Monthly Archives: January 2018

Q&A Part 3: Boundaries and Codependency

Editor’s Note: Welcome to part three of our series, Questions & Answers. This series will attempt to cover topics and/or questions which have been raised by readers. Feel free to submit your own questions, and we’ll see what we can do about addressing them.

What are milestones or steps that should be in place to maintain boundaries and curtail codependency?

There are a couple of things I’d like to put on the table as a preface to the ensuing conversation. First of all, yes, this is intended to be a conversation. Please feel free to chime in at any time. For the most part, each of these posts consist of the thoughts and feelings of one individual and are not necessarily the beliefs and opinions of our ministry at large. We are not some behemoth whose words should be accepted as gospel truth; rather, we are fallible people with limited knowledge and information.

Second, if you or someone you love does currently or has ever struggled with an addiction issue, he or she is a bona fide codependent. No questions asked. Every alcoholic or addict of any kind also struggles with codependency. Not only that, but we pretty much lack healthy boundaries across the board. So, while this post may be primarily directed to friends and family members of those who struggle with addiction and compulsive behaviors, it is also applicable to all the addicts out there – active or otherwise.

Third, please realize that entire books have been dedicated to these topics. Tomes have been written just about codependency and just about boundaries, let alone the number of materials dedicated to both. This is not going to be a novel, a novella, or even a self-help book. Please allow me some grace and latitude as I paint with broad brush strokes. Also, do yourself a favor by picking up some of those texts for further reading.*

First things first:
Self-Care ≠ Selfish
Self-Care = Selfless

Everything else is going to stem from understanding that concept. There is nothing inherently wrong with taking care of yourself. There is nothing wrong with occasionally neglecting the needs of others or putting off their wants/desires to do what you need to do. If we don’t figure out how to take care of ourselves, we won’t be able to take care of others. No matter how well you’ve tended to the needs, wants and desires of others in the past, even your stellar service could’ve been improved upon had you been working from a full tank of gas rather than running on empty all the time.

People call my office all the time seeking help for a friend or family member. One of the first things out of my mouth is always an inquiry regarding what that individual is doing for him/herself. Are you part of a group? Are you going to meetings? Do you have a system of support? Even when the person in your life who is struggling can’t seem to get it through their thick skull that they need help, you know they need help. But are you aware that you also need help?

There are things you could be doing differently. There are people out there who’ve been where you are. People who are dying to share their experiences with you and have you share your story with them. Perhaps this looks like an Al-Anon meeting or a similar meeting attached to a different ‘anonymous’ group. It might be CoDa, Co-Dependents Anonymous, if you have one in your local area. Churches with recovery programs offer groups for codependency or for family members. Many of us have chosen to enter relationships in adulthood which mirror relationships we witnessed as children, so a number of us might benefit from attending ACoA meetings for adult children of alcoholics. There are therapy groups and individual counseling sessions and non-12-step based meetings and religious meetings and meditative retreats and…Taking care of yourself is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and for others.

So what does that look like on a practical level?

As is heard in the rooms on a regular basis, we have to keep our side of the street clean. At its most basic level, this simply means that we responsible and accountable for our own actions – and only our own actions. What that also, inherently, means is that we cannot and should not waste our time sweeping the other side of the street because we are not, cannot, and should not be responsible or accountable for the actions of others. That may seem like (and actually be) a vast oversimplification of things, but we must learn that we aren’t responsible for others, we’re responsible for ourselves. And as such, we can no longer blame others (or caring for, enabling, mending, fixing, cleaning up after others) for the way our lives are lived.

There’s a reason why they instruct us on an airplane to put our own oxygen mask on first in case of an emergency. But, hell, I bet most of us don’t even like that idea.

If you’re a doter – that is to say, if you are historically quite good at taking care of others – flip the script. No, I’m not saying that you should suddenly expect the person you’ve been caring for to suddenly drop everything to meet your every whim; rather, take a look in the mirror. Reflect on all of the things you’ve done for your daughter, your husband, your mother, your best friend. Think about all the ways you’ve lovingly nurtured the other, and do those things for yourself. It will feel awkward and uncomfortable, but you deserve it. And I think you’ll find that you appreciate it, as well.

