Sixty days, alcohol free. I am proud, with a side of complications.
I love waking up every day free of the shame, worry, and dread I’d have after a night of drinking. I love the clarity in my mind and the space the clarity has made for my feelings. I love the energy I have to exercise – and I feel like I am starting to be in the best shape I’ve been in in years. Last night I slept like a log tucked in a quiet forest.
But my god, the feeeeeeeeelings. And the memories.
And the on-going problematic relationships in the family. This is especially difficult. Here at the Cabin, I feel surrounded by some of my most complicated, codependent relationships. My deepest insecurities come out with these people. This is MY Cabin, my home, my river, my life, but I have spent every one of the last 30+ summers feeling at the mercy of these other people’s problems and manipulations. Every single one of us needs a lesson in boundaries. As far as I can tell, I am the only one signing up for some instruction on the subject this summer.
For my own edification, I am going to review some of what I learned from reading Codependents’ Guide to the Twelve Steps by Melody Beattie because it really did feel like a true “guide” in the sense of giving me a framework for the emotional work I am trying to do, and validation for some of the healing I have already done.
First, and most importantly, for me was understanding the nature of codependency and how it is fucking up my life. Boiled down, its about control in relationships and realizing that the truth is that you cannot control other peoples’ behavior or life, and you cannot allow them to control your life by giving away your own power. Feeling like we are being driven crazy by these attempts to have power where there is none creates unmanageability. Powerlessness + unmanageability = codependent lifestyle. For me, that means I realized I do a million different things in an attempt to control other people: I people-please, I caretake, I ignore my own self worth and needs when I should be setting boundaries. I also feel victimized by other people’s manipulations and problems. I feel like I have to stay on the defense every minute to “protect” myself. And these behaviors of mine have made me feel crazy! I obsess over painful interactions with people, fears for the future, and I struggle with self hatred. These feelings + alcohol definitely made my life feel unmanageable. Stopping with the distraction of drinking has helped me come to a place of calm acceptance of my powerlessness over others and the unmanageability of my life that is a result of control issues and shitty coping mechanisms. I feel real hope that I can change my behavior and the quality of my relationships using the steps.
Another big realization for me from the book involves the notion of God and the role of God in recovery. I was raised in a basically agnostic family. We never went to church and we never discussed the existence of God, the meaning of prayer, or even spirituality in general. Once, when I was probably age 6 or 7, I was asked by a classmate what church we went to on Sundays. I went home and asked my father which church we belonged to, this being the first time the question had ever crossed my mind. He answered, “If anyone ever asks again tell them we are Lutherans.” This was the first and probably last time he and I ever spoke about religion. My only memory of my mother discussing spirituality was when I was age 12, two years after my father had passed away and less than two years before she too would pass away. She said, at the end of a long dinner party she had hosted for her closest friends, sitting at the head of our dining room table, “I don’t think there is a Heaven or Hell or any kind of afterlife. It’s like my mother said, we are born alone and we die alone. When we die there is probably nothing and we just cease to exist.” She cried after saying this.
Perhaps they did discuss spirituality in a more meaningful way with me, but I don’t really remember it and they were both dead by the time I was 13. I am remembering now, that prior to their deaths, when I was still ignorant of what hardship really meant, I had my own ideas about spirituality. I was very connected to the natural, physical world. I sensed and trusted an unseen flow to life. I confided in nature. I shared my heart with something unknown and outside of myself, without any thought of God or religion.
But, slowly, as I experienced big losses and scary changes starting around age 10, I stopped believing that I could trust the flow. I felt that whatever it was that I was talking to and sharing myself with did not love me like I loved it. It started to seem powerful, faceless and huge, whereas I felt small, insignificant and helpless. I stopped talking to this thing. I felt I couldn’t rely on it anymore and that our connection was broken.
And so, I thought that I don’t believe in God. I certainly don’t believe in the Judeo-Christian version of God, or any other organized religion’s definition. But this book and the Twelve Steps have me reconsidering my relationship with the idea of Higher Power/God. Beyond reconsidering, it has me remembering my relationship with this thing. Maybe I can reconnect to this flow.
Step Eleven: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.”
Through prayer and meditation.
Before releasing some of my preconceived notions about “God” I would have rejected this language about prayer. Meditation is a less loaded subject for me. Through yoga, I have been able to meditate and I’ve seen the possibilities. I’ve never considered a role for prayer in meditation. Beattie explains it like this: “Praying is how we talk to God. Meditating is how God talks to us.”
How can we get answers without asking questions?