In the Black Baptist church where I grew up, the older folks would say, “Chile, if you got that old-time religion, you ought to show some sign!” And when that old Baptist preacher would deliver his sermons or the choir would sing, there weren’t enough ushers to assist those shouting sisters. Their shouts and praises were because they were saved, sanctified, and filled with the Holy Ghost. But since I became an adult, got married and had children, I have often wondered if all those old shouting sisters’ tears and emotional outbursts were because they had had the “holy ghost,” or from all the burdens they were bearing. Because, most times my Sunday mornings’ emotional outbursts, for many years, didn’t have anything whatsoever to do with the Holy Ghost. My tears and outbursts were from frustration, desperation, and depression. Life had turned on me and I had retreated into my own little world of self-pity, anger, and resentment.
In the late 80’s, in those dark years of despair, there were times I got panic attacks while driving down the interstate. And Lord! Don’t let a car horn blow. I’d about jumped out of my skin—I was a nervous wreck! I couldn’t understand why my life was in such shambles. Why I believed lies and then felt betrayed. Why I spent most of my life trying to control my husband and worried that my sons would be like him. Why I remained in a destructive relationship that wasn’t working. Why God kept putting all those burdens on me? And why I eventually felt abandoned by God.
But, by that year of 1993, from my life experiences, I felt that I had been through the fire and come out pure gold. I knew what life was all about and had the capability to help someone else. I decided to become a part-time drug counselor. Yep! That was my calling—a drug counselor. So, I enrolled in a twelve-week drug counseling course that was being offered through AT&T, the company with which I was employed.
In the classroom there were about fifteen students, and everyone had their own personal stories of addictions. After having heard all their stories, I couldn’t identify with any of them. I felt that I was the only “normal” one there. I had never been drunk, never done drugs, never smoked, gambled nor shoplifted. I realized drug counseling was not my calling, and I felt an air of self-righteousness, because I wasn’t like “those” people. I did not have a disorder, because, my life had been centered on my family, church and being a “good” Christian.
That first Saturday morning, the facilitator had pointed to me and said, “Now, young lady, it’s your turn to introduce yourself and tell us why you chose this course.”
I stood up tentatively. “My name is Maple,” I said, “but my nickname is Georgann. And I want to become a drug counselor so that I can help people.”
“Have you personally had any problem with addiction?” asked the facilitator.
“No, but I know how devastating it can be, because my husband made my life a pure hell!” My heart pounded. Oh Lord! Please don’t let me start crying.
“Would you like to talk about it?” said the facilitator. “We’re all here to learn and learn from each other. Everyone else shared their stories. So now we would like to hear yours.”
I shared my story.
“Maple,” said the facilitator, “did you ever attend an Al-Anon meeting?”
“No. But twice I attended a family group meeting. And when my youngest son was in rehab, I attended the After-Care program.”
“You could really benefit from Al-Anon. The program helps families and friends deal with the effects of alcoholism, drug addictions and other compulsive disorders that their loved one has,” said the facilitator.
“I don’t need to attend no Al-Anon program!” I snapped. “My life is fine now, ‘cause that’s all in the past.”
“The reason why I suggested Al-Anon is because you seem to be carrying some emotional baggage. I believe strongly the Al-Anon program would benefit you more so than counseling classes.”
My face frowned, “Emotional baggage?!!” I repeated.
“Yes Maple. While you were telling about your life experiences with your family, you had such a dazed look about your face and the tears spilled from your eyes.”
“Well, if you’ve been through what I’ve been through, you would cry too!”
“Did you ever go to therapy, seeking counseling?”
“Maple, that tells me that you have not recovered from your experiences. Before you can help someone else, you need to be in a recovery program for yourself.”
One of the other students spoke up. “From what you said, you were an enabler to your family.”
I could feel the blood creeping up in the back of my neck. “How did I enable them? I was doing my part as a wife and mother.” I continued, “I did everything that I could possibly do to help them and get them to do what was right! But nothing worked.”
“Maple,” she said, “your help was destructive. That’s what an enabler is. It is a destructive form of helping others. You said that if your husband didn’t pay the bills, you would pay them. That was not helping him. That was being an enabler to his addiction.”
“Well, somebody had to keep a roof over our heads and put food on the table. I wasn’t gon’ let my children starve!”
“Maple, wouldn’t you feed him when he didn’t help financially, thinking that he would do better the next payday?”
I was getting confused. But I was not ready to concede, because I knew I did not have a problem.
“Maple, aren’t you in denial?” she asked. I could feel my face getting flushed. I swirled in my seat as one student after another put their two cents in, whereby I was getting angrier and angrier, until the little hairs on the back of my neck were sticking out. I wanted to yell out, “Why are y’all dumping on me?” I thought, They just want to dump on me because I’m not like them. I don’t have no addiction!
“Okay, class,” said the facilitator, “that’s enough about Maple. There are two books that are a requirement for this class, and they are The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Washing by Judith L. Rapoport, M.D., and Codependent No More by Melody Beattie.”
All that next week I dreaded the weekend. Ten o’clock Saturday morning I sat in the classroom with my two new required books.
“I see every one got their books.” The facilitator held Codependent No More. “Those of you who have heard about or read this book raise your hands.”
Every ones’ hands went up except mine.
The facilitator said, “Maple, this book could really be helpful to you. Are you familiar with the word codependent?”
My heart sunk, knots formed in my stomach. Oh Lord! I thought, Here they go. Ready to dump on me again! I’ll be so glad when this class is over! One thing I know, I will never take another class on addiction!
