What I’ve learned at Codependents Anonymous in a year

I celebrated my first year in Codependents Anonymous

My first year in Codependents Anonymous 1At Codependents Anonymous (CoDA) meetings, “CoDA birthdays” are celebrated and marked with chips. I really like the message on each one: To Thine Own Self Be True.

I celebrated my one year with CoDA in early December 🙂

A little back story: Owning my recovery

I didn’t know when I started going for meetings. Every time at a meeting, during the call for CoDA birthdays, I would wonder when mine was.

Initially I thought, “Who cares; I’m not someone who remembers milestone years anyway”, I don’t keep track of which year I graduated, which year this or that. I”m not the person who thinks: 2016 has been a good/bad year for me, etc. So what makes this so different?

But then one day, I decided, “NO, I need to take charge of my recovery. I NEED to know when I started, so that I can chart my progress. I need to OWN my recovery.” So I went to check my emails — because I know I emailed my therapist, Steve, and group therapy mates after I went for my first CoDA meeting.

After digging through my emails, I finally found it. I went for my first CoDA meeting on Thursday, 24 Nov 2015 and shared for the first time at my second on Thur, 3 Dec. It sure felt like I’ve been going to meetings longer than that!

What I’ve learned at Codependents Anonymous in a year

Click on any of the following to jump to its segment.
Boundaries • Feelings • “I” statements • Needs • RecoverySafetySelf CareShameSurrender

Boundaries

Hah! When I think back about it, the person that “taught” me about boundaries, or lack thereof, was my mom. She used to invade the privacy of her children by looking through our letters and our journals.

She also used to not knock on our door before entering our bedroom, because she said she’s our mother and has every right to do whatever she wants to her children.

In my country, this word is rarely used. So it’s not really in our social consciousness. As a Codependent, we’re really bad at deciding on a boundary and sticking to it, since we tend to be people-pleasers. Also, we can tend to overstep other people’s boundaries by giving unsolicited advice or thinking we know better.

Do you know what your boundaries are and are you firmly standing by them?

Feelings

I never knew feelings were important. I never knew the necessity of identifying them—what am I feeling: Glad, Mad, Sad or Scared?

In the past I actually had to ask my husb “what/how” I should feel toward something or someone. I never knew I had the right to feel whatever I did.

Not knowing what you are feeling is a characteristic of Codependency.

I never knew I need to honour my feelings, no matter WHAT I’m feeling. I never knew ALL my feelings are valid.

There is too much shaming of “negative” emotions in society and Social Media. “Do Not Be Angry, It Is Bad For You”, “Do Not Be Sad, Be Strong” or whatever other bullsh*t. Seriously, all that is BS!

Therefore people are afraid to show that they are sad, or angry. Because this may mean they are “wrong” for being angry or appear weak if they show sadness.

People avoid feeling their feelings because they’re afraid of being real with themselves. Feeling one’s feelings may be a painful process, and people would rather avoid pain and pretend to be fine. Or maybe, they’re not equipped to deal with their own feelings. Too many people aren’t.

What you feel IS what you feel. Hiding, pretending, simply stuffing your feelings or shutting them out doesn’t make you a better person. You become emotionally stunted. That was ME before therapy with Steve.

We need to learn to process how we are feeling. We need to learn to express our emotions/feelings in healthy ways. You know the people who hold it all in and then one day  they outburst because they can’t hold it in anymore? That’s because they don’t know that feelings need to be expressed in a healthy manner which doesn’t end up being harmful to themselves and others.

Last thing, feelings can’t be “controlled”. Steve writes in his book, Monkeytraps: Feelings cannot and should not be controlled. What you feel IS what you feel. How you respond to your feelings is what you can control.

In my recovery, I’ve learnt that feelings are important and all feelings are valid. I’ve also learnt to identify my feelings and express how I feel to people around me.

Do you know how you’re feeling right now?

What Ive learned at Codependents Anonymous in a year

“I” statements

In CoDA, I’ve learned to speak for myself.

As Codependents, we tend to want to control how other people think, feel and react. We seem to forget everyone has the permission to think, feel and react however they choose. We want to exert influence to manipulate others to do what WE want them to. “You should do this… Why are you doing it this way?… Have you done it (in the way I want) yet?” — Familiar??

We may use passive aggression or charm. We also like to give unsolicited advice.

So in recovery, we learn to use “I statements” to express for Me, Myself & I ONLY. We don’t speak for anyone else.

Examples include:

I’m confused vs You’re not making sense

I’m mad at you vs You’re a jerk

I’m uncomfortable vs You shouldn’t do that

And apparently I-statements are also a way to achieve emotional intimacy.

Because “I-statements reveal the speaker, since it brings him/her out of hiding. Each I-statement represents something of a risk, an experiment of vulnerability.

Intimacy can’t be achieved without honesty and vulnerability.

Do you observe yourself making more “I” statements or “You” statements?

Needs

Before recovery, I never knew I had needs. I mean, subconsciously I knew, of course. But because I never consciously knew, my needs were not getting met, a growing resentment brewed within me.

