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Owning Your Recovery – Codependecy (Episode 1)

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Episode 1: Codependency (feat. Lydia Forge)

Kinga Burjan: Hi, welcome to a brand-new podcast called Owning Your Recovery. You made the decision to look at your life from a different perspective and realize that the destructive behavior of addiction does not serve you anymore. The grip of addiction can be strong, especially when times are tough. This podcast is created to remind you that ups and downs in life are normal and to provide you with professional and peer-related insights and support in your recovery from illness to wellness.

My name is Kinga Burjan, I’m a registered psychotherapist in Ontario, Canada, working with Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centers. I have personal and professional experience with addiction and recovery. My goal is to help you connect with your inner strength and motivation, to continue focusing on your wellness through having unique conversations around addiction and mental health with professionals and peers who have insights to support your wellness journey.

Today, my guest is also one of my colleagues, Lydia Forge, a registered social worker. Thank you so much, Lydia, for joining me today and sharing some of the work that you’ve done and the experience you’ve had with working with a multitude of clients at Trafalgar and elsewhere. So welcome.

Lydia Forge: Thank you.

Kinga Burjan: I’d like to start with your perspective about what codependency is and how it can interfere with recovery.

Lydia Forge: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s such an interesting topic because depending on where we come from, for a lot of people, codependence actually sounds like a really good thing. Right. So, you know, if you come from a collectivistic culture, a lot of people have this idea that it’s what the community needs. Right. Everything is for the community. You know, if you come from a family environment where you’re always tending to mom or dad’s emotional well-being or physical well-being. Right. It’s a good thing. It looks like a good thing to take care of others and to consider everybody’s needs before your own.

But the challenge comes when you put people’s needs ahead of you that you forget yourself and you start to pay for it. Right. So the way that I like to look at codependence is a form of addiction. So I see it as kind of like the addiction to needing someone or the addiction to being needed.

Kinga Burjan: Hmm.

Lydia Forge: So that’s kind of like my observation. And oftentimes what happens is whenever you’re in a codependent relationship because it is an addiction, the person is going to react when you take away their fix. So if their fix is to make you better, when you’re better, what’s their purpose? If their fix is to have someone help them and to focus on them. When you start focusing on yourself, what’s their fix? Right.

And so that means that they might start having certain behaviors that are going to try to bring you back into that role. So that might look like gaslighting or having you question your own sanity and no, no, no, you don’t mean that, you don’t need that or questioning whatever you’re doing. So I always encourage people to look into gaslighting and narcissism as ways to kind of see, hey, am I falling in some of those patterns right now?

Kinga Burjan: So, it’s interesting, I love how you said that people forget themselves, like you forget yourself in codependency.

Lydia Forge: Yeah.

Kinga Burjan: But it can also be the opposite end where it’s only about you. So, it’s interesting when you’re talking and you’re saying that it’s an addiction to being needed. When you start changing that, then you’re kind of like changing the dance with that person. And like with any dance that you change with someone, you’re likely going to step on their toes at first or they’re going to step on your toes.

Lydia Forge: Absolutely.

Kinga Burjan: If you’re not used to this new dance.

Lydia Forge: Mmhmm. Absolutely. I love that imagery, because if let’s say you were starring with Foxtrot and then you’re like, now we’re going to salsa. Like there’s going to be a bit of confusion there. And that confusion when you decide you want to keep dancing, salsa and the others trying to dance the foxtrot. There’s going to be some tension and frustration. And you might notice that at the end of the day, you can’t be dance partners anymore. Right, and you need to go into a Foxtrot community or a salsa community or whatever else you want to try.

Kinga Burjan: Right. That’s a really good point, because some of our relationships, if they’re based on unhealthy relationship dynamics and that other person isn’t willing to change and grow with you, then it might not be the best dance partner anymore. And there’s a lot of grieving involved with that, too, and acceptance, which is a huge part of recovery.

Lydia Forge: Yeah. And grieving, you know, like oftentimes when people think of grief, they think of death. But the purpose of grief is actually to help you transition from a season to another. Right. So that means a middle school kid who’s going from middle school to high school might actually go through a process of grief. Right. Or if you come to a new country. It might take you two years of grief to be able to adapt to that new country.

