Several years ago, the Battle of Ravioli Hill commenced at dinner time. I was on one side of the dinner table, teaching my son how to eat with a fork. My mother, a formidable opponent, advanced. She made it clear: the way I was teaching my son to eat was all wrong. She demanded I use a smaller salad fork. I held my ground. A ridiculous stand-off ensued. My young son was caught in the cross-fire of a fierce battle of wills.
We Weren’t Really Fighting Over A Fork
My mom and I had long been fighting for control of different territories. I won hosting Christmas dinner, but she secured Easter. I secured the battle of mashed potatoes; she captured cooking the Thanksgiving turkey. To an innocent bystander, these squabbles seem petty at best, but there’s an unseen force working against us – codependency.
Our family had been affected by the disease of Alcohol Use Disorder. My mom learned to cope by controlling what she could. Out of fear, love, and dysfunction, she taught me to do the same. I am a co-dependent raised by a co-dependent. Over the years, our controlling nature has morphed into a twisted battle for control. Who’s the Alpha Co-dependent?
Co-Dependents Run In Packs
By its very nature, co-dependency needs at least two people. What I do depends on my mom's opinion or feeling. She reacts to what I did, or in anticipation of what she thinks I want her to do. It’s a crippling symbiotic relationship. Even worse, my mom wasn’t the only person with whom I clashed wills. My husband, my dad, my mother-in-law, and my brother all challenged me in similar fashion. Why? Because we are all co-dependent. Co-dependents need other co-dependents to complete them. We seek them out. The cycle perpetuates. Once I had a son, I was able to stand up to some of my mom’s controlling tactics, but I didn’t really change my own habit. I just changed the battlefield. Before I realized it, I was engaging my son in the next generational battle of co-dependency.
Standing Up To The Alpha
After two years in recovery, I see my former constant state of anxiety was caused by this controlling tug of war. I learned that the only way to win is to bow out. Each pack of co-dependents can have only one leader. In my family of origin, my mom is that leader. She’s willing to yell louder and demand more than anyone else. Fighting her is fruitless. Still, for many years, I fought for dominance. For too long I refused to tuck my tail and run. Which is the only solution that works.
In recovery, I learned that there is a benefit to giving up. Bowing out of the struggle comes with an amazing parting gift – serenity. When I see my mom now, I'm still baited to fight our old fights, but I don't take the bait. As I heard in a meeting. "I don't have to go to every fight I am invited to." Now I know I can walk away. I can take a break. I can be quiet. I don’t have to engage just because she wants to. Without me joining in, the fight quickly dies out. My Mom may think she is the Alpha Co-Dependent. I know I am the real winner.
A Reach Out Recovery Exclusive By: Grace Silverstone