And I will try to fix you.”–From the Song “Fix You” by Coldplay
In therapy I was introduced to the fact that I was codependent. I ‘d originally thought codependents were people involved with loved ones who were alcoholic. Instead I learned it describes those of us who are so concerned with others that we neglect ourselves.
The “Wow!” course confirmed my codependence and gave me some tools to deal with it. Apparently, I had weak “boundaries.” If anyone needed me, at any time, I rallied to their side supplying advice, aid, sometimes money, and always a piece of myself. After all as a Christian isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?
It turns out the answer is NO. What I came to understand was that by my efforts to “rescue” or “cut the pain” or “fix” others, I was not only depleting myself, I was interfering with the path God had designed for that person. If I influenced their circumstances they may not have to do their own hard personal work, to get to where God needed them to go. I was sad to realize I’d thought I was helping, when in fact I was hurting all of us.
In his incredible book “Boundaries” Henry Cloud says, “Just as homeowners set physical property lines around their land, we need to set mental, physical, emotional and spiritual boundaries for our lives to help us distinguish what is our responsibility and what isn’t.” I’d had misinformation about what God expected of me when it came to helping people. I found out that there was specific direction all over the Bible requiring me to set boundaries. My favorite was Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”
God showed me that many of the people I was involved with were not healthy and weren’t really trying to become healthy. Painfully, I drew in the circle tighter developing a new mantra for those outside the circle: “Pray –and stay away.” I envisioned Diana Ross of the Supremes holding up her hand saying “Stop, in the name of Love.”
I made a mental list of those who were hurtful; wounded and enjoying being victims; gossips; failing to work hard and asking for money; calling to whine to me endlessly; and smiling at me while talking about me behind my back. I put up my first boundaries. I moved those names to the top of my morning prayer list and stopped spending time with them. I prayed, and stayed away. That singular step made me feel like I could breathe more freely. It also made room for some of the new people that were coming into my life. The new ones were making tough choices to try to live a full and meaningful life. I felt like after I’d healed, I was now on the path to an incredibly vibrant life. I wanted to surround myself with like- minded people.
I had a visual image of God arranging chess pieces in my life, and watching to see if I would trust Him with the choices of people moving in and out. Some moving out had been friends for years. Some were family members. I had done free or steeply reduced fee legal work, for “friends” and “family” and “church friends” for years. I put a stop to it, continuing my pro bono legal work through the volunteer lawyers program. If friends and family qualified for that program, I represented them. If they did not, I charged them a discounted but fair rate, or sent them to a lawyer who could do it for less. I started to be accused of being a “B” which was hard to hear. But I took it and stayed on course.
I had been working myself to the bone since my first divorce, scared that since nobody “had my back” I would not be able to support myself if I didn’t work long hours. Now that I was trusting God I started to ask Him to create a healthy balance of work.
As a solo practitioner, I would turn down work when I was “at capacity,” a scary proposition at first. “What if there is not work, when this work is finished?” I knew if I would trust God, He would provide. Over time I realized He knew just when I needed work and when I was capped out. He’d test me to see if I’d turn away work when I was already very busy, choosing instead to trust Him.
Although difficult at first, the more I trusted, the more I’d see He would keep a great life balance. When work was very slow I’d start to panic and then I’d see that because of some other factors in my life, He’d deliberately given me a reprieve. I would do more yoga, leisurely read a book, or do other things I hadn’t given myself permission to do in years. At first I’d feel like I was cheating if I did a yoga class on a Tuesday morning during a workweek. Over time I learned to languish in the blessing of a comfortable tempo of life. I was getting off of the hamster wheel.
I’d been overly generous with money to anyone who needed it my whole life. I’d given away money, bought things for people, always picked up the tab.As I prayed about this, God began to show me that he had work to do in many of the lives of people who were leaning on me. Most were suffering from their own poor choices, and I was enabling them. I started speaking up and asking for separate checks. I started to say NO without needing to give excuses.
At the same time people started showing up who were trying to heal. I picked up a pro bono client who had been on meth and was at the homeless shelter when I’d gotten her case through the volunteer lawyers program. As we worked together she stayed clean, and was back in school. I encouraged her, told her she was strong, took an interest in her grades, gave her advice when she’d call to run things by me, and kept in touch with her after her case closed. She has since graduated from a two year program and stayed clean. I was a support to her not a rescuer. She did all the hard work herself. I just cheered her on and reminded her she was worthy. I began to see the difference.
God and I began working in tandem. Our teamwork was exhilarating. I felt He was using me for His game plan with others. His motto wasn’t “rescue” but was “empowerment and transformation” like He had done with me. He’d sent me the counselors, Father A, Alicia and the others He had placed in my path once He knew I meant business about healing and following Him. When we each do our part, taking good care of our own lives and letting God handle other people’s problems instead of taking them on ourselves, the pieces fall into place for everyone.
I redirected my codependence from wanting to please and rescue others to wanting to love, please and be obedient to an “audience of One”. The pain of my divorce from FP seemed like a distant life. I was becoming comfortable in peace, life balance and serenity.