Before I entered recovery my best friend and I, who were both having serious marital problems, decided on the advice of a friend that we should attend a Codependents Anonymous meeting. Our information about who or what a codependent was was sketchy. We were soon to find out. When we walked out of the meeting my friend’s comment was: “I think being a codependent is noble.” My comment was: “How did they find me?” I went on in recovery to work a rigorous and honest 12 step program, one of the best things I have ever done. My friend didn’t and died a few years later after a long battle with cancer. I often wonder what would have happened if she had gone through the program. She was one of six children, four of whom either had cancer or died of cancer; a mother who was one of several daughters, all of whom either died of cancer or had cancer. Those girls had a mother who died of cancer and a father who was a child sexual abuse perpetrator who had lived part of the time with my friend when she was growing up and had chased her around the house pulling her blouse up and playing with her breasts. My friend complained to her mom about her grandfather. Her mother told her to just ignore him saying he was a dirty old man. Negative emotions turned inward causes disease. Can you imagine the burden those family members through three generations went through, the sorrow and grief turned inward suppressing their immune systems, the main thing they needed to stay healthy. A former boss of mine who had gone through a 12 step program with her husband told me one time that she thought everyone should work a 12 step program; the world would be a better place. I agree.
In quoting from their literature to give those who have never gone to a Codependents Anonymous meeting, “A CoDA meeting is a group of people who come together around their shared desire for healthy and loving relationships. The meeting uses the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Co- Dependents Anonymous as the basis for working toward recovery. It is a place to find sponsorship and fellowship as well as the sharing of experience, strength, and hope. A strong sense of acceptance and community makes a meeting attractive both to the newcomer and old timer. We gather together in CoDA to support and share with each other in a journey of self-discovery … our efforts are to find freedom where there has been bondage.”
In her best-selling book, Codependent No More, Melody Beattie gives several definitions. She includes Ernie Larsen’s definition: Those self-defeating, learned behaviors or character defects that result in a diminished capacity to initiate or to participate in loving relationships. Melody Beattie’s definition is: a codependent person is one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.
There is now a 12 step program for almost every problem there is. It has caused it to be almost a cliché. Many reasons keep people who need to go from joining:
- Me, tell a bunch of strangers my personal problems; are you kidding?
- I can handle my own problems (never mind that your life is a mess)
- I already worked a 12 step program – let’s see I worked # one and # three, I think # six but I didn’t really like the others. (listen to yourself)
- Can you imagine the embarrassment, the shame?
- I have a very good therapist. I’ve been going to her for 15 years so I don’t need a program. (ditto)
There are many other excuses. They all point to one thing. They are not ready to solve their problems. They may never be ready to solve their problems. They either like the high drama of telling stories about their husband beating them up or cheating on them too much to let go of the pity pot, are too terrified of the unknown, have a history of child abuse or are addicted to their abuser (maybe all). Twelve steppers have a saying: they will go when they have reached their bottom. The father of my children, a man I loved more than I had ever loved anyone, was an alcoholic whose bottom was death – at the young age of 47. He had been in an alcoholic rehab for many years and was released when he hired an attorney and found out that if you were an alcoholic you could be eligible for social security. He moved into an apartment that had a bar on one side of it and a Liquor Store on the other. One of the last times I saw him was early one morning. He reeked of alcohol, his hands trembled, he had aged beyond his years, lost most of his teeth in bar fights and looked like he was nine months pregnant (happens to those who have advanced cirrhosis of the liver). I begged him to stop drinking (I had been doing this for twenty five years) asking, “don’t you want to see our grandchildren?” He admitted he did but he said I didn’t understand, the craving was worse now that it was before he went into rehab. He died not long after this.
While I worked my 12 steps I told my story at many meetings, often going three or four nights a week, the other nights going to Alternatives to Domestic Violence meetings. My story was similar to a lot of women’s. I had been raped when I was 13 by my father, initiating five years of more rape and brutal beatings in retaliation for what I was doing (my mother’s insistence). At the age of 18 after a beating by my father that almost killed me I ran away from home. Married to two alcoholics in a row, I was twice hospitalized in a Psychiatric Ward for failed suicide attempts. There would be more. I had hidden my pain behind too much alcohol, promiscuity, compulsive behavior, obsessive relationships and extremes of emotional highs and lows. Only medication, intermittently taken had kept me functioning for almost twenty-five years. I was currently married to a sadistic and brutal man who had sexually abused his sister while she was growing up for ten years and currently sexually abusing his teen age daughter who had been in and out of rehab programs. He denied this and of course, I believed him. I was so badly addicted to him that subject to his whims, I lived like a prisoner, his several-times-a-day sexual addiction—which quickly turned into brutal rapes—his need to control what I wore, who I spoke with, what I said, and even whether I laughed or not, crippling me. This was my story.
After almost five years I completed my twelve steps, had rid myself of my abuser and went to what was going to be my farewell meeting with local codependent cronies. As usual I spoke of what I had been through and of where I was today. After the meeting a young man came up to me. He said he had been looking for me for a long time. A few months earlier, suffering deeply from the aftermaths of child sexual abuse, he decided to commit suicide. Just then his doorbell rang. It was a friend of his who said he was going to a Codependent Meeting. He had heard they had great success with people who had problems like his friend had and he wanted the two of them to go together. Wanting to humor his friend and put off the pending suicide he went to the meeting. He said he heard me speak at the meeting and it had moved him so much that he put off the suicide decision and began going to regular meetings. He was now working an honest and rigorous Twelve Step program and suicide thoughts were a thing of the past. He said I had saved his life and he’d been looking for me for weeks to thank me. All I could think of was, I had helped one person. It meant everything to me.
Go to at least six meetings. By then you realize something very important. You are in the right place. Go. You may be responsible for saving someone’s life, including your own.