I met Sue in 1992 when a friend of mine recommended that I see her. I was in a relationship with an alcoholic and drug addict and was desperate for a quick fix. Never having been exposed to alcoholism I was confused, bewildered, angry, and filled with resentment. When I heard that Sue was not only a brilliant therapist but an expert on addiction, I couldn’t wait to see her.
I left my first session filled with enormous relief. She knew so much about addiction and abuse she could well have lived in the house with us. She described the madness, the pain, the brutality and the trauma so succinctly I burst into tears. But more than knowing, she had a way of delivering sentences that comforted me like an old worn cozy sweater. I no longer felt that I was going crazy, that what I was feeling was real but more importantly that I wasn’t worthless. It was in that first session that Sue planted the seed. I was a really slow obstinate learner, and the seed burrowed underground for a very long time.
It goes without saying that the relationship was unsuccessful and during that time I went to hell and back over and over again. My usual pattern of working like a maniac for the love and approval of this man who was clearly unworthy was by now well established. Sue was by my side throughout the whole process. She would explain to me over and over again that when I thought he had fallen in love with someone else he was in fact creating a smoke screen for his relapse.
“Phil, he’s not fallen in love with someone else. He is with someone who is tolerating his substance abuse. It is never about the other woman. That’s his way of diverting your attention off the real issue which is the drugs and alcohol. He doesn’t want to see you not because he doesn’t want to see you but because you are not going to “give him permission” to relapse.” She would explain to me over and over again that I would never be his number one. His real love was his substances.
I held onto these words and took comfort from them. Those words provided comfort for five minutes and then the fear and need to be first resurrected itself. Sometimes I used to think that she would be annoyed but I’ve learned that nobody learns anything without repetition. It was a comfort to me to know that in that space I could make as many mistakes as I needed to without ever being criticized or rejected. This is not to say that she agreed with any of my decisions, in fact the contrary.
I phoned her from all over the world. I remember calling her from Disney Land with my two sons. I know that sounds like fun but it was torture. I know I sound spoilt but I would have given anything not to be there feeling like I was. I phoned Sue and made notes on napkins and Disney World programs. Inside I was screaming.
I sat on benches waiting for the kids to finish their rides and I watched people who were couples and yearned to be one of them. I imagine if you had seen me you would have had no idea of how badly I wished to be somebody else.
Happily and at last I “fell in love” again. Our first date I took him to an AA meeting. I was delighted with the fact that I had pulled off getting him to attend AA so early in our relationship. By now I was an expert in substance abuse and completely convinced that I could “cure him.” Of course I knew once an alcoholic always an alcoholic but I was well versed in the verse of sobriety.
Sue was less impressed with me than I was. I was very happy to have fallen in love and I must admit I was a bit disgruntled at her lack of enthusiasm. She dared to suggest that this was “same SHT different day.”According to her this was more of the same except with a different name. Because I liked Sue a lot I thought I would stay in therapy and prove her wrong. She would eventually see that I had in fact learned very well from the previous relationship. I would show her that I was an expert. How could she not be impressed because I had already managed to organize his fist AA meeting? This relationship was fraught with chaos, anguish, and gut wrenching pain. That did not prevent me from marrying him.
Sue reminded me what I proudly announced one day, “We are going to marry Stan.”
She screeched,” Not we. You are in this all by yourself. Trust me when I tell you this is a disaster.”
I knew Sue was wrong and I knew that she would eventually have to come round and see that.
I worked like a slave to create the most gorgeous wedding. Sue attended. I was glad to have the opportunity to show her how I had it all under control. Being a true all star codependent I needed to execute this entire wedding single handedly. That would surely have earned me the accolades that I deserved. I did all the cooking, the flowers, the tables, arranged white bird cages filled with white birds. I organized fish in bowls on each table and ice moulds on the buffet tables. I also sewed strands of ivy onto the banquette skirts, searched for the perfect candles to fill the garden and hung lanterns from the trees. I had already re-done the garden and house in preparation for the wedding. I worked like a Trojan for weeks.
For years I believed that I worked this hard for his approval and the security of being indispensable. It was only in recent years that I have come to understand it is a long way from the whole truth.
