Many times in mental health situations a support team member can find themselves hurting as they continue to help those with a need by helping to the point where they have "lost themselves." Becca Ware and her story of recovery from a codependent relationship with her husband J. is a powerful story and inspiring to many who can relate with a love and longing to help but feeling hurt themselves.
CHRISTIAN CODEPENDENCE RECOVERY WORKBOOK: Stephanie Tucker
OVERCOMING CODEPENDENCY: BECCA'S STORY
Karen: Hello, welcome to the C50 podcast. J, Becca, Bella and myself all know that mental health is important. And those sitting around this table are either diagnosed with a mental illness or support someone who is.
Becca: If you're anything like us, you may be listening to this while you drive, work, clean, or you could be doing many other things. We would encourage you to visit www.c50hope.com where you can follow up with our podcast and get more help.
J: We have worked hard to build C50 into a ministry that can reach those effected by someone who struggle with mental health and a deeper illness. We believe that relationship with Christ is key in finding hope. However, we're not professionals. Think on our words, process them, but never consider us more important than a doctor, or therapist you may be working with.
We would love to recommend professionals that value all your needs including medication and therapy, and we'll also point to Jesus Christ is the center of your life and the way for healing and taking you from hurt to hope.
Bella: There are a lot of people that give to C50 that make this all possible. We have people praying, many they give financially, people that donate time or space.
J: And as an example, we've found a home for the C50 podcast. Generously donated for us at McQueen builders in the south hills of Pittsburgh, PA. Let's call this McQueen studios, and this is where we pick up today.
J: All right, welcome to McQueen studios again and we're glad you're listening. You've tuned in and honestly you may have just heard about C50 because we just launched the website last week and we put up the podcast. We started out with the podcasts, we started with my story, I'm J, it's a two-part story leading into what C50 is about.
Then we got into Bella, and by the time we have this, we will have Lorraine's story up and that will be another good move for you. But today we have my wife here. She's a part of the four folks that sit around this table, and she's a part of C50, a big part of C50. In fact, what I like to think about is that she's the other half of C50.
Karen: Aww. How cute.
J: Well, because, not because like, oh, that's sweet, which is cool. It's because really, she's had to put up with me for so long that like, that's like a part of the story of mental health, I think. And definitely with my mental illness, Becca just dealing with that. I mean, she was dealing with this long before I was addressing it. And so, we're going to get into her story. Becca, how are you?
Becca: Yeah, doing well. Glad to be here.
J: I'm talking again. Nobody else.
Karen: It's all about J.
J: It's all about J.
Karen: Not today! Today is about Becca.
J: Yeah, yeah.
Becca: Oh yeah.
J: So, Bec, you're here to let us know about your story. It's not maybe what you call mental illness or, or maybe some of the things that you've even, you might not have even heard of this. Bell you're shaking your head over there because you're going, I think I just learned about it.
J: 10 minutes ago. Because this is something that has kind of flown under the radar. But as you know more about it, I think a lot of people start to go, whoa, like I might,
Karen: Right? Like that's me. Oh my gosh, I think I have some of the same signs, or tendencies, or what have you. Yeah.
Becca: Yes. And with co-dependency it was originally identified in the relationship between an alcoholic and then the person who enabled the alcoholic. And then now they transfer that term to also use someone with a behavioral addiction, a mental illness within the behavioral category, not just a chemical addiction. So, you have that person on one side, and then you have the person with co-dependency on the other side, and they can fit into this dysfunctional cycle if they're operating in an unhealthy way.
J: Yeah, absolutely. And obviously there's different degrees,
Becca: Right, right, yeah.
J: Like with mental health, there's different degrees of it. So, this can be a big area in your life that you need to address, or something that you're going to learn about and just going to kind of make you aware of some of your tendencies. The way that you lean and what you do. So, today's gonna be really cool and we're going to get into the definition and go further into that. But first, we need to go back to the very beginning, long time ago in Cedarville, Ohio.
