avatarTracy Collins


The Medicine of Friendship in Midlife

Unexpected lessons on codependency recovery

Photo by Joshua Sazon on Unsplash

Like many women, I am a recovering codependent.

I don’t use that word lightly.

My father has narcissistic personality disorder. He’s an overt, cerebral narcissist.

According to the DSM-5 criteria, he’s got nine of nine characteristics. He’s a slam dunk for Cluster B pathology.

A real treat, let me tell you.

Nobody in the family has spoken to him in a decade.

When you have this type of familial toxicity, no one escapes unscathed. As far as I know, I’m the only one being treated for Complex PTSD. Part of my recovery includes codependency treatment.

My recovery is slow, but I am making progress.

Boundary battles

Boundary setting is one area I struggle with consistently.

I can’t seem to recognize when my boundaries are crossed until after the incident.

Even when I identify a boundary violation, I struggle with the words. I fall into fight or fawn, and my words get tangled. I overreact, or I submit.

The urge to keep the peace and people please is deeply ingrained. It takes an enormous amount of energy not to default to this habitual pattern.

Having a friend who can model boundary setting is life-changing

My friend Priya recently came to visit me in Playa del Carmen. We have been friends for 25 years. Our lives have ebbed and flowed, but we’ve always stayed in touch.

22 years ago, we traveled together to Puerto Vallarta. Sometimes traveling with friends can end a friendship, but in our case, things were easy.

Since then, I have lived in Taiwan, South Korea, the UAE, and Mexico. There was also a stint in Canada where we regularly met and hung out.

However, our visit this time was remarkable in unexpected ways.

Priya is a boundary-setting maven.

She sets boundaries firmly, unapologetically, and consistently.

Priya became my teacher.

Priya in action

Priya had booked a room at a quiet, sophisticated hotel. Privacy and peacefulness were so imperative that she switched hotels at the last minute because the new place mentioned ‘soundproofing’ as a feature.

For any middle-aged woman, sleep is sacred.

On her first night, she slept badly as there was a duo of dogs barking.

The soundproofing was not so soundproof.

The next morning, she spoke to the person on duty. They graciously offered her a new room in a quieter section. Since the new room had a kitchenette, it was considered an upgrade.

In North America, a hotel would likely offer this at no charge; however, in Mexico, nothing is ever offered for free.

The minute they explained she’d have to pay for the upgrade, she dug her heels. She pulled the booking information that showcased the room’s soundproofing description. Some back and forth ensued. She held her ground.

She won.

In her shoes, I would have just paid. I would have acquiesced.

But she’s 100% right.

It’s impossible to convey in words, but she has this remarkable ability to speak politely while simultaneously conveying that she is not to be messed with.

That’s one small example that repeated itself over the week.

The pattern

The minute an issue is identified, it’s like Priya has a 6th sense. She knows immediately that something is off.

Within minutes, she addresses the issue with the other person. She is direct, frank, and states her position.

There is a back and forth, and usually, the other party concedes.

It’s a thing of beauty.

The a-ha

We talked about boundaries at length, and she provided many examples of how she’s honed this skill over the years.

Not only in social settings, but she also maintains strict boundaries with family and friends.

She explained that the turning point for her was after a relationship turned sour in her 30s. She had been taken for granted, and it was like a switch turned for her. She vowed never to allow anyone to disrespect her again.

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

Never let anyone disrespect you.

But it gets even better.

Not only does she never allow others to disrespect her, but she never disrespects herself.

Radical self-care

At 53, my friend is a radiant beauty.

Though she does not use injectables, her skin is glowing, soft, and smooth.

She has a lean physique.

There is a quiet elegance.

Although she’s always looked great, a few years ago, a health scare meant big lifestyle changes. She’s since reversed all her symptoms, avoided surgery, and feels better than ever.

Some of her daily musts:

  • Two liters of water
  • 50 minutes of outdoor walking
  • Small meals of vegetables or fruits with protein and light carbs
  • No fried foods
  • No caffeine
  • Sufficient rest and sleep

She rarely drinks alcohol, and if she does, it’s one drink maximum. Though she has an aggressive sweet tooth, she avoids sugar.

She prioritizes her health and happiness above all, and it shows.

The other thing that I noticed is that she only splurges on the things that bring her true joy. She does not impulse shop.

Her wardrobe is a refined mix of luxury and non-luxury items.

Gap jeans, a brand-name tank, an Italian belt, and Spanish shoes are her signature style. There is always tasteful jewelry.

She invests in the best quality she can afford but only buys things that make her feel great.

My Takeaways

  1. She never strays from her health routine. Though she was on vacation, she never had more than one drink per day. She maintained her health habits throughout too.
  2. She does not skimp on small luxuries that make her feel good. She knows what she likes and what she’s willing to invest in.
  3. She looks good on the outside, but it’s matched by a keen self-awareness on the inside and a palpable sense of grace.
  4. She’s diplomatic and polite, but if you cross a boundary, you will be put in your place on the spot.
  5. She knows who she is and never compromises.

Though we’ve been friends for 25 years, this is the closest I’ve felt to her. It’s partly because I peeled away a new layer.

I witnessed how self-care and self-respect are the foundation of relationships with others and with ourselves.

Though I am still learning how to walk this talk, I am grateful for the experiences we had together.

Wrap up

As we age, our friendships change and evolve. Sometimes, our friendships fall apart, and we part ways.

Other times, we are ready and open to receive the medicine of friendship and her teachings.

Healing from codependency is a work in progress, but having a friend who can model boundary-setting has been incredibly healing.

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Middle Pause
Middle Age
Mental Health
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