The truth is always concealed and needs to be revealed
The real truth is that as a codependent I needed to work, to obsess and to be consumed. It’s the very essence of my pathology and he was the perfect foil.
- Stan started drinking before the ceremony and was fall down drunk by the end of the night.
- He ignored me under the chuppah and seemed to be struggling to stay awake.
- His wedding speech was filled with references to him having affairs and he joked that he would expect me to provide food for them.
- He then sexually propositioned my sister and several of my closest friends.
- Before the end of the evening he stumbled off to bed but not before planting a salacious kiss on our housekeeper and threw my son into the swimming pool fully clothed.
The most interesting part of this has happened right now. Sue and I are sitting at the dining room comparing memories of that night. She said laughingly,
“That was not your finest moment.”
“No, it was. I had won the prize. The horror of the wedding I denied. Despite all that happened I was The One. He had chosen me and committed himself to me. It was indeed my finest moment and those things I could flick aside like irritating flies.”
I spent a lot of time on Sue’s couch during that marriage. Before this my mother had begun to refer to her as the fortune teller. It irritated me at times that it was true but once I started healing, I knew I could take whatever she said to the bank.
While we can laugh now that marriage almost destroyed me.
- I was physically assaulted repeatedly for seven years. I was often in physiotherapy without any real recollection what happened the night before.
- He criticized me constantly. Stupid, paranoid, jealous, crazy, know it all. He swore at me constantly. My self esteem was in the sewer.
- The sexual manipulations were never ending. In public he pretended we had a wonderful sexual relationship and as soon as we got home he rejected and ignored me.
- Although he was a wealthy man I was never allowed to spend anything without his permission. When I felt brave and rebellious I would find the most expensive designer item I could and leave it on the bed for him to see. More often I just hid the packets.
Eventually I left because I could no longer stand who I was as a result of living with him. His lying, cheating, and physical abuse had become untenable. I knew that he would kill me. I left him and South Africa. I was broken and desperately hoped that the USA would offer me a better future. As usual my plan B didn’t exist and plan A was barely formulated. My fallback position was always that I could get married.
I did meet and marry a man who I thought was different in every way. Firstly, there were no signs of substance abuse. Secondly, he seemed able to discuss his feelings which I mistook to be signs of intimacy, and thirdly, he gave me all the approval I was desperately seeking. I remember that a few days after meeting him we spent almost an entire day on the phone talking about his divorce. He hung onto my every word and my need to be needed was satiated. It was a very familiar and comfortable place for me. It would take time for me to recognize how dangerous that actually was. When a codependent feels that this is familiar space her alarm bells should be shrieking. I lacked the insight and so my bells didn’t even ping. I said forth into the future full of confidence that I had finally found the man that I needed. The very things that I initially found attractive I grew to find repulsive. His neediness and miserliness drove me to the brink of insanity. It was however his sexual aberrations that would force me out of the house and out of the marriage.
I cannot even begin to describe to you my disappointment and my anger. Like most codependents I often felt that the most recent incident was the last straw. Codependents have bales of last straws. Amongst those many hurtful incidents was that he asked my son to immigrate and offered him a partnership and sponsorship. Once he was here having left his life behind in South Africa he reneged on that deal. I wish I could say that it was the last, last straw but as I sit here I cannot remember what the last straw was.
This marriage was the same series of disappointments but this time there were no substances for either of us to hide behind. The divorce case was bitter and acrimonious.
For the first time in my life I have been single for a prolonged period of time. It really is the very first time in my life that I am unashamedly single. I invited Sue to visit me in the Berkshires. I suspect I still have a residue of codependence that compels me to prove to her that I have finally listened and I wanted to show off how her seeds finally took root. Sue taught me to love gardening and I wanted to show her how her lotus flower had finally emerged from the muck and mire of my life.
“Be aware of the improbability of coincidences.” (Deepak Chopra).
So we find ourselves amongst the forests of the Berkshires and this time we are working together to create a self help manual called Abuse ends when you love yourself – A codependents guide dog to recovery. Sue was my guide dog and I have given myself the title of Poster Child for Recovery. I am the proof of how Sue’s wisdom, insights and patience gave me a life I didn’t know I could dream of. Abuse ends when you love yourself will be ready for release on the 11/11/2014. By the way the date was chosen with intention.