Becca: Yeah. So, I grew up in Cedarville, Ohio, same as you. We actually, J and I grew up on different ends of the same street, born in the same hospital in Xenia. I had a loving family and felt very supported growing up, but I did experience trauma when I was nine years old. My Dad died unexpectedly in an explosion.
Becca: And, yeah. So, that was a [crosstalk 05:06]
Karen: Like at work, or?
Becca: Yeah, it was at work. It was at Cedarville University. It was a water tower explosion.
Bella: Oh wow.
Becca: He was on the job.
Karen: Oh, my goodness.
Becca: Yeah. So, that was nearly unbearable except for the Lord's grace just sustaining us day to day, week to week. And my grandpa, Ira, I remember at the time had me memorize the verse, Psalm 68:5, which says that God's a father of the fatherless and a defender of the widow. I remember making that into a song even just as a little girl, and just learning to trust God as my father.
So, then my mom remarried three years later and it actually took me many years to appreciate my stepdad. When I was 27 and had a two-year-old, I wrote him a note on Father’s Day and him that I loved him and that I wanted him to be my dad and I wanted to call him dad. So, that was, I finally realized how he had sacrificed for us and loved us. And having a son myself, I realized that it's okay to have two dads. My dad that was with the Lord in Heaven and my stepdad.
Karen: That had to mean so much to him.
Becca: Yeah, yeah.
Karen: That's awesome.
Bella: It's like we heard in J's story, like we're hearing in yours right now. You and J knew each other for a very long time. So, knowing each other, going to school with each other, how did you guys eventually end up together Is what I'm wondering?
Becca: So, we started dating in college. I remember one summer I had a tandem bike and he would stop over at my apartment and we would ride the tandem bike around.
Karen: Okay. I so have a visual right now. The two of you on this bike.
J: I was on the front. Yeah.
Speaker 5: [inaudible]
Becca: Which means he was dependent on my stuff.
J: Yeah, yeah. That's where the co-dependency started. Yeah.
Becca: So, we dated for about a year. Actually, exactly a year, and then got engaged. We're engaged for four months and then got married halfway through my senior year of college.
Karen: Oh, so you guys got married while you were still, were you both still in college?
J: Well, my education's a little bit weird.
J: Becca did the typical four years and so I was a year ahead of her, but I was still taking classes and what not.
Karen: Gotcha. Very cool. Okay.
Becca: Yeah. So, when we got married, zoning in on kind of the highs and lows. J wasn't diagnosed with bipolar or borderline at that point, but I did notice distinct highs and lows of his. But within my co-dependency, I never was very vulnerable about that, or I was just always in fixing mode, wanting to make it better if he was facing a time of depression. Which for him meant sleeping a lot, or just sitting on the ground not really in touch.
Karen: So, if I could ask a question.
Karen: So, because some people out there may be listening, and you guys obviously you got married young. So, you were a senior in college. So, are you, when this, your whole co-dependency got started, were you thinking, okay, I'm married to J, J's struggling, I love J, this is what I'm supposed to be doing? Like, did you think as a wife this is the role that you were supposed to have?
Becca: Yeah, I think even coming from a Christian background, we just feel like the most loving thing is to make the other person feel okay. So, I just felt like I was always in that mode of wanting to help, wanting to fix, and basically shaping myself into whatever mold was needed in order to help J feel okay. And I felt that that was something I was naturally good at. A natural caretaker. But yes, that had always been a part of me.
Karen: I love how you stated that. Because I think that is so true. I think as Christians, you're right. I mean, at a very young age, if you grew up in a Christian household, you're taught to always forgive, love, be kind, put others before yourself.
Bella: And you'd never know where the line is.
Karen: Correct. You need to have a healthy balance.
Becca: And for me, there was no line. That sense of where I end and J begins. But it wasn't just in the things that look loving. It was in my controlling tendencies, or overcompensating. But I really was in denial, I couldn't see it in myself. So, I was, I knew that J had highs and lows, and that he had, I wouldn't have been able to say at the time that he had mental health issues, but I knew he struggled with depression. But as far as my issue, I couldn't see it at the time.