In my country, for some reason, the word “needs” has a sexual connotation. And this word is also not used commonly here. And the last thing people want to be is “needy”. So no one really uses the word “needs”.

Steve explained to me we have an animal body, and we all have basic needs. We need air, food, water sleep, sex, etc… And sometimes our mind can tend to lord over our body, and deprive it of our basic needs. That’s definitely me though.

I deprive myself of food, sleep, etc… Steve said: When you’re tired, sleep. When you’re hungry eat. It’s that simple. IT’S THAT SIMPLE. Imagine, I never knew that!! Of course there are secondary needs, like emotional needs, which I mentioned in this post.

One example, not sure if anyone can relate, is when I forgo my need to relieve myself in the loo, in a group context. I feel bad that people have to wait for me. Whatttt? Have you ever been in such situations? Now when I have to go, I just go! This is also called self-care.

Now, I am better at identifying my needs, and expressing my needs to people. I’m not great at it yet, but at least, it’s a start.

Do you know what your needs are?

Recovery

I learnt the term “recovery”. As such, I’m in recovery for my Codependency.

I joked with Mark Goodson of The Miracle of the Mundane that if I knew the term “recovery” before I decided on my handle @girlintherapy, I would’ve named myself “girlinrecovery” instead and we’d be Twitter twins, because on Twitter, he’s @ManInRecovery 😆

I used to associate the word “recovery” to physical healing. But I’ve since learnt that mental health is as important as physical health.

Safety

I never knew the concept of “safety”. When you feel safe or unsafe with a situation or a person. In CoDA, I’ve learned what means. Also, CoDA meetings are meant to be a safe place to practice corrective recovery behaviours where we will not be criticised.

When someone feels threatened, uncomfortable or unsure, that may be a sign that they feel unsafe about something or someone. You may not be able to pinpoint what exactly, but just take note of your discomfort. And there is nothing wrong with feeling unsafe; do not allow others to make you do anything against your own will.

I now have an increased awareness of when I feel safe or unsafe with people and situations.

Where is your safe place? Have you ever been made to feel bad that you felt unsafe?

Self-care

Self-care, as it is called, is taking care of the Self.

Self-care is any activity that you do voluntarily which helps you maintain your physical, mental or emotional health. It can help you feel healthy, relaxed and ready to take on your work and responsibilities.
Source: au.reachout.com

Setting boundaries is a way of self-care. Saying Yes to what what makes you feel good, but also saying No to what makes you feel bad, uncomfortable.

“Knowing what you don’t want to do is just as important as knowing what you do.” — PsychCentral

“When I’m generous toward myself, I tend to be more giving toward others. And when I give myself a break, I find that I have more empathy for the people around me.”mindbodygreen

Self-care to me is feeding myself food that I enjoy like brunch food, good coffee, having enough sleep, watching a movie I’m interested in, going to a museum (haven’t done that in a while). Self-care is honouring all my feelings. Self-care is parenting of my inner child.

What are your ways of self-care?

Shame

Melody Beattie wrote in The Language of Letting Go“Guilt is the feeling or thought that what we did is not ok. Shame is an overwhelming negative sense that who we are isn’t ok.”

I have been publicly shamed by my mother. Even as an adult. She does not even realise she is doing it.

I also learned that I’ve lived in shame for most of my life. I feel ashamed about everything about myself. My self -hate runs so deep I blame myself for feeling pain during my period. I feel ashamed because I’m not earning enough to feed myself. I feel ashamed when I am tardy. I feel ashamed when my teeth need attention from a dentist. I feel “less than” a lot of the time.

I am slowly learning to identify WHEN I feel shame. And to stop self-shaming. And start loving myself.

Do you feel shamed by certain things or behaviours?

Surrender

In essence, “surrender” is encapsulated by the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to
Accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

We say the Serenity Prayer at every CoDA meeting.

Codependents struggle with control issues. We feel better when we are “in control”; our comfort zone is being in control, and when we’re not holding the reins, we feel very anxious, helpless and lost. We also think we know better, that why we think we should be the ones in control. Perfectionism is a way of practicing control. And we want to be “perfect” because we want to be validated by others.

In his book, Monkeytraps, Steve wrote in Chapter 67, “Surrender means giving up control without losing power” and “Surrender is essential to sanity”.

My first year in Codependents Anonymous

Here’s to my second CoDA birthday

I think I’ve made great strides in my first year in Codependents Anonymous.

I look forward to attending more CoDA meetings in the new year. We are actually starting a new meeting to co-sponsor each other in what is called a Step work meeting, where will we do the 12 Steps together.

I hope my reflections will help others who are considering to attend CoDA meetings, or anyone who is unfamiliar with the concepts of what I’ve shared. As per Tradition 5: We have but one primary purpose — to carry its message to other codependents who still suffer.




Due to my mental health struggles, I have problems earning a stable income. In order to help myself financially, this post may contain affiliate links. This means that I may earn a small fee at no extra cost to you, based on your activity on this page. (See my disclaimer page for more information.) If you wish to show your support, you may take a look at my Etsy shop and see if anything tickles your fancy 🙂 Sending you warmth & gratitude in advance! Once again, thank you for reading my blog.

