step one

Step One
In CoDA that is Step One.

We admitted we were powerless over others- that our lives had become unmanageable.

Step One of Co-Dependents Anonymous

My home group focuses on the step corresponding to the month. January is one, February…two, etc. So this week’s CoDA Tool Tuesday piece is on step one.

Step one is a tool I use all the time. All my problems are first step problems. I’m trying to control someone or something that I have no power over. When I do this, my life becomes crazier.

The antidote to this behavior is not to try harder or to keep fighting or even to get creative with my problem solving. No, it’s to surrender. Yes, give up. If you are like me, giving up and surrendering seems like failing. I hated the mention of it. Not an option.

After finding recovery in CoDA, I now know that surrender is really the only way to win. I just need to take the first step. That means recognizing where I have power and more importantly, where I don’t.

So here’s how it works…when I’m ready to share and release my painful feelings, losses, experiences…you know…the yuck, then I can begin to accept my past, and start to act in healthier ways. CoDA has an awesome list of questions to ask yourself in the section of the big book on step one. Things like “Where did I learn to control others for my sense of well-being?” and “Where and how did I learn that having a relationship would make me whole?”
These questions and others can help lead me to reflect on the roots of my behaviors and see how my powerlessness and unmanageability started in childhood and flourished in adulthood.

As a kid, like kids often do, I truly believed I was responsible for the behavior and feelings of others. It happened when adults used blame or shame. You know how someone would say, “you make me so mad!” or “if you… you will make her so happy.” It happened when something upsetting occurred and my mind needed to figure out what I did to cause it so I could prevent it from happening again. If I make my bed quicker, my mom won’t rage at me… It felt real. If I was a good student, I got positive responses from adults. If I fought with my brothers or disagreed with a grown-up, I would see the reaction ‘I caused”. I started to see how I could “control” the behaviors and feelings of others by changing what I did and said. And I used this superpower to survive for a very long time. Unfortunately, this false power began making my life unmanageable as I grew up. Control, manipulation, people pleasing, fixing,,, it damages relationships and steals joy. Step one has shown me that realizing where I am powerless and where I truly have power allows me to stop fighting against what is happening and hang on to my serenity.

So here’s some things I’m struggling to accept my powerless over today..
-whether my teenage daughter turns in her homework…or not.
-my aging body and all the joys that go along with that.
-when Netflix will run a fourth season of Stranger Things.
-that people I love will sometimes disagree with me.
-how my ex-husband spends his money.
-how Minnesotans can’t seem to properly zipper merge.
-that people get sick and even die.
-the fact that pain is a part of life.

Basically, it boils down to this…
where we do not have power is the thoughts, choices, feelings and actions of OTHER people. It is only in MY thoughts, MY choices, MY feelings and MY actions where my power lies. Sometimes I feel like my feelings are not in my control. That’s okay too. Then I just accept my powerlessness over my feelings and let them be felt.

Powerlessness. Once I have recognized what it is and how it started, I can take the step toward accepting it. Then and only then can I find and embrace my true power.

what is detachment? and how do I let go?

The tool of detachment is a powerful way we can deal with situations that could harm us. It is a choice to disengage emotionally from people or situations. We strive to detach with love for ourselves and others knowing that we are not responsible for the behavior of others and they are not responsible for our happiness.

Many of us are dealing with difficult situations. Drug and alcohol abuse, relationship problems, parenting issues, caring for aging parents, job stress, death or illness…

When the other person is making choices that we don’t like, what can we do? When it we are making ourselves crazy trying to control a situation that we can’t control, how do we find sanity?

A helpful way for me to remember detachment is this…
D on’t
E ven
T hink
A bout
C hanging
H im/Her

If I’m not the problem, there is no solution. If the other person’s behavior is the problem, I cannot solve that.

So in the CoDA big book, we can explore the question of what is the difference between detachment and avoidance? or rather, what is the difference between letting go and running away?

Simply put, detachment is a conscious act of self-care where avoidance is often an unconscious, dysfunctional coping mechanism. Detachment is driven by love and avoidance is fear based. As a codependent, I can sometimes swing between the extremes. controlling people and outcomes on one end and neglecting responsibility to others by running away or ignoring them on the other end.

Detachment can be difficult. When I began recovery, letting go was just not possible on my own. With time and my Higher Power’s help, I slowly began to understand things like the fact that other people are capable of managing their own lives and that I can accept the choices of other people even if I’m not comfortable with them.

As I gained more tools like trust in an loving Higher Power, support from recovery friends and of course…boundaries, detachment became doable. Still difficult, but doable.