Karen: So, would you say you were kind of defining who you were by how well you are able to help J?
Becca: Yes, in ways, and even others in general. I think I majored in social work.
Becca: Kind of classic helping profession, and I did find value in that. And in keeping the people around me happy and I did find my identity in that.
Bella: I can't even imagine how hard this must have been for you as a newlywed. Especially as being so young and not knowing that what you're doing is wrong in a way.
Becca: Yeah, it was, and I really couldn't see it. I noticed that J had been struggling with some self-harm, and I saw some of those marks on his arm. And so, I remember just scheduling a doctor's appointment with our family doctor and literally just driving him there and talking to the doctor about it. And that's when J got on antidepressants for the first time. But since it was a family physician and not a psychiatrist, they didn't think about the impact that might have for someone with bipolar and the potential manic affects it could have being on a really high dosage of an antidepressant.
Karen: Because at that point then,
J: Is that a [inaudible 11:07]?
Becca: That was.
Bella: I didn't think about that.
Karen: So, then you weren't diagnosed? So, did you even, you didn't even know about the whole bipolar thing at this point?
J: No. No.
Karen: Okay. All right.
Becca: That was probably about six to nine months before you were diagnosed.
J: Yeah. So, that was, yeah. You give somebody with bipolar and upper, and yeah.
Karen: You're buying lots of puppies.
J: Yeah, I mean things go a little bit crazy.
Bella: Think about that. Wow.
Becca: In 2007, I was in survival mode. I was waking J up every day for work, which I saw as his issue as opposed to mine for doing that. Doing all the chores and feeling the weight of our home responsibilities, caring for two-year-old son, and just basically barely keeping my head above water. And that year I faced some deep pain.
But as usual I continued living a lie, just acting like my life was fine and wearing a mask, while under the surface I was going through unbearable emotional struggles. But I continued to smile and just overcompensate and re-stabilize our unstable relationship.
Karen: So, do you think you were depressed at this point in your life, or?
Becca: No, I haven't really struggled with depression.
Becca: I just struggle with being vulnerable with people about what's really going on. So, I would just, really it felt like just wearing a mask. That idea of,
Karen: You had to be just exhausted of playing this role.
Karen: And I think a lot of high schoolers, or people that are in school right now listening to that can really resonate with that. Because I feel like if you go to a school you feel like you need to fit into a certain group, and people feel like they need to wear that mask and I bet it can be exhausting.
Becca: Yeah. And I was really, I wasn't even being honest with myself. So, it's not that I necessarily, I hadn't faced what was going on. And I feel like denial can be a major hurdle to healing, and that really healing can't begin until denial is dealt with. And for me, that didn't happen for another 10 years. So, when J was diagnosed with bipolar and borderline, I was still in denial that I had any problems. I literally, I couldn't see it.
Co-dependency is basically needing someone else to be okay, is what a licensed therapist I know, how she defines it. And it's driven by the agreement that I work harder on your life and your problems than you do as defined by the relationship recovery.
Karen: Okay. So, not to interrupt you,
Becca: No, thank you.
Karen: So, just so I, yeah. So, just so I understand, and maybe some other people out there can understand a little bit better. So, do you feel like these, I'm going to say personality traits and maybe that.
Karen: Okay. But do you feel like these different traits, or how you were acting, did you ever notice these things say prior to even meeting J? Like you had some of these tendencies growing up? Or was this something, I met J, my life is now helping and being everything, J needs me to be. When do you feel like maybe this all began for you?
Becca: Yeah, I feel like it's rooted in dealing with the tragedy of my dad's death. And being the oldest of four, and really within co-dependency it tends to be someone's strength, being empathetic towards others, being compassionate, but then to an extreme it can be detrimental both for the person who's co-dependent and for the person that they're in that unhealthy relationship with. So, there are seeds of it, but that's been the primary unhealthy dynamic of our relationship. So, that's where it was seen most because of J 's mental illness. It drew out those characteristics in me.
