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Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Birth of My Codependency--A Raw Account of Years of Conditioning

Seventeen years ago today, my sister Misti, and her new husband Joe, left California for their honeymoon in Jamaica.  Yesterday, on their anniversary, my sister posted a Facebook question:  What were we all doing that day, 17 years ago?

I was very pregnant with Adam, and Tessa was 2 1/2.  She had been the flower girl at their wedding, and I had stood at my sister's side, very large in my green taffeta dress.

The day that the Newlyweds left California for the beginning of their new life together, my husband, Tessa, Adam and I left for our new home...Omaha, Nebraska.  We had just moved there 4 weeks before, but we flew back for Misti's wedding.

Born and raised in Southern California, moving to Nebraska was a mixture of many strange emotions.  My family is close.  Very close.  My husband, although he said he loved my family, was irritated at the frequency in which we would gather together.  Sometimes it was for a birthday party, sometimes it was for a holiday, sometimes it was for no particular reason.

We had been married 7 years, but as newlyweds, the first thing to be crossed off the list of our weekend agenda was the Just Because family gatherings at my parents' house, or especially at my aunt and uncle's house.  They lived farther away than my parents (just an hour), and he never wanted to go that far.  We were always invited, but whenever I'd tell my husband of the weekend opportunity, he'd become angry.

Growing up, my mother always made family plans, most of the time without ever having to clear it with my dad, and he was always happy.  Being a Sales Manager for a major furniture chain,  my father always worked on weekends, with his days off during the week--usually Thursday and Friday.  He'd come home every Saturday night to extended family in the house.  Almost without exception it included my grandma (my mother's mom), and my aunt (who is only 8 1/2 years older than me).  Often, it also included my mom's other sister and her kids, or my dad's mother and his sister.  Once in a while we'd throw in extra adult cousins and their kids for good measure.  To me, this was normal.  A weekend alone didn't seem right.

My husband's family seemed very disconnected.  He had one brother and one sister, and neither had a good relationship with their dad.  Family gatherings were frequently very tense, with my mother-in-law nervously trying to keep everyone happy and fed.  Although I had grown to love each of my in-laws independently of each other, I found these family gatherings to be cold in comparison to mine.

Family wasn't a cherished gift for my husband, and within a year of our marriage, he started talking about wanting to move from California.  Leaving family behind, to him, was of little consequence.  He was dissatisfied with California, and spent hours upon hours talking about the ills of raising children in this state.  These were days before the Internet, but he would always study-up on other states, and as he would plan or envision us living there...anywhere but California, I saw a light in his eyes and in his spirit that mesmerized me.  I was lulled into believing everything negative he said about living in California, because quite frankly, every position of negativity he shone light on was bathed in truth.  Why wouldn't it be?  There isn't a place outside The Garden that is perfect.  Every place has a downfall. But to my husband, there was no downfall to the "other" place...again, no matter where it was, so long as it wasn't California.

Like his father before him, my husband had tremendous potential.  I fell in love with the man he could be, without letting myself see the man he really was.  He was a man broken by verbal and emotional abuse from his father.  He was a man broken by episodes of turbulent rants by his father, sometimes resulting in his mother being physically mistreated--one memory was of his father actually knocking the feet out from under his mother, causing her to fall.

His mother, one of the sweetest ladies ever created by God, ended up living over 50 years under his tyranny, and with decades of mind conditioning, she always obediently defended her husband.  Believing her role as a Godly wife to be that of one who always lifted up her husband, theirs was a pattern of her husband misbehaving badly, then she would agree that either she or the kids brought it on themselves, and then after a cooling-down period, he would oftentimes come back jovial, like nothing bad had happened.  My husband always told me this of his dad.  "If he is mad and yells, and says bad things, it's best to ignore it, or not argue it, stay quiet, and it will pass as though nothing ever happened."

So to my husband, this was normal.

