The Superpower of Codependency

By Lisa Wall, Director of Community Engagement & Online Programs | SHE RECOVERS® Foundation

Recovery gave me the opportunity to focus on my strengths instead of my defects. It helped me to identify and nurture the more balanced and integrated aspects of these codependent tools I once relied on – to go from surviving to thriving.
– Lisa Wall

intimate partner violence

Hi. My name is Lisa Wall and I am recovering from codependency. What this means to me, is I no longer have the superpower I NEVER had to control people, places, and things. Don’t get me wrong. I still have super powers, but they look a lot different today in recovery. Hint: they actually work.

Codependency has many different definitions and manifestations. Nikki Myers defines codependency as “the disease of looking elsewhere” and this fits for me. My favorite codependent superpowers of choice were named hyper-vigilance, perfectionism, and spiritual bypassing. I felt by casing a joint – aka scanning a room for the exits and evaluating the energy of people to identify their true intentions – I would be safe. I believed if I could just do and be all the things others wanted me to be, not only would I earn their love (approval), they would stop being abusive, disrespectful, dishonest, and active in their process addictions. If a feeling or situation felt a little crunchy or undesirable I could simply stuff it down deep inside of me, focusing only on that which was positive, and all the discomfort would magically disappear. If I could just control everyone and everything outside of myself ignoring my own experience, behaviors, feelings, and needs, I would be ok.

As a child, these traits helped me to survive.

Being very sensitive to the energy of others and predicting how they might behave gave me a sense of security. Playing small and keeping quiet wove me an excellent invisibility cloak. Leaning on gratitude and ignoring my shadow and painful experiences helped me to overcome adversity. For anyone who has experienced active addiction or dysfunction within their family of origin, in their relationships, or even at work – it seems only appropriate when we were younger and relying on primary caregivers and those in positions of authority, to attempt to seek safety and lean on these tools for survival.

In my adult life, these traits became maladaptive and destructive.

I found myself physically, mentally, energetically, spiritually, and financially bankrupt in my pursuit to control and predict my life and all the things in it. Did I mention I managed to do this sober? It’s true. You can completely destroy your life without the influence of any mood-altering substances. I became so physically ill that I developed globus hystericus (how is that for a name to describe the sensation of muscles and energy in your throat so tight you literally can’t speak or swallow?), tinnitus, and an auto-immune disorder. I went bankrupt and lost my house in my attempt to keep up with the expectations of society that I should be able to manage a mortgage meant for two incomes, also ignoring all of the red flags associated with purchasing the home. I became obsessed with the actions and behaviors of my romantic partners and felt a twisted sense of victory every time I found proof of how unworthy I was of their love. I lost a once very magickal connection with the universe and earth. If I felt a sense of suffering around any of it, I would “at least” on myself – noting how much worse it could be, invalidating my feelings in favor of an “attitude of gratitude” – my journal was proof of this. One particular entry that stands out included having my car broken into, losing several of my personal possessions (including a $500 gift card I won), stepping in human excrement, missing a ferry, having to wait 6 hours in 98-degree heat for the next one, and discovering my partner was cheating on me (again) – all in one day. What I had to say about it was “Well, it could have been worse. Today I am grateful for…”.

In recovery, I didn’t seek to abandon these aspects of who I was. I alchemized them.

I began by examining what I was getting out of these “superpowers”. As maladaptive as they were in my adult life, there was still a pay-off of sorts and as dysfunctional as they were, they were also familiar. It wasn’t until I realized that they were serving me (just not in a way that was helping me grow, heal or evolve) that I began to change. These maladaptive coping tools gave me a false sense of security and control. I realized that if I just turned the dial down a little and move towards a more balanced way of being in the world I could transform them into gifts. With a little radical self-love and some honest conversations with myself, hyper-vigilance slowly transformed into deep empathic abilities and the gift of being able to read energy. Perfectionism became paying great attention to detail. A desire to please others turned into a passion for being of service and loving myself, radically. An obsession with maintaining a positive outlook at all costs morphed into a desire to hold space for a myriad of feelings all at once – from joy to grief.

Recovery gave me the opportunity to focus on my strengths instead of my defects. It helped me to identify and nurture the more balanced and integrated aspects of these codependent tools I once relied on – to go from surviving to thriving.

I’ve learned that I don’t need to remove these parts of myself to find wholeness. I can instead embrace these aspects of character and be curious. What purpose were they serving in the past? How are they a disservice to me now? What might I be avoiding? What is longing to be transformed?

Here’s to embracing the dark and the light parts of ourselves and becoming more authentic, whole, and integrated human beings. All of who we are is welcome at this recovery table.

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