The pink slip read, “Kay, come to the principal’s office.” I was sixteen, a senior in high school and had never before been asked to see Mr. Ober. With the glass doors straight ahead, I was visibly shaking as I walked down the rambling corridor. When I entered the room three faces were peering at me. The principal extended his hand and said, “Kay, congratulations for an amazing job with the dancing in the school musical. I have never before seen such an impressive performance of choreography and costumes. You are indeed a talented young lady. We are proud of you.” I was embarrassed and hung my head. I felt unworthy of his compliment and at the same time felt ashamed that I had cut so many classes before the production to accomplish my goals. What should have been a glowing moment was confusing and not what I had anticipated. I had hoped someone other than Mr. Ober would recognize all my efforts for the past four months.
As early as the 9th grade I had been creating dances for our high school musicals. I loved to dance and found I was a “natural” at teaching my fellow classmates intricate routines which I arranged to music. The script, music and choreography were all original and quite special because it was written and produced by the senior class students. I knew this was my chance to finally get the attention I wanted from one person, my mother. I set out on a campaign to influence her to take notice of me. It couldn’t be just an ordinary showing of ability. I was convinced I had to “go over the top” in order for Mother to acknowledge me.
I chose twenty dancers which comprised the ensemble to showcase the eight dances I had choreographed. We rehearsed several days a week in the school theater. I systematically controlled the rehearsals. I cracked the whip and I had rules:
1) NEVER BE LATE. If a student did come late I didn’t have the guts to do anything. I was such a “people pleaser” that I would kid around and let them know how important this show was and I would tell them to try not to do it again.
2) DANCE TILL YOU DROP. I was running completely on neurotic energy. I put all my faith in these students to present my “art” to the community. They couldn’t make a mistake for then I would look “bad.” We did the routines repeatedly, to the point of fatigue.
3) DON’T OFFER SUGGESTIONS. This was my choreography; I didn’t need help with the arrangement of the dances. I saw myself as completely unselfish for; after all, if the dances were perfect then each kid would look good. Never mind that they didn’t have the compulsive drive that I had. I really didn’t want their opinions about the work because I was afraid I would value their thoughts more than my own. I was “acting” like I knew what I was doing. In reality I was one step ahead of each idea and had absolutely no confidence. I was masking my efforts to control my friends as “being helpful” by teaching them dances that would show off their talent. I saw myself as a serious artist developing her team. I called my dances, “Designs in Motion” and became obsessed with their creation.
When the topic of costumes was broached I was panicked that someone else would get the job. I was afraid another student would design garments that would be unflattering to the dancers and consequently would affect my “works of art.” I rushed home after that rehearsal and began sketching outfits for every dance. I stayed up all night creating costumes for the Calypso, Blues, Bohemian, Modern, Irish, French and Japanese dances; a total of thirty-two. The next day when I showed the co-directors my ideas they were so blown away that of course they said I could have the position. Their next question was, “How do we get these made?” “No problem,” I said, “I’ll make them!”
Each night after the rehearsal I would work frantically on my grandmother’s Singer treadle sewing machine dating to the early 1900’s. I made my own patterns and sewed intricate layers of tulle, feathers, satin and felt. The fabric engulfed the dining room and for three months our apartment became a colorful costume shop. Parents generously contributed money to support this project. On one occasion a mother offered to help me sew the costumes but, I refused. Somehow I felt if I relinquished any responsibility I couldn’t take the credit, it wouldn’t be mine. After all, I was on a mission. I was in complete denial that I was overwhelmed and exhausted by this undertaking. I just kept pushing ahead like a Trojan martyr. Nothing felt good enough.
As the weeks went by I became more and more resentful that I had to do all this myself. I became extremely nervous and cranky. I could barely stay awake in school and began skipping classes to get my work done. One Saturday, a few weeks away from the show, I caved in. The co-directors announced that the length of the musical was too long and they needed to cut some scenes. The Beat-Nik dance was out! I lost it and began sobbing profusely. At the same time I was crying I was terribly embarrassed. But I couldn’t stop. By taking away one of my dances it felt like they didn’t like me and I was being punished. When they saw my unreasonable display of emotion they changed their minds and returned the dance to the show. I was relieved.
All this pent-up emotion was building inside of me as we approached the weekend of our musical, “Good Intentions.” Most of my friend’s parents were planning to attend both Friday and Saturday nights. Many were arranging to take their children out for ice cream or a treat at the end of the show. My mother said, “One night is enough for me,” and didn’t offer any special after-the-show reward. I accepted her announcement and felt grateful that she was going to see our production at least once.
The big night arrived. I felt confident that I was going to impress Mother because of the good reviews the Friday night performance had received. I danced my heart out and was beaming with pride for my accomplishments. She and I hadn’t driven together so when I arrived home after the show I bounded into the apartment anxious to hear her comments. I just knew after all the work I had done she would be proud of me. “What did you think” I said. “Well,” she grumbled, “Judy’s mother asked me where I got such a talented daughter. What nerve. She doesn’t think it could come from me. Oh, the show, it was lovely dear.”
I felt deflated. I had done all this to earn my mother’s love. This was the best I could do at sixteen years of age and it wasn’t good enough. This experience marked the beginning of twenty five years of reacting to life from the emotional wounds and attitudes from my childhood, living with alcoholism.
Robert Burney, in his profound book, “Codependence / The Dance of Wounded Souls“, A Cosmic Perspective of Codependence and the Human Condition” writes, “Codependence is a form of Delayed Stress Syndrome. Instead of blood and death (although some do experience blood and death literally), what happened to us as children was spiritual death and emotional maiming, mental torture and physical violation. We were forced to grow up denying the reality of what was happening in our homes. We were forced to deny our feelings about what we were experiencing and seeing and sensing. We were forced to deny our selves.”
I know now my obsessive-compulsive behavior those four months in 1959 was just the beginning of a twenty five year struggle with this insidious, misunderstood, social disease of Codependence. We live in a dysfunctional world where Codependency has run amuck. I am not going to accept it anymore. I have documented my intense experience in the DVD, “I Survived: One Woman’s Journey of Self-healing and Transformation.”
Each day, in every way, I continue to visualize peace, harmony, joy and balance. I honor each experience as growth on my path to wellness. What about you?