I had difficulty in my love relationships, friendships and relationships with co-workers and my family. Everything felt so difficult. Why did I keep getting fired from jobs, even from my own business? Why couldn’t men love me the way I needed to be loved? I know how to fix everyone else’s problems, why can’t I seem to make my life work? If only he would change, I could finally be happy…
For me, the answers began to unfold when I entered the CoDA program six years ago after hitting my emotional bottom. After a traumatic four-year relationship with an emotionally unavailable narcissist drove me into therapy, I learned that the term codependent might apply to me.
In the Welcome, read at every meeting of Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA), I heard that “Most of us have been searching for ways to overcome the dilemmas of the conflicts in our relationships and our childhoods. Many of us were raised in families where addictions existed – some of us were not. In either case, we have found in each of our lives that codependence is a most deeply rooted compulsive behavior and that it is born out of our sometimes moderately, sometimes extremely dysfunctional family systems. We have each experienced in our own ways the painful trauma of the emptiness of our childhood and relationships throughout our lives. We attempted to use others – our mates, friends, and even our children, as our sole source of identity, value and well-being, and as a way of trying to restore within us the emotional losses from our childhoods.”
This was an eye opener for me. I grew up in a family with mental illness. My mom had schizophrenia. Chaotic and unpredictable behavior was my normal. Caretaking behavior was taught to me from an early age. I took responsibility for other people’s feelings and behavior. If I was a better daughter, this wouldn’t be happening. If she would just change, everything would be better.
I grew up and spent many years married to an older man with physical and emotional health issues. I stayed with him because he needed me. I did everything I could to heal him with my love in a vain effort to find someone who would love me unconditionally and never leave me. I tried to change him into the person I wanted him to be so my needs could be met. All the while, I was setting my needs aside to take care of him. My controlling behavior increased as quickly as my self-worth dropped.
The Welcome goes on to say, “Our histories may include other powerful addictions which at times we have used to cope with our codependence.”
For some people this may mean an alcohol, food, work or gaming addiction. I realized recently that if I had grown up with the technology that is available today, I would have been considered a media addict. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s so I remember escaping into the TV to be part of the Cunninghams, the Keatons, even the Huxtables. I wanted to be in the mountains with Grizzly Adams or become super human like the Bionic Woman. As a kid, I watched an endless stream of shows in order to numb out or fantasize about a life where my mom didn’t have mental illness and I wasn’t afraid. Even now, I can still find myself avoiding feelings by binging on YouTube or Netflix. The thing is that while this may have helped me survive in my childhood, these and other dysfunctional tools now act to destroy my relationships. My co-dependent behaviors like control and avoidance, people-pleasing, manipulation, caretaking, fantasizing and more stop me from being my authentic self. They keep me isolated when what I really want is to connect. They invite others to reject, shame or express anger towards me.
As I have continued to grow and change in the program, I know a new freedom. The tools I have gained in CoDA have helped me understand the need for awareness, willingness and acceptance. The Twelve Steps in CoDA give me a path to follow when I am struggling with painful or confusing circumstances. I get to process what false beliefs lie under my feelings when I am triggered and work to replace those old beliefs with the truth. I have developed a trusting relationship with a power greater than myself so I can truly turn my will and life over. In CoDA, I practice with relationship tools like boundaries and have learned to trust those who are trustworthy. I can detach with love rather than seek to change the other person. I know that my power lies in managing my own thoughts, choices, behaviors and feelings. I get to be responsible for my stuff and let others be responsible for theirs. Instead of caretaking, I can be content to see others take care of themselves.
I find as I continue to attend meetings, work with co-sponsors and recovery friends and use the tools of the program, I see the promises manifesting in my life. The Welcome closes with this phrase, “No matter how traumatic your past or despairing your present may seem, there is hope for a new day in the program of Co-Dependents Anonymous. No longer do you need to rely on others as a power greater than yourself. May you instead find here a new strength within to be that which God intended – Precious and Free.”
To find a Co-Dependents Anonymous group near you in Minnesota, visit MinnCoDA.org. Submit your 1st Person story to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last Updated on March 6, 2020