Monday, October 17, 2011

Is it Just Me ... or is my right leg Codependent?

A few weeks ago, to the ultimate of horrors, I became a cliché. There I was dancing, strutting and bumping —moving to the music like a sail boat gliding through the water and riding out an ocean swell when pop went the hip and crumple went the leg. Yes, it is true, middle aged women do throw their hips while dancing to Billy Idol. Sigh.

Ligament strains, of course, are nasty to heal. They like to take their time, teasing you with feel-good days that entice you to push it just a bit further only to screw up all the healing already achieved. I am not amused. However, this minor injury has given me time to reflect on the nature of codependence and, for that, I give thanks. After all, it ‘tis the season.

What got me thinking about codependence was how my right leg wants to compensate for my left, where the injury lies. I notice it when my left hip starts to stiffen after walking too long. I recognize this as my body’s attempt to protect the afflicted region from further damage — the stiffness is a natural cast seeking to immobilize the injury. The best thing to do when this happens is to stop and rest and allow my body to heal. Not known for doing the best thing, however, I ignore the stiffness — I am not in pain, after all — and keep on walking. When I do this, regardless of the fact I am not in pain, the right leg will start compensating. It is subtle at first but if I pay attention I can feel my gait changing. This is not a good sign. From past experience I know that once I start compensating I am only asking for another strain, this time on the otherwise healthy leg.

So, once again, instead of resting, I continue moving but bring focus to my injured leg. I concentrate on walking naturally, willing the leg not to limp. The result is only half successful: yes, I reduce the limp so that a person walking behind me might be fooled but no, not so much that my body is fooled: my right leg continues, however subtly, to compensate. I turn the tables and focus in on my strong leg, willing it to relax. It works but only to a limited degree. If I was to impose my anthropomorphic ideas onto my leg I would say: It wants to help; it needs to help; it lives to help. And why does it do this? Because it feels it is in the best interest of the whole body to support the injured area.

When I first contemplated this, I thought, hmmm, a part of my body supports an injured area to the extent where damage is done to the caretaking part. What an analogy to codependence, I conclude. What a mistaken one, I later realize.

A quick review of codependence. Codependence is the addiction of looking elsewhere: of finding value and worth not in yourself but in the reflection you see of yourself in others. It is not whether you feel yourself worthy, but whether others deem you worthy. Codependence can be manifested in a variety of ways from caretaking to bullying and one can be in a codependent relationship with a person, pet, hobby or even their god. For more information check out the side bar or go to my other blog

Coming back to my strained left hip, my good leg will do anything (it seems) to compensate for my bad leg. It does this to the extreme of hurting itself. This is what often happens in codependence: the person who is looking for self worth outside themselves often makes themselves sick in the process. They do, and continue to do for the other with no conscious regard for their own well-being. Or, said another way, they believe the best way to take care of self is through taking care of or controlling another. At it’s extreme, a codependent relationship can feel like it is a life and death issue.

Now let’s flip the coin and look at interdependence. Interdependence is the process of taking care of self while also taking care of the community as a whole. Pure interdependence is a win-win situation. Of course, that is the ideal. Sometimes one must make sacrifices or, alternatively be selfish but decisions are made with a consciousness that acknowledges that everyone has value and everyone deserves respect.

When a part of our body gets hurt or sick, biological defences go to work. The community, i.e. the cells, the organs, and the different body systems, immediately strive to fix the situation or at least mobilize the body so to decrease the risk of further harm. This initial action is a beautiful example of interdependence — everything or everyone working together for the good of the whole. My first reaction when this happened to me, however, was to find fault. My right leg, I jested, is being codependent with my left — it is working twice as hard, to the point of injury, in order to safeguard my injured leg.

I kept with this idea until I actually wrote it down and, as what usually happens, found a more honest assessment. It is not my leg that is acting codependent but me. If I had listened to my body, that is, if I had rested when my leg stiffened and took care of the injury, my good leg would not have had to compensate to such an extreme. Yes, it would have stepped in (ha!) and helped out but not to the point of acquiring its own injury. The only reason my good leg felt strained was because I didn’t listen to my body; I didn’t rest. And why didn’t I rest? Because a part of me finds identity and self worth in a healthy body that can run and hike and dance with no limitations. To stop and rest would be to question my worth.

Something to think about.

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