27 comments

  1. Sharlyne says:

    Been thinking about going to a CoDA meeting and have been so unsure about the entire thing. Main thing that’s prevented me from going is my anxiety. But reading this really gave me hope that I can push myself to take that first step. Thank you for writing this!

    • Girl says:

      Hey Sharlyne, thanks for stopping by, and am so glad that my post helped you in some way 🙂

      I understand what you mean about fear/anxiety. Initially I was apprehensive and hesitant too, for so many reasons. What if I meet someone I know, what if the meeting is lame, what if it gets weird… A number of what-if’s!

      And then I decided to f*ck it (sorry if you’re not ok with swearing) and just brave my way there! I told myself: What is there to lose??? If I don’t like it, then don’t go back. No harm trying anyway. This is my first 12 Step program btw, I haven’t been to any other, so I didn’t know what to expect. It turned out NOT like what I imagined in my head at all! And am so proud of myself that I did it 🙂 I knew that this would complement my time in therapy. So I’m glad I pushed through that first time.

      Last words: If you feel ok-ish after your first time (and not like dreading it or having a panic attack), continue to attend meetings up to around 5 times, to get a better feel of it. Give it a chance, and give yourself a chance. And not all Step groups are the same, so I can say I’m fortunate to have had the experience I did. It has taken some time to make friends there too. Been there for a year and made one fast friend (J, a guy who turned out to be my neighbour), the rest of the ladies only now after a year, then I see some semblance of budding recovery-based friendships…

      So be patient, gentle and kind to yourself. You deserve it!

      PS. I’m not sure if you’ll see my reply, so I will email you as well 🙂

  2. Katrina says:

    What really stuck out the most to me from your article is when you say you learned how to speak for yourself. So important to b e able to listen to your own voice and speak it. Congrats girlie!

    • Girl says:

      Thank you so much, Katrina! Owning my own voice and being able to express it is one tough learning curve for sure.
      I’ve learned so much in 2016 – I look forward to even more in 2017! 🙂

  3. Angie Rose says:

    Congratulations on celebrating your first year! That is a major accomplishment, and you should definitely be proud of yourself 🙂 This are all very important and helpful points, so thank you for sharing!

  4. Lynne Huysamen says:

    I have so enjoyed reading this, you’ve just nailed this topic.

    I remember struggling with so many of these things in rehab and also in recovery for the first few years.

    The counselors were always correcting the way I spoke in group therapy, with regards to saying I and not you.

    And boundaries, well I had heard the word but it is only in recovery that I truly came to understand that I had none and I pushed everyone elses.

    It is amazing how we (or I haha) feel so much shame and don’t allow ourselves to look after ourselves.

    For some reason things get so distorted for us. Take your toilet example. I mean we all know that going to the toilet when we need to go is self care or self love, it is making sure we meet our basic needs. Yet as a codependent somehow going to the toilet becomes selfish so you don’t do it.

    I am so pleased to hear of your progress.

    • Girl says:

      Thank you so much for sharing with me your thoughts, Lynne. To me, you’re like the big sister I never had 🙂

      I’m glad you can relate to what I’ve experienced.

      And you’re right – dysfunction runs so deep in some of us. My therapist used to reassure me, when speaking to my inner child: “Don’t worry, you’re not doing anything wrong.” I recall there was this time when he said this, my water works simply turned on at full blast!

      So with that, I was made aware that I ALWAYS feared doing the wrong thing, since all I faced was criticism growing up., which led to my dysfunctional attitude and behaviour.

      With more of us coming out to tell our stories through blogs and social media, I look forward to greater awareness, compassion and reduced stigma over time.

    • Girl says:

      I’m probably going to take up your idea on that! Will write topical posts and link back to this mother of a post!

      And my blog IS the documentation of my recovery journey so all posts are largely personal; I hope you will enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them 🙂

    • Girl says:

      Thanks Andrea! Yes, it’s really easy to be tough on ourselves. Well, you’re not alone in these departments; may we continue to get better with things like boundaries and self care with each new day 🙂

  5. Raluca says:

    Congratulations on your CoDA birthday! You have learned a lot of things during this year and I think it’s great that you share all this useful information on your blog!

    • Girl says:

      Thank you for your birthday wishes!

      Yes, not many people know of CoDA, most people are more familiar with AA, because it has been around for so long and is the grandfather of all Anonymous programs.

    • Girl says:

      Yes, joining an Anonymous program can be helpful and instrumental to someone in recovery for various things, like alcohol or drug abuse, amongst others.

    • Girl says:

      CoDA was borne from the grandfather of all Anonymous programs – Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). I never thought I’d ever be a part of any Anonymous programs – not that I’ve heard of any other than AA – but I’m now very glad that I am.

    • Girl says:

      Thanks Ivonne, I know I tend to go on and on, if I feel passionate enough about the topic 😆 Thanks for hanging in there!
      And thank you for your “birthday wishes”! Indeed, I’m learning to own my feelings!

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