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My life as a recovering Codependant Person
My Life in CODA
When I was growing up, the only twelve step group I ever heard of was AA. And that usually was followed by snickering and rolling of eyes by the people talking about it. I didn't know what it was, or what it was about, or even why it was funny. It wasn't until much later in my life did I realize how valuable and wonderful the twelve steps are, and how there is a twelve step program for just about every viable problem and issue out there. And they aren't really all that funny for the person struggling with addictions, and self esteem, or for their families and those that love them. Although we do find occasion to laugh at ourselves at times.
I was introduced into CODA, or Co-dependance Anonymous almost by accident. I didn't know what being Co-dependent was, if I was codependent, or anything about it. By the end of my first meeting, I was in awe! There was a name for the things I was feeling and acting, I grasped my new found knowledge like a golden key that was going to unlock many unanswered questions about myself, and others.
STEP ONE: We admitted we were powerless over others- that our lives had become unmanageable.
I remember being so intrigued at this first step. Was my life unmanageable, YUP! Was I powerless over others double YUP!! I was a religious sister at the time, I belonged to a convent that housed many successful women, many of them were what I would call control freaks, I wanted to please them in so many ways, often wanting acceptance and love, that never really came my way. I became a yes person, always saying yes to any or all demands no matter how I felt, even if I was sick, I didn't want to let anyone down. I was growing more and more depressed, never really fitting in, and just basically existing, going through the motions of religious life. Accepting my place as just a student, or just a temporary professed sister. It never occurred to me, that no one was really doing anything to help me, to look at my needs. It was all pretty much one sided. Sure I had a few friends, but they had their ministries, and we didn't get to talk much, so I felt alone very often in my life. I felt unlovable, and hoped that if I did XYZ enough times for people I worked and lived with, maybe I could become lovable. I see much of this as things I learned as a child. Working in my parents restaurant, I would often get praise for doing things for others; doing the dishes, cleaning the tables, getting the coffee done, made me feel great, and i would get some attention from my parents which was always an added plus seeing as how they were seldom home, and the only time I saw them sometimes is when I was working.
I would grow angry pretty often, sometimes not really seeing it as anger. If a sister challenged something I said or did, I would get upset, because I felt attacked, and not really knowing how to handle my emotions, I would stomp off, slam a few things around. I learned this from my mother, although she doesn't remember doing these things, they are all very well in my mind. I often felt powerless, and maybe that is why I was angry. There was always someone telling me what to do, how to do it, why to do it. I never had to think for myself. No one asked me what I was thinking or feeling. I wasn't me, I was whoever my director and my local minister wanted me to be. Anything short of that was treated as silly, weak, and was instantly rejected.
Melody Beattie; in her Guide to the Twelve steps for Codependents says that " Codependency is a powerful force. So is denial and the ability to ignore what is before our eyes." That says it all for me right there. I was in deep denial, I ignored lots of warning signs and problems that would come up. I tried to pray more, finally seeking a therapist in 2004, she told me the best advice I ever received. She told me that many of the things that I experience, the harsh words and attitudes that get flung my way " are not about me". I was in utter shock when she said this to me, Why? well, I always assumed that they were angry at me for something I had done, for being a bad person/sister. I never would have guessed that maybe, just MAYBE.....they had some sort of anger or depression inside of them, that made them irritable. So me trying to be the perfect sister, the perfect person, was never going to work.
The Detachment Step
Again Melody Beattie writes, "The first step is the step that helps us begin detaching - a recovery concept that means we release and detach from others - lovingly, whenever possible." Pg 25
This step is about boundaries, another concept that I needed to learn. I was a very clingy person. Only to those that I was close to at the time, I say at the time, because with CODA, I learned that this behavior was extremely harmful, and I needed to take a step back, and allow others to approach me. I would get so worried if a friend was mad at me I would literally drive the poor person crazy, wanting to talk late at night, not respecting the others space. I was a mess! I look back now with shame, and think I am glad I am not that person anymore.
I would do things for others that they could do for themselves. Like do their dishes or help with their laundry, not seeing it as harmful, but seeing it as being a friend, and being helpful. I remember in Henri Nouwen's book Clowning in Rome he said about relationships should be like a dance, the two people moving freely, having room to go back and forth. I was doing just the opposite. That might have been my wanting to control others, either way, it was disastrous. I eventually had to go through major therapy, hence my time in CODA.
I had trouble with the affirmations, I had a real problem saying that I was a good person deserving of love and respect. With time, I even overcame this. It was NOT easy, it took time and lots of effort. I eventually had to to things that I thought I would never do. I first, had to detach from those who I was hurting by clinging to them, then I eventually had to detach from my religious community.
Well, thanks for listening...