Queen of Denial

Queen of Denial

 

I remember feeling surprised the first time I really realized my marriage was not going to last forever and that I was going to be divorced.

 

No one in my family had ever been divorced.  I had no role models for this. I had no siblings paving the way, no aunts or uncles, no cousins.  No grandmothers or grandfathers.

 

No one.

 

Despite the fact that 50 percent of all U.S. marriages end in divorce, no one in my family was part of this statistic.

 

I would be the first to blemish my family’s clean record.

 

Divorce wasn’t what I was thinking when I walked down the aisle, blissfully unaware of how long “forever” really is.  And I was too naïve to take into account things like substance abuse and intimacy issues when the Rabbi gave the pros and cons of “For better and for worse, in sickness and health.”

 

No, as I was walking down the aisle, nearly faint with excitement (really, I nearly fainted), I was thinking: “This is my dream. This is my future. I’m sure I can change him.”

 

I know plenty of women who walked down the aisle fully aware they were making a mistake.  I interviewed one woman who said she knew she’d be divorced within a year; another told me it took all her willpower not to turn and run when she saw her husband-to-be standing in front of the minister.

 

Now, I am an absolute Queen of Denial, with a hefty dose of Pollyanna mixed in, but I don’t think I could have knowingly walked into a marriage that wasn’t going to last. I’d be too embarrassed to accept all that china. As it was, even after 13 years of marriage, I felt I’d let everyone down.

 

Have you felt that way too? That you didn’t try hard enough, stay long enough, do everything you could to make a relationship last?

 

I did.

 

I thought my problems weren’t big enough to warrant the dissolution of our family.  We had a young son and I couldn’t bear the thought of raising him alone or being without him every other weekend.  I thought I owed everyone a huge explanation, an inarguable reason, why my husband and I couldn’t stay together.

 

Turns out, the only people owed an explanation were my son, my ex and me.  And looking at us today – divorced, living apart, but healthier and more supportive than we were in our marriage – I see that we made the right difficult decisions.

 

My fears and feelings of failure were unfounded.  In fact, no one said, “Give it another chance. Try harder. Do more.”  Maybe it was because they’d watched us give it one chance after another for more than a decade. I think many of them knew our marriage wasn’t going to work before we did. They’d just been waiting to exhale along with us, and help us build what came next.

 

I wish I had known that.

 

I wish I had known my friends and family would be more than supportive of me — they were kind, compassionate, caring. And my closest girlfriends were thrilled with my decision (finally) to create a healthier, more authentic life. I mean, no one actually said, “Damn, girl, what took you so long?” but their hugs conveyed those feelings and more.

My sister-in-law still teases me when I take a long time to make a decision or leave a job or give up a volunteer position: “At least you did it in under 15 years. I’m proud of you.”

 

As I rebuilt my life, my ex did amazing things with his, too.  As many of you know, I consider my ex-husband one of my best friends.  But after years of working on our marriage together (we were in couples’ therapy for 14 years; married 13), just two months after we separated, he went into a program on his own, and has made it work for nearly five years.  Now, he is an involved, thoughtful father to our son and an unbelievably supportive co-parent to me.  I can say with some certainty that this would not have been the case if I had not taken a deep breath and been the first person in my family – to get a divorce.

 

In fact, I believe that all those years of therapy* working on our marriage is what made divorce work for us, and definitely helped us create a healthier, happier relationship on the other side.

 

Now really – who could have known that?

 

*Stick around for my next few columns, when I’ll share years’ worth of therapy about dating after divorce – and it won’t cost you $100 bucks an hour. (And you won’t have to listen to anyone ask, “So how’s that working for you?”)

 

 

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One Family’s “Crazy” Is Another One’s “Normal”

Thanksgiving is an interesting time for my family and me. (“Interesting” as in “different,” “unusual,” “unorthodox.”) You see, I typically make the 10-hour car trek to South Florida from Atlanta with my family; and when I say family, I mean my son, my boyfriend and my ex-husband.

And yes, we all arrive unscathed and generally in a pretty good mood.

Most people think we’re nuts. Even my dad thinks we’re a little crazy. But the rest of my family takes it in stride, understanding that when my husband and I became exes, we also committed to keeping the friendship part of our relationship.

