What started out as a favor to one of my dearest friends ended up as…I’m not sure what.
The original agenda was that I would attend a Codependents Anonymous meeting for this dear friend, who recently lost a close relative and couldn’t attend the meeting herself. I was to go to the meeting, let the group know what happened, and then if I liked the group I’d stay and finish out the meeting and if not, I could leave.
I already had an idea of what a codependent was; my father was an alcoholic and my mother is a fairly passive person, after all. However, since it’d been a while since I’d delved into my mother’s pop-psychological self-help book collection, I figured it’d be wise to brush up on the fuzzy details. And besides…I’d always wondered if I had adopted some codependent tendencies at some point, too. (I’ve gotten mixed reviews from my counselor over the last few years – at one point he said something like “oh good, no codependency to have to work thought” and at another point he said, “and there may be some codependency, we may have to look at.” It’s not confusing to me; my personality has oscillated between opposing poles all my life in many areas, and I reckon this is just one of those areas.)
So with my wi-fi at my hip, an an hour to kill, I began the info-hunt. A helpful website lists many of the major traits, organized into categories. I sought to learn about the characteristics and aim of the group I would soon be attending, but also to compare notes, so to speak – how messed up am I? My counselor is spot-on; there were entire categories on that website I could practically skip in terms of my note-comparing, because they didn’t apply. There were other categories that were so accurate that I felt like someone might’ve been spying on me through the apartment windows.
I took a deep breath. I think I stumbled upon more work that I have to do. Armed with this info, my infiltration of the group would not only be for my friend, but also for me.
As soon as I walked in, I felt the weight, the heaviness in the air, of past and present pain. The people were sweet, but very obviously broken, beaten, shredded into splinters. Some of their pain is from decades ago; others’ pain is from hours ago and very fresh. They very understandably hover somewhere between clingy (“somebody please love me”) and nearly feral (everything and everyone is a potential threat and the name of the game is day-to-day survival). Self-esteem was practically non-existent; I had to strain to hear half of them.
The group meetings follow a standard format in which the leader of the group makes announcements and whatnot, and then we discuss a particular topic (last night’s topic, quite timely, was the 4th of the 12 Steps, which for me is the first hard step), and then the floor is opened for anyone to talk, and then there is a closing and a prayer and self-strengthening affirmations.
That 4th Step, which is the part about making a personal inventory, is going to take some work. Not necessarily in the usual sense, where people have a tough time admitting to themselves either (or both) their negative or (and) their positive traits, but in terms of not really knowing what some of those traits are. I like to think that I am indeed self-connected and self-aware, but at the same time, much of that “stuff” was so long ago and I had worked through it, albeit in my own untrained way. I had forgotten about the shame, the blame, the pleasing, etc. However, I had not forgotten about the volatility, the pensiveness, the conflict, the anger, and the fear. But I had indeed spent now half my life out of my parents’ house and on my own – I’ve now spent as much time away from their household as I did in it–and the memories of the more recent 18 years are much fresher, where the previous 18 years are becoming more and more distant.
The open floor was probably my favorite part, because it gave me a chance to hear peoples’ firsthand experiences and processes. However, most of the time, you could hear crickets, as everyone stared at unseen molecules in the air, careful not to put any particular person on the spot to talk. It was very respectful, an uncomfortable comfort, where everyone’s waiting for someone to say something, but not pensively so, and they’re just as content to sit and be with each other.
I think the only thing that actually bothered me about the group was that it wasn’t led by someone a bit further down their healing journey, someone who could show others the ropes. I’m sure there’s a reason for that, maybe there is something to be said about being led by your peers, but at the same time, it’s almost like the blind led the blind. I’m sure that it’s a very healing venue for someone who’s never had the opportunity to speak their mind, talk about themselves, or indeed even consider themselves, but it’s also a bit stunting when everyone is equally broken and scarred, the scar tissue not having healed right.
I am realizing I have work of my own to do, whether it will continue to involve CODA or not. There are codependent tendencies I have to resolve and new strengthening, healing habits that I will have to replace them with along my journey of recovery. Right now I am just beginning to realize what I’m not yet aware of, as if I’m opening my eyes for the first (or maybe second) time. My mother was a full-blown codependent and still is, to a point. I always thought I was stronger than that (well, at least more strong-willed, anyway) and maybe I am, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a self-help do-do list of my own.
I took another deep breath.