Codependent Rescue

My name is Paula and I have a new life in Christ. The first time I walked into a recovery meeting, I was doing what I do best, “helping someone else”. I am a firstborn, people-pleasing, perfectionist who thought I was being a good Christian when I worked hard at fixing others or trying to get them to do what I said. I had been a Christian for 35 years and the road to my salvation was full of twist and turns and many false starts always trying to do better in my own strength.

I really don’t remember going to church with my parents. Instead, I go to church with my grandmother who never learned to read or drive a car. She loved Jesus and I’m sure she planted the first seeds of his love in my heart.

The Jesus I first knew was just someone you only called out to in a crisis.

When I was 6 the doctors discovered I needed open-heart surgery. I was admitted to a hospital in Dallas and I remember my parents crying out to Jesus for me the night before my surgery. The 12-year-old girl in my room had not survived the same surgery the day before. I was so afraid. My surgery went well and I spent the next 6 weeks in ICU separated from my family feeling abandoned and afraid.

The next crisis was the summer before I started 4th-grade. My mom got sick while my dad was working out of town. I felt like I knew how to take care of her because she always took care of me when I was sick. After two days she didn’t get better and I called my aunt. The last time I saw my mom, she was being carried in my uncle’s arms to go to the hospital. For two weeks I would hear the whispered prayers to Jesus for my mom. Finally, one night I was awakened by my daddy saying that my mom had gone to be with Jesus. I remember saying to him, not to tell my little sister and brother. This time I felt abandoned and angry.

For the next two-and-a-half years, my little sister and brother would spend the night with my daddy at his house but walk to my aunt’s after school. I would clean the house and tell my daddy that I could take care of him and my siblings. By Christmas time of my 6th-grade year, my dad married a young widow with 3 small children.

For the third time, my world fell apart. We moved across town to a new house, a new school, and within a year, I had a new sister. I was the oldest of seven and became the built-in babysitter. My stepmother was very insecure and threatened by my relationship with my dad, so he pulled away from me. I resented the loss of my mom and now my dad. I hated my home life and sought approval from my teachers.

Making straight A’s and performing for their approval was the only thing that made me feel worthy.

As I got older, I began to seek attention and approval from boys. While spending the night with a friend I lost my virginity at age 15 to the hands of her 19-year-old brother. I never told anyone what happened and was ashamed, but at the same time attracted to him. This led to a three-year-long on-again, off-again, unhealthy relationship where he would use me and then drop me over and over. At school, and to all of my friends, I looked the same. I was on the tennis team, cheerleader and class favorite. Performing by day and compromising by night desperately wanting to be loved.

Near the end of my senior year, I met a Christian young man and began dating him. He knew Jesus the way my grandmother knew him and I was attracted to that. He was a rescuer and I needed rescuing. I started going to church with him and I was even baptized, but I did not understand the truth of the gospel. I was still working and trying to be good enough.

We got married the next year with every intention of it lasting a lifetime. We were both in college and working different shifts. Before long we were passing one another in the hallway, spending more and more time apart. It was then that I started listening to the lies of Satan who said, “You don’t love him anymore, you got married too young, do him and yourself a favor and get a divorce. It won’t hurt anyone because you don’t have children.”

Believing these lies led me to have an affair with a co-worker. I chose to divorce my husband. He begged me to not leave him and he said to me “If you loved God enough, you could love me. To which I replied, don’t tell me how to love God! I left my husband and shortly afterward, my lover left me. I was devastated and depressed. So much that one morning in January while driving to school in a snowstorm, I had a thought. You could drive your car off the overpass and kill yourself and everyone would think it was an accident.

I lost everything in an F5 tornado four months later on April 10, 1979. As the tornado passed over me while in a ditch I cried out to Jesus for help. I prayed I would not die because I knew I wasn’t ready to meet Him. Once the crisis passed, I was back to running my own life and wanting my own way.

Two weeks later I met Cary and we got married in October but I didn’t know anything more about love or marriage than before. I was just committed to not getting a divorce again. We moved to New Braunfels in 1980 and through a series of events, God began to call Cary back to him. I was obsessed with trying to have a baby and while driving back and forth to the fertility clinic in San Antonio, I started to listen to some of Cary’s Christian tapes.