And while that may be “weird” to many, it’s our normal.

This year marks the 7-year anniversary of my divorce—the event that turned my ex-husband into one of my truest friends.  I tell my ex all the time, “Honey, I’m glad I married you, because you are great to be divorced from.”

He knows exactly what I mean.

Our friendship is an unusual story, I know — and the truth is, it didn’t just happen. From the moment my ex-husband and I decided to separate (which was a culmination of years on the fence), we asked ourselves: can we create a divorce that isn’t bitter and hurtful? Can we preserve the platonic love we have for each other – for both ourselves and our son? Can we keep all the good parts and toss all the bad stuff?

We decided we could.

So with small, mostly-even steps throughout a nearly two-year separation leading up to our divorce, we created what is for some of my family and friends, a mind-boggling relationship.

We understand it takes some getting used to.

The person most confused by our friendship is my father.  My dad – as any father who thinks his little girl has somehow been wronged – wanted to be furious at my ex. I told him that I wasn’t angry, so he didn’t need to be mad on my behalf. I think that leaves him a little unsure of how to feel about this ex-son-in-law-good-friend thing.

I’ve told him, “Dad, maybe if you had raised Jon (that’s my ex) he would have turned out differently. But he didn’t have the benefit of having you for a father … maybe you could sort of be one now?”

Still, my old-school dad doesn’t understand how we can all hang out together — yes, at any given time you can find my ex, my boyfriend, my son and me, bowling or going to dinner or even having a New Year’s Eve party.  We all get along that well. (As an example, my boyfriend was the first one to buy my ex a gift last year for the holidays. My ex is a huge fan of my boyfriend’s technological wizardry. My son adores his dad and really likes my boyfriend. My boyfriend likes my son, which, as an often-surly, frequently moody teenager, is the biggest surprise of all to me.)

When we arrived at my parents’ home the night before Thanksgiving, there were hugs for everyone (including my ex). My ex sincerely loves my father; his own dad died when he was 13, so my dad is the only father he’s had in his adult life. Later, as we were leaving for the nearby hotel, my dad announced he was picking up the tab for all of our rooms. We all protested, but both of my parents insisted.

Then my dad whispered to me, “When you got divorced, I didn’t think I’d be paying for MORE rooms than when you were married.”

I think he was only half-kidding.

On Thanksgiving morning, we arrived at my parents early to help.  My boyfriend lifted the 22-pound turkey into the oven; my ex set the table; my son took out the never-ending trash.  As soon as the rest of my 20-member family showed up, the conversation and laughter level rose to concert-level decibels. Occasionally, someone came up to me and told me how wonderful it is to see Jon here; how great that we can have this kind of relationship. A couple of my nieces, now of dating and marrying age, told me they think it’s great for my son, and asked me if it’s ever weird.

“Not really,” I said honestly. “It’s just the way we’ve done it from the beginning.”  I think it would be weird to do it any other way.

At the dinner table, it was my turn to say what I am most grateful for. I look at “my boys,” – my boyfriend, my ex, my son … I look at my dad … trying so hard to be new-age with us … I look at my mom, who has never stopped loving Jon and who gives that same love to my boyfriend of five years… I see my siblings and nieces and nephews, and I realize what I am most grateful for this year is their open arms, open hearts, and most of all, their open minds. I thank them for truly supporting this and deciding that for us, this is what normal is.

Will our son be better adjusted because of his divorced parents’ friendship? I honestly don’t know. He seems pretty well adjusted already. I know he loves being able to be with his dad along with the rest of his family. I know it’s gotta be good for him that there’s no fighting, no feuding, no taking sides between his mother and father. I hope that he learns – as we have – that divorce is not always a tragedy. But just in case this has somehow damaged him for life, along with our son’s College Fund, we might just create his Therapy Fund. Because one day he might be lying on a therapist’s couch somewhere, whining: “Why couldn’t my parents have had a normal divorce?”

Now, maybe I’ve miscalculated; maybe there are dozens of us – thousands, even – out there shaking up the traditional holiday scene and putting new meaning into “goodwill toward man” – starting with our ex-men.

