Have you ever been confronted with a hard truth about yourself by a dear friend and therefore knew that it was worth examining?
Eight years ago, I was sitting at a coffee shop with one of my longest and dearest friends and for the first time, I asked a question that would begin a new healing process in my life. “Laurie,” I began, “I think (ex) might be an alcoholic.” I began to divulge the details and at one point she stopped me and stated calmly, “Christelle, you need to heal from your codependency.” My first response was one of denial. But I knew Laurie had my best interest in mind and she had known me since high school. I knew I needed to examine myself. As I began my journey toward healing, I started to recognize the root of my struggle and in 2019, I decided to write an open letter to the American Evangelical Church. The institution that served as my second home for nearly my entire life. I believe that codependency and the church is especially relevant today.
An Open Letter to All American Evangelical Churches:
We, the church, must recognize that staying silent and looking the other way on dysfunctional behavior is only enabling it further. Not only does silence NOT help dysfunction, it creates further victims. This is also called codependency, a habit, I, myself learned from a very young age as if it was a healthy attribute.
Codependency is NOT love, nor grace, nor compassion, nor forgiveness. It is quite possibly the primary issue that needs a huge overhaul in the American evangelical church today. I would like to challenge pastors and church leaders to read the book Codependent No More by Melody Beattie as a first tiny step in recognizing what codependency truly is.
Will you go a step further and process through this idea with other church leaders?
My life was shaken the day I realized how codependent I was. Further, I realized that I learned many codependent traits as if they are Christlike and healthy in my own family and throughout my years in many evangelical Christian settings. I spent time in 2 evangelical elementary schools, 3 evangelical university settings, and multiple evangelical ministry workplaces including a seminary. And I am absolutely still learning, healing, and in process. Healing is a journey.
Might I gently state that it’s time for the American evangelical church at large to recognize where we may need to be challenged. Are we willing to learn, grow forward, and take into consideration serious changes that need to take place in our individual lives and the church at large?
Codependency, as it teams with addiction and Cluster B personality traits within my own family, nearly destroyed my life. Will we, the church, take a hard look together and consider how we can do better and be better, for ourselves, our local community, and the world?
Love is not codependent.
A Woman with a long line of family in leadership in the EC for generations and who married into the same and was the same. Phew. Are you with me?
There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.
Laurell K. Hamilton, Mistral’s Kiss
I want to share something with you. We are in the midst of global trauma and I’m so grateful for raw, real, and honest expressions of what individuals are experiencing. In fact, as we continue through a world that looks different to anything prior to March of 2020, we might be triggered or begin to experience unhealed trauma as well as new trauma.
I’ve read so many words from people experiencing trauma in various capacities so I thought I’d open my heart, get a bit vulnerable and share a bit of my more recent story.
I began suffering from CPTSD at its worst about 5 years ago. I started therapy 2 years ago but was still responding to various situations with fight, flight, or freeze instincts. I knew that I needed more direct therapy. I suspected I needed EMDR, having tried hypnotherapy prior.
What is CPTSD?
CPTSD stands for Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is a mental health condition in which a person might experience intense PTSD symptoms that coincide with other mental issues. CPTSD occurs in people who have been subjected to ongoing traumatizing experiences.
When lockdown hit, my symptoms began to sink me again. You can see where my mind was in the pictures below.
My hyper-vigilance was peaking. Panic attacks were starting again. Sleep was lacking, thus I experienced exhaustion, aches, etc. In this state, it’s impossible to think clearly. Depression and anxiety, fill the soul with assumptions, wandering thoughts, obsession, and more.
I needed help fast because I could feel myself giving up.
I’ve been in this place before and knew I couldn’t allow myself to sink further. I finally reached out to a therapist who seemed safe. Safety might be the most important trait trauma survivors look for in a therapist.
Therapy is a journey.
Healing is a journey.
If my post helps you to know you are not alone on your journey, I’m so glad. If you need help, I can send resources. You might also google CPTSD and Trauma therapy. I’m a recovering codependent so I send you to good resources as I navigate recovery for myself. If you are a man looking for resources and support on your journey, please check out James’ blog here.
