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  • Writer's pictureSteph Shuff

Heaven on Earth

D___ told me yesterday about how needy and emotionally unstable his girlfriend is. It dawned on me that neediness and emotional instability are luxuries of the codependent that I am all but cured of in sobriety and in self-sufficiency and in the experience of living alone. Of course, I have friends, and my parents, folks on whom I can rely when things go upside down in my life for a bit, but that is different. Inter-reliance is beautiful and human. Codependence is something else entirely.

I am all that I have. This is a beautiful and harrowing realization for anyone to have, but it is true of all of us. I am all that I have to get out of bed in the morning and comfort myself and ensure that I feel safe. I am all that I have. What point is there to depend on anyone else too much for what I need in my life when I know for certain they could fail me and send me reeling? Again, it is a matter of dependence, not reliance. We rely on people all the time and it is beautiful, because when they fail us, we still have ourselves. Reliance versus dependence is a matter of faith versus force. Reliance suggests faith in others and still allows for faith in oneself. Dependence is another beast entirely. I must admit I am still learning the difference.

What I do know is that I have no desire to allow my happiness and stability and sense of security to live outside of my own chest any longer. Thinking of the days when I was a codependent girl feels like I am remembering a bad dream, but those days are not that long ago, really. It is as if I am thinking of someone else entirely, even though I've only moved on from that person in this last year. Objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear.

Quite recently, I was totally dependent on someone else's love and affection and attention to feel happy and stable and at peace and the concept now makes me cringe but at the time it was a lot like breathing air. Natural. Effortless. Instinctual to want someone else to validate my experience and my existence. My self-worth was so low I hung it on every handsome stranger I met. I feel for D___'s girlfriend. I know that girl as well as I know myself. The joy in her days hinges upon how quickly he texts back, how many hearts he sends in reply, whether or not he says "I love you" first. She has had no need to learn the hard lesson of self-reliance - a little rich girl with rich parents - and so it is quite possible that she will never know it at all.

It feels scary right before you let go, before you release your grip on depending on everyone else. But once you do, once you start to fly, you find a comfort and a peace you've never known before. They tell you that self-reliance is a scary and isolating thing. I am here to tell you that they are wrong. As a woman, self-reliance is one of the most beautiful joys of my life. No wonder they want to call me a slut and a witch and threaten me with the dreadful life of the lonely spinster. They tell ghost stories to keep me from finding peace here, but I have tasted freedom now, despite their warnings and their witch hunts, and I would accept any insult and any social exclusion to be permitted this lifestyle of self-reliance forever. What a joy. What a relief to be free of the burden of other people's moods in order to experience my own. Is there an example of any woman who has ever lived alone who has not found a peace and a comfort in her own self? I would doubt that the story would come from anyone but a manipulative man. There is zero chance of a woman ever living alone and relying on herself where she does not come out changed for the better on the other side. What a gift. How do I give this gift to others?

Now that I know the sweetness of self-love, I have no intention of ever living in any other state but self-reliance. Codependency is a part of my past and I am glad for it to remain there.

I cannot help but think of D___ and the dilemma that he faces. He knows codependency is - or should be - in his past, but he misses it before it has even faded from view. He longs for the high of being someone's everything as much as he comes to loathe the responsibility that accompanies it. Codependency has two sides, after all - the side that makes us feel weak without our other half is the side of codependency that I am most familiar with in my own experience. It is the side of codependency that I remember in vivid detail. The other side of it - the side that makes us feel invincible with the love and attention of our other half - is the side that D___ cannot seem to leave behind - he stares longingly at it in the rearview mirror even as he drives away from it, idling at low speeds in a fast car.

It is difficult to say goodbye to something that has the power to make us feel powerful. I have no doubt he feasts on her adoration, grows fat on her love like a king, even as he comes to resent the idea of feeding her in return. She is thin with his affection - women like her are used to feeling hungry, find comfort in being thin and desirable in both soul and body. Somewhere deep down, they both know she is starving, that his love will never be enough to sate her. She will have to learn to feed herself, as we all must learn eventually. The problem that D___ faces now is that he knows the only way for her to learn to feed herself is for him to let her starve. The saddest part of all is that there will always be another man eager to take his place, eager to feast on her love and nourish her with scraps. D___ knows this and so he clings to her, selfishly. He knows that she will always find a man willing to enable her. The irony of being someone's everything is how easily everything can be replaced.

It is a tragedy that she may never learn the peace of self-sufficiency and the fullness of self-love. It is a tragedy that there are women out there in the world who will never learn to love themselves, settling instead on the scraps of someone else's affection, starving themselves on the leftovers. I wish she would learn. I wish I could teach her. But all I can do is put pen to paper and thank God that I have survived my own trials of self-deprivation and have come out on the other side glowing with self-love like a full moon in a clear sky. All I can do is condemn, with all the poetry I can muster, the world that taught me to hate myself. All I can do is assure every woman out there that she has the strength and the ability to love herself if only she could find the faith.

Western faith for far too long has taught women that we should come in second place, even to ourselves. What nonsense. The world suffers when women do not know how to love ourselves first; it causes our love, which should flow from us unconditionally, to become blocked - compressed and manipulated and dammed-up and measured. Something that is infinite and deep like the ocean suddenly trickles out of us like a dry creek-bed and the whole world suffers, none more than the men we are told all our lives to put first. If only they knew we could love them better if we were first taught to love ourselves. What oasis of a heaven here on earth might await us all? And isn't that what I am seeking in this life? A garden of eden in which I can recline in peace and love and beauty? And haven't I already found that garden, here in this quiet room that is filled with my paints and my pens and the smell of ripened flowers that have been sent to me from my one true love, myself?

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