My recovery took longer than it had too, because I stubbornly held onto how I felt wronged in my life. I wanted to be vindicated, apologized too and I wanted other people to change. I wanted them to make my hurt go away. But it wasn’t happening and so I stayed miserable. I blamed everything on my alcoholic. I can’t count the times I have said something that started with “He made me ….…” Many times I never gave myself a chance because I was not willing to try. And guess what I blamed my alcoholic because, “he made me” feel worthless so I did not even try.
His words and his actions hurt and crippled me for a long time. I should say that I allowed his words and his actions to cripple me for a long time, because in reality that is the truth. I gave him the power to do that. Taking that power back was anything but easy, because I not only had to challenge his hurtful words in my mind I had to learn how to stop my own negative thoughts in their tracks.
The Serenity Prayer talks about the courage to change. Until I was willing to stand up for me, and until I was willing to change and to be changed nothing got better. Regardless of what he did or did not do, this was my personal battle. I could choose to go down with him or I could choose that I was worth more than that. The choice was mine.
Thank goodness that my recovery program was focused on me because that is where I learned to love and respect myself. Interesting enough when I did that my focus shifted. I wanted more and better than what I had been willing to settle for in the past. I raised the bar on what was acceptable and I learned how to laugh and enjoy life for the first time in my life ever.
I still have my moments when I can get myself out into the weeds but they are only moments now. In the past I would have wasted days, weeks, months and years to being miserable. Now when stinking thinking sneaks into my life I immediately call someone and talk out. I just don’t like being miserable any more.
My fourth step inventory was not a sentimental journey. But it was a necessary journey to help free me from past hurts. It was like a road map of my life that revealed the experiences that I had faced along the way, that had molded me into the person I was at that time. Like dripping water over long periods of time can change the shape of a stone, I could see how the verbal abuse through the years that had stripped me of my self-esteem. I could see how the emotional abuse that crippled my ability to stand up for and take care of myself. I could see the scars from physical abuse that had left me afraid to believe that my life was actually my life and not just an extension of someone else’s.
I was blown away with how those two steps totally changed how I viewed my life. One of the most difficult concepts for me to grasp was that no other person on this planet defined my self worth. That was my responsibility. I also learned through my 4th step inventory, that through the years, I had slowly surrendered that right to other people in my life. As a child I did it to survive and avoid pain. As an adult I was just following a pattern that had worked for me as a child. The problem was that it was not working for me as an adult.
I truly believe that the 4th and 5th steps go hand in hand and are paramount in providing the insight we need to be able to turn our life around. The 5th Step requires us to trust God and another person (for me it was my sponsor) with what we have learned about our life. We involve God to help us have the self-honesty we need to grow from this process. Trusting God helps us to have that wisdom to know the difference in what is our responsible and what is not. We involve another person to guide us through the land mines of our past in such a way, that we will have victory when we come out on the other side.
There are many suggested ways to do a 4th Step inventory. My sponsor believed in keeping it simple and the following was pretty much the format that I used the first time.
This is what happen to me.
This was the cause.
This was the harm done to me.
This was the harm done to (another person or persons)
This was the long term impact on my life
This was my part in it.
My sponsor told me that the 4th Step was all about gathering the facts of my life so that I could understand how I had evolved into the person I was at that time. Once I understood the facts, then I would be more equipped to understand what I needed to do to become the person that I wanted to be. She reminded me that it would be an emotional process. Boy was she right. Even though I tried to be objective that was not always the case. In discussing my inventory with my sponsor I began to understand why I needed another person to help me understand my own life. At that time there is no way I could have been objective. Seeing it through her eyes helped me to calm down and take what I had learned through the 4th Step process and use it to help me to heal.
Now before I get tons of email telling me the proper way, or a better way, to do an inventory I want to reminded you that I am telling you how I did it way back then. If and when you do your on personal inventory find a format that helps to release you from the hurts of your past.
There were times the loneliness overwhelmed me. Whether I was in a room full of people or whether I was completely alone it did not matter, I always felt this sad aching loneliness. Years of trying to hide the problems in our marriage had created a prison that I did not know how to get out of. I was angry with Jon because his drinking was more important than our family. I was angry with myself for putting up with his drinking.