In learning to take care of yourself, you are more or less conquering a new concept or revitalizing one long dead. Remember that human beings are whole people, so it’s important to express the significance of holistic health. We need to be of firm body, mind, and soul, so we ought to address our physical health, mental and emotional health, and spiritual well-being.

Physical Health
This is going to sound extremely basic, but for those of us who’ve neglected our own needs on behalf of others, we need basic. These are the questions to ask yourself:
Are you sleeping? Frequently? Well? What other ways am I experiencing rest?
Do you exercise? There is no firm definition on what this means. Are you moving? Regularly?
Are you eating? How often? What? No, coffee is not a food group. Try to ensure well-balanced, nutritious diet. That doesn’t mean don’t splurge; it really means don’t neglect your needs for the needs of others.
When’s the last time you saw a doctor? Had a physical?

Mental & Emotional Health
Recovery is bound to open the door to a plethora of emotions, both positive and negative. We must remember that feelings (emotions) are just feelings, they are not facts. They are a reaction to reality, not reality itself.
What outlets do you have, creative and otherwise? Do you like to read or write?
When’s the last time you learned something new just for fun?
How do I feel? Do I know how I feel? What do I do with that?
Am I most comfortable working through that alone, with a sponsor, or with a professional?

Spiritual Health
Conscious contact with God is not some lofty idea of intellectualism only to be grasped and explored in some far away ivory tower of higher learning. Conscious contact with God simply means aware communication – something we should attempt to enter into daily.
Are you familiar with spiritual disciplines? Which do you practice? Which have you tried? Meditation? Prayer? Fasting? Study? Simplicity? Solitude? Submission? Service? Confession? Worship? Guidance? Celebration?
I like taking long walks in the woods. Some people like writing searching letters to their innermost self or to them from a different stage/phase of life. Others use daily devotions or reflections from others with similar struggles. Some paint or express their relationship with a higher power through other artistic endeavors. What begins as a practice which takes up a portion of our day may soon overtake our day and work its way into everything we do.

With regard to boundaries, we must begin by simply setting priorities and limits. While I feel this has already been somewhat addressed in the holistic health piece, it never hurts to be reminded that we should stop what we’re ding and address the issue if we are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired (H.A.L.T.). Any one of those four things can throw everything out of whack if we don’t tend to it when we should.

Setting limits for ourselves means that we must decide what we will or will not do or accept.
How late is too late to pick up the phone? When am I going to bed? When and why might I consider breaking or bending that rule?
What am I willing to do for this person? How far will I go? What will I allow them to do in my house? Around my children?
These are personal limits. They’ll be different for everyone because different people are willing to tolerate different things, but setting these limits gives us a firm framework to operate out of. That way, when a situation does arise in which we might not be thinking clearly, we’ve already established sensible parameters.

Unlike our feelings, however, these limits are facts. They are not a code of behavior by which we are to govern the actions of others. They are not threats. They are not a means of manipulating others into conforming to our wants and desires. They are facts. A limit says (to me, in my head), “I will take the children and leave for good if I catch you smoking crack in my house again.” A limit does not say, “I’d better not catch you smoking crack here” or “Promise me you won’t smack crack again.” The point is, the limit is for me, not for you. So don’t voice your limits unless you’re ready to follow through with them, and check your motives before sharing your limits with others. Limits are not meant to force others to change, rather they are a means of setting boundaries for ourselves.

And so long as we’re working on self, it’s time to reestablish (or perhaps simply establish) and build up our self-esteem. When you’ve lost yourself somewhere in the fray, chances are good that you, like I, have struggled with issues of low self-esteem. While many of us are driven there by outside sources, some of as have diligently driven our own self-esteem into the ground. So how do we go from feelings of inadequacy, self-hatred and unlovability to a place of at least marginal self-esteem? Recovery has the perfect, cliched answer for that. Fake it ’til you make it.