Good, bad, sad, mixed — I’d love to hear about your non-traditional holiday life, too.

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SoundAsleep Curtains Could Save My Relationship

My curtain on the left, SoundAsleep blackout curtain on the right! It just may save my relationship!

There are many things I love about my boyfriend (although at my age and with an amicable divorce behind me, I am still slightly embarrassed to use the term, “boyfriend,” even after five years together). The things I love most about my boyfriend are probably not on anyone else’s top 10 list – they are the quirky things, the tiniest details, the qualities I was too dumb or immature to look for when I was in  my 20s.  At the top of my top 10 are: my boyfriend lets me talk to him throughout a movie and never gets annoyed.  I whisper questions and theories and sometimes things that don’t have anything to do with the movie. And he answers me.  I also love how compatible we are. Now, “compatible” does not sound sexy when you are looking for a partner in your 20s or even 30s, but to me, it is one of the loveliest words in the universe. It makes our love easy, natural and practically stress-free. And finally in my top three is the fact that my boyfriend is fully capable – he can cook, clean, fix stuff, buy his own clothes, achieve in business, and is more than happy to share the load with me. After years of choosing people who needed “saving,” I am delighted that a higher power chose this beautiful, capable man for me.

So on those occasions when my boyfriend and I have a difference of opinion, I try to be accommodating. Such was the case when he said to me one night, as we were getting ready for bed, “Those streetlights outside our window are too damn bright. I think I would sleep much better if we had black-out curtains.”

The thing is, I thought I had purchased black-out curtains when I redid my bedroom several years ago. But my curtains are so beautiful that I did not complain when they didn’t, in fact, block-out the street lights (or the full moon or my neighbor’s security light).  I have never wanted to replace the curtains even so, because I love the way they look and of course, it is much too late to ask for a refund or re-do at this point.

But my boyfriend’s request was simple – and of course, any relationship is filled with these small compromises, right?  So I started researching my options. I wanted to keep the look of my simple, spa-like handmade curtains – a perfect linen color – and I didn’t want to spend a fortune on new ones.  I couldn’t find what I wanted – the products either looked to “industrial” or were too expensive or just not the right solution.

And then, like magic, The Balancing Act hosted guests Ellery Homestyles, LLC and its SoundAsleep™ Room Darkening Curtains. As a blogger for TBA, I was invited to try them out – can you say perfect timing? I was pleasantly surprised when I went to the SoundAsleep website http://www.soundasleepcurtains.com/ —it showed a wide variety of designs, colors and lengths. I chose mushroom, because it was closest to the color of the curtains I already have in our bedroom.  I wasn’t sure about the length, so I made my best guess.

Within the week, my SoundAsleep curtains arrived and I hung them up without even bothering to iron them. (They will definitely need ironing!)  Since I already had curtains, it was so easy to put the SoundAsleep panels on the same rod. I did not, however, use the valance that came with them – I’m not a valance person, I guess, and none of the styles seemed right for my room, although the website does offer several variations. The curtains’ color was a little darker than I thought it would be, but the fabric looks really nice – high quality and a heavier heft than linen.

My boyfriend and I could barely wait for the sun to set, the streetlights to come on, and the black-out to begin.

IT WORKED!

Not a filament of light came through the curtains! However, since I had apparently ordered too long a length, the puddle of curtain on my carpeted floor prevents the SoundAsleep curtains from lying close against the window pane. Because of this, a little bit of light escapes on either side of the window. Once I get the right size and perhaps a smaller curtain rod, this light will be blocked, too!

To note: each panel is sold separately, but they are really wide. You need two to make the window look balanced and well-designed, but seriously, one panel would cover my window. The price is fantastic; $29.99 for each panel. In my research both online and off, that was one of the less expensive options, especially for the quality of the SoundAsleep curtains. I think the curtains look better and more modern without a valance, but that’s just my humble opinion.  And I will have to figure out how to iron them. It may be a job for the dry cleaners…

Even with just one of my two street windows blocked with the new SoundAsleep curtains, our room is DARK! (See the picture.) Thanks to my trial run, my boyfriend was happy, I looked like a hero, and we both slept as well as we do when we go to the lake – which is totally dark (no streetlamps in sight!).