It seemed that I did everything by myself. Sitting in the bleachers at the soccer field, watching my kids play soccer, I would look around at all of the other Mom and Dads with envy. I was alone of course. I always had a variety of ready answers for why Jon wasn’t there. In reality, I was hurt and relieved that he wasn’t.
The flip side of that situation was when we were dressed to the nines at some fancy social function. I had a knot in my stomach waiting for him to cross that line of social correctness. Again I had a variety of ready made excuses why he was over served and drunk. I was coiled tight ready to exit as soon as he showed signs of “un-respectability.” The problem was that sometimes I could not get him to leave without a scene. So I either had to create a scene to get him to leave or I had to stand there and watch him continue to drink knowing that he was going to create a scene anyway.
But people knew. No matter how well I thought that I had us covered, people knew that he had a drinking problem and they knew that things were not well in our home. Some of my “friends” felt sorry for me and had many suggestions as to what I needed to do so that he would not feel the need to drink so much. Of course this attitude made me feel even more guilty, and more responsible for his drinking. Some of my “friends” were even mad at me because I would not leave him. But of course those same friends were not going to put a roof over my head, and may my bills either. I learned a lot from that experience about giving advice. It is a lot easier to give advice when we don’t know all the facts and when we don’t live with the consequences.
For some reason I did not feel lonely with other people in recovery. They did not blame me for his drinking. They did not tell me to stay and they did not tell me to leave him and they did not tell me to suffer in silence either. Neither did they allow me to sit on my pity-pot and whine about my poor poor life. Not much in my life changed though until I reached the point where my pain was stronger than my pride. It was only when my pride had lost its power over me, that I became willing to go to any length to help myself.
Through the 12 Steps, the slogans and surrounding myself with people who had the type of healing and recovery that I wanted for myself, my life was transformed. What was so interesting to me was that I found great measures of peace and happiness even thought my circumstances had not changed one bit. I sat in the ball park with an attitude of gratitude that my daughters and I did not have to worry about what he would do if he had been there. I went to social functions and left when it was no longer fun for me whether he was ready to leave or not. I stopped trying to explain my life and my marriage to people who did not have a clue what my life was like. I learned how to hate his disease – alcoholism – and not hate the man. I learned that how to be happy by myself or in a crowed room. And that is why after all these years I am still having a love affair with my 12 Step program.
When I first thought about blogging several years ago I bought a book about how to blog. It said that if you do not have good grammar and punctuation, and you can not spell, don’t waste your time because no body will read your blog. Well I knew right away that I was in trouble. I am absolutely awful when it comes to all of those things. So for about 4 years I did nothing. A few years ago I started a page on fb and it sort of took off. Bad grammar and misspelled words and all. So in January of this year I launched this page. Over all it has been received reasonably well even with all of my writing defects. On occasion someone will send me an email and complain about my flaws. The first time it happened – remember I am a recovering codependent – I sent them an email explaining how I am dyslexic and that I never got the hang of English or math in school. (I did love history, lunch and PE.) Of course, later, I felt foolish for trying to justify myself. What was I thinking. Thank goodness for the steps. They help me forgive myself for not being perfect and for not having mastered this program.
My other problem with this blog is staying on top of spam and porn that has tried to infiltrate my blog. They really do tick me off. Today I accidentally deleted about 100 new people that had recently signed up to receive my blog by email. I was trying to get rid of the spam and porn scum bags and deleted some of you by accident. Sorry about that. I was trying to clean up my list of the “bad guys” and accidentally deleted some of the “good guys.”
My reason for this blog is to share what it was like when I started and how I have grown and changed through my recovery journey. I want people who are new in recovery or people who are searching for answers to know their is hope. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how educated your are, how much money you have or “who you think you are” “life hurts” happen. End the end it is not what happens to us that defines us, it is how we respond to what happens that defines us.
Thanks for reading my blog. I really do appreciate it when you share about your recovery journey on my blog or when you send me and email. So please feel free to share.
In the Serenity Prayer we ask God for the serenity to accept things we cannot change. I said the words to this prayer many times but in my heart I didn’t see how it was possible. How could I have serenity? The feelings of powerlessness left me feeling fearful and desperate. My whole like was a hair line trigger waiting to respond. I don’t think I ever experience a moment when I felt relaxed. Even my sleep was affected by the chaos that when on when I was awake. I felt on call 24 hours a day – 7 days a week to provide damage control or to try to circumvent the next crisis.
