My Testimony – Maria Tarasuk

 Shared April 15, 2013

Good evening.  I’m Maria and I’m a believer who struggles with codependency and many of its issues including perfectionism, workaholism, false pride, insecurity, and denial of my feelings… just to name a few!

What brings you here tonight may not be what keeps you here.

That’s how it was for me.

I came because my husband was an alcoholic and addict.

I stayed because I realized how much I needed recovery from my own codependency, a word I’d never even heard of before.

I’m here tonight to tell you my story, or at least my current version of it.

What I mean is that as I continue in recovery, I find new lenses to look at my life through, new areas to uncover, examine, and ask the question,

“Now how did this get here?  Where did this behavior come from?” 

And so each time I give my testimony, because recovery is a process, I’m a different person, looking  back at my life from a slightly different perspective.

My most recent area of recovery has been in understanding how much I really do need His grace and accepting that my righteousness has Christ’s face on it, not mine.

Now my testimony won’t make much sense if I don’t explain a little bit about codependency.

It’s a term that’s often been misused and certainly misunderstood.  And it has changed, and expanded, in its meaning and application in the past twenty years since it was first coined.

There are two important things about codependency that I like to keep in mind:

  1. Codependency is not found in what I do, but in why I do it.
  2. Codependent behaviors are usually normal behaviors taken to extremes.

 

Here are some examples of what IS and what IS NOT codependency.

Healthy Person

Codependent

• knows how not to over extend himself and takes time to evaluate requests to see if they are reasonable and if he even wants to do them.

• says “Yes” when he means “No”  without acknowledging his own desires; taking on inconvenience so others don’t have to, especially  in order to avoid conflict

• helps others out of a sincere concern for them with no expectation of anything in return for himself other than joy in serving

• helps others with an expectation that his own hurt, loneliness, or inferiority is eased as a result; often feels proud of the fact that he is not the one needing help

• acknowledges another’s issue or  addiction, lets them own it and face the consequences; without trying to hurry the process

• knows another person’s issue or addiction and tries to bring control/order to the situation, believing she knows how to fix things,  thus fueling a feeling of empowerment or self-pride

• rejoices when a person begins to get healing and doesn’t need to be recognized for any role she might have played

• senses loss or resentment when another person, program, or even God reaches the person in a way that she could not.

• knows that self care is as important as caring for others and makes it a priority in his life to do what makes him happy, joyous and free

• feels that taking care of himself is selfish, especially when other people are so much worse off; in truth, has no sense of self identity to even know what he likes or doesn’t like to do

Now that we have that very, very basic foundation laid, I’m going to share with you a bit about how codependency has affected my life and how the Lord, through Celebrate Recovery, has been teaching me a new way to live.

Part One:  The Old Me

 

I grew up in Montgomery County, Maryland.  I was one of five children and was the middle child, but the oldest girl.

I was like a second mother to my youngest sister.

She was 5 years younger than me and came to me for everything.

When she cried, she ran to me for comfort.

When she wanted to play, she ran to me for horsey rides and playing house.

I never said no.

I was praised for being such a good girl, always helpful, and never making a fuss.

So from very early on I was learning an important lesson.

It felt good to be needed.  It felt good to sacrifice for someone else.

So far so good.

This was an important Christian principle to learn as a child.

 As I grew older, however,  this principle of Christian service began to blend with something else, my own insecurity and loneliness.

This is when what was a good thing, began to shift into something else- codependency.

I was extremely shy as a young person, especially in middle and high school.

I used to watch other kids, laughing and joking so easily with one another and wonder, “How do they do that?  How do they know what to say?

It completely baffled me.

With two older brothers who were outgoing, athletic, and popular, my feelings of insignificance and incompetence grew.

Why was I so different?

Why did I feel like an outsider… even in my own family?

Of course none of this was talked about at home, and I certainly didn’t share how lonely and depressed I often felt.

My father worked a lot and never seemed to be at ease with so many kids running around.

Instead he carried an often brooding anger- something I quickly learned to avoid by trying not to be seen or heard, and certainly not making a mistake or a mess in the house when he was around.

My mother tried to compensate by being super involved in our lives by chaperoning games, attending events, helping in our youth groups.

She wanted to shield us from the anger by always being cheerful and happy, everything is just fine.

There were only two emotions allowed in the house- anger (which Dad had cornered the market on) and happiness… or at least the faking of it.

I learned my lessons well- emotions are meant to be dealt with on your own, inside yourself.

And no matter what, everything’s fine.

And so on the outside of my life, everything looked …fine.

I was good at school, always had a few friends, and was a part of several youth groups.

On the inside, however, I was lonely, felt insubstantial and insignificant, convinced I was just “different” from others, and dying for someone to notice me for a change.

But at the same time that I craved attention and validation, I was also terrified of getting it.

My low self-esteem told me I had nothing to offer.

So if someone did notice me, they were sure to be disappointed in what they found.

I told myself,

“You don’t matter- get over it.  Stop expecting  people to talk to you or show an interest, that’s being selfish and is a sign of neediness and weakness. Stop needing so much, and you won’t be disappointed.  Besides you’re stronger than that!”  