The gospel was presented clearly and I believed that God loved me and that Jesus’ death paid the penalty for my sin. Romans 5:8 God demonstrated his love for us that while we were sinners Christ died for us I knew I could not save myself, I had to trust him. Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works so that no one can boast.

One sermon explained God’s design for marriage. The truth of God’s word pierced my heart and for the first time, I was willing to call my divorce a sin, and not a mistake. Psalm 51 says, “against you and you alone have I sinned and done this horrible thing” I was convicted of the sinfulness of my life and my inability to change. I repented of my willfulness and of how I had made a mess of my life. I told God I wanted to submit my will to his and to live the rest of my life for him.

For the first time in my life, I truly felt loved and free of my burden of sin.

I began to read God’s word and it came alive to me. I found 2 Cor 5:17 which taught me that when you are in Christ Jesus, you become a new creature. The old passes away and all is new. I knew I had a new heart and I had a teachable spirit. God heard my cry for children and a few years later he brought our son and daughter to us through the miracle of adoption. I had to give up my desire to control how he would give me children and trust him. This was the honeymoon years of my relationship with God. I loved being a mom, I loved my husband, I loved my church family, I loved my life!

Over time those ugly coping mechanisms I had developed as a child began to rise up in my parenting. Performance, perfectionism, control, fear, and anger Life dealt me some heavy blows and thirty years into my walk with Jesus, I found myself disappointed with God, hurt by the church, estranged from one child, and living in a cycle of worry, fear, and control.

I continued rationalize my old habits saying I just wanted to help or fix things for those I love, but the results were never what I hoped for. It was insanity!

That brings me back to that first recovery meeting I attended. That night a pastor shared how the secret sin in his life had caused him to lose his church, his marriage and his relationship with his children, but through repentance, forgiveness, amends, and reconciliation he had been restored to his family. I had never heard such transparency and honesty.

In a small group, I would say “I don’t know why I am here, but I know God keeps drawing me back week after week.” I began to have hope. There were times I would sit in my car in the parking lot struggling with getting out of my car and walking in.

I would think, “Lord, I’m not like these people, what if someone sees me going in?” The spirit would convict me of my pride and I would submit to God and obey by going in. I increasingly realized I was just like “those people”.

My issues may look different but the answer was still the same. I had my own battles and my unhealthy coping mechanism where the same as other’s sins, which were harder to hide. God gave me genuine love and empathy for their pain and a name for mine. I was codependent with a capital C. If I needed confirmation, it came the night my husband said to me, “you are not going to control me, so don’t even try!”

I had been walking with Jesus for thirty-five years but I had to admit that I was powerless over my cycle of fear, worry, control, and anger.

In my recovery journey, I have learned I am not in control of anything but myself, but God loves me. He is good, in control, and I can trust him. I have learned that healing comes from confession. James 5:16 and strength comes from authenticity and feeling safe with others. That worry is a sin! When I feel like worrying I remember that the Lord is near and he says do not be anxious for anything but pray and give thanks to him and he will give me his peace. I have learned not to take the bait when the enemy tempts me to fall back on old coping mechanisms by abiding in Christ.

I know there is no good thing in me and I can do nothing apart from him, but I also know, if I abide in him and trust him, then nothing is impossible. I want to live the rest of my life in submission to God and sharing with others the freedom he has given me.

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  1. Garrison Price

    Thank you for this. Praise God for your transparency and willingness to share your story of Grace. Praise God for the restorative redemption and love He has displayed through you and your story. I’m thankful to know you and Cary, and the Kingdom impact you have had on my life. Lamentations 3:22-23

  2. Amy

    Thank you for sharing your story, Paula. You are a blessing to me and to our church body. Amy

  3. Jen Adams

    Paula, how thankful I am with you for the work of Christ in your life. Thank you for choosing His ways. And thank you for sharing your journey with us. I am so encouraged to know how God has worked in you.
    Grateful to know you, sister.

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