I was afraid that if “I” didn’t do something to save my alcoholic he would die. But no matter what I did I could not save him. He died at the age of 43. He never saw his children grow up, help them buy their first car, see them go off to college, walk them down the isle, or hold his grandchildren. Alcoholism robbed him of all of that. And not one thing I did or did not do could save him because I really was powerless over his drinking after all.
I was also afraid that if “I” didn’t do something to save him we would financially loose everything. And guess what? We lived in financial chaos all the time. In the end the financial responsibility was all on my shoulders. I don’t know how we make it but we did. Many times we did not have things that we wanted but somehow someway we always managed to have the things we needed.
I did not want anyone else to know about his drinking. I made excuses like he had a really bad day at work today or he did not have a chance to eat lunch. I made sure we left parties early to avoid the scene that I knew was going to come. I told everyone how awesome out life and our marriage was and I laid awake at night wishing I had the courage leave him. But the funny thing was almost everyone knew anyway.
I had to learn the hard way that standing between my alcoholic and his consequences would not guarantee me that the things I feared would not happen because many of them happened anyway. In the beginning I did not have to accept my powerlessness because it was rammed down my throat one painful lesson at a time. I finally got it. I gave up. But I did not have serenity. I had anger, resentment and fear. It was the deepest darkest time of my life because I had no hope.
It was in the second step – “came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity” that I had my first glimmer of hope. At this point I had no doubt in my mind that it was going to take more than mere human effort, because I had tried everything I knew to try and nothing had worked. Yep it was definitely going to require a greater power to restore me to any type of sanity whatsoever.
It was this program that helped me understand that alcoholism was a disease and it helped me not hate him by separating the man from his disease of alcoholism. This program gave me a voice and helped me draw the line between what was acceptable and unacceptable in my life. I learned to make decisions because it was the right thing to do and not because I was angry or afraid or because I was trying to control someone else’s actions. It was in this program that I learned I was competent and capable. I could write pages and pages of the things I have learned from this program. The Serenity Prayer is amazing. Serenity and the wisdom to know the difference all boils down to who I am powerless over and who I am not. I can not change others but I can change me.
Even though we didn’t cause, can’t control or cure their “ism” we can enable it to continue and to get worse. We have the best intentions. We think we are helping and protecting but in reality we are feeding their ‘ism” by standing between them and their consequences.
Alcoholism is a progressive disease and if I were a betting woman, I would bet that enabling is a progressive disease as well. The more we do to protect them from the consequences of their own actions and behaviors the more we have to do, and the more we have to sacrifice of our needs to pander to their wants. In the end they develop an attitude of entitlement and we develop and attitude of desperation, fear, anger and disappointment.
In the end our behavior all comes back to the hurt inside of us that pushes us to accept unacceptable in our lives. I talk a lot on this page about the 4th step. But until I did a 4th and 5th step I had no idea how to stop myself from repeating the same mistake over and over again all the while expecting a different result. Until I understood myself and understood what motivated me to react to life the way I did, I had no idea how to stop my contribution to the unhappiness in my life. I had no idea what were healthy boundaries and what were not.
Through these steps I leaned about myself. I learned to take responsibility for my actions and allow other people to take responsibility for theirs. I began to understand what were realistic expectations and what were acts of manipulation and control. Until I owned my own behavior I had no sense of power or control over my life because I was always at the mercy of someone else’s whims.
I am still a work in progress but I am at least enjoying the journey now.
A few days ago I received an email form someone who reminded me that there is more to Codependency than being in a relationship with an alcoholic or addict. And she is so right! I have had a love affair with my 12 Step program for so long that sometimes I forget that I was broken long before I met my alcoholic.
To me, my codependency evolved as a coping tool to survive and feel good about myself. Both of my parents were broken. One had been raised in physical abuse and she raised me the only way she knew. The other was an untreated adult child of an alcoholic. Now, after going through these steps, I know that they did love me the best and only way they knew how. Unfortunately their view of life was distorted and they taught me the only life that they knew.