Right. So same thing. If you were used to a certain dance style or communication style or connection style or community in your addiction lifestyle, you’re trying to go into sobriety. It makes sense you’re going to experience a lot of big feelings. Right. And to identify the grief and recognizing that can be really helpful.

Kinga Burjan: Mmhmm. Yeah. Great points, and also to just to add.

Lydia Forge: Yeah.

Kinga Burjan: A lot of times grief can mimic the symptoms of depression. Right. So it’s really important to acknowledge that when you are going through this change, that may be for a little bit depression symptoms might increase. And it’s not necessarily that you’re doing anything wrong. It’s just part of that process of grief and letting go and giving yourself that space, permission, support to take each day as one day at a time to move forward.

Lydia Forge: Yeah. And imagery I like to use is surfing. Right. So if you have this big wave and you’re on top of it, the wave is powerful and it’s strong and you can try to fight the wave, but you will likely lose. But if you choose to go with the wave and just let it flow, eventually you’re going to come back down.

So if you understand that grief is not a disorder that needs to be medicated and depression at that time is not something that needs to be medicated, but just a wave that needs to be ridden. Eventually, I’ll get back to shore and just give yourself that space.

Kinga Burjan: I love that analogy.

Lydia Forge: Yeah.

Kinga Burjan: Thank you for sharing.

Lydia Forge: No worries.

All right, so I asked you about co-dependency and how it might interfere with recovery, and then I kind of took you up on a different tangent.

Lydia Forge: No worries that was fun! Men.

Kinga Burjan: Riding the wave.

Lydia Forge: So we’re more fun that way.

One thing that I like to think of whenever I look at co-dependency as well is childhood. Right. So a lot of you, when you went to Trafalgar, probably had a lot of conversations or resistant conversations about wanting to talk about childhood. Right. That’s something I find helpful, is to look at the five roles in dysfunctional families, because oftentimes what happens is subconsciously as children, whenever a family situation where things are not healthy for us, we’ll subconsciously go into survival mode and actually occupy a role that allows us to survive.

So, I’ll name them quickly, but the link will be again available after the podcast. There is the scapegoat, the protector of the family. There’s the family clown, the family hero and the forgotten child. So a lot of us sometimes fall into those different roles. And John Bradshaw in his book, Healing the Shame That Binds You makes a really great exploration of that. It helps to understand how to recognize your pattern and how to change the patterns of addiction as well. So it’s a really great read if you guys ever get to that.

Kinga Burjan: I love that book, by the way. That was one of the first books I had to read as part of my masters, one of my addiction’s courses. So good. You know, it is a bit older and some pieces are outdated. But overall, the message is so helpful to give that different perspective of what happened and what’s happening and why people are feeling so much shame. So thank you for bringing that.

Lydia Forge: Absolutely. Yeah. And I find it so normalizing. Right. And yeah, I agree with you. And so if we go to the space of codependence, right. And childhood and what Bradshaw brings in, there’s this idea of scapegoat. Right. Which is the problem child. So my observation is a lot of the people that I’ve worked with, not all, but there’s a few of them who’ve had a pattern of quote on quote the problem child. And oftentimes that person is the person who is sensitive, who’s emotionally intelligent, who’s aware of what’s going on and is trying to respond to the problem, either by calling it out verbally or through their behavior. Right.

So they might be the person who’s consistently sick or they might be the person who is having behaviors that are not prosocial, behaviors that are not helpful, or hanging out with the quote-on-quote wrong crowd, which is really just the hurt crowd. Right. So they might kind of be doing all those behaviors because they’re trying to call an S.O.S. message to their family that, hey, there’s a problem and I am being the martyr here and I’m putting myself in the situation of trying to help you guys understand what’s going on.

For a lot of people, that’s not conscious. It’s actually subconscious. And so this is just a side note, but I find also it interesting how sometimes for some of those people, finding their purpose can be a challenge, because for a long time, their purpose was to try to fix their family. Right. Or try to survive.

Kinga Burjan: Absolutely. And if their lens is constantly on someone else, how did they ever learn to think about what their needs are or what they actually want to do in life or Why are they on earth? Why? What’s their purpose? That’s an absolute struggle for people coming out of that codependent pattern.

Lydia Forge: Yeah.

Kinga Burjan: So you mentioned how these patterns usually happen subconsciously in terms of survival. How how do we make these patterns more conscious so that we can do something about it?