“I vaguely recall hearing it,” I answered. “But what does that have to do with me? I’m not codependent!” I snapped.
Another student spoke up. “Yes, but Maple…didn’t you say that on Fridays you would go looking for your husband and sometimes you would send your older son to look for him too?”
“Yes I did. Cause we needed his money to help with those bills. And how does sending my son to look for his father have anything to do with being codependent?”
“Maple, that’s one of the codependent characteristics, trying to control another human being at any extreme.”
I became very defensive. It seemed like I was being accused of being a bad mother. Through the remainder of the course, my lips were zipped when it came to discussing my personal life, and I became closed minded to theirs. I viewed them as perpetrators; recovering addicts, trying to make amends for all the damages they had done to “innocent” victims, like me. With my smug attitude, I participated enough to pass the course. Then I put the two books that I never actually read on my shelf, to collect dust.
Fast-forward to 2003. I had been writing and rewriting my life story. I was still attending church, and on at least one Sunday morning I stood before my church congregation crying and asking for prayer for my oldest son because of a disturbing dream. I had thought that I had put those emotional displays behind me. But I was still puzzled as to why both my sons went in and out of jail like a revolving door. And wondering why they just couldn’t get their lives together.
Friends would say to me, “It’s not your fault your sons turned out to be that way, because it’s a known fact that you brought them up in the church. You did everything that a mother could possibly do in bringing them up right. But, you got to remember, they have their father’s genes too. And you know all those male Dunbars stay in jail.” I wanted to believe that was the case. But something inside of me just wouldn’t accept it. There had to be a logical explanation other than, “They are just like their father and his brothers.”
Not getting any answers to my satisfaction, I remembered the book the facilitator had suggested that I read, Codependent No More by Melody Beattie. I took it off the shelf and started reading, this time with an open-mind. Once I began to read, the word “codependent” came alive, took on legs, wrapped around my brain, squeezed my intelligence and screamed, “Hey! That’s you.” Wow! What an eye-opener. I was astounded as I read page after page, I couldn’t read fast enough! I turned the next page. I read. I began to understand and make the connection. As I continued reading, so much was revealed to me. I couldn’t cram it all in. I was in amazement. All the examples and illustrations being given in that book, just as the facilitator and the students had tried to convey to me years ago, when I wasn’t ready to face the truth were there before me, jumping out of the pages…my life!
In Beattie’s book, “Codependent No More,” she defines a codependent as one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior. Beattie defines Codependency as those self-defeating learned behaviors that the codependent develops. Codependents look strong, but feel helpless. Codependent people are controllers, but in reality are being controlled themselves. Codependents are also caretakers, rescuers, and enablers, and they live in denial. Beattie says the codependents rescue people from their responsibilities, by taking on their responsibilities for them, and that codependents behaviors, like so many self-destructive behaviors, become habitual. She says “Having these problems does not mean that we are bad, defective, or inferior. We have just been doing the wrong things for the right reasons. Some of us learned these codependent behaviors as children, some as adults. We may have learned some of these behaviors from our interpretation of religion. Most codependents developed these behaviors out of necessity to protect ourselves and meet our needs.” As I read and read, I was blown away. I thought, Oh, my Jesus! This could be written as my epitaph: HERE LIES MRS. CODEPENDENT! SHE WAS A CONTROLLER, ENABLER, RESCUER AND LIVED IN DENIAL!
Reading Beattie’s book compelled me to have a reality check; how the effect of my codependency behaviors had been a contributing factor in the failures of my sons. I had never wanted to take any ownership in that! Because I had done what the Bible said about training up a child in the way that they should go: I took my children to church every Sunday. But my conscience spoke, “Yes, but what were they witnessing at home? Had their home life been a good example?”
Then, Dr. Phil, the therapist with his philosophy of, “When parents fight before their children, it writes on the slate of who they are,” just added salt to my wound that had never healed. The fussing, cursing, and fierce confrontations, before my sons, were not training up a child in the way that he “should” go. But it had everything to do with the way that he “would” grow. I had to face reality; my sons were raised in a destructive home environment. Not only was that brought to the open, I was forced to recognize something else Dr. Phil said, “Sometimes we create the very thing that we fear.” My greatest fear had been that my sons would become more Dunbar statistics.
Why wasn’t there a Dr. Phil Television Show, years ago? Would I have been receptive? Or would I still have been in my closed-minded view, “the victim?” I never realized that we all were victims, especially my sons. I’ve found that many in my African-American community, like myself, are not familiar with the word “codependent.” Nor, do we realize the effect that negative home environment plays in our children’s lives. So, I hope I don’t offend my African-American community as I speak from my heart and ask these questions: Why are the juvenile detention facilities housing so many of our children? Why do our children have the largest rate of school drop-outs of all races? Why are an estimated 12.6 percent of black men in their late 20s in jail or prison? What is the root of their problems? Maybe, like my sons, some grew up in a destructive home environment. Our children pay the price long, long afterward. It damages their lives. It wounds their spirits.
Granted, I realize other races have some of the same issues. But by opening up my soul and mind, I am learning, and I have learned so much. I like to share what I’ve learned to help others—especially my people. And to use my life story as an example for others not to make the same mistakes that I’ve made. I implore you, read my story with an open mind. Inspect it, dissect it, and pick it apart. Make your analysis. In the process perhaps you will see yourself in my story. Our children are to be our finest fruits, and we the parents are to be their role models, but sometimes our children are contaminated by the very ones that are supposed to be their nurturers.