My next step is to order the right length and a slightly lighter color, and four more panels (enough for the other two windows in our bedroom).  Since these are the official curtains of the National Sleep Foundation, I’m guessing I’ll be sleeping like a guest in an expensive hotel room (you know how dark those hotel room curtains are!). I just hope my boyfriend doesn’t sleep SO soundly that I can’t wake him up early now and then. 😉

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The Date That S…

The Date That Started It All

Last night I went on my first date. In 14 years. It may be another 14 years before I do it again.

My date was a doctor. Correction: surgeon. I think I should have started with a paper boy.
On my drive home, as I replayed in my mind every excruciating moment, I had a feeling that I’d broken every dating rule ever written. So when I arrived home, I went to http://www.godthisisawkward at firstdate.com. I read in horror the long list of “dating don’ts.” Sure enough, I had unwittingly committed nearly every one:

1. Do not talk about your ex-spouse on a first date. I practically told my ex’s life story: his terrible childhood, his resultant baggage, his brilliant mind, and the fact that, although he is my ex, we’re still good friends and I love him. At this point, I’m sure my date was trying to determine how long it would be before my ex and I were back together…unless he was too busy looking for the restaurant’s emergency exit. Thankfully, I left out the part about my ex having intimacy issues and all that that implies. How I managed to contain this part of the story, I have no idea. I must have actually let my date speak.

2. Do not mention sex. Well, technically, I did not break this rule, as I believe this means you’re not supposed to say you’d like to have sex on the first date. But here’s the rub: since my job involves teens and their everyday challenges, when my date asked what the research shows, I could have mentioned peer pressure, drinking or drugs. But instead I mentioned the trend of girls giving boys oral sex as routinely as we used to French kiss. Only I didn’t say “oral sex,” I said “blow jobs.” Talk about polite dinner conversation! According to firstdate.com, this is grounds for an end to any date, unless you’re actually offering said blow job. I don’t think I scored any extra points in the lady-like department when I tried back-pedaling, “Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for oral sex.” Although my date did perk up a bit after that.

3. Ladies should not drink beer. Now, I don’t necessarily look like I drink beer (I may have the Contour CoreBeltTM to thank for that!) and I don’t knock ‘em back, by any means. But I do love an ice-cold crisp light beer. It has been my drink of choice ever since I snuck into my first bar. I don’t drink wine, like I’ve always been told ladies should. So, on my first date after my divorce, not only did I drink a beer, I explained that the café we were patronizing used to carry a fabulous beer that is no longer available due to the fact that the brewery — which had been owned by a woman – recently shut down and I was disappointed because it was one of the best-tasting beers I had ever had and if I could, I would buy that brewery. I said it all without a breath, just like it reads here. At which point my date said, naturally, “Oh, you really know your beers.” I don’t think he meant it as a compliment.
4. Do not talk about marriage. I have no idea why my date asked me what makes a good marriage, since I had recently decided that marriage pretty much kills a relationship. (By the way, there is no rule about trashing marriage; the website must feel that this is so obvious it need not be mentioned. Obviously, they were wrong.) I think this is one of those Miss America-type questions, where I should have talked about saving the world and feeding the hungry. Instead, coming from the marriage I was in (see number 1 above), the first thing I said was “sexual compatibility.” My date said surely I meant the greater good of intimacy and closeness. I guess that was his Miss America response. But I was steadfast in my answer. After a while, my senses returned and I remembered to mention trust, respect and the true number-one for me, sense of humor. So maybe he thought I was kidding all along. One can only hope.