Lydia Forge: Absolutely. Well, the number one is listening to this podcast. And then there’s also obviously work with a mental health professional. That’s not a should that’s a have to. It’s something that needs to happen so that you can stay aware of what’s going on for you. And when you’re ready to kind of make those changes is to educate yourself. Right. So, for example, the link that I shared, maybe looking into that and understanding where your behaviors are. And then when you realize, okay, I’m really willing to make a change and I don’t want to behave in a co-dependent pattern anymore, then you have to transition. The transition again is connected to grief, which can get mentioned, which is connected sometimes to feelings of depression, which are normal and Okay. It’s just like surfing at first might be really scary, the big wave, and then eventually you learn to master them and do those cool moves. So it’s okay. Right.

So one thing I would encourage everybody to do is to make a huge print and post it on your wall. Every single wall in your house is the bill of assertive rights. Right. So for a lot of people who’ve learned that their opinion doesn’t matter, that their presence is not important or whatever unhelpful belief they’ve had. Reviewing the Bill of Assertive Rights can be really helpful. So, for example, in that you have something like you have the right to say, I don’t know, or you have the right to change your mind or that’s a really intense one. You have the right to make mistakes and be responsible for them. Right.

And so those are all things sometimes that we feel, you know, as you come from a co-dependent dance where someone’s always taking responsibility for you. Sometimes the best thing you can do and say, I made this mistake, I am going to fix it. Right. And I want to own that. Right. And so that can be something or you have the right to say, I don’t care if you’re used to being the person who takes care of others all the time. And now someone is doing a huge tantrum in front of you because you decided to say no, you’re allowed to say I don’t care. So I can see some people just like their eyes just going huge and being like, what are you talking about? How can I ever say or do that? It’s a terrible thing to do.

But this is kind of like learning a new language. So if you want to speak another language, the best thing you can do is go to another country and to find an instructor in that country that’s going to educate you on the language while you’re immersed in it. Right. So right now, in your family of origin saying, I don’t understand or, you know, I changed my mind is going to be seen as a sin, is going to be seen as this terrible thing that makes you a horrible person. But if you change the environment, you might actually notice that it’s not that dangerous and it’s actually safe to say no. Right. So I can keep blabbering on. But I’m wondering if you have any other observations to share.

Kinga Burjan: So I’m just wondering how- I love this analogy of going through it, like actually going to a new country and learning a new language. But obviously, people aren’t going to be doing that. So where can people go to practice these new skills in terms of healthier communication?

Lydia Forge: Well, another country no I’m kidding. So it’s going to be potentially something like, meetup I really like meetup as a really great place to practice. Right. Because it’s a hobby-based community. And so if you like volleyball, if you like painting, if you like debating, if you like wall climbing, bungee jumping, whatever it is. Right. There is a group for that. Right. So what you do is you go and meet up area in your neighborhood and you find the interests, the groups that are there and you find a group to connect with.

So let’s say you choose I’m going to join a hiking group because I love nature and I never really had anybody to hike with. So you join that group and then everybody afterwards are going out for ice cream and you don’t want to, you get to practice saying no. Right. And so this is a really safe place to do it, because you don’t know these people. You have nothing associated to them. Right. And if you realize, you know what, the hiking group, I thought they were a healthy group, but as I’m working with my therapist, I notice that there’s a toxic pattern that’s not helpful for me. I notice that I’m constantly drained and I’m dreading going, that’s okay. You drop out, you find a new group. You know what? Let’s go and try mambo. I’m going to join mambo group. All right. So then there’s no attachment there because there’s so many other options to go and connect with other people and practice the same skills until you become versed in the language of assertiveness.

Kinga Burjan: So how would someone know if they’re falling back into their kind of susceptibility to co-dependency? What are some signs for them to look out for?

Lydia Forge: Absolutely. That’s a genius question. It’s such an important question. And when to really focus and pay attention to is your trauma response. Right. So oftentimes when we think of trauma, we think, oh, there’s a bear, I’m going to die. So oftentimes people think of trauma as a national catastrophe. But trauma can actually be emotional. Right. If you’re constantly rejected or neglected or criticized. Right. That’s also trauma and it’s emotional trauma. You can actually get PTSD from that, believe it or not. Right.

