Yesterday, many of my fellow Americans and I celebrated Independence Day. In previous years, this involved me resting up during the day so I’d have the energy to shake my fist vigorously at the neighbors (through the walls, of course) while comforting pets and/or babies amidst the booms and crackles of fireworks. But this year, I felt more like celebrating, and so did my brave little household (but not so much the dog). We celebrated our independence by watching our neighbors’ light shows, and other than a brief scare with some runaway flares, we really enjoyed our time together.
Independence is a concept I’m really learning to love these days. Being in my mid-30s now, I’ve finally come to terms with the act of making my own decisions, and I’m much better at accepting the resonance of those decisions (understanding that there will be both positive and negative outcomes). Rather than fleeing all potential conflict as was my routine in the past, I–like all the best protagonists–now see conflict as a necessary ingredient for all compelling and stagnation-free stories. By having a variety of different jobs over the years, I’ve discovered the value of finding one’s identity outside of whatever paid position he may hold at the time. (Doing menial, low-paying tasks is great training for this particular life lesson.)
Independence is tremendous.
Independence is tremendous.
Independence is the state of being from which so many human advancements have come about. It’s the beginning of all the great artistic movements and the foundation for all great auteurs. Independence is an incredible ideal. But the appearance of independence can be the most destructive, self-delusional reality imaginable if it doesn’t measure up to what’s really going on in your life.
The most common enemy of independence in my experience has been codependency, which involves an unhealthy over-reliance on someone to the point of inflicting damage. Quite often, we get sucked into codependent relationships after feeling the frightening loss of control in some arena. We’re desperate not to repeat an unfavorable experience, and so we cling to what feels safe.
A codependent relationship could be as textbook as a parent going out of her way to overlook her drug addicted offspring’s habit to keep the relationship close. But it could also be as “innocent” as keeping consistent naysayers in your daily routine because of the comfort that comes from that familiarity.
Codependency is like an engorged, blood-sucking leech found on one’s leg after an otherwise refreshing swim in a lake.
With codependency, rather than removing the aberration, you let the warm-fuzzy buzz of caring for another creature overtake you, and you leave it attached, despite the continual damage its presence brings. The leech can be a person, or it might be a “comfortable” job that technically pays the bills, though its very nature stalls you from those goals you’re petrified of pursuing.
Codependency is a two-way street, though, and you can’t completely always blame the other party for the destruction brought about by your unspoken arrangement. Perhaps a better visual of codependency involves two ravenous leeches latched to one another, in grotesque mockery of the yin-yang imagery, forever exchanging fluids in an infinite loop of vampirism, anemia and unhealthy imbalance.
My codependent addictions in the past have fed off of relationships with individuals or employers in need of a sacrificial hero. They’ve been tough to identify, because sacrifice by itself isn’t bad. But if you’re sacrificing yourself as a go-to response in every circumstance and for every needy party, the resonance of your sacrifice is lost, as is its value when it’s readily available at an increasingly discounted rate. So I’ve trained myself to reclaim the rarity of self-sacrifice, which often results in intentionally avoiding certain familiar personality types or red flags.
What I’m also having to learn is that avoiding codependency doesn’t always mean avoiding people. In fact, avoiding people altogether only makes your independence utterly pointless and without tangible meaning. I mean, Tom Hanks sure gained empowerment when left on that island with his bloody-faced volleyball, but how long did that last until he started cracking and weeping over Wilson’s “actions”?
This is the face of unbridled independence.
As destructive and emasculating as codependency can be, interdependence can be invigorating.
Unlike codependency, interdependence involves a reciprocal relationship between independent entities. Interdependent people don’t need each other, though they equally benefit from the relationship that they’ve formed.
That’s one of the coolest things about my marriage right now. Though I once felt the absolute torture of not having my breathtaking bride by my side at all times, I’m now finding joy living my best life at home and away, knowing at that same time, my wife is also living her life with enthusiasm, whether I’m physically by her side or not. It wasn’t always that way for me, but I’m finding that allowing the relationship to be more interdependent is one of the greatest joys of an enduring and mutually-beneficial partnership.
Interdependent scientists cure incurable diseases.
Interdependent filmmakers make the movies people rave about long after collaborators have all kicked the bucket. Interdependent employees find joy (rather than the exhaustion of exploitation) when using their distinctive skills to revolutionize the growing business that would’ve been completely different without them. Interdependent presidents allow interdependent Will Smiths to save the day from leechy aliens.
“Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!”
As we celebrate our independence as a nation, don’t stop there, my creative friends. Declare your own independence from the leeches that lust over your pulse. Make conscious moves today to establish interdependent relationships that matter.
Look at each of your relationships–in your household, in your workplace & anywhere else you might run into the same people time and time again. Bring strength to your own independence by replacing codependency with refreshing interdependence wherever you can.