Recently, my dad who is 87 had his boiler go out in his home. My first action was to go in and try to help. While he didn’t want to come stay with me while he waited for the new one to arrive 10-14 days later, he would accept some space heaters. For my own sanity, I had to use detachment because while I didn’t like his choice to remain in his Minnesota home in January, I had done all I could do to help. Old behaviors of trying to manipulate, control or shame him into changing his mind would have just harmed both of us. Detachment allowed me to love and respect both dad and myself. When I feel the worry rise up, I trust the outcome to his Higher Power and make the choice to detach again. Of course a bit of added self-compassion for how hard it is also helped me to detach with love.

I love how Melody Beattie put in in her piece on detachment from the Language of Letting Go… “Today, I will take actions that appear appropriate. I will let go of the rest. I will strive for the balance between self-responsibility, responsibility to others and letting go.”

I’d love to hear how the tool of detachment has worked for you. Leave a comment or question below.

Serenity Now!

It’s CoDA tool Tuesday and I find myself in a place that requires one of my favorite tools…acceptance. I’m at the DMV.

As I walked in with hopefully all the papers needed to do my renewals, I was greeted by a smiling woman who informed me that the wait time would be an hour and a half or more.

I know in some places, this would actually be a pleasant surprise… not where I live. This is a rather long wait time for me. I wanted to wipe that smile off her face. Luckily, I came prepared to write…about acceptance!

It amazes me how far I’ve come with accepting what is. When I started in CoDA, I was in a constant state of struggle. I wanted my ex-husband to stop being a jerk, my kid to help out without me telling her to, my mom not to be sick, boss to appreciate my work, coworkers to do more…and on and on… The more I resisted what was happening, the worse I felt and crazier my life became. I used my codependent behaviors to try to manipulate people and circumstances because I could not accept the way things were.

I tend to get attached to the idea of how I think things should be. For example, I think they should have more people working at the DMV today. I also think people should move more quickly to the window when their number is called and…have …their …stuff …ready.

Now, some situations are not acceptable. Abuse in any form for instance. I’m not saying if you are being abused or mistreated that you just sit in it and accept what is…rather, acceptance that it’s ok to leave situations that are unsafe, accept you can’t change the other guy, accept you can ask for help and deserve respect…

A lot of life is out of my control. There are facts that wishing simply won’t change. Other people get to make their own choices. The DMV is well…the DMV. They’re gonna get my time but I don’t have to also give away my serenity.

That priceless gift of serenity. I sometimes sell it cheap. When I get shortchanged at the store, lose out on a parking spot, get a traffic ticket… how much is my serenity really worth?

So what choice do we…the poor souls trapped in this beige purgatory have? Wage war on the clerk at the counter? Kick ourselves because we didn’t make an appointment? Cry?

Before recovery, I thought surrender was a failure. Now I know that most of the time, surrender is really the only way to win.

For me, I’m gonna order a pizza and scroll through funny DMV memes on my phone. 

Coda Tool Tuesday…CoDA Meetings

This is not a self help program. It’s mutual support. I can read and learn on my own and that’s all fine and dandy but for me, it can’t replace the experience I get in attending regular CoDA meetings.

I, like so many, had read Melody Beattie’s book, Co-dependent No More. If that’s all it takes to heal then we’d all be living happily ever after. If only it were so easy. No offense to Oprah but just because I “know better” doesn’t mean I can “do better”.

I discovered in therapy that codependency may be at the heart of my struggles. If that’s all it took then my therapist wouldn’t have needed to suggest I get my butt to a CoDA meeting.

When I entered the program of codependents anonymous, I was blown away by how much I didn’t know about my part in my dysfunctional relationships. I was both excited and horrified. Excited to learn others like me existed and horrified to know the path to recovery would be lifelong.

It was in meetings that my progress really accelerated. Listening to the experience, strength and hope of others took me out of my own narrow perspective and gave me so many new insights. Without meetings, I don’t think I could have made the life changes I needed to make.

Meetings allow me to connect with others in recovery. I get to practice speaking and feeling my feelings in a safe place where others won’t try to fix me…they just listen with understanding.

People often ask me how to find a sponsor in CoDA. My response is always… go to meetings. Listen to what others share. For me, meetings were the place where I identified people who would become my sponsors or co-sponsors.

In meetings I can practice with the other tools I’m gaining like service, boundaries, asking for help and caring without caretaking. Hearing the crosstalk guidelines helps me remember to keep the focus on myself. And the “Welcome” reminds me that codependence is a most deeply rooted, compulsive behavior…which helps me be patient with myself and reminds me to dig down to the underlying beliefs and pain that often drive my behaviors.

Meetings are a great place to find supportive friendships and feel that sense of belonging that we all so desperately need. I love the acceptance I feel when I’m in a meeting with other codependents and I share my pain or my joy. Meetings show me that I’m not a freak. I’m ok right where I am. I’m not alone.

