A couple of months ago, I started reading a book called Codependent No More. I bought it awhile back at the urging of my reiki teacher. Itís a self help book, so I was pretty skeptical, but after one evening, where I stayed late at her apartment, she recommended it highly to me. We chatted a long time. I told her about my childhood, and she told me about hers. Her mother had been addicted to prescription drugs.

Even after all of her encouragement, it still took me awhile to actually start reading it. Iím not sure if it was an ego problem (How could I need a self-help book? Iím so well-adjusted (har har)), laziness, or just general skepticism. I would have never even considered it, except for the fact that I hold my teacherís opinion in high regard, especially when it comes to healing.

After reading about half of it, I was already thinking, ďEveryone should read this book. Not just codependents.Ē Iím not even sure if ďcodependencyĒ is the right word. It is the word used in the book, but the label makes it sound like some kind of disorder. Itís really just a set of behaviors that are hurtful to oneself. These behaviors are so wide spread that Iím sure that everyone is either a codependent, knows a codependent, or is the cause of someone elseís codependency.

Just reading it makes me feel better. I donít feel that I technically fall into the definition of codependent, but thatís because I forced myself out of that on my own. I wouldnít say that Iím completely free of these behaviors or thought patterns, but Iím so much better than I once was, and Iím so much better than I couldíve been, considering the circumstances.

While itís nice to see all of these ideas sorted out and organized in a book, rather than just existing as a jumbled mass of thoughts and feelings in my head, thatís not the main reason the book makes me feel better.

The existence of this book offers one important comfort: Iím not alone. Iím not the only person who has ever felt this way. Iím not the only person who has spent many useless hours, days, or years, torturing myself in this way.

I canít always have perspective. I guess thatís part of the problem. I wish I could do better.

Back when I was in junior high, Iíd just moved to the Midwest from Southern California.

When I arrived from California: I had long outgrown all of my clothes, the only thing I had to wear were worn-out rags from the 70s that my mother had left in her closet after the last time sheíd been committed to the hospital. I had lice. I had pet rat. He didnĎt go over too well, but I insisted on keeping him. My education was spotty because I hadnĎt been to school a lot the previous year.

My dad had sent us to live with his mother. She was poor herself, but she had raised 8 children, as a single mother, in the 50s. She knew how to budget, keep kids fed, dressed and clean.

My aunt gave me two perms, a couple of weeks apart. She then cut my hair to about an inch long. She got her intended result. The lice were gone.

I was extremely grateful to them for taking us in, giving us food and clothes, and doing their best to help us. I couldnít let them think that I didnít appreciate their well-intentioned efforts. Outwardly, I tried to be enthusiastic, but that perm and cut made me feel disfigured and ugly. I had always had long, thick, shiny hair, that everyone coveted.

I tried to be enthusiastic about every effort they made. I did any chores asked of me, bathed, and went to bed when I was told to. Any clothes or food offered, I would accept, even if I hated it, I would smile and thank them, and tell them how wonderful it was. I kept all feelings of loneliness, dissatisfaction and sadness to myself.

So, this is how I went to junior high. An outsider in a small town, strange looking (the only Asians in the Midwest then, were refugees), from a difficult culture, wearing second-hand clothes, that had been picked out by a 60 year old woman, my hair fried and an inch long. Of course, this would also happen to be the exact same time that my body would start to fill out, and develop. Plus, I hadnít been accustomed to regular home cooked meals, three times a day, and I started gaining weight.

Was I the hideous low-life that I felt that I was? No. Looking back at pictures, I was a bit awkward looking, but no more awkward than a typical junior high kid.

My long, thick hair re-appeared after not too long. It always grew fast. I think that perm and cut might be the reason that, since then, Iíve never cut my hair short.

Actually, I have a lot of difficulty remembering details from my growing up, and I donít spend a lot of time trying to recall them. So, thatís all I can really remember from the start of my life in the Midwest.

After those memories, there were a few years where I canít remember much, except maybe shame and misery.

When I was 15, a group of kids came to give a performance at our school. They were inner city kids that had grown up in rough neighborhoods. They were ex-gang members and recovering drug addicts. They were about the same age as us. They had been rehabilitated, formed a group, and traveled to schools as inspirational speakers and performers. They danced and sang. They were articulate, intelligent, talented and astoundingly fit. They were way beyond anything that small town had seen before.

They were a mix of races, but not one was white. The other kids fawned over them, the girls got crushes, and the boys wanted to emulate them. This shocked me. Iím still not even sure those kids could even recognize someone as not being white, but it still shocked me. Not only were they ok with these minority kids, but they looked up to them.

So, after seeing them and hearing their stories, thatís when I realized that I had control over my life. When I lived in a ghetto in Southern California, everyone I saw was on the bad side of that story. I never knew anyone who escaped a sad and ugly ending.

In the Midwest, I met kids who had everything handed to them. Material goods were abundant. They were given support and love and the promise of a bright future. Suffering was not a part of every day life, for them, and that gave them a kind of strength that was foreign to me.

I didnít realize that someone could cross over; that someone could give himself what he needed.

Iím not even sure anyone else I went to school with would even remember these kids. I donít remember the name of the group, either. I related to them on a level that no white, small town, middle-class kid ever could.

That was the beginning of me learning to help myself.

Did I require that inspiration? Would my life had been different otherwise? I may point that moment as an epiphany, but most realizations come about slowly, over time. Maybe I was just ripe to receive that message.

You would think that with as much effort that I have put into my life, it would be fantastic. But, not so. I still struggle.

I now have the kind of life that you might have expected from someone who was given care, love, support, and promise of a bright future. Put me next to one of them, and youíd never know the difference.

Twenty years ago, I would have done anything to be one of them. Now, when people make the assumption that I must have decent parents and came from some kind of respectable upbringing, Iím a bit insulted. I think to myself, ďYou think that I came from a privileged background and that this is the best I could have done?Ē

I donít say anything, though. Only the people closest to me have a faint idea that thereís something non-standard about my childhood. I only mention a few key facts, when necessary.

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Thursday, Nov. 25, 2010 at 1:06 AM