Testimony of a woman called Daniella

the agony and the ecstasy of co-dependency.

At the root of it, my need for intimacy has always been there, and the need itself has always been the same. Most of my life however, I didn’t realize that my acting out behaviour was rooted in the deepest need of all, the need for intimacy with another. My need for intimacy seems different now, and not as intense, but I think it is only because now I am more aware of it. I realize most of the time now when I am trying to fill that need with things, work, addictions, and in my relationships. I have learned, and am still in the process of learning, different ways of meeting the need for intimacy in legitimate ways – ways that are not harmful to me or others, but ways that bring about healing, joy, and a certain sense of fulfilment.

To go back to what I said above, I think my deepest need was and still is, the need for intimacy with another. First of all, what is intimacy in the real sense of the word? Intimacy is a need to be known by another in the deepest sense, and to know another. Sexual intimacy is a part of intimacy too, but the word incorporates so much more than only that. It is to feel connected to another. It is also to feel completely connected to myself, to know myself, to be connected to my own unique person and also connected to myself as a woman. It is to feel completely safe, to be completely accepted and loved no matter what, safe to share my deepest thoughts and feelings, safe to just be, with no masks or pretences. It is unconditional love.

A simple description of intimacy can be made by breaking up the word into, in-to-me-see. It is to allow another into our world, to see and know us, to share who we really are with that person. I realized a few years ago, that although at the deepest level I craved intimacy, at the same deepest level I also feared intimacy. Obviously this created a problem. The very thing that I was craving for, I was also resisting. Deep down there was a fear to be completely seen into and known. For me, it was a deep sense of emptiness that I had to hide. If someone could really know me completely without any masks or pretences, what would they see? I thought they would see an empty nothing, a void, a vacuum; a little girl with no depth, no opinions of worth, just a very unimportant person who was not worth getting to know. If someone found that out, they would realize that I was simply a waste of time. Because of this, I created my very own barriers to intimacy. I made sure that no one could really get to know me on a deep level. If anyone came too close to finding out the truth, I would even resort to lying about things such as what I had done or where I had been.

I had many different masks which I wore for different people and occasions. One mask I hid behind was a mask of caring and helping those close to me. In my efforts to get any focus off me, I became intimately involved and interested in those close to me. I became their best friend. What better friend could anyone have? I would do anything to be accepted. They could call on me and I would be there for them. Of course, I would never expect the same from anyone else, because at the core, who was I anyway? I thrived on being “needed” by another. I tried never to show any weakness. I tried to control relationships through subtle manipulation, which I was actually unaware that I was doing. But somehow this did not give me any satisfaction. I could not understand why I still felt so very, very needy. Deep down I was angry because I was being manipulated and controlled by another. I felt angry because I loved so much, I tried so hard, but somehow there was no satisfaction. I was angry because no one really knew the person I was deep down inside. But although I craved intimacy, I would never allow anyone into my world on a deep level. Any sense of purpose and fulfilment came from being completely absorbed into someone else’s life.

When they were happy, I was happy, when they were down, I was down. I lived my life through another, and because I was not living my life through myself, I never knew what to expect next. Life was a roller-coaster of emotional highs and lows. I have called this the agony and the ecstasy of co-dependency. I became so accustomed to this way of living, that I was completely unconsciously aware of any of my own needs. I buried those needs so deep. Anytime I felt any emotional pain, I quickly buried the pain by working harder, doing more, striving for more. This was exhausting work, and while I complained about it, I took on more and more. When I had to rest, my mind would go into fantasizing. I could never go to sleep without fantasizing, and I looked forward to that part of the day where I could get some peace and go off into my own very private world of fantasy. It helped me not to think about myself and my needs.

As I became older, this fantasizing became sexual, and this brought about a new kind of addiction for me which became my main escape. It became my quick fix to intimacy! Intimacy with myself, at least. However, the pleasure it provided was very elusive, and it mostly left me with more guilt and shame and dissatisfaction, propelling me into more addictive behaviours. As my need for intimacy pushed up more, and my addictive behaviours were no longer doing the trick for me, I started believing that my need for intimacy would at long last be met through sex. Because of my brokenness and the fact that I was cut off from myself, this sexual longing was a source of great confusion and shame, because it was for someone of the same sex. However, I soon realized that acting out in this way gave me only momentary satisfaction, and I needed more and more of it to give me any sense of fulfilment. Even then, I was always left with an empty feeling inside of me. That deep sense of emptiness and loneliness became more acute. The more I tried to fill it, the bigger the chasm became. I realize now that this behaviour was a desperate attempt to connect with myself really, to find that girl or woman that I was not. The result was intense shame, confusion, even more hiddenness, and plenty of guilt. I was now more than ever really terrified to be “found out”.

My double life was something only I knew about, and I had to hide it at all costs. Deception and dishonesty became a way of life for me. When I finally reached the point of desperation, the Lord brought people into my life who shared my struggle and had found some healing themselves and were able to talk about it. I became involved in an inner healing programme and so began my journey of healing, a road which I am still on today. The first barrier that had to be removed for me to start on this journey was the barrier of fear. I was filled with fear, and the thought of opening up my life, even a little bit, to another was the most frightening thing for me. The first time I was forced to share my stuff, I literally felt I was going to pass out in front of my group. I didn’t, and that was the start of a small crack opening up and coming into the light, exposing all the shame, anger and confusion inside of me. A second major barrier I had to overcome was the barrier of shame. This did not happen instantly. The shame I carried had to be removed layer by layer.

As soon as it was brought into the light, it no longer had power over me. The more the shame was exposed, the more I also learned to trust. On my journey now, there have been various people who have walked a bit of the road with me, people who have come alongside of me, and each one has added something to my life, for which I am deeply grateful. I had to learn how to trust again, and as I tentatively reached out in trust, I found an environment of safety where I felt accepted and cared for. It was just this environment of complete acceptance and unconditional positive regard that enabled me to slowly explore my deep feelings, needs, hurts and wounds. I felt like a tightly closed little flower slowly beginning to open in the rays of the sun. I had to learn to forgive those who had hurt me. I had to let go of things that I was grasping onto which were not healthy for me. I began to discover the roots of my brokenness, and why I was acting out in the way I was. I had to learn different ways of coping with pain and stress.

The road has not been easy, and there have been times when I became stuck in old ways again and battled to move on. There have been times where I have slipped back and wondered if I could ever reach a level of maturity where my struggle would be less. I have had to come to accept that perhaps I will always struggle a bit, but that God’s grace is sufficient for me. Sometimes there have been people who I trusted who have disappointed and hurt me. I would feel the anger and rebellion rising up in me, but then, as I submitted to God, He would give me the grace to realize that we are all imperfect and make mistakes all the time and that would enable me to forgive and let go of resentment. I have been amazed how God, in this process, uses even our mistakes in His perfect plan to restore us. I have had to accept that only God should have my heart, no one else. At first it was painful to accept, but now I accept it with joy, that there is no one who can fill my needs for intimacy completely. That is a place that only God can fill.

As I have allowed Him more and more to come into those painful areas, I have also allowed others in more and more. Over the past few years, I have developed some deep, intimate friendships which are a joy and blessing to me. They are relationships where there is accountability, and where I am challenged all the time to grow as a Christian. I no longer need to hide in shame anymore!


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