that even his family tried to warn me, but I think I was so hell bent on rescuing him, I chose not to listen. I think his family actually hoped for a while there that maybe I could fix him, until he decided to sail off in to the sunset with his affair partner.
I have a tendency to want to look after people and solve all their problems and so I took him on along with the responsibility for paying bills, car servicing, putting the bins out and all the other mundane tasks so that he could just drink, smoke and indulge his Internet porn addiction. By caretaking him I removed the consequences of his behaviour – I paid off credit cards that he ran up, I paid speeding fines, I paid his child support arrears with my tax refund, I gave him a generous amount of pocket money each week in an effort to keep on top of his reckless spending and so on. I never gave him the opportunity to experience the cost of his addictions because I was protecting him from himself. Alcoholism is a disease and I enabled the disease to progress by managing the fallout from his behaviour. I was under a huge amount of stress and I felt anxious all the time. I dreaded the phone ringing, in case it was the Child Support Agency or a credit card company wanting money. He never had to deal with any of it because I shielded him; in fact he told the Child Support Agency that he wanted me to be his representative so he didn't have to deal with it. I resented his first wife for a long time because he blamed all our financial woes on the fact that he had to pay child support. I can now see the amount of money that he spent on alcohol and cigarettes and, in the later stages of the marriage, on flowers and hotel rooms for the other woman, was a lot more than the child support ever was. I should never have had to take any of this on board but I did because of my co-dependency. He was dependent on alcohol and I was dependent on him being dependent on alcohol. My co-dependent self was saying, “I will look after everything and maintain the status quo, and you keep drinking. In return please don’t ever reject or abandon me.”
By taking control, I disempowered him (and me) and it makes sense that he went searching for another woman who would be taken in by his narcissistic over confidence, just as I was at the beginning. He needed to seek validation, attention and admiration from somewhere else because I was so busy trying to keep everything going, I was too exhausted to tell him how wonderful he was. And deep down inside, the authentic me was there somewhere, resenting the fact that co-dependency had taken over my life. I didn't respect him anymore but I was too scared to confront him in case he abandoned me. I was a shell of a person with nothing left to give. The cycle will continue, with the new woman juggling the finances to enable him to maintain his alcohol habit, as I did and as his first wife did. As long as there is someone to bail him out, he will never have to face the consequences of his actions. The thing is that he is not my problem anymore and as long as I allow him to take up space in my head, I am not focusing on me. He needs to take responsibility for himself and I need to focus on getting to know me.
All change happens for a reason and you may not see it at the time but it usually is for the better. Life is an evolutionary process in which you learn and become wiser as you go through each experience. I no longer need to take responsibility for anyone apart from myself and from now on the focus is completely on me. I no longer feel anxious all the time, I am looking after myself, physically and mentally, and I am about to start a new job this week which I am excited about. At 52 years of age, I am finding out who I actually am, and I really like that person. I have spent a lifetime directing energy towards taking responsibility for other people and now that energy is going into me. I go to the gym, a decent hairdresser, bushwalking and I am revisiting the creative side of me through all sorts of different projects. In short, I am my new best friend!