Part 3- Learning about Codependency in Community

It is January 2010, I am assisting in a preschool classroom at a Public Montessori school, after being totally burned out working for an environmental conservation and education nonprofit for 3 years in Baltimore. I am doing a job that has no take-home and low stress, other than the dysfunctional leadership of the school (quite common unfortunately in the education world). I am on the playground with another assistant teacher and somehow one of us brings up that we both have loved once working on recovery from alcohol dependence disorder. She invites me to a 12 step program that is for the people who are affected by alcoholism (Alanon). I had no idea there was a 12 step program for this! I knew about the famous one, AA, but not this one. How did I not know there was a program for family members, and isn’t the “alcoholic” the problem? I was a beginner at understanding the family patterns of codependency and addiction and this program was a huge opportunity for me. 

I go to a meeting with her. I listen. I start going to meetings often. And I listen. OH. My. Goodness. Codependency, control, worry, perfectionism, insecurity. All of this is connected to addiction? Wait what? This was 13 years ago, when codependency was not talked about as openly and freely as it is now, before fabulous podcasts like We Can Do Hard Things. I didn’t understand it, I thought codependency was a bad word. But wow, did I practice a lot of codependent ways of being! 

I sat in these rooms and meetings listening for a long time before I even shared. This community truly helped save my life. Being in rooms with others who shared similar experiences with family members and loved ones struggling with substance abuse disorders was life-altering. Mostly to learn that my behaviors were as dysfunctional and sick as the “one who brought me to the rooms”. After and during the learning, I embraced the practices, the amazing program of working through the 12 steps for myself to look at my own patterns of living and ways of being I inherited from my family of origin. 

These meetings and this community saved my life and gave me tools for new ways of being, which were much healthier and more compassionate. A note on 12-step work- I love it, it gets some bad press, it was created by 2 white men, it is quite patriarchal, and some people have a problem with “the God thing”. You take what you like and leave the rest, and for me and for many, the program is a spiritual program in that you find your own spirituality, no matter what that looks like. I have taken breaks from going to Alanon meetings over the years, and have recently started to go again, to help remind me of ways of being when dealing with my husband’s family around his mother’s dementia- the denial, the refusal to communicate, the gaslighting, the codependency- no one is actively drinking alcohol, but this program helps me to deal with others especially those who don’t have active recovery, and who still live in dysfunctional family patterns.

For me, recovery is awareness of self, of trauma, and choosing to heal and actively working to learn, heal, grow and evolve as a human, no matter what others are doing around you. It is focusing on yourself, knowing that letting go of trauma and creating new neural pathways in the brain is possible through practice. 

Especially if you have someone with active alcohol dependence disorder in your life, this program is hugely helpful because of the community. It is also where I embraced the listening without crosstalk principles of the meetings, which are held with the Circle of Trust principles that I use when hosting circles. We only crosstalk if there is a request for advice or conversation, and that is a truly beautiful thing- everyone gets to share and everyone gets to practice listening while gaining the wisdom of the group- and again, you take what you like and leave the rest. 

During this time I was already into my first year of graduate school, which practiced being in community and healing in community- next up, part 4 and how I learned by practice in community…