When he'd get mad with me for wanting to go see my family on the weekend, it was my job to know that it wasn't my husband's fault, but that it was my family's fault for wanting to do so much so often.  In time, it became much, much more easy to avoid tension between my husband and me, and to just not even ask if we could go see them.  They would invite us, and I would make lavish excuses.  Mostly, it was along the lines of my husband having had a hard, stressful week, and he needed to rest on the weekend, or that he was sick and I needed to stay home and take care of him.

On occasion he would let me go alone.  He'd tell me that I had to be home before dark, and sometimes he would even give me a time in the afternoon when I'd have to leave.  So, if lunch was to be served at 1:00, he would tell me to leave by 3:30 saying, "There is no reason to stay later, and you need to be home, spending time with me." So, I'd leave at 3:30.  It didn't matter if we were engaged in great conversation, or if we were in the middle of a game. If for some reason lunch had been delayed, and we still weren't done by 3:30, if I wasn't home the time he expected me, he'd call the house phone.  On his end, he'd be loud and angry, throwing accusations of my lack of submissiveness, and on my end, which was within earshot of my family, I'd laugh a lot as though he was being funny, and I would assure him that I would be home soon.  Then, offering an explanation to my family, I would try and paint him as a hopeless romantic who missed his wife.

Six-and-a-half years into our marriage, his company decided to move his office to a different location--Omaha, Nebraska.  They would pay for our entire move, within 6 months, even giving him a bonus for moving.  It was a way out.  For him, a way out of Hell, and for me, it was a way out of the knots I always had in my stomach about the tension between my husband and my family.  I conditioned myself and readied myself for the major departure by believing and speaking frequently about every negative point of California.  For me, the only way to find peace in my marriage was to be away from my family, independent.  I latched on to my independent God-given nature, and rather than apply it in a healthy way against the emotional abuse from my husband, I used it in the dysfunctional and seemingly more simple way of distancing myself from my family.  I made my bed...I was committed to having a Biblical marriage, even if the only one remotely close to holding up her end of the deal was me.  Rather than see my husband as what he was, I chose to see him for who he could be, and I believed that this man would emerge and thrive in a better living environment.

So, with the hand of my parents' only grandchild in mine, and with their next grandchild on his way, we left.

Weeks later and back in California, seeing my sister and her husband off was bittersweet.  I was so happy for them.  So happy.  But I didn't know when I'd see my sister again, and my heart was breaking within.

The next day, my family saw us off from LAX.  Leaving wasn't quite as hard as it had been 4 weeks before, when I left alone with Tessa (my husband drove back, and I flew with Tessa and our 2 cats), but still, I cried so hard that I started having regular contractions on the plane.  Adam wasn't due for 7 more weeks.  They subsided and went away somewhere over Colorado.

That was 17 years ago today.  Little did I know what would come, or by what circumstances the kids and I would be coming back to California to stay, some 12 years later.  If only we could live out our days with hindsight, but of course, that perspective can only come after we've lived our mistakes and triumphs.

It does mess with the mind.  If only I had seen things more clearly when I met him.  If only I had stood my ground on all that worked so hard to erode.  But I wouldn't have my 4 kids with him.  And then, if only he didn't have an affair.  But I would have never had the strength to really see him, and then demand a stop to all of the other areas in our relationship that was so, so sick.  If only none of this ever happened.  I wouldn't have Danielle.  And then, I wouldn't have Hugo.

Things happen for a reason, even if we bring them on ourselves with bad choices.  What I have left, what my family has left, is all that we have now.  What we have now is healthy, and it's beautiful.  Beauty from Ashes.  I've always believed in that concept.  So, rather than dwell on the If Onlys, I work hard to focus on the blessings of how things have materialized.  I am so grateful for what we have now.

On a silly side-note, Hugo was at Joe and Misti's wedding!  Hugo and Joe have known each other since they were teenagers.  Hugo's brother Luis, my future brother-in-law, was in the wedding too.  Hugo and I didn't know each other, but as he told me yesterday, "We breathed the same air that day."



  1. You have such an incredible story! I think you should write a book!!

  2. thank you so much for sharing. what an amazing woman you are!!