5. Do not reveal your shortcomings. Does this even need to be said? Apparently to me it does. Toward the end of the evening, it became apparent that I am geographically challenged. In fact, I can sum up the entire date in a single word: Okinawa. You see, my date was very well-traveled and we talked about the places he’d been. At one point, the noise level rose just as my date said that one of his favorite places was “Nawa.” That’s all I heard: “Nawa.” I asked, “Where?” If only I had asked, “What?” And he said, dryly, “Okinawa. You know, in Pearl Harbor?” Which I translated to mean: “You actually graduated college?” I nodded with a knowledgeable look, but my head was swimming: geography AND world history in the same sentence? (The High School basketball coach taught history.) By now, the notion of excusing myself and crawling out the ladies room window was looking like my best bet. FYI: I Googled Pearl Harbor later that night. Pearl Harbor is not in Okinawa. So now I’m wondering if he’s slapping himself on the head going, “How dumb am I? Did I actually say Pearl Harbor is in Okinawa?” Maybe we both sum up the date with that one word…
6. Do not kiss good night on the first date. Gotcha. You don’t actually think I got close to breaking this rule, do you? Instead, I did the awkward shaking hands with my non-handshaking hand thing. It was like I was possessed by my grandmother. Needless to say, there was no “I hope to see you again.” It wasn’t until I got into my car that I realized I hadn’t taken a breath for the past three hours. Surely the lack of oxygen was responsible for my geeky behavior? If I had only passed out, the evening would have gone much better.
First dates after a divorce are awkward, scary, sometimes nausea-inducing. We think we’re not pretty enough, smart enough, thin enough, worthy enough. You are more than enough! It takes courage to get out there, and a hefty dose of confidence (and maybe a little crazy on the side). You can do it, and I’ll be cheering you on! In the meantime, have a laugh and learn about fitness you can do while you’re surfing the online dating sites!

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October 19, 2011 · 11:19 am

I’m Glad I Married My Husband; He’s Great To Be In A Divorce With

There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.” – Louis L ’Amour

Eighteen years ago the world I’d always trusted came crashing down on me. I had been engaged for about five days when I discovered that the man I loved had a substance abuse problem. The next year included therapy, extreme weight loss, multiple occasions of drug use discovery, and severe panic attacks until we both realized that his addiction was slowly killing our relationship – which by now had become a marriage.

Why did I marry my fiancé just as I was learning he had a substance abuse problem? We honestly believed we loved each other as much as a marriage would ever need. Plus, I had never met an addict before — he wasn’t like any addicts you see on TV. He went to work. He helped around the house. He was brilliant and funny. He was also tortured. And I was absolutely certain that I could love him enough to save him.

We went to doctors, chiropractors and a psychiatrist renowned for treating anxiety-induced addiction. We took yoga and behavior-modification; we held hands and cried and went to couples therapy. Pretty soon I realized I had a problem — I wasn’t able to separate myself from my husband. Whatever he was feeling, I was feeling, too. Within months I had dropped 10 pounds, too, and I was having panic attacks – like the one in the hardware store, where I sat huddled on an aisle floor while they paged my husband over the PA. This was not like me – responsible, confident, Type-A. I began going to therapy myself.

It was the worst first year of marriage I could imagine. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.

For 12 years we did the co-dependent dance. My husband would stop doing drugs. He would make promises and we would make progress. Then I would notice that something was off. I would ask if he was doing drugs and he would tell me no. Then I would feel bad for thinking he was doing drugs. Eventually, I would discover the drug use, and I’d feel like Charlie Brown when Lucy promises not to take the football away. But we never stopped trying to rebuild our relationship.

Over the next several years I learned what “enabling” meant. I realized I had a need to save people and the capacity to forgive my husband and myself over and over again when trust was betrayed. Until one day, I thought maybe I didn’t want to do this anymore. But we had a son by now – a miracle – and I could not imagine breaking up his family.

Things got worse before they got bitter. I fanned a flame of resentment that acted like a wall around my heart. I didn’t want to keep loving my husband because I didn’t want to get hurt again. I thought I’d stay in that state of limbo forever.

Then one day, I discovered once again that my husband was using, and suddenly I saw the possibility of divorce from a totally different perspective. This time I didn’t think, “how can I do this to my son?” but rather, “how can I NOT do this FOR my son?”

For the first time I felt empowered enough to make a healthy change. My husband and I separated in November. It was the end of everything. And that’s when it all really began.

Within two months, on his own accord, my husband checked himself into rehab. He worked hard and went to meetings and moved to a halfway house. My son and I visited, attended meetings, supported his dad, and learned to live without him. It was the saddest time of our lives; yet I felt better than I had in years.

