Sunday, June 10, 2007

Codependency: Who doesn't qualify?

Every week when I can, I update my readers about what happened at our women's meeting. Yesterday was a great meeting. A women with 16 years came in and talked about her fiancee going back out after about two shaky years in the program. She said it didn't surprise her that he'd relapsed; he wasn't working a program.

It must be in the wind. Relapse, that is. But of course it's not in the wind just today; people we know and love and are family either by blood or ties as deep as blood are relapsing.

My wonderful sponsor, who has 25 years clean and works the strongest program of about anyone I've ever met in the rooms, had her husband relapse a few weeks ago two months before his 20th birthday.

My own husband, whom I finally divorced at five years clean, relapsed for the entire time after we were married until our divorce, and remains on the fringes today.

No, relapse isn't in the air, it's something that we deal with almost daily. So how do we react when those we love make bad choices?

First, we keep going to meetings. Often people relapse because they stop going to meetings. They aren't around to find out what happens to people who don't go to meetings any longer, as the old saying goes.

Next, we find others who've been through what we are going through and ask for help. I found tremendous strength in Naranon, which was very strong in the Bay Area where I lived at the time. "Detach with love," members kept telling me. So I tried.

But when one we love relapses, anger is often the first emotion that flares. As my acquaintance John Carter who wrote God, Get Me Out of This One, a book about his addiction (but unfortunately not about his recovery, which is a treasure), anger is often the last emotion "left standing." Anger is safe. It allows us to postpone the heartbreaking grief that follows. But the grief does follow. It is inevitable, unavoidable and threatens to overwhelm us.

Inflicting our anger on our loved one, who is sick, and on others in our path, isn't the way to deal with this emotion. Writing, talking to others about our feelings, screaming at the top of our lungs when we're alone, beating the crap out of a pillow, those are legitimate channels for our anger. One day I decided that I was going to take all the dishes out into the brick courtyard of our apartment and smash them one by one. It made perfect sense until I realized they'd probably cart me away.

I didn't get really angry until after the divorce when my wasband got clean and he started dating someone else. Then, I was furious! "You mean I put up with that SOB for five years then he gets clean and loves someone else?" I thought. I was on fire. Thank God, I had moved to LA by that time so I didn't have to see him in meetings and I was able to process my feelings with my sponsor there, act out in some pretty sad ways and get support from women at the WSO, where I worked at the time.

But while still in the relationship, one thing I learned was that He would tell me of some crisis he's created, problems with his instructor at school or having no money until payday, and I couldn't fix his problems.I would simply say "I'm sure you'll work it out." I stopped offering advice, offering to smooth things over, suggesting he go to a meeting, calling his male friends and asking them to talk with him. I worked my own program and tried to keep my mouth shut, which you can imagine is hard for me.

I don't mean I was a saint. I said some really mean things to him a time or two, at least. Once when he told me before the divorce was final that I could keep his last name (I used both mine and his), I blasted him with my opinion of his dysfunctional family.

Another thing I did was stop listening to people who wanted to update me on his whereabouts. There was one woman in particular who loved to make judgments about how I could stay with a practicing addict. She and her husband had a lot of years clean and I knew her concern wasn't concern, it was judgment. She didn't want to know what was happening out of love; she wanted information, I'm sure so that she could feel superior. About ten years later she O.D.ed on pain pills, my husband's drug of choice ironically, in a hotel room in Santa Cruz. We need to work our own programs and not worry about how other people are working theirs.

People would approach me at meetings with a look on their face I came to know. The look said: "I'm going to fill you in on what he's really up to." Once someone said "I saw your husband in the projects today with a VCR." Imagine how helpful that piece of information was, since he was a Texas white boy in the middle of an East or a West Oakland project. So when I saw them coming with that look, I would wave my hands in front of me and say "I don't want to hear it." Soon, the updates stopped. (That, incidentally, is a 'boundary'.)

My sponsor at the time, Tery, was tremendously helpful. She would tell me "Stay in Step Eleven," and "Act in haste, repent in leisure." So I stayed busy, finishing college, providing service and going to meetings. And I prayed constantly about the marriage and what God wanted from me.

How did I know when to leave? One day, after I'd given up a teaching fellowship at Fordham University to take a job and put him through treatment, we were driving to marriage counseling. I looked over and he was nodding out. He was loaded again.

We got to therapy and the therapist, very wise about addiction, asked him if he had anything to say to me. Of course, he didn't. She asked me if I had anything to say to him. "Yes," I said. "I want to know how long. One month, six months, six years; what's the time frame here?" I asked, referring to his using.

"I don't know," he said. I had a mini-epiphany. I realized that this was probably the most honest thing he'd ever said to me. I realized he didn't want to get clean; I wanted him to get clean.

I said, "Well, I do know." I told him it was over. I left therapy, went to a speaker meeting at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley, stood at the podium during burning desires and sobbed. It was finally clear--it was done.

It took several years to get over the grief of that failed relationship. I don't care what anyone says, for me, taking sacred vows to love, honor and stay through sickness and in health changes a relationship in some spiritual way. He's remarried for the second time to his second wife. I hear from him occasionally, we laugh about the old days, talk about mutual friends, he talks about work, but we don't talk about the Program. That itself speaks volumes.

Codependency, for me, was my core problem. I grew up in a family that had no clear boundaries except anger. Over the years, and mainly thanks to Naranon, I have learned a great deal about what I can do and what I can't do in another's life. I've learned in NA that I can walk through fire and not get loaded, even when those I love choose different options.

As my beautiful friend Susan Lydon used to say, "If you feel your feelings, you never have to get loaded again." For those who come in and out of these rooms, I am convinced no one ever told them that.

Until tomorrow, may you walk in sunlight.


msb said...

I think this would make a great challenge post on a bunch of websites connected to this page. Can hardly wait to hear about the results of your meeting.

Meg Moran said...

So many of us addicts/alkies have those codependency issues. Dealing with mine were just as painful (sometimes more so) as dealing with my own addictions. It takes what it takes. For you (and for me) it took ALOT. But yes, when we get thru it, we do walk in the sunshine. Thank you for sharing this.

Pam said...

I loved reading this today. Damn..we are all so similar in so many ways. I find that so comforting.

ScOuT said...

Another awesome post. Thanks for helping me stay clean another day.

lushgurl said...

Holy cow! This is such a message of hope to all of us, uh, OK, me! Learning to take back my life, to live a life free from alcohol and drugs, and to let other people make their own choices... Sheesh!
For me going to meetings, focusing on recovery and my HP are all keeping me sober today!
Thank you, thank you, thank you!

msb said...

Really like that about feelngs.And boy O boy am I ever feeling them.

therapydoc said...

It's pretty hard to express anger safely. It'll go away unexpressed, actually. The idea that everything has to be enacted is way over the top. The sixties are over, basically. But those styrofoam bats, if you still have them, are probably worth having around.