I have been hanging around 12 Step programs for many sunsets now. Looking back on my life, I can truthfully say that as painful as my marriage was, I can thank God everyday that I married an alcoholic. I know it sounds crazy. You see in the beginning I started attending my recovery meetings for him. I was going to find a way to fix and save him. They told me right away that my program was not about him, my program was for and about me. You see, “because” of my alcoholic I found away out of my own personal misery. I shudder to think of what my life would have been like without the guidance of the 12 Steps and a good sponsor.
I believe that the negative experiences in our life don’t just hurt us they change us as well. And I believe that the people who become codependent through alcoholic and addiction relationships are only the tip of the ice-berg. Negative experiences like abuse – physical, emotional, and sexual change our emotional DNA. It can happen when our emotional needs aren’t met because an important person in our life is indifferent, detached or emotionally inaccessible to us because they are struggling with their own issues. It can happen when we are neglected or feel abandonment through such things as illness, death, divorce or desertion. Just being different, the odd person out, changes how we see ourselves. Hey! I believe it can happen sometimes even through good intentions – such as when are coddled when people do for us things we should be doing for ourselves. The list goes on and on.
Codependency is not heredity – which means that it is not genetically passed down from one generation to another. BUT, it can be a learned behavior that we teach our kids without even realizing it. We teach our children by our words and actions the world as we believe it ourselves. Through one painful life lesson at a time I learned how to cope either through submission or through this all consuming obsessive need to control people, places and things in my little world. It was through the 12 Steps that my life was transformed from pain to joy and I have had a love affair with these steps every sense.
How do you forgive someone who has no remorse for hurting you? It is definitely not easy, or I should say it is not easy for me. Heck it is even hard for me to forgive sometimes even when they do feel remorse; especially when what they did cannot be undone. I keep thinking how could you have done this to me?
At one time I had a laundry list of requirements to forgive. The only problem was that I could never ever truly forgive en when all of my requirements had been met. Betrayal destroyed trust. Deep in my heart I always kept myself on guard. I worried that in a moment of weakness they would do something else to hurt me? Or sometimes they were someone I believed was simply too selfish and self-centered to ever trust.
Forgiving is like saying it was okay and there are somethings that will never be okay with me. There were some hurts I never wanted to forget because they fueled the anger inside of me that gave me the strength to cut that person out of my life. Unforgiveness was my shield of protection. The problem with all of that is that it gave that person the power to continue hurting me even when they weren’t around.
It took a while for me to understand that forgiveness does not mean that I have to allow that person into my trust. I have learned that forgiving someone will not make them a nice person if they weren’t a nice person who had just made a mistake. Let’s face it. A snake is a snake and forgiving a snake will not make it something else. Forgiveness does not mean that we have to be friends or that I have to hang out with them. It does not mean that what they did was okay. It means that I am not going to emotionally torture myself over what they did anymore.
Fourth and Fifth stepping the problem helped me to see the problem from all sides objectively for the first time. Who hurt me? What did they do to hurt me? How did their action effect my life? What was the damage to me – physically, emotionally, socially, how did it effect me sense of security, etc. And then we looked at my part in what had transpired. I could never have looked at the situation objectively without my sponsors help. My feelings were to raw and I was to emotional.
Forgiving meant that I was not going to be defined by my past. I was going to learn from the situation and moved forward. Forgiving meant that I refused to be a victim; I was not going to live in hurt and fear. Forgiving took the poison out of my heart and my thoughts and allowed me to dictate my feelings going forward.
Sometimes I have really struggled with forgiving. I wanted to forgive but then something would happen, someone would innocently say or do something that would stir it up all over again. I have found that the first step, for me, was that I had to want to forgive first in those type of situations. I prayed and ask for God’s help to do something that I could not seem to do on my own. It was the desire to forgive that kept me praying, and then one day I would notice that the sting was gone. Looking back I can see that there was always something for me to learn through the forgiveness process; Compassion, empathy, knowing the difference in who I should trust and who I should not are just to name a few. But one thing I do know about forgiveness for sure – Forgiveness is definitely for my benefit.
The Serenity Prayer talks about accepting things we cannot change. It totally makes sense, but it is so so hard to do sometimes. Especially when it goes against everything we think we need to be happy. I had this dream of marrying my knight in shinning armor and riding off into the sunset and living happy ever after. I thought if I could just hang in their long enough he would come to his senses and my dreams would come true.