After a year of trying to hold onto our marriage, my husband and I decided to divorce. We took a deep breath, smiled shakily at each other, and committed to creating a divorce based on a strong, supportive friendship.

And we have. It hasn’t always been easy, but when things got tense, one of us would inevitably remember that just about nothing was worth not being friends.

I told my ex that I was sorry; that all I had wanted to do was save him. He turned to me and said, “Maybe you did.”

My son’s dad is healthy now. He’s a thoughtful co-parent, a father who is more than just “present” — he’s involved. He has stood by my side through the tough adolescent times and I have to tell you, we are closer friends than we were when we were married.

Our family looks different now. There’s my ex, one of my best friends. There’s our son, remarkably well-adjusted and mostly unaware of how non-traditional this divorce is. And there’s my boyfriend, the proof of how far I’ve come in choosing partners. He is fully capable, does not need saving, and lets me rest the world on his shoulders once in a while. On any given night you might see all of us hanging out, having dinner or celebrating something one of us accomplished. My friends and family are amazed; my dad thinks we’re crazy, and some of my acquaintances are probably appalled. But I think it’s a testament to the fact that just when you think everything is finished … that is just the beginning.

Thinking about divorce? Ginger speaks openly about her marriage:

Ginger Emas is an Atlanta-based writer who believes divorce saved her family. By day she is a freelance business writer; in her “free” time she is the former host of Book Talk with Ginger on America’s Web Radio; a relationship and parenting blogger; author of the book, Back on Top: Fearless Dating after Divorce (Globe Pequot Press c 2009) and motivational speaker for women taking their first high-heeled step back out into the dating world.

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Disable Enabling Relationships

I’m talking to my friend Brad the other day, and he’s telling me how he just broke up with his partner of eight years. I asked him why. He said his partner hadn’t had a real job in about five years; that he didn’t look for work anymore and he didn’t pay rent or even half of the bills. He did take care of the lawn, but that left at least 39 working hours left in the week. The boyfriend (well, ex-boyfriend) was also good at hanging artwork, which, as my friend looked around the newly bared walls, will be sorely missed. I asked my friend how long he had wanted to break up with his partner before he actually did. He told me six years. That’s right. They were together eight years – two of them happy ones. 

Now, many of you might be saying, “Wow! What took you so long?” Me, I totally understand. Like Neil Sedaka sang in the 70s, “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.”

I was married for 13 years. My husband and I were in therapy for 14 years. I thought about breaking up for 10 years. I had Brad beat by a longshot.

Still, Brad seemed relieved and hopeful about the future; glad to be moving on with his life. In fact, he was heading to Mexico for a four-day work/pleasure retreat. Just one small thing. His ex had called a few hours before, crying hysterically. The house that he was renting had just been sold! (In this market, no less.) The ex-boyfriend thought he’d have this place to live in for at least six months – until he could get on his feet and get a job and a place of his own. (Why he thought he could do this in six months when he had not been able to do this in six years when he was Brad’s partner is beyond me, but I don’t make up the facts, ladies and gentlemen, I just make mocking comments about them.)

So naturally (please note sarcasm) Brad told his ex that since he would be away for the weekend, he could stay at “the old house.”  The old house being the one that took Brad a solid month to extricate his boyfriend from in the first place. In fact, the ex has only been gone just over a week. Brad finally got him to take his clothes and personal items JUST TWO DAYS AGO, and while the artwork was down, it was still leaning against the walls. So now Brad has invited his ex back to “the old house” for a weekend? Call me crazy, but I could see the writing on the wall, and it spelled E-N-A-B-L-E-R.  

The only way I so readily recognized this ailment is that, along with the title of being Queen of Denial, I am also a world-class enabler. Shit, my friend taking just six years to break up has me beat by half.  (Check out Skirt Blogger “Suzq” http://skirt.com/user/8530for more real life from enablers)!

So I gently (well, maybe passionately would be a better word) suggest to Brad that maybe inviting his ex back to “the old house” is not such a good idea. Maybe he will never leave again, I say. Maybe it would be better to take a tough-love stance. Brad is horrified. “I can’t just let him live on the streets!” he says. “I have to do the right thing!”

