Over the past few weeks, I've listened to a trainer pontificate on adoption, a tarot card reader lecture about treating bacterial infections and a gynecologist go off about brain scans. In all three cases, I took what the person was saying as utter gospel. They each spoke with tremendous self-confidence and so I immediately assumed that what I knew about these topics was utterly wrong and that the person doing all the talking was the reigning expert on the matter.
All three times, I didn't even realize I was buying everything these people were saying as the inarguable truth until I spoke to someone else; in every case, the second person I talked to pointed out how many people spout off on things they don't know about -- something I of course already know but had completely forgotten in the face of these strident conversations. Once talking to the second round of people, all anxiety those initial chats had sparked dissipated entirely.
All three times, I couldn't hold onto what I knew to be true until someone else confirmed it.
When I was talking to another friend about this -- one of those typical sobriety conversations where you diagnose and often pathologize things about yourself that a non-sober person either wouldn't have a label for or even notice that they did -- I mentioned how codependent I was. She looked shocked and told me I was the least codependent person she knew.
I argued with her, explaining that I did all sorts of things where I put other people's opinions and needs before mine and where I people please-d in order to avoid someone potentially having an issue with something I did. She wasn't convinced and said that she'd almost never seen someone who was so... I'll confess that she started to say the word "confrontational" but then stopped and described it as "unafraid to tell people" how I felt. (Jury still out on whether the word substitution had to do with her own codependence.)
What she said had never really occurred to me. So, like anyone endlessly fascinated by herself who revels in being the "most" anything, even when the thing isn't positive, I diagnosed myself again: I'm the weirdest codependent in the world.
The best way I can break it down is that I don't worry at all about saying something that could be perceived as harsh if I'm a) annoyed or b) feel like it's absolutely necessary in the situation (these are connected; when I'm annoyed, changing the circumstances feels necessary). A comes up more frequently than B, simply because I annoy easily (whistling, singing, talking loud, gum chewing, smoking -- all of these and more are on my intolerance list). In those situations, I will, in a way that is almost always incredibly inappropriate, have no hesitation when asking the person to stop or just glare until they do. (As a pack-a-day smoker for 13 years who's been -- forgive me -- smober for the past 14, I'm as hypocritical as can be.) In my office, where many businesses share the same space, I once approached someone who had consistently loud phone conversations with a hostile, "You realize we can all hear everything you're saying" before I ever introduced myself. (We're now friends because, well, he's more tolerant than I am; he also has much quieter phone conversations now.)
When it comes to giving writers notes on their stories, I get right down to it without hesitating (though I'm well aware that writer + sober addict = the most sensitive people on earth so I am always careful with how I say it). But the point is that I have absolutely no fear about any potential confrontation in those situations. Likewise, in 12-step meetings, I'll share whatever I feel like I need to get out without considering the fact that people might have a problem with or judge it.
But then I veer into massive people pleasing. You should hear how much I apologize when I think I might be annoying someone. I actually almost always end up annoying myself in these cases but the need to do this often feels like a compulsion.
More codependence: When I used to write profiles on celebrities and other people for magazines, I always had trepidation when it came to writing anything remotely negative. What if the person sent me an angry email or, even worse, I ran into them and had to handle an in-person negative reaction? I have a friend, a far more successful journalist than I ever was, who writes about the most powerful and well-known people in the world and has no trouble laying out her strongest opinions on them, even when those opinions would surely cause the subject somewhere between serious agita and serious rage. She's one of the nicest people I know so it's not some misguided hostility, just an honest assessment of who the person she's writing about is. I've asked her how she can handle knowing that these supremely powerful people will surely resent her and what's more that she could run into them, and she just shrugs, not understanding that I couldn't write the way she does even if the person inarguably deserved it. (Let's all observe a moment of thanks for the fact that I didn't profile serial killers.)
But then, when it comes to writing about myself, I'll commit to paper (and magazine page and Internet) some of the least appealing revelations imaginable without even considering what people might think. I somehow feel it is absolutely my right and almost duty to be a chronic confessionalist and compulsively honest in my writing. I'm even fine with the character-assassinating comments that can come along with this writing habit.
Oh, but then we swing back into codependence land. Have I ever been able to tell a guy I've started dating that I'm not interested in him? Er, not really. My go-to is that I'm "not available right now." I literally cannot get the words "I'm just not interested in you" out of my mouth. The conclusion I tend to draw about this is that it's hurt when men have told me they're not interested in me and I don't want to cause someone to feel the way I've felt. But am I that kind? This doesn't feel like it necessarily comes from an altruistic place. All I know is that I've said, "It's not you -- it's me" more times than I can count.
And don't even get me started on the topic of bringing a friend who won't know anyone at a party as my plus one. Ack, the anxiety and pressure I feel to make sure they're okay! Every time I have a birthday dinner, gathering all the disparate friends together for a situation where I'm the only thing they may have in common, I'm in a codependent panic almost the entire time. Is my coworker finding enough to talk about with my high school friend? Are the sober people talking character defects and God and freaking everyone else out? None of this stops me from having these, of course; as one more example of me pathologizing myself, I'm an occasional masochist.
Oh and then there are those situations where I can tell someone isn't comfortable around me; in my efforts to put these people at ease, I'll make myself more uncomfortable then they ever were. On that note, those people who can sit in silence or have long periods of silence while with other people? I'll sit there mystified by them as my brain all but shrieks, "Silence must be filled by entertaining!"
So where does this leave me? I'm not really sure. I didn't relate at all when I checked out CODA meetings, didn't really relate to Codependent No More. I can surely focus more on seeing "out rather than in," as my therapist calls it, or I can just accept that there are times I place other people's needs way ahead of mine, even if I'm imagining their needs, and other times I don't. And I can continue to take pride in calling myself the weirdest codependent in the world.
This story originally appeared on AfterPartyMagazine.