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.