So what happens is whenever we have those trauma responses, our bodies are going to change the way our bodies feel is going to change in the way that personality is is going to change. So, for example, if let’s say that at home, the way that you stopped argument as a little kid was by fawning. Right. So there’s fight, flight freeze or fawn. Fawn is to give in. Right. So that might be, you know, being like a people pleaser.

Okay, okay, okay you’re right. Let me take care of you. And so you might notice that you used to be this happy-go-lucky person and all of a sudden. You have like 20 people that you are taking care of, plus 20 projects at work, plus this and that, and you never have time for yourself and you’re constantly overwhelmed and tired and feeling pulled by 20 directions.

Well, that’s like co-dependent on steroids. Right. And you just went back to that place because something triggered you. And so once you start understanding that, you can make different decisions. Right. And that’s where having a therapist is really helpful because it might help you identify, hey, why are you helping so many people right now? What happened before you start helping all these people? Right. So another link that I would really encourage all of you to look at is trauma personality types when you Google it, there’s a lot of really great resources on it.

And you might notice, for example, that you might get more drained or you might get more aggressive or you might start micromanaging more or trying to control everything. Right. Or constantly feeling like there’s something that’s going to attack you. You don’t know what it is. It’s just there’s something off. Right. So that’s those are just some of the things, just like when you notice that you’re on edge and you’re like on survival, when there’s something off, you’re going to feel it in your body that’s probably telling you that you’ve been triggered.

Kinga Burjan: So I think another big thing that you’re saying, but not actually saying the word of it is self-awareness and mindfulness. And I know that’s at such a big component of Trafalgar’s program, is to increase your self-awareness of what’s going on, in your body, your feelings, your reactions, your thoughts. Because the more you’re aware of it, the more opportunities you have to respond to these things rather than react, because you can’t control what thoughts come up. We can’t necessarily control what feelings come up. But if we’re in a constant practice of noticing and being aware without judging, then we have a greater opportunity to kind of course, correct before it leads down that path of our old behaviors.

So I really love this. I’m going to check it out. I haven’t actually checked out this personality chart, but just to increase our knowledge of what these old patterns might look like so that we can. I don’t want to say stay on guard, but, you know, be more mindful of, okay, if I’m feeling this way, then what’s going on in my falling into an old pattern? Am I consistently or constantly saying yes rather than actually considering my needs in this situation? So thank you so much for sharing that resource.

Lydia Forge: Yeah, no, absolutely. And, you know, that brings something else about Trafalgar, they encourage a lot like you said, the mindfulness and the journaling, like there’s, you know, science supports the value and the importance of journaling. And there’s a book called Oh, what is it, the success? Oh, now I forget what it is habits of highly successful- The miracle morning, that’s what it is! So there’s a book called The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. And in that book, he talks about the habits that successful people have. And one of them is to journal constantly. Right. So if you’re going to be mindful. Right. You need time aside for that to think and to process. Right.

And with that mindfulness, if you combine journaling, you can go ahead and ask yourself those questions. So why am I acting this way today? I’m feeling really anxious and stressed. And so you’re taking like 15 minutes of your day just to process what happened. And as you do that, you’re actually questioning what’s going on and you’re interrogating yourself and learning that mindfulness and that self-awareness so that you can actually catch something before it goes, you know, into a spiral that’s harder to come out of. And so journaling to combined mindfulness is very key to the habits of very successful people.

Kinga Burjan: Definitely. And I know journaling as well is such a good way to stop ourselves from ruminating. Yes, because it’s so easy to have that thought loop. But when we write it down, then there’s more clarity to think okay, this thought is redundant or wait, there’s other information, like you said, that I’m able to analyze or probe. So thank you. Thanks again. I love all the tips that you’re saying.

Lydia Forge: Yeah, it’s my pleasure. And I so agree with you. Journaling is powerful. And as I was talking about journaling. As you can tell, I’m a nerd. I love information. There’s another book. It’s called Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess by Dr Caroline Leaf. And it’s a recent book and she talks about the five steps. She’s just a psychiatrist and I think she was one of the pioneers in actually coming up with the concept of neuroplasticity. So I’m a big fan girl. I love the brain. And she came up with a recent process that is five steps to question your thoughts and can actually create connections in your brain from the brain right hemisphere to the left hemisphere so you can actually heal and process information in a more helpful way.

