by Terrie C. Abuse wounds our spirits. Living with the effects of abuse is too devastating for most people to bear without help.
Detachment is a tool for recovering people. Through detachment we learn we were not responsible for the abuse done to us. We also learn we cannot control whether the perpetrator chooses to accept responsibility for the abuse, or whether others we are in relationship with believe us or support our recovery. We learn to let go of obsessing about another’s behavior. We begin to lead happier and more manageable lives. Lives with dignity and rights. Lives guided by a spirit greater than ourselves. In recovery, we learn…
Not to suffer because of the actions or reactions of others;
Not to allow ourselves to be used or abused in the interest of another;
Not to do for others what they need to do for themselves;
Not to manipulate situations or other people;
Not to cover-up for another’s mistakes or misdeeds;
Not to create a crisis,
Not to prevent a crisis if it is in the natural course of events.
Detachment is neither kind, nor unkind. It does not imply evaluation of the person or situation from which we are detaching. It is simply a means to look at our problems realistically and to give ourselves what we need. It aids us in making intelligent decisions.
Changed slightly from Al Anon version to make it more inclusive
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.
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.
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.
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!
“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 affirm that the codependent behaviors that I learned helped me survive. I honor them.
It is also true that they are a dysfunction that keeps me from joy.
Now, I wish to live more on the recovery pattern side of the street.
Learning takes place from repetition. Especially when old habits that do not serve me need to be replaced by something new.
It is harder to change than it is to start from scratch.
In an Ernie Larsen workshop, he taught that we must identify what the old message is (Codependent patterns). Then, we must give ourselves an affirmation that may be hard for us to believe and feed it to ourselves repeatedly until it becomes part of us.
God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can and Wisdom to know the difference.
I have prayed this prayer literally hundreds of times in meetings over the last 2 1/2 years and many more times on my own when looking for strength courage and peace.
Like many others fortunate enough to have found CODA, I was relieved and excited to learn the patterns of co-dependence and begin applying the healthy thought patterns and behavior to my daily life. My most obvious issues were listed in the Control Patterns which I quickly dropped to the delight of my immediate family.
Here is where the recovery process got a little tricky for me. Everyone around me was feeling better and I was proud of myself for the positive changes I had made but something still wasn’t right. This brings me back to the Serenity Prayer. In my sincere effort to mend my ways, I had gone to the other extreme adopting many of the Compliance Issues including my interpretation of the Serenity Prayer. Accepting the things I could not change meant to me that I should accept everything that comes my way without regard to my likes or dislikes, personal boundaries, or moral compass. This misguided thinking was reinforced by others using recovery jargon to convince me I was on the right track for their benefit.
I have come to learn that acceptance isn’t tolerance of the intolerable or giving up my true self in an effort to accommodate a relationship. For me, acceptance is seeing things as they truly are and accepting the reality of the situation. With this understanding, I can now make choices that work for me and allow others to be who they truly are.
weird thing about abandonment is that I feel it even if I’m the one ending the
relationship. This part of my codependency is a big part of why I tend to stay
in harmful situations too long.
Perhaps you are reading this because you are in a relationship with someone you wish would change. Maybe, you have tried to do the changing yourself. Or crazier still, you’ve tried to get the other person to change.
It took me 19 years to leave my husband. They weren’t all bad years but a lot of bad stuff happened along the way. There were times I almost ended it but then again…what if things got better? I tried everything to get him to change so I could be happy. It didn’t work. When I finally did divorce him, I found myself continuing to caretake him and try to fix and control his life. I couldn’t just walk away.
I followed that with another destructive and dysfunctional relationship. I would break it off but within a week or two…six at the most…be right back where I started.
suffered from the pain of abandonment trauma.
That fear of being left, of losing those you love, of being rejected, of never finding love again. Many co-dependents suffer with fear of abandonment. The roots may be in childhood when a parent or caregiver left, neglected or rejected you. Most of us don’t get to adulthood without suffering some losses. A loved one’s death, a relationship or friendship ending…it’s easy to get stuck somewhere in the process of grieving our losses.
For me it was my mom’s mental illness. I understand it now. How chaotic behavior, her periods of absence during hospitalization or incapacitation and times watching her walk out after an angry tirade left me with confusion, insecurity and self-blame.
had many of the common signs of abandonment fear including:
Being quick to attach, especially to unavailable partners.
Staying in situations no matter how unhealthy it got.
Feeling unworthy of love.
Intense feelings of separation anxiety.
Overthinking things and working hard to figure out the hidden meaning in literally everything.
Hypersensitivity to criticism.
Big time control issues.
Feelings of “otherness”, like I didn’t belong.
When I stay in harmful relationships or situations, waiting for it to get better and allowing myself to be hurt, it is self-abandonment. I’m so focused on fixing the other guy that I leave myself in the cold.
