Thursday, December 26, 2013


I felt a strong pull on my heart strings about moving back to Manitoba and re-establishing myself with my family in the late 1990's, after my divorce. I discussed it with my therapist at the time. She was concerned that the progress I had made in moving away from codependent patterns might be hampered or even reversed if I were to re-situate myself in the midst of the dysfunction so soon into the therapy.
It certainly was a valid concern for me, too. But, to hear her verbalize what I had already been thinking was enough to reconsider my course of action.
Two years later my mom died unexpectedly. What a shock for me, to lose her so quickly and without any warning. I felt horribly guilty for not being there for her on the one hand, but on the other hand I was really glad I didn't move back — because my mother was gone. It wouldn't have been the same living there without her. My aging mother was the only reason I even considered going back.
My dear devoted mother spent herself and her health looking after her "poor boy" with schizophrenia. The codependent pattern was still very much alive in our family. Her need to do everything for "Albert*" 1) wore her out; 2) undermined the doctors' efforts for his psychiatric care; and, 3) tied the hands of the government's social program to assist him in learning independent living.
After Mom's death I, the lone daughter, was expected to take over Albert's care, as far as Mom and Albert were concerned. While I loved my brother, I had to ask myself a hard question: "Am I strong enough to maintain the boundaries — stay centered in my own self-direction — and not be drawn back into the codependent patterns of my family?"
I phoned Albert. He was thrilled to hear from me and cautiously inquired if I might be moving back "to be with the family."
"I think of you and the family often, Albert," I found myself answering. "I love you very much. I know you are well established there. You have an excellent program of support to enable you to live and function independently. I know you have the ability to do it or the program wouldn't have considered you an excellent candidate, provided you with a home and responsibility for self-care. I firmly believe you are fully capable to look after yourself. And you have other family members and friends around if at any time you choose to socialize."
He seemed to understand, likely because it may have sounded kind of familiar. After all, the social workers and the doctors encouraged his independence. But, when Mom was around, she fussed over him and attended to his every need. And Albert let her.
I continued, "I have my work here. I am established here in Saskatoon. I don't want to uproot myself again. My friends are here and I have made a good life for myself here."
By now I had fully convinced myself that I could never go back to a previous situation which resulted in unhappiness for me.
As we wrapped up our phone call, I concluded by gently saying, "I love you, Albert. Take care of yourself."
He chuckled coyly, then reiterated what I said, "Yeah, 'take care of myself.'" Then he took on a more serious tone and continued, "I know that is what I must do."
So, while he knew he had to walk through his fears of becoming independent of his family, he also realized that what he desired more than ever was to stand on his own two feet and become a self-directed person.
That was more than ten years ago. Despite a few setbacks, during that time he acquired a job, maintained a home, paid his bills, shopped for his own groceries, cared for his health and well-being in accordance with his doctors and social workers.
On December 8, 2013, Albert left the planet. I know he's in a happy place now. Against all odds he accomplished in this lifetime what he set out to do, namely, break free of the codependent patterns of our family.
"Albert, you have got to know how really proud of you I am. You truly accomplished your goal of becoming self-reliant! You are awesome! Bravo! Well done!"
* Albert is not his real name.
Visit "Phoenix of Faith" to learn more about 
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Copyright © 2013.  


  1. It is better that mentally ill people (and people with other disabilities) live in their communities, provided they are not a danger to themselves or others, and provided they receive the appropriate support from government agencies. Institutionalization should be a last resort. After that, just as you indicate, it is up to the disabled person to step up to the challenge of achieving reasonable standards of functioning.

    1. In our family, that comment rings true. It likely would be preferable for a "mentally ill" person to live at home, except that families would require training. Until people understand how to work with their beloved relative whom they have difficulty communicating with, I agree that the so-called disabled person requires "professional" help. Living at home might work in some ideal circumstances. In dysfunctional families, not so. Especially where the family has some very outlandish ideas about what schizophrenia is all about.

  2. Great post, Esther. I know another family in which the mother over-fusses over her schizophrenic son. She tried pulling away and leaving him to look after his own needs (with governmental help) but she just couldn't step back far enough to let him find his own way. He's now in his 30's and even though he has his own appt, my friend picks him up daily, and brings him to their home where he lies for hours on the couch, only rising to eat. Every day is the same. How horrible for them and the father. I'm sorry for the loss of your brother and feel badly that I never was able to get to know him.

    1. I dare say the scenario you mention is --- more often than not --- the way dysfunctional families operate. Often, caregivers need training and therapy themselves. My mother did visit the therapist's office at times. I read her notes after she died. I got the impression that she did not comprehend that helping my brother would mean re-learning how to parent. It would have meant she would have to do something else besides what she did for the rest of us kids. They played mind games with each other at times. My brother was smarter than many people gave him credit for.

      Sometimes the games are more obvious to outsiders looking in than the people directly involved. Thanks for sharing.