Karen: I feel like your story is so amazing because I feel like there's going to be so many people out there that can relate and understand, or maybe had points in their life where they were you. And I just really feel like this is, I've never really known that much about this. And this is just opening my eyes up to a whole other, I think there's a lot of people out there that can understand and relate to this without a doubt.
Becca: Yeah. Yeah.
Karen: Thinking about how many people out there listening, that as you had initially said co-dependency, initially it was talked about people that were married or knows somebody that was an alcoholic
Karen: Or you'll be addicted to drugs. But this could be somebody that's in an abusive relationship.
Karen: And they're either mentally or physically abused. This could be a support person such as yourself, for somebody that, a parent even, or a husband, or a wife of somebody that's diagnosed with a mental illness. There are so many people I feel that can really respond, and understand, and relate to what you're talking about today Becca.
J: Karen, Yeah. And Karen, you brought up something really big too because there's even one more. You listed a bunch of those. But Bella, this is along your lines that co-dependency can show up in students, or with the child. Codependency can show itself with a child parent relationship too. Right? Am I right about that?
Becca: Yeah, there can be. Codependency can really show up anywhere where someone isn't recognizing what is their responsibility, and what is someone else's responsibility, and they are feeling more responsible for other people.
Bella: So, you're saying, are you saying [crosstalk 17:13] J from,
Karen: Okay J. So, are you saying though from a parent child it could go both ways? If I'm understanding this correctly. It could be a parent trying to be everything for their child, but could also be a young child who maybe has an abusive parent that's trying to fill all of that for their parents.
Becca: That's the unhealthy dynamic that someone, a parent with a mental health struggle, or definitely with the chemical dependency, where the child is used to overcompensating or meeting the needs of the parent. So, that's where a child gets in a role of really, it's an adult type role, but they get comfortable meeting needs and basing their decisions on what other people want from them. And that can carry into their adult relationships as well.
Karen: And that's what is so huge. And how we talked about earlier say in Bella's podcast, or maybe even a J 's podcasts. Recognizing some of these things that are going on, and recognizing some of these symptoms, and getting with a therapist, or talking with somebody, and understanding yourself at an early age is huge.
Karen: Because then you're right. It just does, it carries over into your adult life and then affects other relationships.
Becca: Right. And when you're in denial and you can't see it, then you can't deal with it. So, that's the first step. Even if this just resonates with you a little bit, because there are varying degrees of co-dependency, it is so important to talk with a therapist. I talked with one therapist in the last two years and she told me to stop using the term co-dependency because it was outdated from the 80s. So, she really just didn't realize how co-dependency is used.
So, it's important to find a therapist who's familiar with the concept. And also, on my Instagram page it's @Overcoming Codependency. Tomorrow I'm going to post maybe five or six of the most influential books about co-dependency and my recovery journey.
Karen: I think that'd be an awesome idea. Yeah.
Becca: So, it's interesting coming from a Christian perspective. Of Christian co-dependence recovery compared to a secular perspective. The world really is saying that co-dependency is self-love deficiency disorder. That's actually what they've renamed it. So, the cure for co-dependency they would say is to love yourself better.
Karen: Wait, hold on, hold on. Say that all over again. Just so that people can hear that again.
Becca: So, basically the world's perspective of co-dependency is just that it's self-love deficiency disorder. Like you need to love yourself better in order to overcome this mindset of meeting everyone's needs and neglecting your own.
Becca: So, but the Christian perspective on that would be surrendering to God and not trying to control, or let people experience the consequences of their actions, and really just surrendering it all to the Lord instead of trying to control the outcome. And that was really a summary of my journey of the past year and a half.
J: Isn't that a contradiction? If people in the secular world say its self-love deficiency so you can control it? I mean, are they saying that like isn't control one of the things about co-dependency? Where it's almost, it seems like be healthier to kind of give it up to the Lord than to trust say, I'm going to try to control this and get myself to a healthy point by doing this, this, and this.
