Discover more from Cruel Summer Book Club
Catherine Andrews broke up with codependency
"Lead with your shame"
In the months I’ve been following Catherine Andrews’ work, I’ve learned a lot. She’s a life coach who is uniquely poised to help you grow your self-worth, banish imposter syndrome and break the habits holding you back. Her newsletter, The Sunday Soother, is a weekly dispatch on living life with intention, and her podcast of the same name explores reader questions and self-care topics, and features guests like Shani Silver and yours truly. Catherine been through a lot of pain, including two serious breakups—one a broken engagement—and did years of emotional work to overcome her addiction to external validation, and build her faith in self. And she’s a Reiki practitioner and holds tarot readings and workshops. She does it all!
In a January edition of Catherine’s newsletter, she shared a lesson I haven’t stopped thinking about: “Lead with your shame. Your shame need not be hidden. It must be revealed as your gift to the world.” I created Cruel Summer Book Club in large part to face my own shame, to bring light to my pain rather than hide it away, and to write honestly about tough emotional experiences I know we will all experience. Catherine is a role model for living well, with truth.
Today, Catherine shares an essay about breaking the chains of codependency and the repetitive cycle of tying all of her self-worth up in her dating status. (She wrote this pre-pandemic, but her message of self-care and resilience is possibly more important to incorporate into or daily lives now more than ever.) She reminds all of us of that we are worthy, right now, and always.
Some Sunday Soother editions I recommend reading:
A ton of self-care resources, and a good overview of the work Catherine does
Alcohol as a buffer, and what we’re really avoiding when we avoid our feelings
Setting intentions for the year ahead
40 things Catherine learned by age 40, issues I, II, III and IV
When Catherine’s engagement ended
I believed in myself until the breakup.
When I was 27, I was left by a longterm boyfriend of six years for another woman after a year-long period of traumatic gaslighting, emotional betrayal, and physical cheating.
The particulars don’t matter too much. But up until that point I was fulfilled, confident, and happily oblivious, cheerfully hurtling down the path of my twenties without much conscious thought around how things were going to go. I just knew they would turn out well.
After the breakup, that blissful unawareness was replaced with a looping thought of shame and brokenness:
I had been left. I had been betrayed.
And something was wrong with me.
And it would be until I got back into a successful, longterm romantic relationship, a goal which I pursued with the vigor and dedication of a bounty hunter who’d been promised half a million once she got her target.
It may not surprise you to find out things didn’t go exactly as I planned.
Over the next 10 years (yes, 10—have some sweet, sad pity for me) I repeated different variations of a particular pattern with men. I’d often fall into quick, lustful attraction and deep intellectual chemistry with some guy. Things would be wonderful and intense for a few months. Conversation was sparkling, texts were clever and frequent, and we’d each feel like we’d really found something serious. I’d be on cloud nine, thinking about this person constantly and all the adventures we were going to continue to have. My brain would hurtle down paths of months, even years into the future, picturing what life was going to look like. And it was a damn rosy picture. The talent I had developed for magical thinking was impressive.
Then, like clockwork, the pattern would play out. The guy would start retreating, emotionally, physically, or in his communication. I’d begin to feel a deep sense of panic, but wouldn’t articulate it. Instead, I’d move to what I now call “eggshell mode”: trying my best to guess at what the guy needed in hope he would just stick around for a while longer. I’d try to be extra calm, chill, cool, clever and pretty. I wouldn’t be “needy.” I told myself I was okay with the drop in frequency of connection; that it was probably my imagination, that everything was still the same. Until it wasn’t, and the relationship either simply faded away, I lashed out in resentment and ended it, or the guy all of the sudden realized he wasn’t ready for something “serious” and walked away.
It wasn’t until I heard the term “codependent” defined on a podcast a few years ago that something sparked for me. That this might be a pattern. That things didn’t always have to go like this.
The podcast (I forget which one) defined codependency as “overreacting to other’s emotions and needs, and underreacting to your own.” They explained that codependency was a pattern of, or even an addiction to, prioritizing and obsessing over what others were feeling, thinking, doing, and not paying any attention or putting any value on your own needs or internal states.
“Oh shit,” I thought. “That’s me. With men.”
This lightbulb moment led to a lot of realizations down the road, but the biggest one was this:
I had allowed my entire self-worth to be wrapped up in my romantic status, what romantic or even merely potential romantic partners thought of me, and I needed to do something about this, fast, or I could see how the rest of my life was going to play out: me, pinballing from man to man, hoping for their approval, hoping that one of them would fill this hole of shame, hoping that finally, finally, I could feel good about myself.
Jillian always ends her newsletter with the standalone phrase that brings me comfort every time I see it: You are not alone!
If you see yourself in my story, it’s important that you know that. That you feel it in your bones. That I see you, know you, love you.
You are not alone!
I wish I could tell you that I’ve completely healed myself from my codependency and self-worth issues. I haven’t—but I have made huge strides that I’m so proud of. I’m in a happy relationship where my needs are articulated and heard, not because of my boyfriend (though he’s great), but because I put in the conscious work every day to state what I feel, need, and believe about myself. (It doesn’t feel 100% natural yet, but it’s getting easier.) I work through resources and books that continue to help me with my shame and self-worth issues. (Codependent No More, Soul Without Shame and Lacy Phillips’ shadow workshop were all game changers for me.)
And I’ll leave you with what I call my “tree trick,” which is the tool I learned during my codependency deconditioning that helps me the most. I adopted it after spending a lot of time in nature and realizing how deeply connected I feel to trees.
I began to think of myself as a tree that wanted to be healthy and safe all on her own. A healthy tree is concerned with her roots doing well, with absorbing sun and rain and ground, with staying sturdy. She enjoys being around other trees, sure, but she doesn't give all of her energy trying to entwine her branches with another tree. That would only result in both trees battling for the same resources—ultimately unhealthy for both.
I want my roots to feel good because I am taking care of them. And the fact is, my attempts to try to make another person's roots bend the way I think they should denies them the chance to make their own roots strong. It also drains energy from my roots.
So whenever I feel my codependent tendencies rise up I double down on self-care: I cook a meal for myself. I work out. I read a book. I journal. I meditate.
My codependent urge is to reach out to my boyfriend, friend, whoever to confirm they are thinking about me and feeling good, but that wouldn't solve the issue at hand: it's my roots that need tending to, not theirs.
My biggest wish for each of you reading out there, whether you see yourself in my story or not, is for you to believe with all of your hearts that your roots are worth tending to. They’re beautiful. You can make them strong and stable. And you deserve to flourish and grow high into the sky.
More about the author: Catherine Andrews is a life coach and writer. She is the author of The Sunday Soother, a weekly newsletter and podcast that explores and explains self-reflection, skincare, spirituality, and everything in between.
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You are not alone!