So I put my own needs aside and concentrated on what other people needed.

If I acted like I had it all together, and didn’t need anything.. maybe one day I would actually feel like it on the inside.

This thinking was subtly changing my feelings of inferiority into feelings of pride and superiority.

It felt like maturity to me as a young person… but it was laying the groundwork for entering into ultimately hurtful codependent relationships.

It felt like maturity to me as a young person… but it was laying the groundwork for entering into ultimately hurtful codependent relationships.

This sort of thinking led me towards clubs and groups that emphasized service to others- particularly Christian groups like Young Life and 2 church youth groups where I soon became a student leader, coordinating and leading a bible study, organizing fund raisers, and weekend trips camping, hiking, and tubing.

Depression and insignificance I had previously felt as a teenager lifted.

I felt alive.

I had a purpose.

My way of living seemed to be working!

But the problem was this: A healthy person would be fulfilled whether the youth group was there or not.

A codependent (that would be me) relied on meeting the group’s needs to feel fulfilled.

A few years later when I had outgrown those  youth groups, my depression and low.

The problem was that my need for love and acceptance and to be known as an individual… were still unmet.

By now I had learned three very important life lessons:

#1- it feels good to be needed.

#2.  I don’t need much to feel good, just another person worse off than me.

 #3. My feelings can be managed by denying them and covering them over with self pride.

That godly principle of love your neighbor wasn’t looking quite so godly in my life anymore.

The life of a codependent looks good on the outside, but is empty on the inside.

I would have most likely continued to live a very outwardly Christian life (but keeping feelings of depression, loneliness, anger, and hurt locked up on the inside) if something else hadn’t happened.

I got married.

But because of the lessons learned as a child, I was primed and ready for getting into an emotionally abusive and obsessive relationship.

My husband was an alcoholic with other addictions as well, but had been sober for nearly a year when I met him.

Not knowing anything about addiction, I thought this meant he had recovered and was all better now.

Although there were warning signs throughout our 2 years of dating, I ignored them all.

I secretly enjoyed the image of me, the “innocent princess” being the motivation for the bad boy going straight.

How many Hollywood movies have used that same fantasy?

I thought this was love and he clearly needed someone like me to keep him straight- we were meant for each other.

Besides, it would crush him if I broke up with him, or asked him to slow things down.

As a codependent, it was more frightening to confront another person than it was to continue in behaviors that were hurting me.

After all, I knew how to manage my feelings.

After we got married, things very quickly got worse as my husband’s drinking resumed.

Just 5 weeks after our wedding, we made the first of several trips to Montgomery General Hospital for detox.

My husband’s struggles with addictions, irrational jealousies and accusations created a roller coaster marriage of never ending ups and downs, with each “down” seemingly lower than the one before.

In classic codependent thinking,

I inwardly accepted the fact that our marriage, and my life, were all about managing him and his addictions.

My hopes and dreams were on hold.

My codependent behaviors now really took off.

My identity as the one who was needed, the one who sacrificed for another’s needs, and the one who had it more together had plenty of room to grow!

One way this began to show itself was through ways I sought to have some sort of control or power.

My husband owned a landscape company and I managed the books for the company.

In addition to working 50 plus hours as a school teacher, I was also working 10-12 hours every week managing the finances of the company.

It was extremely stressful, especially considering how financially responsible most alcoholics are!

But I enjoyed the power I felt by being the one writing the checks, the one who kept things running, paying bills, managing payroll, creating invoices for customers.

I felt that I was saving his company and without me it would have failed.

I was actually glad when he made a mistake- it proved my superiority and re-enforced his need for me.

This is codependence- I was using another person’s addiction to establish my own identity.

My identity was wrapped up in being needed, being the “good” person, and being the one who had it all together in comparison to others.

A codependent relies on another person’s dysfunction to feel good about herself and her self-esteem is based on comparison to others- because it doesn’t exist on its own.

That was me.

During this time I was growing more and more angry about the downward spiral of our marriage and my life.  But I didn’t recognize it as anger,

But I didn’t recognize it as anger, instead what I felt was depression.

Depression is often anger turned inward.

I finally saw my doctor and was prescribed anti-depressants and sleeping pills. I was so depressed thoughts of suicide were regularly entering my mind.

I often would day dream about driving my car into a telephone pole or into the path of a semi.

Well after 6 years of marriage, things finally came to a head. I was at a point of utter desperation.

I feared for my life and was sure I would be dead in six months- either at his hands or my own.

Suicide seemed like the only option I had to find release from my situation.

I started to plan my suicide, saving a bottle of sleeping pills and a bottle of grain alcohol under the kitchen sink.

Thankfully I was still rational enough to recognize my insanity and I eventually flushed the sleeping pills down the toilet, afraid that one day I wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation.

I knew I needed an escape though, so finally  I packed a bag and left for a friend’s house.

I left for 4 days, but couldn’t stay away.

My husband begged me to return, and I couldn’t handle the thought of him suffering so much as a result of my leaving.

Because of my codependence, I caved.

