Below is my 1 Year Birthday - Recovery Story. I shared this at my CoDA meeting last night and thought I'd share it with other CoDA members through Connections online. I really value the online community as a resource to learn what other CoDA members have gone through. Keep it up for us, please!
October 1, 2002
I’d like to preface my story with a disclaimer that the beginning of my recovery is a parallel with two 12-step programs – AA and CoDA. I’ll go between the two, referencing one and then the other, because both were crucial to my realization that I had the disease of codependency, as well as the symptoms (alcoholism and drug addiction) that manifested as a result of trying to self-medicate and “treat” that disease.
One year and one week ago today, I found my way to my first CoDA meeting. I was so out of it emotionally, that I can’t tell you much more than I just cried my way through it, pulling pieces of snotty and torn Kleenex off my forehead and cheek every few minutes. I didn’t know these people from Adam, but it didn’t matter --- Somehow being in a room with people who seemed to feel as crazy and out of control as I did made things not seem so bad. But then again, it sorta made things worse, in that I had to say, “My God, if we all feel this way, then the world in general must feel this way…and if that’s the case, then I’m really in trouble.”
I felt numb and I had airplane-head…you know…when it feels like your ears are clogged, and everything around you sounds muffled…the world seems to be plugging along outside, and I all I can hear out there is this low, constant rumble. My ears couldn’t or wouldn’t pop. I felt thick and it was hard to focus. Sounds odd, I’m sure, but I just mean I felt stuck inside my head and so out of touch with everything around me. I kept thinking I didn’t belong and I left that first meeting not sure if CoDA was something I wanted to do or not…whether codependent was something I wanted to acknowledge being or not.
I was only one week sober, having poured out my brand new bottle of Vodka and given away my last two cases of beer, leftover from a recent party. (Oh and I flushed a bag of weed down the toilet about a week later, having finally realized smoking pot was just as much a method of escape as drinking.)
My 21-year-old next-door neighbor was in AA and brought me to my first 12-step meeting on September 17th. I was so freaked out by the room jam-packed-full of people talking about the solution to their life-long drinking problems, my reaction was, “This is so not me.” Quite honestly, I don’t see AA as a place I feel at home, but it doesn’t really matter, as long as I go to a 12-step program and don’t use drugs or alcohol to medicate.
I have to say though, that at my very next meeting, the following evening, I declared myself an alcoholic, stumbling over the words as I went up to get that Desire chip. It was almost funny how quickly I went from staggering drunk to blindly sober in a matter of minutes. I didn’t even recognize me for the first few clean weeks. (On a side note, no one in my life believed I was really sober for quite a while. It appeared to many to be just another phase or fad Michelle was going through.)
I was alone, lonely, and sober. I was scared. But I was also full of motivation to stop drinking and for once, deal with my relationship having ended. Like many others, I had been told, “You’re codependent. Go to a meeting!” I never went while I was actually in a relationship; that would have been too healthy, and I certainly wasn’t that.
Anyway, let me back up a month or so before my relationship ended and I hit my “bottom.”
My partner and I had been together officially since May, but both had serious problems letting go of our exes – a whole other story. We had a rocky and dramatic start and ended pretty much the same way. She accepts responsibility for her part in the demise of our relationship and I am now able to accept mine. It’s hard to know how to tell you about the codependent person I was and the unhealthy behaviors in which I engaged my partner. Not only because of how embarrassed I am about the way I acted but also because, for so long, I refused to believe I was the one with the problem – insecure, jealous, obsessive, possessive, invasive, alcoholic, drug abusing, promiscuous, overeating, raging, withholding intimacy, forcing intimacy, having unrealistic expectations, judging, blaming – oh basically being codependent. As much as I denied it then, those are all of my issues.
