Finding Guidance in Troubled Times

Once again, we can look to our Traditions to guide us as we navigate through difficult and uncharted ground.  When faced with difficult life circumstances and relationship issues, the 12 Traditions can be the principles of our meetings as well as our interactions with others.  Who hasn’t benefitted from Tradition 12’s reminder to place “principles before personalities”? 

What more controversial topic is there right now than how and when to reopen our world after the last months of lockdown?  There are so many stories and opinions as well as triggers for codependent behaviors.  CoDA wisely lays out the guidance in Tradition 10 offering us no opinion on outside issues, which helps us keep the focus where it needs to be, our personal program of recovery. 

As we keep the focus on our primary purpose, to carry our message of recovery to those who still suffer, we are opening up our local recovery community to even more options where people can discover the gifts of the program of Co-Dependents Anonymous.  Fortunately for us, we live in a time of advancement which allows us to have choices.  As face to face meetings resume, some local zoom meetings will also continue to be available on an ongoing basis.  This allows each individual to make the choices that are right for themselves.  MinnCoDA’s “Staying Connected” page will become our “Local Online Meetings” page and links to join zoom meetings will be able to be accessed there.

Of course, each group is autonomous and can discuss and work out the details of how that particular meeting will move forward using the group conscience process.  When we gather in our meetings either face to face or online, it is wonderful to know we have a safe place to express our feelings about what is happening in our lives.  I invite you to find your voice in light of the 12 Traditions of Co-Dependents Anonymous, CoDA’s Guide to Sharing and the Recovery Patterns of Codependence. In order to ensure the emotional safety of those present, we refrain from advice giving, controlling or debating, etc.  We recognize that other people are capable of managing their own lives and that we can accept the thoughts, choices and feelings of others even if we are not comfortable with them.

Ultimately, the tools of the program which include the Serenity Prayer, 12 Steps and Traditions and many more are here to help each of us find our recovery from our codependence.  They remind us where we are powerless and where we have choices.  We grow in our trust of a Higher Power of our own understanding.  They guide us to learn to take care of ourselves and allow others to do the same.   

Meditation practice in difficult days…

Thanks to Tara Brach for providing this beautiful resource.

www.tarabrach.com/create-home-retreat/

As Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh explains:

When the crowded Vietnamese refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if everyone panicked all would be lost. But if even one person on the boat remained calm and centered, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone to survive.

Let us practice together in these difficult days so we can be that person.

phone a friend

Remember that game show? Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? They’d give the contestant 3 “life lines” one of which was to “phone a friend”.

In recovery, it can sometimes seem like the hardest thing to do to pick up a phone and call someone to talk. Why is it so hard to ask for help?

For me, it’s part of my “dis-ease” to wrestle with the thoughts that I might be bothering someone. So I don’t reach out for help. Or maybe it was that family “rule”…the don’t talk one. So I don’t reach out for help. It could be the belief that no one understands that leaves me feeling terminally unique and alone in my misery. So I don’t reach out for help. For some of us, when we’ve reached out for help in the past, we’ve been shamed, disappointed or abandoned. So we stopped reaching out for help.

In CoDA, when I go to a meeting, I find an important “life line” there. A phone list of people in the program who are willing to share their experience, strength and hope with others. I don’t need to worry about “bothering” them because they get to decide when and how they respond. It’s actually good practice for them in setting boundaries. If the first person doesn’t answer, I can go on to the next. I don’t take it personally, I take action to get the help I need.

It’s helpful to know the phone list has people who will relate to my struggle with codependency and I can identify with their stories. I find I’m not alone. Part of the program involves practicing things like asking for help when I need it and developing trust in those who are trustworthy.

Sometimes, chatting with someone else who understands or who takes time to listen is all I need to change my perspective. Often I already know what it is I need or want to do. Talking it out with someone else, who isn’t as invested in the outcome, can be all I need.

It can help to have another voice in my head besides my own. That old tape keeps playing in the background until I do something to quiet it. Sometimes calling a recovery friend is the something I need.

Codependents often don’t consider the consequences of our actions or decisions. Talking with a recovery friend can sometimes allow me to consider the consequences before I make decisions.

It’s getting harder for me to find excuses not to use this tool of recovery…thanks to technology. Nowadays people often text before calling and this makes picking up the phone even easier. When you feel alone, triggered, confused, hurt, even happy and just want to connect with someone, whatever…shoot out a text first to see if the person is open to a call… go ahead, use the life line…phone a recovery friend.


I’d love to hear how this tool has helped you. Or if you have a hard time with it, what stops you from reaching out?

True Happiness: Realizing Well-Being

podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/tara-brach/id265264862

True Happiness: Realizing Well-Being – Well being is the deep contentment that arises from a relaxed, wakeful presence.

This talk explores the beliefs and habits that contract us away from presence, and several key ways we can nourish our natural capacity for happiness.

Lots of messages in this podcast that resonate with what I am learning in CoDA. The tool of meditation can be challenging for me and I have found listening to these types of talks to be helpful in exploring and building on what I am learning.

I am not trying to endorse this specific teacher however this talk on happiness resonated with my life circumstances right now and also with my tendency to frame things as “this is not supposed to be happening” and “something is missing”.

If this is not your cup of tea, feel free to take what you like and leave the rest.

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.