I was more concerned about how he would feel than about myself.

I knew this was not what I wanted, but I felt powerless to behave any differently.

This was my bottom- to know what I needed to do, and know I couldn’t do it on my own.

One good thing that came out of this, however, was that I told my family about what was going on.

It was absolutely humiliating, but also freeing and empowering to no longer have this secret.

I also was seeing a wonderful Christian counselor who was helping me sort through my confusions.

At our first meeting she told me to do several things immediately, one was to begin attending Celebrate Recovery.

Part II:  Celebrate Recovery

 

One month after attending CR and receiving counseling, I separated from my husband again.

All I can say is that it was absolutely heart wrenching time.

I wept every night- literally pulling my hair out in despair.

It was as if all the emotions and pain I had stuffed for 6 ½ years were unleashed.

I had Christian music on all the time, even to fall asleep to. Some days I couldn’t get out of bed, but stayed in bed with the covers literally over my head.   I still didn’t have the strength in me to make my decision to leave my husband “stick” but I had Jesus Christ and

Some days I couldn’t get out of bed, but stayed in bed with the covers literally over my head.   I still didn’t have the strength in me to make my decision to leave my husband “stick” but I had Jesus Christ and

I still didn’t have the strength in me to make my decision to leave my husband “stick” but I had Jesus Christ and whole network of women at CR who did.

Celebrate Recovery was my lifeline during this time.

It took me about 4 months before I fully accepted that I needed to be there for my own healing- and not just because of my marriage.

I also had a lot of pain, anger, hurt, and fear to deal with both from my childhood and from my marriage.

My decision to stay with CR was a surrender to being willing to look at all the dark places in my heart- all those feelings I’d been “managing” for years.

I didn’t even know what those feelings felt like anymore!  What was anger?  What was fear?

I didn’t know, I was fine, remember.

So what helped me in my recovery from myself?

I journaled – A LOT.

I did the CR workbooks.

Working the Fourth Step was a huge help in understanding myself- both good and bad.

I was forced to acknowledge that behind so much of my behaviors and thoughts was/is PRIDE.

As I began to recover more, my quiet times of reading the Bible, other Christian books, and prayer began to deepen and get richer.

At first all I could do was cry and read a few scriptures.

One of my anchoring verses during this time was Psalm 71:  20-21

Though you have made me see troubles many and bitter,

You will restore my life again,

From the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.

You will increase my honor and comfort me once again.

Part III:  The New Me

 

It was eleven years ago that I first stepped foot into my first Celebrate Recovery meeting.

There are many, many areas of growth I’ve gone through as a result of following the 8 principles.

There’s a few areas I’d like to share with you which I hope you find encouraging in your own journey.

I also want to share a little about making amends to my mother and father in the past few years.

Forgiving my father was an intense process that really opened my eyes to the role my parents, him in particular, played in my life.

For my father, my amends was a letter, that I never sent.

But in that letter I poured out my feelings in a deeper way than I ever had before.

Those feelings were ugly and painful.. but the fact that I felt them was a huge victory!

Today I see my father with much more compassion and tenderness instead of bitterness and resentment.

I also made amends to my mom this past Easter.

This one I planned to do face to face.

A few days before I went down to her house I was praying and asking God if there was anything else I needed to do or say in my amends.

I was almost sorry I asked!  God showed me that I was still not fessing up to the depths of my bitterness against her.

That I was still sugarcoating my behaviors in order to not be the one with real sin as I saw it.

He showed me that what I was ready to just call “being distant” was really much uglier.

It was disrespect, disregard, contempt, and discrediting her as an individual with dreams, needs and desires of her own.

Suddenly my amends was so much more about me than it was about her… and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Part IV:  Outreach

 

If you are a newcomer to Celebrate Recovery, I have two final pieces of advice.  Be honest.  Be honest with God, with yourself, and with your accountability partners and sponsor.  Be honest when you are clear about your struggles, and be honest when you haven’t a clue what your issues are.  Chances are your honesty will open the door

Be honest.  Be honest with God, with yourself, and with your accountability partners and sponsor.  Be honest when you are clear about your struggles, and be honest when you haven’t a clue what your issues are.  Chances are your honesty will open the door

Be honest with God, with yourself, and with your accountability partners and sponsor.  Be honest when you are clear about your struggles, and be honest when you haven’t a clue what your issues are.  Chances are your honesty will open the door

Be honest when you are clear about your struggles, and be honest when you haven’t a clue what your issues are.  Chances are your honesty will open the door

Chances are your honesty will open the door to even more sharing and connection with those around you.  My second advice is to take

My second advice is to take time to listen.

Listen aggressively, not passively, to what is shared here in large group or small group.

Listen aggressively to your pastor, sponsor or mentor.  But most importantly be still and listen to God.  It takes

But most importantly be still and listen to God.

It takes time to do that- you can’t effectively listen to God when driving in rush hour traffic.

Ask Him to speak to you, ask Him to settle his peace on you, and then sit and imagine what that would be like.

And when he does speak to your heart, don’t forget to journal and write it down.

Thanks for letting me share.