CoDA Tool Tuesday…Forgiveness

When I choose not to forgive its like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.

Forgiveness is a tool that helps me move forward. I know I don’t do it for the other guy, I do it for me. So I don’t have to carry the baggage anymore. It doesn’t mean I approve of what they did but the person who hurt me doesn’t occupy space in my head anymore and that gives me my serenity back.

So with the holidays upon us I’m faced with the question of old…how do I put up with that annoying relative that crashed my wedding, always seems to find a way to insult someone at every family event and basically creates a black hole which sucks the joy from the room?

This year, the answer will be forgiveness. I’m gonna try to be polite and accept her as she is. I’m gonna tap into common humanity and try to see her someone who, like me, is just trying to find her way through life to the best of her ability, flaws and all.

CoDA Tool Tuesday!

There are so many tools to help us in our journey of recovery from codependency. Every Tuesday, we hope to post an article highlighting one or more of these tools. Kicking off this new feature, just in time for the holidays, we start with an excerpt written by the CoDA communications committee….


How do codependents take care of themselves during the stress of the holidays? Here are some suggestions:

1. Go to as many meetings as you need.

2. Call other members including your sponsor.

3. Set boundaries that you are willing to observe.

4. Consider reading CoDA literature and reflecting on the Steps and Traditions.

5. Take care of yourself; YOU come first!

There are also daily online and phone meetings which you can look up on coda.org. Others use the meeting phone list to reach out to newcomers with a brief message of reassurance. If needed, choosing to spend a limited time around one’s family of origin may lower holiday stress.

Making sure to take the time for sufficient sleep, and giving ourselves plenty of time to exercise, meditate and read CoDA literature are ways to remind ourselves that in CoDA we may learn to have different priorities than other folks at these sometimes difficult family holiday gatherings.

At times, the difference between having a sad holiday and having a more upbeat one is simply a matter of choosing to use program tools to help, in each challenging moment, to do things differently today, and to decide that right now serenity is your #1 priority. That includes reaching out to your CoDA family!

the chameleon

Chameleoning.  My spell checker doesn’t recognize it.  I just hate when we take a noun and use it like a verb…adulting, Googling…

It’s just that I have a hard time finding a better word to describe what I do when I change who I am to please someone else, to fit in, to avoid conflict, to earn love.

What I know now is that chameleoning doesn’t earn me the love.  The chameleon gets it.  The real me…my true self still lives in fear, without the love and acceptance she desperately wants.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery… to a co-dependent, imitation can mean I hate who I really am. Not flattery, just a deep need to be accepted by others so we can feel okay about ourselves. Underneath that need is a deep fear that if “they” only knew what I was really like, they would leave.

For most of my life, I would copy those around me. I didn’t know who I was supposed to be. I hated the question “what do you like to do?” Duh, I like what YOU like. Just tell me what you want, need, prefer, hope for, appreciate, etc…. sounds like a plan to me. I thought the path to love and acceptance was through the door of people pleasing and compliance.

Chameleoning also allows me to avoid conflict and confrontation. I fail to voice my truth when I chameleon myself. I accept someone else’s truth as my own. Ironically, each time I fail to stand up for myself in an effort to prevent abandonment, I’m actually abandoning myself.

As I have grown in recovery, I am learning to accept myself as I am. Through self-compassion practice and work in CoDA, I am changing the old belief that who I am isn’t enough. I’m starting to see evidence that it’s ok to show people the real me. If some don’t like it or even leave me, those aren’t the ones that belong in my life. Other, better relationships will come in time.

I don’t have to fear the question anymore. Go ahead, ask me what I like to do…

In recovery, I stand in my truth, whether others approve or not, even if it means making difficult changes in my life.

-Recovery Patterns of Codependence

the falling star

by DeAnn B.

I’m very grateful for my new journey in CoDa. I’m learning acceptance and surrender, about trusting my Higher Power and the light that’s been placed within me to have my own experience, strength and hope that is a joy to share in the fellowship of others.
I wrote this in about one minute last week as I heard my Higher Power give me this visual of my journey.

recovery is a light in the darkness…

The Falling Star

The darkness fell and I was surprised because she gave little notice of dusk.
So there we were together, darkness and I.

I began to fret about how I’d find my path now that she commanded her presence?
Fear
Doubt
Anger
Then……..
She pointed me to look up and I saw them, why did I not notice before?
Individual lights, thousands, maybe millions, I didn’t know.
Formations they made I remember pointed to directions and seasons in times past and now.
I watched calmly.
Then, without warning , just as the darkness had fallen, a lone star left its place in the orchestra of light!
A magnificent sight!

