One of my favorite memories of my mother is most likely not on her list of Top 10 Parenting Wins. It's not the time she gave me a corsage on the day of my very first piano recital when I was eight; or the Saturday she spent patiently teaching me how to drive a stick shift in my new red convertible that I just had to have whether or not I could afford it (or drive it) because Dammit I was 23 and gonna do what I wanted; OR the Friday nights when she made virgin piña coladas and played board games with us while watching Dallas. Nope, this memory is the one in which she's hauling ass down FM 84 in her '79 Firebird, long permed hair blowing around her wildly because, like a true badass, she had the windows down; her eyes focused straight ahead on the Z-28 where I was riding shotgun and driven by my boyfriend (who also had long hair and was sweating through his high tops) as I screamed at him DON’T YOU DARE STOP THIS CAR! FLOOOOOORRRR ITTTT!
You see, I was 15 and grounded for three months because Mom caught me sneaking out of the house one night earlier that summer. I wasn't allowed to go anywhere, as in maybe never-ever-again; but I did anyway. This time I snuck out of the house in broad daylight, arranging for that boyfriend to pick me up at the bottom of a hill on the aforementioned country highway on which we lived. I thought I was so clever; telling Mom that I was Just gonna go say Hi to the neighbors across the road real quick - which I'd never done before because I hardly knew them - and thinking she wasn't onto me.
But she was.
And I almost got away with it. Or that's what I like to believe. Truth is, the boyfriend gave up after a mile and a half (because, even though he'd already dropped out of high school twice by the age of 17, he was apparently much smarter than me); I rolled my eyes at his lack of ambition as he pulled over and looked at me with a terrified combination of Good luck/Glad it's you and not me/I'm gonna go now, K? as I got out of the car, righteously angry like the stereotypical adolescent I was and eager to give my mom the what for; instead, before I could properly stomp both feet on the hot gravel and utter even one sassy syllable, her beautiful Cherokee-complected hand met my left cheek with a slap. And I deserved it. Now, in my story (the one that lives in my head), I slap her back and we yell and scream and I WIN (in whatever way winning looks like when you're a teenager who's totally dependent upon your mother); but in reality I threw myself into her bucket seat and moped all the way home while mumbling One day I'll get out of this town.
And I did get out of there. Eventually. But in the meantime I codependently glued myself to that guy and measured my worth by how often he returned my calls; or showed up when he said he would; or did what I wanted him to do, including sign up for the GRE (which he never took) or flush his marijuana down the toilet (he always bought more). But he had so much potential! He just needed a little tweaking here...and there...he just needed the right person to fix him!
And I firmly and codependently believed that person was me.
According to Pia Mellody in Facing Codependence, there are five core symptoms of codependence:
1: Difficulty experiencing appropriate levels of self-esteem.
Codependents experience difficulty with self-esteem at one or both of two extremes. At one extreme, self-esteem is low or nonexistent: you think that you are worth less than others. At the opposite extreme is arrogance and grandiosity: you think you are set apart and superior to other people.
2: Difficulty setting functional boundaries.
A Codependent with no boundaries not only lacks protection but has no ability to recognize another person's right to have boundaries...people with damaged boundaries have only partial awareness that others have boundaries. With certain individuals or in certain circumstances they become offenders, stepping into someone else's life and trying to control it or manipulate it [and may allow others to do the same].
3: Difficulty owning our own reality.
Codependents often report that they don't know who they are. I believe that complaint is directly related to the difficulty of owning and being able to experience what I call one's "reality"...[Our reality includes: our physical body; our thoughts; our emotions; our behavior].
4: Difficulty acknowledging and meeting our own needs and wants and being interdependent with others.
Not tending to one's needs and wants appropriately is often connected to a feeling of low self-esteem (shame)...This shame originally came from childhood experiences, when expressing a need or want was met with abuse [or neglect] by a caregiver...[these children] usually experience being needless and wantless on reaching adulthood...they often work hard to take care of the needs of others without giving any attention to their own needs and wants. Confusing needs with wants is the experience of children who get everything they want but almost nothing of what they need.
5: Difficulty experiencing and expressing our reality moderately.
Not knowing how to be moderate is possibly the most visible symptom of codependence...Codependents simply don't appear to understand what moderation is. They are either totally involved or totally detached, totally happy or absolutely miserable, etc. The Codependent believes that a moderate response to a situation isn't "enough".
