2 min readApr 18, 2022


Book Two, Chapter 206: The Gunny Sack

We co-dependents are passive-aggressive, and we see-saw between the two extremes.

At work — around bosses and colleagues — maybe we’re passive. At home — with family — maybe we’re aggressive. Or the other way around.

Inequality marks our relationships. We’re either one-up or one-down. We don’t know equal.

I’m learning all this from Mary, leader of the Co-dependents Anonymous meeting I go to. She looks crisp and efficient in her uniform — black trousers and long white jacket. She takes a crisp, sharp, business-like approach to her teaching, too, yet she’s also quick to smile, to laugh, to take a hand or give a hug or pat a back.

“It’s not healthy to be passive or aggressive,” Mary says. “Be assertive.”

“How?” we ask.

“Practice it. Speak the truth. Acknowledge your fear but don’t cave in to it. Sometimes, if we’re the victim, we can’t confront the aggressor directly. It’s too dangerous. We have to leave the situation in order to protect ourselves. We can take a back-door approach — get legal help or find a mediator.”

I listen to fellow co-dependents share stories of physical, psychic, and sexual abuse in their childhood, and I shudder at their pain. I’m grateful that heavy abuse is not in my background. My parents had seven children. They lost themselves feeding us and keeping us clean and buying us shoes and clothes and giving us teaspoons of cough medicine. Keeping us safe.

Personality development? That just happened, didn’t it? What do parents have to do with it?

And emotions? My parents didn’t have a clue. Their emotions weren’t recognized or validated, either.

I parented the way I’d been parented, so I never asked Joshua: Are you feeling scared? Who or what is scaring you? Are you feeling sad? Are you feeling proud of yourself? Happy? Excited?

No, I didn’t ask him these questions. Instead, I told him what I was thinking about him, and generally it was critical and opinionated. That’s the gunny sack I was given, and that’s the gunny sack I drew from.


My writer husband’s favorite nickname for me was Ernestina, so in this 2-book memoir, he is Ernie. This is his story, our story, and my story. I invite you in.