Although the characters are real, Mrs. Smithski and Mrs. Valeski’s names have been changed to protect their anonymity.
“No, Mrs. Smithski I don’t know why the cereal boxes are on the top shelf.” It was a flippant answer, I know. But I did not want to interact with her. I turned my back to avoid her snooping questions. She refused to read my body language and continued to gossip about several of the neighbors.
I turned from the meat counter and said, “Mrs. Smithski I have no idea why Mrs. Valeski hasn’t been in to shop this week. Please stop interrupting, and wait your turn along with the other customers.”
Dear Reader, who or what, you may ask is a Mrs. Smithski. Well, Mrs. Smithski was a real person. And Mrs. Smithski was a label. She was the first label that stuck to me in my formative years.
Mother had divorced my alcoholic dad when I was five years old. My sister Peg, brother Joe, Mom, and I lived with my Dziadzi (Grandpop) who owned the corner Polish butcher shop.
Four uncles, an aunt, and two cousins also called this attached three-story house their home. At one time or another, we all worked in the store.
One of our regular customers was the neighborhood busybody, Mrs. Smithski. I must have imitated some of her nosey-body characteristics, because whenever I interrupted or joined in the gossip my uncle scowled at me. “Okay little Miss Smithski let me handle this.”
When I tried to tell my younger sister what to do, Mom bent down, and eyeball to eyeball reminded me. “Mrs. Smithski, stop bossing your younger sister. I am the mother in this family.”
With all the authoritative figures in our competitive household, it was natural for me to follow their lead. But it was the covert drama played out between mom and dad that convinced me to practice my A B C’s—Always Be in Control. Ready to protect my mother, younger sister, and even my older brother, if needed. That was my Codependent Training Course 101.
In high school, my people-pleasing gift (or was it a curse) kicked in. I was the “Go-To” classmate helping a friend through a breakup with her beau. If there was a committee to join, I signed up and followed through to make sure things were done the right way—my way. Trying to win the “Satisfaction Guaranteed” award had my enabling adrenalin pumping.
After graduation, I proudly wore the label of “Mrs. Robert Jellen.”
Among friends and neighbors, I earned the labels, “Helpful neighbor.” “Dutiful wife and mother.” “Party planner.”
Exhausted, I continued to accumulate more merit badges than a Girl Scouts. Although I basked in the glowing labels, bitterness pasted a “Victim/ Martyr” attitude on my spirit.
Denial had blinded me from what was to come. The booze parties I contributed to were not so much fun anymore. My plan to oversee every situation crumbled as alcohol took control in our family. That was when I earned the label, “Designated Driver” long before the term was in vogue. Little did I realize making excuses for my husband only contributed to his downward spiral. Simultaneously, my co-addiction took an equally dangerous dive.
At this low point, I didn’t argue when my husband labeled me “Party pooper,” “Nagging wife.” He was right; I wasn’t fun anymore.
Then a label I prayed I would never wear was branded on me like a scarlet letter, “D”.
I was now a “Divorcee.”
Along with the big “D”, I pinned badges of depression, anger, fear, isolation, hopelessness to my chest. Weighed down with labels and guilt, a therapist suggested Al-anon.
When I got to Step 6, I was more than entirely ready to have God remove my defects of character. It was then my Higher Power helped unpin the heaviness of labels He never intended for me to wear. It was time to reinvent myself and acknowledge the admirable titles I justly achieved.
After eight years of night school, along with my diploma, I received a new label, “College Graduate.”
Bright shining stars filled my vision when a “Grandmother” pin took center place on my chest.
When I added “Blogger,” and “Author,” I realized my personal worth.
Like Rembrandt, Renoir, Michelangelo, I am one of a kind.
But it was my Higher Power’s intervention that convinced me—I was His Masterpiece!
My codependent friends you, too, are uniquely special. What will it take you to discard the degrading labels you’ve accepted as truth?
January 2017 marks the third annual National Codependency Awareness Month. It is a perfect time to transform your self-image with labels of hope. Start by taking a stick-‘em-note and write down the goodness you see in yourself. Then tomorrow, write down the significance of who you are that day. One day at a time, put your proper name(S) on the refrigerator, computer screen, bathroom mirror, wherever to remind you of the dignity of who you are that day and for every day to come.
Together, let’s define who we are with brand-new names of optimism. After all, we are worth our weight in gold.
A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold (Proverbs 22:1 NIV).