It would take me hours to tell you all of the codependent things I did to her and to myself, so let me just summarize with these images – drunk, high, fighting, bruises, broken doors, torn skin, pulled hair, disassembled bedroom door locks, screaming, slamming doors, cheating, lying, hurting, prying, threatening, calling 911, police reports for domestic violence, moving out – drama. That was my life as a codependent. Every day. And that just described one of my relationships.
But even with all of those seemingly obvious problems, it would take her leaving me for me to realize I had this disease – codependency, and how it was slowly killing me.
So my relationship ended, my partner moved out, and I sat with my two codependent dogs on the front porch, crying half the time and trying to sleep the pain away the other half. Work wasn’t even an option as non-functional as I was. I don’t know if working from home was a blessing or if it just added to my torture during that time.
That was my bottom and that’s what finally brought me to CoDA. Oh that and a mid-afternoon visit to Psychiatric Emergency Services after days of suicidal thoughts.
Back to CoDA – So I began going to CoDA meetings. Nothing really happened at first. I went to a meeting, I’d cry, I’d go home still feeling abandoned, lonely, isolated, crazy, confused. I’d hang on to and rub my Desire chip throughout the day, throughout a meeting, sitting in the bathtub. I’d say the serenity prayer. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But I “kept coming back,” as they say. I started to read more and more about codependency and love addiction. Several books helped me see who I really was, who I had become, and who I was so afraid of continuing to be. I journaled, made friends with other codependents and spent time by myself, learning to like myself, which was definitely a new thing for me.
One of my biggest issues with 12-step programs had been the whole “God thing,” as I call it. As several other people in the program, I came to CoDA with feelings of anger, resentment, and betrayal by the church, by Christians, by God. I wanted nothing to do with a program that was based primarily on my belief in things I had worked so hard to eliminate from my life. Just hearing the words, God, Him, Our Father, or anything relating to what I considered “religion” pushed me further away from my own recovery. I even stifled the first word of the Serenity Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer, feeling like I was a kid in school being forced to pray when I knew it was wrong. When we would read the Twelve Steps, I’d feel my whole body tense up if I had to read one with God or Him in it. It irritated me almost to the point of leaving the program. I had heard the saying, “Take what you need and leave the rest,” and bawked at it. I was not going to be a part of something that I didn’t 100% believe in or that wasn’t exactly what I felt. I also hated the saying “Act as if,” as if pretending something that wasn’t true was an acceptable method of thought modification.
For years, I debated that theory with anyone who would listen, even before I made it to recovery. How fake and phony is it to do something I don’t believe in my heart. After all, (tongue-in-cheek) if I really wanted to, I could change my behavior – that wasn’t my overall concern. I wanted to stop feeling the way I felt when I had the “codependent crazies.” So I thought, “I can’t be a part of this program, it’s all a bunch of actors, who really want to drink, get high, act out, rage, whatever.”
Of course, now I know that all of that was just another way to not get healthy, to stay stuck in my unhealthy behaviors. I finally was able to hear it, when they read, “In CoDA, we each learn to build a bridge to a Higher Power of our own understanding, and we allow others the same privilege.” I haven’t changed all of my views on the Church, Christians, or God – well maybe God…but being able to develop my own idea about my Higher Power was and is a huge accomplishment. For a long time, my Higher Power was the meetings, then it was my CoDA friends and their stories, then it was my dog, Stanley, when he passed away. Now, I don’t what it is – it doesn’t matter. I know there’s something or someone helping me fight my codependency and giving me little rewards every time I do “the next right thing.”
One of the vices I held on to after I got sober, was smoking cigarettes. I figured “hey, if I’ve given up drinking and pot, then smoking cigarettes is only fair.” But on October 17th, I guess by using the meetings and the wisdom of the program, I somehow found the strength to give up cigarettes too. I guess by then I figured, if I was gonna “do this right,” I needed to throw aside the crutches. And although I had tried to quit a hundred times before, using the Patch, Nicorette, threats from partners, financial reasons, or just plain will power, this time was different. This time it worked. This time I wanted to tear down the “smoke screen” that John Bradshaw says smokers put up to keep everyone else at a distance. CoDA helped me do that.
