Labels

Day 55, alcohol free. I am at the Cabin, alone to the extent that the neighborhood allows (privacy is a shifting concept in this particular neck of the woods), and I am enjoying the time and space to read and think about only me. I love my husband and I feel so grateful that he is my companion in life, but it’s difficult to get a grip on my codependency issues while we are together. Part of my codependency issue is that I focus on him, rather than myself.

So, it’s just me and the cat, savoring this incredible, early summer gift of perfect 75 degree weather. Well, it’s me, the cat, my unsettling memories, my regrets, my constant worries, and the ambient, ever-present fear that my aunt, a neighbor in this hood, will turn up unannounced to ask deeply personal questions and express her special brand of hostility-denial-martyrdom.

It’s peaceful, I tell you!

The river is peaceful, even if I am not. I am so lucky that I have been able to come to this Cabin every single year of my life. My life feels segmented into eras – you know, the before X and after X. Time periods, hinging on pivotal moments. But the river is continuous. The river is my home.

It is comforting to read Melody Beattie’s Codependents’ Guide to the Twelve Steps. I’ve only read through Step 7 at this point and I’m just trying to let it sink in and wash over me. I never thought I’d get over my preconceived notions and judgments about anything having to do with the Twelve Steps enough to read a book about it, let alone attend a meeting. I haven’t gone to a meeting yet, and I’m not sure I ever will…to be determined.

Most of my preconceived notions are from my parents’ experiences with Twelve Step programs and their attitudes towards the programs (negative!). There is also the God thing, which definitely gives my secular, anti-religious heart pause. But I don’t have any bone to pick with understanding a Higher Power and the role for it in recovery. I’m not interested in a philosophical debate about whether God exists or what “God” is while I’m trying to sort out my lifetime of emotional issues. I have already accepted that there is a force, an energy, a magic, an ineffability to the experience of life for which the only name we can think of is God. I’m ready to let God, without religion, help me.

The parents’ attitude thing was harder for me to detach from for two reasons: first, their shitty attitudes seemed perfectly reasonable given their experiences both in life and in the programs. They both got hung up on the same part – the label. My father was a capital A Alcoholic and my mother was a capital C Codependent. Rather than seeing these things as lower case problems to be identified and dealt with accordingly (alcohol addiction, codependency), my parents each lived under these reductive labels. My father got his label through court order after several DUIs and my mother got hers through her education and career in social work. She, as the adult child of an alcoholic, married to an alcoholic, viewed attendees of Al-Anon as “losers” – most likely because considered herself in such unkind terms.

The second reason it is hard to distance myself from their attitudes is because they’re both dead and those labels have stuck! Family members and friends either never talk about my father or tend to remember only that he was an Alcoholic. My mother’s Codependent identity definitely gets more lip service, particularly from that aunt I mentioned in the neighborhood. She’s still the little sister, picking fights with her 20-years-dead big sister. Needless to say, I have resisted talking about these labels over the years because of how they reduced the memories of the two most complex people that I will not have the chance to know as an adult.

But I’m coming around, bit by bit! It feels good to end the resistance and put down the shield that wasn’t really protecting me anyway. I love Melody Beattie’s voice in this book because it feels truly compassionate. I am grateful that I have this opportunity to approach my issues on my terms. People have many labels for me including, but not limited to, Over-Achiever, Bitch, Orphan, Stoner, Prude, Scholar, Slut, Privileged, Alcoholic, Codependent etc etc etc. But I’m starting to actually believe that all this label making is pure bullshit and merely an obstacle to my self-realization.

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