Put the oxygen mask on yourself first. Anyone who has ever flown in a plane has heard these instructions. It’s so well known that so many of us don’t even really pay attention while they are talking.
It is good safety advice and even better life wisdom. Put your oxygen mask on yourself first.
If I don’t do self-care, I’m not much good to those around me. Those people I want so much to help and care for.
If I don’t make my self-care a priority, I will burn out, wear out or worse. I will begin to resent the ones I care for.
Sometimes my self-care looks like: napping #noguilt, eating when I feel hungry, exercising when I feel like moving my body…some yoga anyone? hanging out with my kiddo, date night with my hubby, playing wth my doggo, journaling, walking in nature, laying in my hammock, binge-watching Netflix, doing a meditation, treating myself with self-compassion and acceptance, laughing with friends at game night, getting a fresh color when my grays start to show too much, calling a friend just to chat, saying NO when I need to, reading whatever feels good in the moment…blog, fiction book, CoDA Big Book… driving in my Jeep with the doors off! going to a CoDA meeting
And of course, dancing barefoot in my kitchen when no one else is around…Alexa, play dance music!
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.
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.
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.
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!