In the meantime, you might find the following interview Tim and I did with my therapist interesting and informative.
Hope is real, my friends. I lost mine completely and had to borrow a handful for a time. Oh, and those pictures above, that’s where my mind was at the beginning of lockdown and what CPTSD, PTSD, trauma looks and feels like in doodle form for me.
Ironically, I just noticed the poem I was writing on as I began this post, Mary Oliver’s I Happened to Be Standing. It begins:
I don’t know where prayers go, or what they do.
Sometimes prayers come out of our soul in the form of a doodle. The universe hears and knows. We are not alone on our journey.
“Don’t give up hope. It took many of us 20 years or more to acquire these protective behaviors we umbrella with the word codependency. It may take as much time to let go of them.” – Melody Beattie, Codependent No More
There’s a good chance that if you’ve walked through an abusive relationship, you need to heal from codependency. If you’ve been in a relationship where addiction was involved, codependency works along side. If you’ve been raised in a fear based culture, there’s a chance you have codependent tendencies. And if you’ve been through trauma, you may have learned to be codependent.
Why do I write this?
Because nobody wants to be labeled as codependent. Because it’s important to talk about hard subjects in life. Because the only way to heal, is to talk about it. Because I believe it’s important for humanity to start discussing the topics that have been taboo for generations. The topics we want to hide from. The subject matters that we don’t fully understand but are willing to learn.
To heal from codependency, we must first realize that we are codependent. We must admit to every attribute that goes along with codependency which means we begin to touch upon traits that protected us in really hard circumstances. The truth is, our protectors helped us survive.
I don’t want to be codependent!
The first time a very close friend suggested to me that I might be codependent, I balked at the idea. However, we have close friends whom we allow to speak into our lives for a reason. Friends who love us and care about us want us to be our best self, living our best life. After speaking with my friend, I began googling “codependency” and realized that it isn’t what I thought it to be. In fact, the more I learned, the more I realized that my codependency was generational. Further, I realized I learned many of the attributes of codependency as if such traits were a normal healthy way of living. I immediately found the book “Codependent No More”, by Melody Beattie. With each page read, I began to see every protector I had ever acquired. It was as if my eyes were being opened for the first time about things deep within myself that I needed to work through. I began to see a mirror reflecting my soul.
After admitting that I am indeed, codependent (it gets easier each time I say it), I had to undo the art of blame. This is the tricky thing about codependency. So much harm was caused at the hands of another, yet, at some point we must begin to take full responsibility for ourselves. Yes, they hurt us. Yes, they left us devastated. Yes, often we left without knowing who we are or who they are. Often we are left in financial ruin. Often we are left without anything to our name. But in order to heal fully we have to step out of the sinking swamp. We can’t swim in the muck any longer. We have to stop pulling others in with us. And, something extremely important: we can’t allow other’s to rescue us.
Now, let me be clear about something. There is a point that we allow people to help us upon leaving abuse. Often asking for help is the most challenging thing we have ever done. After all, many of us have not even discussed the abuse when we finally ask for help. In fact, we are use to living our life caring only for others. But, when we begin to feel like we need to be rescued, it’s time to take a deep breath and critically think about how we can solve our problems. AND WOW is this hard for a codependent to do! Someone else destroyed our life and now, without their help, we must rebuild from nothing.
Letting Go Of Control
Next, we have to stop controlling. Yes, I said it. One of the primary characteristics of codependency is control. In order to protect our hearts, we learn to control our environment. We do what we can to not hurt. Yet, control keeps us from living our authentic self and does not allow others the freedom to do the same. When we control, we do not allow ourselves the opportunity to live freely. And in the midst, we do not allow our hearts the opportunity to give nor receive love.
Are you ready for this next attribute that we must unlearn? In fact, this was the attribute that shook me to the core when I realized the significance in my own life. After all, it was a trait that I had learned as if it was healthy and true. As if it was love.
This trait is, in fact, the need to save another.
Take a big deep breath with me and let it out. I lived 20 years of my life trying to “save” my abusive partner from his addictions, horrific financial decisions, devastating relationship choices and more. However, the need to save, rescue, insert love was something I learned within the culture in which I was raised. I was taught that love means going and saving people who didn’t know they needed to be saved. Thus begins a vicious unhealthy cycle of toxic behavior.