Becca: Yeah. Well, it does take intentional work and that's what I've realized. It takes intentionally making decisions in order to move on my recovery journey. But the difference with me is that I can surrender it to the Lord, and that I'm trusting him on this journey and not trying to control the circumstances around me.
Bella: So, you talked about earlier how you faced some trauma in 2007. So, when did you start to kind of face co-dependency head on and realize that this is something that I need to deal with, and this is something that I can't keep burying down?
Becca: Yeah. Well, it's interesting because J 's grandma sent him a book called nine things you simply must do to succeed in life, in love by Henry Cloud. And I was reading that book and I just kept underlining, and highlighting, and writing in the margins, and so much of it resonated with me. And it was nice, because I trusted it from a Christian perspective, but yet it was challenging me in these areas regarding boundaries. And one sentence that really stood out to me that I underlined was they have kept someone happy but lost their own way. And for me that's where I was. And another one was, you get what you tolerate. And it just made me realize that I had been,
Karen: I love that one.
Becca: Isn't that powerful?
Karen: I honestly love that one. Yeah, I do.
Becca: And I'd been tolerating too much dysfunction. Imbalance,
Karen: So, what year was this at this point?
Becca: This was August of 2016 when I started reading this book and making changes.
Karen: So, it was like nine years that you had been struggling with all of this before you really, it kind of like smacked you in the face.
Becca: Yeah. And I think that's how a co-dependency journey can be. Because you just, it's kind of like you're surviving, barely keeping your head above water and then slowly you're going further and further under. And so, it really got to the point where I was feeling like I was drowning before I would face the reality of how I felt and what I was dealing with.
Karen: Okay. So, you said this was 2016?
Karen: So, yeah. Where did you go from there? What happened next?
Becca: So, then in 2017 in the spring, we talked about this in J's podcast, but he was hospitalized and struggling and I still wasn't honest with myself about what was going on.
Karen: Why do you think? I mean, were you afraid to face it? Or were you still in the mode where, okay, I realize that there's something going on that I need to face, but I got to take care of J?
Becca: I think it just feels too big. I just felt like there's no way that I could change this dynamic. And so, it just felt like, it just felt too overwhelming.
Karen: Almost like we've been, this is how it's been for however many years at this point. This is how our marriage is, this is how our relationship is, and this is just how it's going to be?
Becca: Right. Yes.
Becca: Yeah. Then in November, J was traveling in Africa and I was just really struggling personally, dealing with some pain that was rising in my heart. And when J got home, I said that I really felt like we needed to go to counselling. And I remember hearing Ron Moore speak in Joe about our pain. Is it just a misery to be endured? Or will we offer it to God for his redemptive purposes? And the Lord just used those messages from job to draw that out of out of my heart.
Then in 2018 J was hospitalized again, and for the first time I wasn't in denial. I was going to counselling, so I had that support. And I just felt like I had to really draw a line and say, I can't do this, I can't carry the weight. Instead of controlling the outcome as I carefully did the year before when he was hospitalized, I just had to be honest.
Bella: So, in my mind, when you say that, like when you talked about when J was first hospitalized and how you kind of cared for him and you were denial. I feel like that's how I would've responded too.
Bella: So, like that's the right way.
Bella: Almost to respond to similar situation. So, hearing that the next time you were like, no, like I'm not okay. This isn't okay for us.
Bella: You drew a line is so powerful. Because even like me personally, like I wouldn't see that as an issue.
Karen: And finding that strength, I mean, that's huge. I mean, for you to find the strength because just a year ago you were saying, this is how our relationship is. This is too big.
Karen: But for you, oh, to find the strength to finally say it's not too big. Yeah. We need to face this head on.
Becca: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And it's hard to describe that time when J is hospitalized, I'm saying no [inaudible 26:07], he ends up going to live with his parents. I couldn't eat, I struggled even just to sip broth. I was just barely keeping my head above water. I mean, my family poured out love to me. My friends surrounded me and walked through fire with me. But it was [inaudible 26:26] And one thing that my mentor told me,