The healing started when I got into therapy, found my tribe in CoDA, and finally realized that when I fail to love and accept myself as I am and to protect myself with healthy choices, I am actually abandoning myself. This self-abandonment perpetuates my fears, insecurities and feelings of worthlessness. Then comes the people pleasing, approval seeking and other harmful, co-dependent behaviors…and we ride the crazy train back to the station once again.
If you’ve found this article and you are reading it thinking…wow, sounds a little like my life, then I have good news for you. My life changed when I found co-dependents anonymous. I found people just like myself who were actively working to heal. I didn’t feel like such a needy freak anymore. They were experiencing the promises coming true in their lives. There is hope. I was able to break the pattern of repeated, bad relationships and nurture a new relationship with a person who will never abandon me again.
Step 10 “offers us not only consistency, but also continued progress in our continued relationships. Continuing to take our personal inventory keeps us ready to change our codependent behaviors. Some of our habits are ingrained.Our goal, however, is to make consistent progress. We look for familiar codependent behaviors and areas where our boundaries with others need strengthening.” ~CoDA Aqua Book page 68
So my daughter is now a teenager and the timing is a bit challenging as I am in menopause. It’s a perfect storm of hormones in our home at times. I’ve been carrying a lot of her feelings for her and projecting my old unhealed teenager yuck onto her as well. When I reflect on my day, often I am seeing how I overreacted out of fear, raged, tried to control, took on her responsibilities and later resented her for it, tried to shield her from consequences, gave unsolicited advice or direction, and of course, shamed and judged myself harshly for my mistakes. I get super frustrated with myself. I want to do it differently with her. Each morning I get in the car with the intention for things to be peaceful and supportive as we drive to school. By the time we get there, one or both of us are in tears.
I have recently learned that habits take much longer to break than one might think and forming new habits can be a long process as well. The info out there that it takes 21 days is actually false. Research has shown it can take between 18 and 256 days to make a habit depending on how complex the behavior and how habitual the person. Yikes. My codependent behaviors are pretty complex! This new perspective does give me more patience with myself as I try to change old behaviors into new healthy ones. Little by little, one day at a time.
The CoDA book lists 10th step questions like: Have we been feeling sorry for ourselves or isolated from others? …check. Did we rage, overreact or passively abuse someone? …check. Did we take on others’ feelings or responsibilities? …check. Have we been controlled or manipulated by people, not said anything, and then resented them? …check, check and triple check.
These and other questions can help us take an honest look at our behaviors and feelings toward God, ourselves and others. Over time, we notice patterns and uncover the roots of our codependency. We can choose to respond differently. My habits are becoming clearer and I am working to change them. It’s progress not perfection. I can see that my lack of healthy boundaries with others is a big part of the problems in my relationships. I allow my daughter to cross my boundaries when she speaks to me harshly or I fail to enact consequences. I trample on her boundaries when I over caretake or demand that she do things my way without hearing her out. Parenting is difficult. Parenting as a codependent is crazy hard. I’m so grateful I have a relationship with a loving Higher Power so that I don’t have to go this alone.
I love the Step 10 prayer. It gives me hope. In this moment, I live my life in a new way… check.
I went hiking on our beautiful Superior Hiking Trail with my husband awhile ago. He is an experienced hiker and I am a novice. There were times I really struggled to keep up and he would have to stop and wait for me to catch up. There were times when it was a lot of uphill and rocky terrain. There were obstacles and twists in the path. As I hiked along I grew tired and had to overcome my desire to “keep up” with him. It was then I started to recognize my Higher Power was whispering recovery wisdom to me. My HP knows how much I love a good analogy! Stopping to make notes in my phone gave me both a pick me up and a needed break. There are many connections between hiking and my recovery:
I can only see as much of the trail as I can handle. If I saw the whole thing at once, I’d get overwhelmed or ahead of myself, or I might not even try.
The forest is dense and it would be easy to get lost unless I stay on the trail. My program of recovery helps me stay on course through the twists and turns in life.
I usually can’t see around the bends and rarely is there a bear waiting…it’s usually safe.
It is always worth the work to get to the vista!
Sometimes it is hard to see the path in front of me. Most of the trails have been walked by many others before me so I know it is doable…difficult but doable.
Sometimes I need or want to repeat the same path again and again and I can always choose to go back the way I came if I am not ready.
I can keep the focus on myself instead of worrying about what the other guy is doing.
Experience counts on the trail so it helps to have a guide.
Practice makes things easier and my skills will improve over time.
It’s always surprising.
I can use tools to help myself when the going gets tough.
Stopping to look around once in awhile allows me to appreciate the view from where I am. I can give myself credit for what I have accomplished so far.
I need to take it at my own pace and be patient with myself. When I think I am stuck, I can choose to stop and rest or to just take the next small step. Every tiny step gets me closer to that beautiful, new view!
It’s about the journey as much as the destination.
Sometimes I feel like I am alone on the trail and that’s okay. I will see others along the way in time.
Hiking stretches muscles I didn’t even know I had. My recovery does that too. It can be painful and I can choose to push through the pain and keep going, knowing that next time it may hurt less as I get stronger and healthier.