When my girls were toddlers, they would come into my bedroom in the morning to wake me up. My day began with a kiss on the cheek from either Katie or Meagan. They would wait for me to wake up. Sometimes it took them a few kisses. I would pretend to be asleep to get another kiss or two. When I did finally wake up I would whisper, “go ahead downstairs and I’ll be down.” This happened for the first 8-9 years of their lives until their “independence” kicked in. I was sad when the morning kisses stopped.
I called both of my girls “butt,” because they might as well have been attached to me. They would sit as close to me as they could get – one on my right side and one on my left. We would spend all day together whenever possible, playing games, singing, dancing, and watching their favorite television shows. When I fixed their meals, they helped in the kitchen as my taste-testers. They loved it when I cooked, and they always told me how amazing it was – even when I screwed up in some way. I couldn’t do anything wrong in their eyes, and they celebrated me all the time. My little girls loved me, and for the first time in my life, I felt unconditionally loved. They were my everything.
A Broken Unit
My wife Angie and I struggled a lot in our marriage, our separate trauma and addiction issues causing us to grow further and further apart. As the void between Angie and me became bigger, my girls and I grew closer. There were times when it was just my girls and me. Angie was distant or absent, even when she was in the house. It seemed like I raised my girls by myself, and honestly, I desired that because I selfishly wanted to be their hero and their primary support mechanism. Moreover, I loved the infinite and unconditional love that they offered to me and extended daily, and, sometimes, I just felt that Angie disrupted that. She didn’t love me and accept me nearly as much as my girls did.
My relationship with Angie was strained from the very beginning. To say that we entered a relationship quickly is an understatement. Once things got moving, they accelerated faster than the speed of light. We met in an abnormal psychology class at Montgomery College in Maryland. After the class had ended, she invited me out for drinks with a group of her friends, one of which was her fiancé. Angie was arguing with him by the end of the evening. She left him, got in my car, came home with me and never left. Within a year, we owned a home and a car together. Within two years, we were married with a child and moved across the country to start a new life. How’s that for fast?
My Futile Efforts to Clean Up Toxicity
Angie had symptoms of mania and depression, and heavy medication ruled her life. Before I had my children by my side, and she would become angry or depressed, I would try to do anything to make her feel better. I would buy her things, change my behavior, change plans, call out of work, or do anything she asked. I felt that there was something I could do to make it all better, and as soon as I figured that out, she’d be better. From 1999 to 2016, “better” happened every once in a while, but anger and depression were more prominent. The cocktail of medications she was taking didn’t help, but that’s another story for another time.
One Mother’s Day the girls and I planned to take Angie out to dinner. She woke up angry and said she didn’t want to celebrate the day. She started arguments all day long and our family was again in chaos. I tried to talk her through it and failed miserably. There’s no way to talk someone out of being angry who wants to remain angry.
I tried for hours to convince her that everything was ok and that we were going to have a nice dinner out like always. Hours into our anger-fueled discussions, I agreed and yelled that it was probably better that we stay home anyway. Angie blew up. This time, she was super angry that we were going to stay in. When she blew up, so did I, and after more hours of fighting I grabbed her and screamed, “why are you angry?” She cried and said, “I don’t know.” She then melted into my arms. I had been trying to “fix” her to make her happy, and there was no foreseeable way to do so. Her emotions had taken over until she collapsed. We went out to eat, but there was no energy left in any of us to celebrate.
Codependency Got Us Nowhere
Our volatile relationship went on and on until we eventually learned the cause of all of this – codependency. Angie expected me to be able to make her feel better, and I expected that there was something I could do. We blamed each other for our misery, and we expected the other person to do something to make it feel better. We placed the responsibility for our happiness on each other and thought the relationship was about getting the other person to solve all of our emotional issues.
In my opinion, the worst part about our codependency was needing one another to be someone they weren’t – manipulating or controlling them to get what we want from them. Guilt, shame, blame, and threats are the weapons of a codependent, and these are the weapons of the weak, not the strong. I used them plenty in my relationship with Angie, and eventually with my girls.
Angie and I hit a critical point in our relationship in June of 2016 when I had had enough. I had started a winning battle with alcoholism in April and began to take better care of myself. Angie was doing nothing different, and our marriage began to further deteriorate. This time she was battling one way because I wouldn’t fight back. I’d just walk away. I had begun to realize the chaos that we were all involved in, and I stepped out of the fray. When Angie continued to attack, I filed for divorce. This broke the cycle, and Angie decided to break her addiction. I also set healthy boundaries that I was not fighting her emotions for her anymore, and I made sure I no longer asked her to fight mine. We reconciled our differences and have grown from there.
I Was The Hero, Until…
Even though I had healed and resolved my codependent tendencies with Angie, the tendencies with my children remained. As Angie and I healed the chaos in our marriage and our addictions, Angie’s relationship with the girls improved. Over time, they grew closer, and my little girls needed me less and less. More and more, I saw them shift most of their time, attention, focus, requests, and communication from me to Angie, and it hurt. It was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced.
At one point, I was the center of my little girls’ universe. Now that they are teenagers, I’m a small part of their life. Of course, I knew they’d grow up. The combination of them growing up and their radical shift from relying solely on me to relying on Angie stung twice as much. She has moved to be their primary caregiver, at a time when they need their mom the most – their teenage years. But even though it is natural and makes sense and is part of nature, it hurts a lot.
A man’s little girls – the most powerful force on earth – can bring down even the roughest, toughest man. They might not want or need me right now, but I’ll be right here waiting for them when they want or need me again. And “again” can’t come soon enough.
The beautiful part of our story is that our addictions have healed, we no longer expect the other to fix us or our emotions, and our marriage is better than I could have ever expected. Angie’s relationship with our girls is powerful and getting stronger, and my relationship with Katie and Meagan is exactly where a relationship between a dad and his teenage daughters falls naturally. It’s hard to feel less wanted, but it’s also beautiful to see them blossoming into strong independent women. They’ve healed a lot of the pain that our family chaos caused.
Only The Pain You Feel Can Heal
Healing codependency requires a lot of personal awareness, ownership, and the willingness to feel pain. Only the pain you feel can heal. If you ignore the pain, pretend it doesn’t exist, try to suppress it, or try to escape it with alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, work, and on and on, you’re just delaying the inevitable. The pain will remain.
When we are in a codependent state, we will often try to control or manipulate others to make ourselves feel better. We’ll try to fix them instead of allowing them space to heal, or we will use guilt, shame, blame, and threats to get them to do what we want them to do. Again, these are weapons of the weak, not the strong. A strong leader feels the pain and heals himself and allows others to grow without manipulation, coercion or control.
Even though I am a 47-year-old Marine Veteran, who has healed himself, his alcoholism, health, and marriage, built a powerful coaching business and inspire people all over the world, my little girls continue to help me reveal my codependent tendencies. When I feel unwanted or unloved, that’s a signal that it’s time for me to want and love myself, because my feelings and emotions are mine, just like yours are yours. Show up for yourself, and L.O.V.E. others by letting others voluntarily evolve. They owe you nothing, and you owe yourself everything.