What does savior syndrome look like? You don’t know you need saving. You didn’t ask me to come save you. Yet, I know what’s best for you. I’m going to make decisions for you. I’m going to insert myself into your life in order to love you. Friends, do you see where I am going with this? How toxic and manipulative is this way of living? Did you learn it within your own culture? Perhaps, within your church?
I’ve touched on 3 traits that exist within codependency because it is important that we have hard discussions. In order to get rid of the fear behind hard topics, we have to be willing to do hard things and become uncomfortable. If our first instinct is to be uncomfortable, I suggest that this is good. Uncomfortable is good. Admitting we are scared is good. Having the discussion is good. In fact, this is where scales begin to be lifted from our eyes and we start to realize that we don’t have to live like this. We can heal and live from our core. It is not easy. We have to make a decision to look deep within our heart, soul, mind. We need to admit to things that we may not want to admit to.
The good news is, we aren’t alone in this. We aren’t the only codependent in the world. There’s many of us. We can heal! We can participate in the journey. We can reconnect to our soul. We can sit in our feelings and allow them to teach us what we need to learn. We can begin to take responsibility for our own lives. We can stop blaming and start taking action.
We do not need to be a passive participant in our own life.
I think this is good news! Don’t you?
The truth is, the only way to be free is to let go. The truth is, freedom comes at a cost. Often, the cost is that which we are clinging to and once we let go, we finally get to live!
I’m still on the journey. I’m still healing. I’m still learning, unlearning, growing, looking deep within, surrounding myself with truth speakers and cheerleaders. I don’t ever want to pretend that I’ve completed the process and that the journey isn’t challenging. But, we can do hard things. I can do hard things. You can do hard things. Together. We can begin today. We can continue tomorrow. We keep going, knowing, we are not alone. We are humanity. Community.
We are learning to love. To be love. To walk in love always. After all, this, I believe, is our ultimate goal.
Are you on the journey with me? Let me know in the comments.
* I am available to speak about domestic abuse, mental health, codependency, hope, and topics of interest to women. I host and cohost 2 live shows and run a clothing line that gives back to organizations that work with survivors.
“Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.”
I am thrilled to be part of The Recovery Toolkitblog tour featuring incredible women with a passion for recovery and making a difference globally. Why did I choose to be part of this movement?
In July of 2017, I took my boys and fled a 20 year abusive marriage. It has been exactly 3 years to the month since I left! Stepping from hopelessness into hope, I’ve found inspirational people to aid in the recovery process. Healing from abuse requires help from professionals, those who have walked a similar journey and are skilled in trauma recovery.
One of the most powerful resources available for women who have left an abusive situation is The Recovery Toolkit, by Sue Pena. This book is an empowering resource available for women like me, who escaped abuse.
In time, hope becomes real again. Three years later, I have finally begun to dream, do, and continuously heal!
Would you like to understand, challenge and remove the voice of the perpetrator?
Do you still think what happened is your fault?
Do you find dealing with new people in your life something to be scared about?
If you’ve answered yes to the above questions you are not alone.
Many people who leave an abusive relationship behind are affected by that former relationship in many different ways. Perhaps you feel guilty when making decisions on your own? You may worry about what motivates others to befriend you? Maybe your children are having to re-learn who it is that’s the adult in the room now that your ex-partner is gone from their lives.
If this all sounds familiar then The Recovery Toolkit is the book for you. Written in an easy and accessible style, the book will take you on a journey that is part discovery, part guide.
The book is based on the successful 12 week group program of the same name created by author, Sue Penna. It is also based on Sue’s professional and lived experience having worked for more than 20 years for the NHS’s Mental Health Services. For the last 15 years, Sue has specialized in working with individuals who have experienced domestic abuse.
The Recovery Toolkit is crammed with superb observations and suggestions that will help you recognize that you weren’t to blame for the abuse you suffered in the first place and that the real you is there, ready to emerge.
About the Author
Who Inspires You?
“People who are true to their principles and are brave enough to champion what they believe in.”