So it’s like five steps to ask yourself questions whenever you get triggered to be able to kind of make sense of it and heal from it. So it’s different from CBT, but another great book to look into, and it also comes with an app that asks the questions for you so that you can process them on your own.

Kinga Burjan: I’m going to check that out, that’s new information. Thank you.

Lydia Forge: Yeah, no worries. It’s really recent, like it’s like I think a couple of years old. If that so.

Kinga Burjan: All right. So, one, I don’t want to say quick, because I don’t want to put a time limit on it. And you did talk about this briefly, but overall, I’m wondering if someone is moving from a codependent relationship or co-dependent group, how are they able to create a more meaningful connection with another person or another group?

Lydia Forge: Yeah. So again, like find a good therapist. That’s going to be a big one to be able to process your feelings at the beginning. Secure is going to feel weird. Right. So we all have different attachment styles. Understanding your attachments. I can look at Bowden B, O, W, D, E, N that’s what it is. And he talks about the four different attachment styles. And what you’ll notice is if you’re using an attachment style, that’s very explosive and insecure. Connecting with secure people who respect you is going to feel boring, dull and maybe uninteresting or even unsafe because it’s new. Right.

So again, it’s going to be like riding the wave. Right, and going into different meet ups and connecting with people and forcing yourself to connect with people is going to be helpful. One thing that I’ll encourage you is, again, go back to your Bill of Assertive Rights. And there’s also another book that I really like. It’s called Safe People by Henry Cloud. And in that book, it really identifies with what healthy behaviors are and toxic behaviors are so that if you’re not familiar with them, it’s going to help you to kind of have like a bit of a reference book reference point as you learn to build relationships with people.

And another great one is how to have that difficult conversation so that as you’re learning conflict management, again, by the same author, Henry Cloud, so that when you’re managing challenges, it doesn’t feel that scary to you because you know how to communicate your disagreements or your needs.

Kinga Burjan: And to expand on that, I think another term that is used a lot that might be helpful to bring up in today’s podcast is boundaries, because when we know our needs.

Lydia Forge: Mm hmm.

Kinga Burjan: Right. when we know where we start and where we end, then it’s a lot easier to say no or to know if someone’s crossing those boundaries. So I think going back to what you initially said about forgetting yourself and codependency, it’s like building yourself back up, finding your identity, knowing where you are versus who you’re not. And with that, your boundary building. And by practicing that self-awareness, noticing when people are crossing that boundary or when you’re not implementing your boundary. And I think that buffer, you create of the boundary. It’s not to be rigid. It’s not to, you know, be standoffish. It’s like, no, this is who I am in the world.

Lydia Forge: There you go.

Kinga Burjan: And I think that’s part of owning your recovery.

Lydia Forge: Yes. 100 percent.

Kinga Burjan: Knowing who you are and getting to the point where you’re not afraid to be who you are and embracing who you are.

Lydia Forge: Preach. And that’s the most beautiful place you want to be, right? It’s being who you are and owning it and being proud of that person and welcoming the people who celebrate you and saying, have a nice day and have a nice life to whoever doesn’t and not take it personally. They’re just not a match for you. And we released them with love and joy. And we welcome those who celebrate who we really are, you know, and sometimes that won’t be family and that’s okay.

Kinga Burjan: You know, we can’t choose our family.

Lydia Forge: We can’t choose our family, but we can create a family of choice.

Kinga Burjan: I love that.

Lydia Forge: Yeah. And so you can choose who is going to be your support system.

Kinga Burjan: Right. I love that. Thank you so much. And just a reminder to those listening that all of this is a process. Right. So all of these things that you’re learning today and hearing might be for a second time, third time, maybe the first time, but it’s all to increase your awareness so that you can make better choices and get to that certain point, because life is a journey. I mean, my personal belief is that we don’t stop learning until the day we die.

Lydia Forge: Preach. I agree.

Kinga Burjan: So thank you so much, Lydia. It’s been such a joy. And it’s been so insightful to have you on the podcast today. And I hope you can join us another time in the future.

Lydia Forge: I would love that. And it was my pleasure. This was really fun, and I’m always glad to share.

Kinga Burjan: Thank you so much. Have a beautiful thing.

Lydia Forge: You, too.

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