But my boyfriend was so cool. On the rare occasions that he did make an educational effort, he was one of those Back Parking Lot, pot-smoking guys with an awesome car. He liked my Levi's and said I was pretty; he introduced me to Ozzy and Mötley Crüe; and he bought me the cutest little brown bottle of peach schnapps that I stored at his house, where his parents didn't care what we did. Looking back, it wasn’t the liquor that hooked me; but it's warmth combined with the fantasy of escape while doing something that was secretive and the opposite of good-girlish created a mental retreat for me as I tried and failed to figure out who I was. All I knew was that being the Hero Child and Daddy's Little Girl was no longer working; not that it had ever worked and not that I wouldn't revisit those roles many times over the next 30 years; but back then, no matter if I made the honor roll or cheerleader or minded my manners or didn't cry when I broke my collarbone, it didn't make things less tense at home.
And about the time I figured that out I also found something new to fill up the void, as if I'd cracked through a shell and poked my head into the Real World where it was risky and fun. I started skipping classes and ignoring my Self as I became obsessed with the excitement of being the best girlfriend ever while also being bad; or as bad as my conscience would allow at the time, which wasn't really that bad. In hindsight, I was bad with boundaries (probably my only boundaries): I learned that I didn't want to smoke pot or drink too much or totally screw up in school because that would disappoint my parents. Yes, I was a good kid but just bad enough to rile up my mom while Daddy shrugged his shoulders and said She's a teenager, leave her alone. It drove Mom crazy and I think I loved it. I was angry. She was angry. And neither of us knew why or how to express ourselves in any way other than passive-aggressively.
Later in life, while living in NYC and struggling with my self-worth, I’d reflect upon our relationship:
I don't want to be like my mother yet I constantly behave like her in so many ways...I can understand why she was that way, for the same reasons that I am. It's a need to be nurtured. Just held and rocked, like a child. The way I behave sometimes - I throw temper tantrums… I allow feelings and thoughts to build up and eventually it all must come out, but by then it's so scrambled and illegible that I can't describe it in words. It's anger - that's the little munchkin that was kicking my stomach and chewing its way out of my neck this week.
I eventually grew tired of the boyfriend; not coincidentally I lost interest when he became more emotionally available, which was about the time that I started focusing more on my Self and what I wanted to do with my life, such as journalism and preparing for college and plans of moving away (things that didn't include him). Plus, like a true Codependent and future Love Addict, I quickly developed a new project with yet another Addict and Avoidant who just needed a little TLC and a dose of fantasy to make him the ideal next boyfriend.
My relationship with Mom greatly improved around this time, too; I mean, can you imagine her relief considering that one of her greatest fears was that I might, like her, get pregnant in high school and miss the opportunity to attend college? I finally seemed to be on the right track and it looked like I had my shit together. And technically I did, especially if that conclusion was only based upon appearances and achievements. But inside I probably wasn't totally OK, even though I felt OK, but I was also making everyone else feel OK and that meant that I WAS OK...right?
From The Intimacy Factor by Pia Mellody:
To stressed parents the job of parenting can from moment to moment become overwhelming, and those parents, unaware of how inappropriately they are parenting, are often [emotionally overwhelmed] by the results. [The parents then either falsely empower or disempower the children]...Falsely empowered children become adapted to playing a role [such as The Hero or Daddy's Little Girl]...and although they know that something is not quite right, the praise they get for being good and making their parents proud keeps them content...Falsely empowered children's source of value comes from outside [and they] never learn the concept of inherent worth.
Nearly 35 years later, here's why the day of the chase is one my favorite memories: It was a rare moment when both of us - angry females forced to live together - had an opportunity to act-out and be real, no matter how ugly and unpleasant it was. I passive-aggressively gave her a big Fuck you and your parenting and everything you've ever done for me which triggered alllll of her stuff and provided an opportunity to give it right back. Two young women who walked around holding in so many feelings; one empowered by adolescence and the other attempting to manage that adolescence with very few coping skills, a previous teenage parent of a teenager.
Maybe my life is actually an ode to my mother. I'm selfish, single, rebellious, flaky enough for both of us because she was never able to be such things. I always sensed there was part of her that wanted to run away and never come back.
Thank you for reading~ Jodi
That's alright, that's okay
We were walkin' through some youth
And smilin' through the pain.
That's alright, that's okay…
Let's turn the page.
From “Don't Go Away Mad” by Mötley Crüe