Do things to take care of yourself. Make the decision or choose the thing or take the action which has the best odds of building up your self-esteem. Just show up in places and scenarios that are supposed to make you feel better about yourself – that are supposed to be pampering and induce feelings of worthiness. Go to the dentist. Get your haircut. Have a bubble path or a mani/pedi or a massage/spa day. Go see that movie you’ve been wanting to see all by yourself at the matinee. It’s gonna feel downright awkward because your mind is going to be nagging you about where you should be or what you should be doing or who should be captivating your mental faculties, but that time is for you. And as those things become more comfortable, you’ll become more comfortable with who you are.

But wait, there’s more. There are people who accept and love you for who you are. Haven’t found them? Well get out there and meet them. As I mentioned previously, there are entire groups of people who already meet together who are just like you. They continue to meet together on a regular basis because sharing their experience with others give them hope. It gives them something to live for. It validates them as individuals. Find people to lean on who love you, and you’ll learn what it means to love yourself.

This is such a brief and incomplete survey of all things codependent. The basic outline and many of the main ideas of this post were borrowed from the “Taking Care of Ourselves” chapter in How Al-Anon Works. It is my prayer that this missive be the truth one person needs today.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

Psalm 139:23-24

*How Al-Anon Works for Families and Friends of Alcoholics by Al-Anon Family Groups
Codependent No More and Beyond Codependency both by Melody Beattie
Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend
Conquering Codependency workbook by Springle (to be completed with a sponsor or group)

The Ugly Truth

Every once in a while I read something that simply resonates on an intimate level because its veracity is unquestionable. That’s fairly ironic given the theme of this post. This hit me on a guttural level. Perhaps you’ll find your own truth herein, as well.

Fractured Faith Blog

I used to lie all the time. In fact I became rather good at it. I lied to my wife. I lied to my kids. I lied to my mother and sister. I lied to my friends and work colleagues. I lied to anyone who I was engaged in conversation with for any length of time. I lied face to face. I lied on the phone. I lied via text message. I lied online. I liked to lie. I was a walking, talking lie-ability.

I even lied to myself. And I was such an accomplished liar that even I began to believe myself. I still continued to believe that I was a more or less honest, upstanding husband, father, son, brother and so on. Like any addict I was delusional. I thought I could stop lying at any time and return to the real world. Every lie, however, took me…

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New Year, New You

What…a load…of crock…

New Year, New You. All you have to do is look around. Do it. Look around. This phrase is everywhere. There are newspaper articles, health magazine write-ups, Pinterest boards, television news spots – even entire categories at bookstores and on cooking websties – devoted to those four words.

New Year, New You is all about the latest and greatest in the worlds of fitness, health, nutrition, organization, wellness, money management and more. That comes as no surprise given the propensity this time of year to manifest interest or rededicate time and effort toward achieving or striving toward goals founded in those categories.

According to a 2015 Nielsen study, these are the top ten New Year’s Resolutions as of 2015.

  • Stay fit and healthy
  • Lose weight
  • Enjoy life to the fullest
  • Spend less, save more
  • Spend more time with family and friends
  • Get organized
  • Will not make any resolutions
  • Learn something new/new hobby
  • Travel more
  • Read more

Let’s be brutally honest here. For the most part, these goals are at best broad, vague, and open to interpretation and at worst unrealistic and unlikely to be maintained. While statistics vary, of the minority of the population who set resolutions, approximately eighty percent will have failed at keeping their resolutions by February. Less than a month.

That’s why my favorite category up there is those who resolve not to make a resolution. It’s a lot harder to fail at that one. The odds of someone who has no intentions of making a resolution turning around and setting a major goal in the first month of the year are drastically less likely than the odds of someone who made a resolution dropping the ball.

But really, as arbitrary and nondescript as most of those resolutions are, they’re conceivably manageable, so why is the general propensity to simply not keep them? Why do we find ourselves year after year setting the same resolutions and forgetting about them completely by March?

Well, for starters, this New Year, New You phenomenon is nothing more than a watered down kick in the pants. The whole concept of a New Year’s Resolution is a fabricated sense of urgency designed to motivate us to be different based on nothing more than the number at the end of the year growing larger by one. January 1, 2018 is no different than any other Monday, unless of course you got the day off from work because it was a holiday.