In the mean time things kept deteriorating and my life was light years from my dreams. At first I was depressed and then I was angry and then I was resentful. I accepted what I could not change all right, but I was thoroughly ticked off about it. I was miserable and I was miserable to be around.
I had a lot to be grateful for but I did not feel grateful for anything. I had three beautiful daughters and I was not enjoying them because I was mad at him. I deprived myself of simple pleasures because I was so busy being a martyr. At first people sympathized with me but after a while they began to avoid me and then I felt more isolated and alone. I blamed him. It never occurred to me that I wasn’t very please to be around.
They say in the big book of AA that the only people who don’t get better are the people who cannot be honest with themselves. The 4th and 5th steps are all about self-honesty. When I began those steps I had a very difficult time writing it without justifying. My sponsor helped me to see just the facts. No justifying, no rationalizing it was just plain facts. This is what happened, this was my part in it and this is how it affected me.
My sponsor helped me to understand that those facts did not define me as a person and they did not dictate my future. They were simply the facts about my past. It was up to me how I wanted to write about me in my future. This is that part of the Serenity Prayer talks about the courage to change the things we can. Me. That’s what I could change. Me.
Through these 12 Steps my relationship with myself changed. This self evolution was not easy and sometimes painful. It definitely required perseverance because there was a lot of pressure and resistance not only from the people who hurt me but from myself to keep things the way that they were. Their fear was losing control over me and my biggest fear was that without them I was nothing. Sad isn’t it that we need affirmation from broken people to be okay?
For me to change, I had to have an open mind and I had to be willing to change. I love these 12 steps. They literately walked me through my problems and help me to stay focused on me. When I hold my problems up to the light of these steps and the Serenity Prayer I am able to see them objectively. Sometimes I’m stubborn. Sometimes I am not so willing. But I have learned that when the pain gets bad enough it was time to surrender. I have a choice. It’s up to me to choose; More misery or peace of mind. I am happy to report that I don’t choose misery too much any more.
After years of beating my head against a brick wall I finally surrendered. I was powerless and my life was unmanageable. He won. I gave up and I detached. I built a wall so thick that I didn’t care what he did or did not do as long as he left me and the kids alone. He said the sky was purple and I said sure – whatever you say. I didn’t want and I didn’t not want, I was just going through the motions of getting from one day to the next.
That was when a dear friend became alarmed for my mental well being and took me to my first recovery meeting. She did not tell me where we were going. She just showed up at my house one morning, threw some clothes at me and told me to get dressed. When we got there and I realized where I was I was pretty ticked off. To me those people were a bunch of fanatics talking a bunch of hocus-pocus.
That very first meeting was on the first step – admitting we are powerlessness over alcohol and that our life is unmanageable. There was no question that I was powerless and that my life was unmanageable and that is exactly why I had shut down my feelings. Every time I allowed myself to feel, then I felt compelled to try and save him. Nope! I wasn’t going there, it hurt to much.
Then I heard someone say that we can be happy whether the alcoholic is drinking or not and I did laugh out loud. Obviously their situation was not anything like mine. But in reality some of them were much worse. They tolerated me. There was no pressure to believe what they believe or do what they said they were doing. For the life of me I don’t know why I kept going back. I have thought about it often through the years. I believe I kept going back for a couple of reasons. One is that I had no where else to go. Another is because I felt a sense of peace in those rooms and I desperately wanted to feel that too.
What was really weird was when I turned my feelings back on I had a tendency to jump in and try to save him again. It was a roller-coaster ride but I felt alive for the first time in a long time. I have come to the conclusion, that for myself, I had to feel something in order to do something about it. The only difference is that this time around I was focused on me and not on him. Denying or ignoring the truth did not make my problems go away.
I can tell you this. It was not easy to stand up for myself. Emotionally beaten down and afraid, I had to fight that internal dialog in my own head that told me I did not deserve any better. But I kept going back to meetings and reading the literature and I started working the steps. And you know what? As I started to peel the layers of pain back I found that there was a pretty neat person buried in my heart; A person worth fighting for. Some times I took two steps forward and one step back. But there was no way I wanted to go back to how things used to be. I could either exist or I could change and learn how to be happy. I have learned that when you get sick and tired of being sick and tired you will do whatever it takes to change.