My name is Karen, and I am a grateful follower of an awesome God. I struggle with people pleasing, perfectionism, procrastination, and codependency. I’m excited to share about my recovery journey. But before that, I want to tell you a little bit about myself.
I was raised in a loving Christian home, the youngest of three girls. Our family was very traditional–my father was a CPA, and my mom stayed at home. My father provided for us; we never had any physical needs. I always considered my Dad one of the most positive people. He woke up every morning ready to embrace a new day. He worked hard and played hard. My mom was very content and grounded in her spiritual life. She never pushed you to do things her way, was extraordinarily patient, and never said terrible things about anyone. My sisters were 8 and 5 years older than me, so we weren’t close. Since they were close in age, they bickered like all siblings. I would watch their conflicts from afar, being glad it didn’t involve me!
I had a close relationship with my mom. I loved hanging out in the kitchen with her, helping out. She was a prayer warrior, which I didn’t appreciate at the time, but as I got older, I realized what a tremendous gift it was. I was able to vent to her and tell her my problems. She was a great listener and the safest person I know.
Church was a significant part of my family’s life. We went to church every Sunday morning and evening and many Wednesday nights each week. My Dad was my Sunday school teacher, and my mom was the youth director at our small Southern Baptist Church. I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior when I was eight, so I have always had Christ in my life.
We were private and looked like the perfect family from the outside. However, behind closed doors, the story was quite different. Day to day, things were good, but when there was conflict, my Dad would blow up, and as soon as tempers cooled, we returned to normal. Conflict management was not modeled well for us by my parents. Dad was like a tea kettle; when he got heated, he would whistle. When the heat lessened, he would simmer. If something went awry while Dad was simmering, he would whistle again. It used to scare me and make me feel unimportant when he would yell. It was such a contrast to his usual positive demeanor. I didn’t realize at the time how controlling he was.
Dad seemed happy and willing to do anything, but he had a way of “suggesting things,” so we felt like it was our idea. I wanted my fun Dad, not my scary Dad, so I would do whatever I could to try and keep him happy. I learned from an early age the art of people-pleasing and avoiding conflict. I also learned to wait for the right time to say things that might be met with opposition. I remember asking my mom how she could tolerate my Dad because he was so exasperating and controlling. I wish I could remember her answer.
We never saw our parents resolve their differences; problems disappeared or went away. I never learned how to approach a problem and work through it. I never understood that conflict is a part of life. I thought it was something you should avoid. If my Dad wanted me to do something I didn’t want to, I didn’t have the option of telling him ‘no.’ If you said “No,” he always followed up with a “Why?”. Because “I don’t want to” wasn’t acceptable, I would make up excuses. This started an early pattern in my life of lying to get what I wanted.
As I grew up, I loved attention, and I continued to go out of my way people pleasing. I loved to make people laugh. I was a happy kid and extraordinarily positive–viewing the world through rose-tinted glasses and believing the best in people.
In my late twenties, I met a guy at work who was fun to be with, and we had a lot in common. We were engaged after three months and got married a year later. While we were engaged, we experienced a fair amount of conflict because we wanted to spend our time differently. He had no desire to hang out with friends or family, and I loved being surrounded by people. I entered the marriage with eyes wide open, knowing that our issues would be related to family and friends. But I told myself, “He will change!”
Things started pretty well because we enjoyed having someone to come home to each day and do things with. We had two kids, a daughter, and a son. Over time, my husband started to get angry when things didn’t go how he wanted them to. I was always getting in trouble–saying too much to others, wanting to get together, and thinking differently than he did. I stuck up for myself early on, but he would make it difficult when he wasn’t right. When he was angry, we would have a shouting match. Instead of a resolution, he would give me the silent treatment for hours or days, so I did whatever was necessary to keep the peace; again, people pleasing. Just as I had learned as a child–pretending nothing happened, we could live “happily”.
My husband also had unrealistic standards for how our kids should behave. I defended the kids frequently to overcompensate for his harsh treatment. After a while, I lost my voice. I started navigating life, looking for anything up ahead we might encounter that could upset him, trying to intercept conflict. It was exhausting, but I wanted peace. I tried to build up the kids and remind them that their Dad did love them; he just had odd ways of showing it.
I remember when my daughter was in high school, she asked me why I let him talk to me that way. This hurt my heart for two reasons. First, I asked my mom the same question about my Dad. Second, I realized I was modeling the wrong way for my daughter to allow her future husband to treat her. For the next several years, I encouraged my husband to try counseling and to work on our relationship, but he viewed counseling as something for weak people. I felt so hopeless, alone, and trapped.