There’s about as much motivation in becoming a new you in the new year as there is when your mother, father, sister, brother, significant other, friend, flight attendant or parole officer tells you that it’s time for a change. If you haven’t hit rock bottom, your habits, addictions, and compulsive behaviors are going to stay right where they are.

People who set New Year’s Resolutions often do so by first looking back over the previous year – or years. When we look back, things don’t always look so good. We’re unhappy with how we spent our time or our money, so we resolve to change that. But it’s hard not to keep living in the past. It’s hard to do something new – something different.

It’s also hard to stop living in those memories of the past. When we start thinking about how we’ve spent our time and our money, it’s easy to become convinced that changing that not only isn’t probable, it’s impossible. It becomes easy to look back at our shortcomings and deem them failures. And no sooner have we deemed our shortcomings failures than we extrapolate that sentiment and decide that we, ourselves, are failures. And if I’m a failure, then I certainly stand no chance at succeeding in carrying out these new endeavors I’ve resolved to complete.

But negative self-talk isn’t the only thing hampering our success. Many of us who set resolutions do so for the wrong reasons. We aren’t motivated to change because the impetus for setting these goals in the first place was effectively peer pressure. We jumped on the bandwagon. Oh, look, a new year is coming, and all of my friends are setting resolutions. I guess I should do that, too. I mean, after all, there are things in my life that need to change.

Guess what. That kind of motivation isn’t motivation at all. The only thing it’s motivating is the assurance that you’re going to jump off the bandwagon just as quickly as you jumped on. Yes, research does indicate that those persons who undertake a new endeavor and make it a habit are much more likely to continue that new habit at a higher sustained level than those who merely dabble, but the odds of your compulsive self being the one who pours time and effort into bettering yourself based on a new year’s resolution are slim to none.

It’s that very same research which supports the practice of going to 90 meetings in 90 days. As a matter of fact, that practice even serves more than one purpose. Not only does it generally solidify the habit of attending meetings, it also ensures that people are going to meetings regularly at a time when they are bound to struggle the most.

So that’s tip number one. If you really want to commit to making a life change, go all in. Don’t wait for some arbitrary date, like January 1, to decide that you’re going to get sober or stop eating everything you see. While special dates are easy to remember (Trust me, a guy in my home group celebrates his anniversary on Valentine’s Day. He doesn’t forget it, and neither does anyone else.), they aren’t necessarily motivating.

Your first day is going to be the day you’re done. For me, I was done lying. More than anything else, that’s what I gave up. That doesn’t mean I don’t lie anymore, but it does mean that I’m not constantly working to cover my tracks. That was the ultimate motivation I needed. You’ll know what it is you’re ready to be done doing.

And as for being successful, most people don’t get sober right away. It’s a process. During the height of my disease, there were several times when I merely white-knuckled it. I knew that I had control. I knew that I could quit whenever I wanted to. But those months were some of the crappiest months of my life. And, of course, I went right back to it.

Then, a time came when I entered recovery. I began the recovery process. Now I realize this is different for everyone, but I definitely started the program and didn’t get sober right away. I struggled with white-knuckling. I struggled with turning things over to God. I still struggle with that today. I had lapses and relapses. That’s pretty common. It’s also tip number two.

Don’t beat yourself up, and don’t quit just because you’ve had a relapse. Relapse isn’t failure. For almost everyone it’s just part of the process – especially the early phases and stages. If you can forgive yourself for relapses early in the program, I think you’ll have much better odds of getting back on the horse and attending to the program rather than returning to your disease because you’ve branded yourself a failure.

The bottom line is that wherever you go, there you are. That may seem a bit obvious, but it matters. That means that the me I take to rehab is still me. The me I take into a new marriage is still me. The me I take to a new state to get away from a bad relationship or to keep from hanging around a bad crowd is still me. You take you with you everywhere. The only person you have the ability to influence and change, then, is you.

You don’t need a new year to affect change and bring about a new you. What you need is the desire to be somebody different – a desire to do things differently – a desire to be different. If a new years resolution spurs you toward real life change, great. Good for you. You are the exception to the rule.

The rest of us will just keep waiting until there’s nothing left to do but get better or die.

– Alex Walker