This is classic co-dependent language. I should know; I’m fluent in it. I tell Brad, “Well, actually, yes, you can let him live on the street or figure out a way not to. Did you ever think that not helping him this time would be the very best way to help him?” 

What I didn’t say is that not helping doesn’t feel as good; as all saviors know, savoring a good deed is what keeps us enablers enabling. Unfortunately, it’s unhealthy for both the savee and the saver.

The addicting thing about our (the enabler) side of the co-dependent equation is that we get to feel HELPFUL. GOOD. POWERFUL.  Our dependents’ inabilities feed our abilities. That’s why when a person who needs saving hooks up with a person who likes to save, it feels like magic. Really. It feels like love and soul-mates and forever. But it’s not. The magic fades. Because inevitably someone grows up – let’s say it’s the savior. If the savee continues needing to be saved, it gets old. You eventually want the person to get a job or pay the rent or stand up for themselves or stop drinking or whatever. And they don’t. And they get mad. Because you are changing the deal. You are refusing to enable. How dare you. 

And one more thing: it is hard to have an intimate relationship with Mother Teresa. Or Jesus. Or any savior or mother (or father) figure, for that matter. So, super-saver, all that power we feel? It adds to the fizzling of the relationship, too. 

I tell all this to my friend Brad, but I have to do it fast, because his ex is literally on his way to the house as Brad is heading to the airport for his trip. Brad nods. He thinks. He really gets it and he’s suddenly hyper-bummed that I didn’t have this conversation with him a few hours ago, before he agreed to the return of the roommate.

But he promises me he’ll do better next time. He says he’ll call from Mexico and make sure his ex is out of the house (again) before his return on Sunday. He’s strong. He’s invincible.  He has a plan:

“I’ll get him an apartment somewhere … I’ll co-sign the lease … I’ll give him a few months’ rent… then he won’t be on the streets AND he won’t be here! He’ll have to start paying his own rent and for that he’ll need a job and this will be great!”

 Ah, my friend Brad is brilliant. He’s hopeful. He’s delusional.

And I should know. Delusional is step two in the co-dependent-anonymous program (I think I’ll call it CoAnon). After four years, I myself am only on step six or so.  I’d be further along, but I’ve had to stop a few times so I could help some other folks climb up the 12 steps.  

I might have to go back to step one…

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Single Mom Reflections

The thing about being a single mom living with an only child is that my son and I are day-to-day feedback monitors to each other.  I reflect back to him who he is at any given moment – good, great, not so good and everything in between – and he reflects back to me.  I call him on his stuff, he calls me on mine. But the key to making this work – to making any relationship work, really – is that the feedback, the conversation, the critiques and the compliments need to come from the heart. And that takes constant vigilance!

 If I want to teach my son something, I try to take a moment to make sure I am saying it from my heart. My goal is to be real, and to say what I have to say with as much kindness and softness as I can. (Believe me, I don’t always succeed, but this is my goal.) Even when I have to reprimand him or remind him, I try to do it from love.

 Because raising a child (and maybe especially a teenager) seems to all comes down to love. If we didn’t love our children so much, we wouldn’t say no – we’d let them grow up with no rules and no boundaries and they would ultimately turn into adults that they themselves couldn’t stand. If they didn’t mean the world to us, we’d let them get away with everything. And if they didn’t carry little pieces of our hearts and souls within them, they surely could not push our buttons with such precision.

That’s exactly what I told my son today: I love you enough to say no. To sometimes get mad at you. To give you boundaries even if it might be easier to give in and give up. And you will just have to live with that, I said – the knowledge that your mother loves you enough to take a stand and sometimes lose it in front of you. Because even with all that love and my lofty goals, I make mistakes. And one of the things I have learned to embrace and even enjoy (sometimes) is apologizing to my son. It’s like role-modeling a great lesson – owning our mistakes and saying you’re sorry. Learning that two people who love each other are still going to get mad at each other and need to ask for forgiveness. Unfortunately, I’m much harder at forgiving myself than anyone else … more work ahead for me, I guess.

 So forget that Ali McGraw line about “love means never having to say you’re sorry.” That’s bull. Love is saying you’re sorry, sometimes more than once a day, then forgiving each other and moving on.

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