“In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. And with this second arrow comes the possibility of choice.”
We cannot control the painful experiences we endured as children or mistakes we made in the past, and because we are human beings we cannot expect to live life without encountering pain in the future. What we can learn to control, however, is the second arrow, our reaction to the pain we encounter.
Through attending CoDA meetings, I learned how to breathe through dark feelings like sadness and fear rather than avoid them, and to share my experience with others who are also on a path of emotional healing.
The first arrow of pain is part of the human emotional experience, but the second arrow of suffering is a choice.
Rather than suffer alone in silence or numb the painful emotions with excessive food, technology, work, alcohol, or drugs, we can attend a meeting and feel the common humanity and support of others who are working to live life fully. As the first CoDA promise says,
“I know a new sense of belonging. The feeling of emptiness and loneliness will disappear.”
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.
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.
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!