I went to see the director of Pastoral Response at Willow Creek Church. I wanted his advice on convincing my husband to go to marriage counseling. I shared my story with him–the blow-ups, the harshness and the silent treatment from my husband, and my people-pleasing tendencies. He suggested that my husband’s behavior was abusive. I had been putting up with bad behavior for so many years that I was used to it. I didn’t fully comprehend the impact.
I started seeing a counselor who helped me navigate the complexity of my marriage relationship. Processing through the ups and downs of our marriage from an unbiased source was so helpful. My two huge discoveries were that my husband “punished when he didn’t get his way” and that I had to stop trying to explain myself when we disagreed. I eventually got to a point where I realized that I would rather be divorced and live in a happy, safe environment than stay married and be miserable.
The sense of failure at being unable to make my marriage work was tough. I felt like I was such a disappointment – to myself, my family, and my friends. I’m a Christian. I work at a church. I’m now one of those people who gets a divorce after the kids go off to college. I learned that these are all negative messages, driven by my pride, that I needed to let go of.
I started working at Willow Creek 17 1/2 years ago. I often heard about RECOVER and the extraordinary work done through the program. After I told my supervisors that I was going through a divorce and described some of the mental and emotional abuse I had suffered, they recommended that I attend. But I didn’t have any addictions, and I had been raised in a pretty solid home. This wasn’t something I thought I needed.
Ironically, a few weeks before this conversation, my friend’s son was speaking for the first time at RECOVER. I had seen his impressive growth and confidence. I remember walking into the room with my head held high, coming to support my friend! A few weeks later, my heart was pounding when I walked in to be an actual participant. The evening was an eye-opener for me. These people looked just like me. They were brave people coming to learn how to help themselves with whatever problems they were facing, and they were doing it together! When I walked into the room, I told myself I would be open to whatever God had in mind for this experience.
One of the highlights of my RECOVER journey has been meeting many courageous women facing their issues.
As I began the homework, investigating how I got to this place in my life, it was helpful to start discovering how my rose-tinted world differed from reality. We looked at the positive and negative inputs from our family of origin. I was given tools to find behavior patterns that I could adjust so they didn’t have negative consequences. I realized that I married a man with many of the negative traits of my Dad. I spent my married life trying to keep him happy–yet all my people-pleasing left me feeling empty, alone, and unseen at home.
One of the great things about RECOVER is that we can all learn from one another no matter our issues. Around the tables, we hear heartbreaking stories and the progress of surrender and transformation. It made me feel less alone in my struggles. It also gives us a safe place to share our stories and receive the encouragement we need for “one day at a time, one wise choice at a time.”
Here are some things I have learned during my time in RECOVER, and they are reinforced every week:
- There are a lot of courageous people in this room. They are dealing with tough things. But they continue to fight for themselves and their families.
- Going through RECOVER is easier and more rewarding when you can experience it with others.
- You have to go through RECOVER for yourself, not because someone asked you to or someone else is coming with you. If you do this for yourself, everyone in your life will benefit.
- You get out of the program what you put into it. If you don’t dig deep into your past to learn the good and the bad, you will have a shallow understanding of yourself.
- When I came to RECOVER, I thought my “junk” wasn’t that bad. I learned that junk is junk and any junk not addressed interferes with you becoming the person God wants you to be. It interferes with you being your best self, spouse, parent, friend, co-worker, or child.
It has been almost four years since I completed the curriculum. Recover has offered me a new path to follow. Instead of living in denial,
- I faced the things I had tried to ignore.
- Created different responses to difficult situations and people.
- Identified strengths and boundaries to navigate through each day.
- Most importantly, I developed new and deeper relationships with people with whom I can walk in life.
I joke around with my counselor, asking how much longer until she “fixes” me. But life is a journey, and we will always have things to work through.
For those new to RECOVER, I challenge you to keep coming and step out of your comfort zone to commit to the process. You will be rewarded for your courage. I guarantee you that not one person in this room has completed their RECOVER journey and has any regrets, including me. Now, when I am triggered or faced with a challenge, instead of being what I think someone else wants me to be, I am confident in who God made me be, and I will stand up for myself. I still get great joy from helping others; however, my goal is to get away from people pleasing and be more of a God pleaser.
My advice is to embrace each day for what it holds. Don’t put off living your life until you get all your junk cleaned up. Try sharing each day with people who build into your life and with whom you choose to do life. Do your best to navigate the tough things and learn from them. Life is too short not to embrace what and who you have in your life. You are worth it!
Worried about a loved one who may be suffering from addiction issues? See this helpful article: Loving An Addict: Identifying Substance Abuse and How To Help.
For more practical ways to deal with mental health issues, and stories of others who have been there too, go here for our full list of resources.