Sue Pena, Author, The Recovery Toolkit
Sue has worked with individuals who have psychological trauma as a result of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) for over 30 years in her professional life as a clinician, trainer, and supervisor both within the NHS and independently. She has specialized in writing psycho-educational programs that promote trauma-informed practice and a recovery model. Sue is passionate about the need for multi-agency working and committed to supporting front line workers to have the skills to support families with a trauma-informed approach.
She has an extensive background in the domestic abuse sector and has written trauma-informed domestic abuse programs including the Inspiring Families Program, Adult and Children and Young People Domestic Abuse Recovery Toolkit, and the Sexual Violence Recovery Toolkit. Sue has also devised the ACE Recovery Toolkit written for parents and the ACE Recovery Toolkit for children and young people.
First and foremost, this book is not for people still in an abusive relationship as it includes a 12 week process towards recovery for those who have fled and in a safe space. We are encouraged in a new way of living, changed behaviors and patterns, raised self confidence, a renewed self identity and remembering purpose and dreams. If you are still in an abusive relationship, engaging in changed behavior can put you in further danger. I will include resources at the end.
Let’s Dive In!
For 12 weeks, we are taken through readings, education, self awareness principles, challenges, and exercises to guide us toward recovery. Each week, we are given a new lesson, key to our recovery process. Remember, upon leaving abuse, we have lost our self esteem, we have no idea who we are nor how to feel, we need to learn boundaries, and we must go through the important process of loss and grief. Thankfully, we are no longer alone! The Recovery Toolkit serves as a guide through the process and includes the most important lessons in our journey.
Week One: How We Think
Week Two: Dynamics of Domestic Abuse
Week Three: Self Esteem
Week Four: How We cope Emotionally
Week 5: Our Children
Week 6: Self-Care
Week 7: A New Assertive You
Week 8: Being Angry
Week 9: Boundaries
Week 10: Grief and Loss
Week 11: Healthy Relationships
Week 12: The End of the Journey
Perhaps, my favorite chapter was that of Week 6, Self-Care. While in a toxic and abusive relationship, we did not have time nor the energy to engage in caring for ourself. In fact, most often, we do not realize the importance of valuing ourself and thus neglect the process of self care. Our brain has become accustomed to the ridicule and harmful words from our abuser and we learn to abuse ourselves. Furthermore, we second guess the words and actions of others. Chapter 6 guides us through the use of simple affirmations to change our negative thought patterns.
I am learning how I want to be treated
I have learned a lot about myself
Sue Pena, The Recovery Toolkit, p 90
The exercise in chapter 6 gives us an opportunity to write down and practice new affirmations for ourselves. It sets aside a page within the chapter for us to do so!
Each chapter also includes a thought diary, a guide for us to write down our emotions, thoughts, and challenges during situations throughout the day. I found this to be especially helpful as I face new challenges as I step into year 4 of my healing journey. Writing my thoughts down allowed me to be more mindful in caring for myself, allow myself more grace, give myself permission to rest, and learn to be present and still.
I highly recommend The Recovery Toolkit for all survivors and overcomers who have escaped abusive and toxic relationships.
You can learn more about Sue Penna by following her on Twitter.
I believe in love
I believe in loving our neighbor
I believe love begins by supporting those closest to us
In the midst of shutdown, how can we be love 2 our family, friends, neighbors, our own community?
At some point, we the people, become the radical helpers
It begins with us
We become the solution
We become creative, innovative,
It begins with me What can I do, to impact my community? Today, tomorrow, the next day…
I wrote this reflection exactly one year ago in reference to a caravan of refugees headed to America from Honduras. The story is relevant not only for the original intention, but also to so many circumstances today. I thought I’d share my simple reflection in case you might relate.
I cannot tell their story because it is their story.
In the same way, no one can tell my story because it is mine.
But we will listen.
To their story.
And we will share their words.
And we will ask our children to listen.
And we will keep listening and keep sharing.
And we will continue to invite everyone to the table, to break bread.
To listen with our hearts.
Because, in your humanity, I find mine.
And in theirs, you will find yours.
Ubuntu. I am because we are.
No matter the story,
It’s important we listen.
Can you relate? I’d love to hear your reflections in the comments.