Unshackling from people-pleasing and codependency

On March 10th, 2023, I hit a critical threshold in my recovery from people-pleasing and codependent tendencies. Knowing my beliefs and values weren’t going to be universally accepted among my colleagues during professional development at work, I still stepped into my power and spoke my truth in a very direct, public way.

Something in my body knew nothing would be the same after that conversation. Prior to my chance to speak, my leg shook like crazy. My heart beat rapidly. I couldn’t focus.

I excused myself to take deep breaths and watch the snow fall through the school entrance. I channeled my “Rebecca-from-Ted-Lasso” energy and made myself ferocious in the bathroom, silently roaring at myself in the mirror.

I quit shrinking; I made myself big to advocate for the change our students need and deserve. And for the first time in almost a decade at my job, I didn’t know where I stood with every person in the room. 

Immediately afterwards, I felt shell-shocked. My mind didn’t know what to tell my body to feel. I went to debrief with my soul sister work wife and ended up sobbing hysterically. The breakdown was about so much more than humane, equitable grading practices – it was knowing I lost my most coveted survival mechanism at work, and that I could never go back to shrinking myself to prioritize the comfort of other adults.

After carrying me through the most intense stretch of my breakdown, she shepherded me to another beloved colleague who helped me unravel and re-ravel the chaos in my brain and body. She listened non-judgmentally and helped me recognize the feeling that came up: anger triggered by a feeling of urgency.

Anger? That feeling I never let myself feel for long before slapping a happy face sticker on it and sweeping it under a rug? What was it doing at work? 

I’ve always been triggered by others’ showy anger and couldn’t believe that mine had made some of my colleagues that I love, respect, and admire uncomfortable. I couldn’t shove it back in the box though. She’d been freed from her shackles, and I knew we would be walking side-by-side for a long time.

Wiping tears away, I asked my colleague where she puts her anger when it becomes too much. She simply opened her palms wide and simply said, “In God’s hands.”

I stopped crying and set down my lovingly prepared cup of calm tea. Nothing ever resonated so deeply in my soul before. 

Since that conversation, that’s what I’ve done. When my anger takes over, I cry. I find a quiet place, get on my knees, and beg God to carry it for me before we burn up together. And it works.

I’ve found myself shattered and on my knees more times than I can count since reaching that critical recovery threshold, but I love the me that’s rising from the ashes on the other side.

She’s empowered, strong, and activated. She feels her feels and calls out injustice every single time, not just when it’s safe and convenient.

I trust her. I trust us. I trust me.

I am not my mind

I’ve been in many dysfunctional relationships, but none more so than the relationship between my mind and body.

I was the tallest first grader in my class. We lined up on risers in the school courtyard, perspiring and squinting under the midafternoon island sun. I was an awkward giraffe standing between boys in the back row, a full head taller than every other girl in my class. I bent my knees and dropped a few inches right before the camera flashed.

My nickname through second grade was Skinny Minnie. I liked seeing myself as Minnie Mouse – my parents’ cute, adorable sidekick. One day while giggling through multiplication flash cards with my mom, she made an offhand comment that the nickname no longer fit, that I wasn’t so skinny or mini anymore. Even at the age of 7, I knew I lost something shiny. I grieved the loss of my thin privilege.

In third grade, I hated my teeth. With every baby tooth lost, its adult counterpart came in like a crooked, decrepit fence post. My face had zero curb appeal thanks to my teeth. If I caught myself smiling, I closed my lips.

In fifth grade, a classmate made a comment about mouth breathers. I didn’t realize a person could breathe the wrong way, and I was repulsed to discover I was one of them. My inner critic shamed and berated me through entire class periods while I practiced intentionally breathing through my nose, struggling to adjust to less oxygen.

Puberty made every day feel like tiptoeing on thin ice in front of an audience. Naked.

Overnight, my thighs thickened, my breasts budded. Stretch marks spread like a cracked windshield between my thighs, to my calves and hips and breasts. My body stopped feeling safe – my wayward mind equally lost.

In the battle between trusting my body or mind, puberty divided them further. My mind committed numerous sins against my body throughout adolescence and early adulthood. 

I verbally abused her. I shamed her and ridiculed her and starved her. I lectured her and patronized her and treated her with general contempt. I traded her away to avoid disappointing others just to end up disappointing myself.

I ignored her, denied her, silenced her, disassociated from her.

One time, I tried to protect her. I said no, but a boy took her anyway. Even while he assaulted her, while I froze on that bed and stared at that wood-paneled ceiling, dust particles dancing in the sunbeam shining through his window, my mind blamed my body for freezing, for not fighting harder.  

But my mind was wrong.

My mind was wrong.

My body’s quiet wisdom never deserved to be silenced, her curiosity and calm crushed by my misled mind. She deserved to be honored and cherished.

And even after all these years of betrayal and abuse, she never gave up. She’s still here.

I’m still here. 

And every day for the rest of my days, I vow to value and nurture this body who steadfastly endured so much. Never again will my mind gaslight her gentle intuition.

The most profound realization in my healing is that I am not my thoughts.

No, I am strong legs swinging higher, higher and the wind in my hair. I am the belly rush of letting go.

I am closed eyes, a spontaneous smile, cheek to the sun.

I am a beating heart and raised arms on a dance floor. I am music and movement and magic.

I am the nose nuzzled in my boys’ hair, the soft hand they slide theirs into.

I am healing.

I am peace.

I am here.