But what’s this?
I can’t believe my eyes!
It’s fallen from its place and rests at my feet!

The darkness then spoke to me for the first time, and know what she said?
“ I am as sacred and beautiful as the daytime sun, and there is light in me that few notice. The arrangements of my heavenly lights in the dark offer its own beauty. Your eyes must look up to see these and upward reflection is what was needed for you. I’ve given you a special light of your own. All you must do is embrace it from whence it came, in the dark.”
I picked up the fallen star
I accepted it fully
Hope replaced fear
Faith replaced doubt
Forgiveness replaced anger.
And I was strangely grateful for her, the night, for without her, I would have never picked up a falling star!

feeling my feelings

by CM (compassionate mess) 😉

“Our emotions drive us to recreate situations in which we will feel the feelings we need to face. We do not have to do anything except allow ourselves to feel them.”

My work history is full of losses. I look back and see how I’ve repeated a pattern of hanging on, controlling and attaching to outcomes.

It began with the loss of my favorite job. I had managed a video store for several years while going to college. After I graduated, I continued to work there despite the fact that I had started a new “day job”. Of course, I butted heads with the new manager. She wanted me to change how the store was organized. I felt like she was telling me I was doing it wrong. One night, the owner came in and fired me. Six years of work… and then it was over.

I lost two more jobs after that.

I taught for Head Start. Of course I butted heads with the director. She wanted me to “do less” and be satisfied with my low wage and minimal benefits. I loved the work and gave my full effort, like always…I felt like she was saying I was doing it wrong. So I went over her head, writing the governing board. They later suspended me and although I won a court battle, I never went back to the job. I just moved on without grieving the loss.

The last job I lost was my own business. I know… who gets fired from their own business?

I ran a non profit and of course, butted heads with my business partner. She wanted me to do things her way and we jockeyed for control. Again, I felt those feelings of being wrong…right up to and including the moment my board laid me off. I loved that job and poured my heart into it for 12 years then in one moment… it was over. No time to feel…just move on.

So last week, while helping my husband move his business into a new location, I bumped into those old feelings again. I became hugely triggered when his office manager and other staff members changed how I had arranged a wall of products. While some of my hurt feelings were understandable, my reaction was out of proportion to the situation at hand. I cried for two days.

The ugly cry kind of cry.

What I came to realize was the trigger showed me an area of unresolved grief. It felt familiar… to my past losses, none of which I ever grieved.

Thank God for my program of recovery.

Recovery doesn’t mean never being triggered. It means when I bump up against a trigger, I have a chance to see something unhealed in myself… and to heal it by allowing myself to feel the feelings.

That’s it, just make space for them. Naming them helps in taming them. Feeling them helps in healing them.

Oh, that’s grief. That’s sadness. There’s anger and disappointment in there. Breathe and allow. It’s hard to feel this way. I’m sorry this happened. It’s painful to hold the belief that I’m doing everything wrong…that I’m not good enough. You are just human. You deserve love. I’m here for you.

It’s okay. I’m okay.

Now, work the program. Go to meetings. Talk about it with recovery friends. Cry when the tears come. Feel the old grief coming out. Instead of stopping it, I’m allowing it. On the other side is acceptance. That is a wonderful place to be.

I’ll get there in time. 

practicing gratitude

All of us have reasons to be grateful. How can I show my gratitude today?

People who live wholeheartedly actively practice gratitude. On this day of national thanksgiving it’s nice to reflect on the positive benefits we can gain from a regular, daily gratitude practice.

Gratitude improves our emotional wellbeing and motivation, gives us better sleep and for me, can even reverse a shame spiral!

We all know about gratitude journaling but we don’t always have the time or even the desire to journal. You can find other ways to practice gratitude.

One way to increase your practice is by finding new cues for your gratitude. Cues help us make new habits.

For example, take the opportunity every time you’re standing over the sink and brushing your teeth to say three things you’re grateful for about the day.

Research shows that when you practice gratitude before you go to sleep, it can help increase optimism and overall satisfaction with your life.

Another cue could be at the grocery store…Whether you’re in line to pay for groceries or as you walk the aisles, the grocery store is a perfect time for gratitude.

Try breathing in what you’re grateful for and breathing out the things that are giving you stress and anxiety.

Drinking water throughout the day is a key to good health—which means it’s the perfect opportunity to thank your body for all the wonderful things it can do.

As you sip, scan from your head to your toes, bringing grateful awareness to all aspects of your existence to be grateful for.

These are just a couple of ways to add in a cue to bring in a grateful mind-state. The important thing is consistent effort over time… that is how we can work towards progress.

Now take a minute to focus on self-gratitude for what you are doing right now to benefit yourself!