Before I knew it, I had been in CoDA one month and had gone to 20 meetings – 5 a week – working toward that “90 meetings in 90 days” rule – though as you all know, in Austin, there aren’t 90 CoDA meetings in 90 days – so I went to all that were available.
I can’t say what happened during those first few months, many have called the 12-step process a “miracle.” I’ll go with that – I don’t care how it worked and continues to work – I’m just glad it does. So is my partner. We’ve been back together since October 24th, just 30 days into my recovery. She would probably tell you the same thing I’m telling you – CoDA changed everything. CoDA changes everything. I relate better, I actually listen now (though I’m still working on that), I ask instead of tell, I can be alone (and actually enjoy it), I want instead of need, I can be held instead of pushing away, I drink tea instead of vodka, I journal and read instead of smoking cigarettes or pot, I talk instead of keeping it all in, I’m a little more patient, flexible, and understanding, instead of being quite so demanding, rigid, and uncompromising ---still working on those too.
No, I’m not perfect - - Jeez, how long has it taken for me to admit that - - and that I never will be. Yes, I still stumble and act inappropriately at times. But now, I can admit my mistake, ask for forgiveness, work to change that behavior, and move on without staying stuck in a self-loathing state of mind. I’m not that mouse running and running on the wheel and not getting anywhere. And now, the times I’m inappropriate are getting fewer and further between. That’s progress.
I still have major issues I have to work through…the reasons I became codependent, the reasons I needed and sometimes still feel the need to hide from who I really am. I still have shame, regret, guilt, anxiety, self-hatred, and depression. I have a lot of work to do to free my inner child, to forgive myself for abandoning myself, to acknowledge the harmful things that were done to me as a child, and to admit the harmful things I’ve done to others as a result.
I still want to learn to let go of things I have no control over, and sometimes of things I do have control over, but have no business controlling. I still want to learn to try new things even if I think I won’t do it perfectly, or I might outright fail at it. I want to learn when and how to give advice – when I’m asked and for only what I’m asked for advice on. I want to learn to listen and to shut up, even if I think I know the answer. I want to learn to go with the flow, let plans change and not act inappropriately – but see the change as a door my Higher Power has opened for me – one I might not have seen before. I still want to learn how to not make mountains out of mouse turds, as a fellow CoDA member recently said. Nothing is the end of the world, except the end of the world itself, and I bet my Higher Power has a door waiting for me once the end of the world gets here.
The biggest thing I want to keep reminding myself of, is that nothing anyone else does is about or against me. Other people are doing exactly what I’m doing, taking care of themselves and trying to do what’s right for them. Knowing that and practicing that theory has helped me keep my side of the street clean, when I might have wanted to drag my dustpan - or dumpster - to my neighbors’ yard. I’m learning that I don’t have to have 400 acquaintances in my life, having one or two really good friends is all I need.
With every issue that I clean up, another one might pop up. Right now, I’m working on my perfectionism, workaholism and overeating. Thank you, Higher Power, for reminding me my work is never done.
I realize I’m not going to be “cured” from this disease. Not like I thought I was when I first came to the program and asked for the book, the handout, the activity, and the form that showed I did the work and now I’m free. I know now it’s not like that. But I do know that I’m going to keep fighting and I’m not going to let this disease kill me. And as its said in the CoDA Welcome, “I had learned to survive life, now I’m learning to live life.”
Nothing has so dramatically impacted my life as CoDA has. I am a happier, more free, relaxed, and enjoyable person. Life didn’t change. Life can still suck. People didn’t change. People still have their shit. My reaction to life and those people changed and continue to change. I changed and I’m beginning to like the person I’m becoming. Thanks for letting me take this opportunity to be honest, share my story, and continue in my recovery.