Friday, April 04, 2008

You Can Always Tell A Codependent

But Not Much.

The other morning I splurged after my morning 12-Step meeting and went out for coffee with some of my tribe. As we settled down in the far corner of the coffee shop section at Barnes & Noble, the subject came up, as it often does with newcomers who don't know any better, about how other people in the program REALLY need help and what can be done to help them.

I do my best to squash such gossiping before it gets out of hand by pointing out that prayers are always good and that no matter what, we really need to keep the focus on ourselves throughout our sobriety. Fat lot of good that does.

In 10 years of continuous sobriety I've met few recovering alcoholics who weren't, to some degree or another, also recovering codependents. Especially people who are also Adult Children of Alcoholics (boy, does it come with that territory!)

And if there's one thing CODA's are good at, it's taking the heat off themselves by putting it on somebody else (a drunken parent, sibling, significant other, the guy or gal sitting across from them at meetings, etc).

The difficulty comes when you have 10 years, like I do, and you know that your primary purpose is to stay sober and to help another alcoholic to achieve sobriety.

When, then, is it appropriate to discuss what clearly is the borderline mental illness of a group member? Who becomes the anointed adult in a group, charged with approaching someone like that with the advice that their needs are "clearly beyond the scope of any 12-Step program and, therefore, we advise you to seek professional assistance outside of the rooms?"

These are ticklish and uncertain issues for us. Bill W. (one of the granddads of 12-Step programs) never hesitated to jump right in, no matter the consequences, with lots of advice for people, helpful or otherwise. But times were different then.

The temptation to succumb to the need to "fix someone" is at the very core of a codependent's addiction. That addiction being to do everything within their power to avoid having any attention drawn to their addictions (it's tricky, but runs along the line of "as long as everyone is looking at Uncle Joe's drinking problem, nobody will notice what a drunk I've become!"), or, in the case of someone already in recovery, to not have attention drawn to their own (possibly marginal) efforts by focusing a beam of negative energy on someone else's recovery. Someone who may lack the mental or emotional resources to have the sort of recovery many of us desire.

But like all human behaviors, codependency is fraught with pitfalls. Not the least of which is that we run the danger of eventually having that same spotlight shone on ourselves, and our peccadiloes.

You know, I've gotten so much self-awareness in the last 10 years that it seems to some of my friends that I do nothing but spend most of my time self-co-dependently analyzing my every thought, word and motive. We even have an expression for that (surprise, surprise!)

We call it "analysis until paralysis." And yes, I'm guilty of that a lot of the time (not all of it, though).

Like Buddha, we are all seeking "the Middle Way." Balance.

Have an angst free weekend everybody. And remember to keep the focus on yourselves (unless you're a newly minted grandparent in which case it's perfectly alright to keep the focus on the baby).


Aerten said...

You are so spot on with that codependency + ACOA insanity. I've gotten SO much better in the past 10 years or so minding my own messy little life. In fact, unless we live under the same roof and/or (especially and) are blood related, I'm declaring that everyone else is mostly safe from me.

Apparently, I'm still not easy to live with. I'll be working on that for the NEXT 50 years of my life.

~ Sil in Corea said...

A story I love to tell is about a mental patient who determined she was going to get sober. She was psychiatrically labelled "Borderline." God, she was hard to put up with, whining for attention one minute and angrily pushing people away the next.

I had another "psycho" sponsee already, who had improved a lot using the tools. Best thing that coulda happened, happened. My sponsee sponsered "Betty borderline." It took a while but Betty got and stayed sober, and even began to be pleasant to be around. I was at the meeting when she got her 5-year chip. You could tell that she was loved and respected by the group members.

The key was that she wanted to live sober. She wanted what the others had found. She worked hard until she got it.

Hugs from Asia,
~ Sil in Corea