Friday December 9th 2016

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The tools of codependence recovery

How can you employ practical tools in recovery from co-dependence or co-addiction? Author and mother in recovery, Fran Simone, shares more about her personal experience here. We invite your questions or feedback about life in recovery at the end. In fact, we try to answer all comments about problems with codependency with a personal and prompt reply.

Living the three C’s of Al-Anon and Narc-Anon

Early on in my twelve-step program I was introduced the three C’s: I didn’t cause it, can’t control it, and can’t cure it. Acknowledging my co-dependent behavior and wanting to break free of this burden, I clung to the Cs like a drowning victim grasps a life preserver.

Now, many years later, when tempted to stick my spoon into my adult son’s bowl, I summon up the Cs and don’t ask questions like, “Did you meet with your sponsor?” With the aid of the twelve-step tools, the guidance of my sponsor, and support of my twelve-step friends, I work hard to relinquish my caretaker role in order to establish a healthy relationship with my son.

The tools of recovery

After many years in the program, I still need to reassemble my tool kit again and again.  When I fail to mind my own business, wallow in self-pity, regret past mistakes, yank at old wounds, or not set firm boundaries and follow through, then it’s time to roll up my sleeves. To redouble my efforts. To replace negative thoughts and behaviors with positive ones. To cut myself loose from co-dependency. These tools are readily available to anyone who wants to fix what’s broken. They include:

  • reading program literature
  • working the steps
  • calling a sponsor or friends in the fellowship
  • attending meetings regularly
  • taking personal inventory
  • repeating the slogans and serenity prayer
  • trusting in a Higher Power
  • slowing down
  • praying
  • meditating

Three personal favorites

But there are some other tools in recovery that I have found especially helpful. These are based in my explorations as a writer. In her book, “Writing for Life”, Susan Witting Albert, notes:

“We can use our stories to heal and make ourselves whole.”

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I have found this to be true when I write in my journal or explore my actions, reactions and motivations while working the steps, particularly the first three which deal with “turning it over”, a significant challenge for co-dependents.

1. Writing as exploration to personal values

Writing has been an essential tool in my recovery. Since writing is an act of discovery, I’ve gained many insights and unearthed many truths about my thoughts, attitudes, and behavior as I worked the steps. In my recent memoir, “Dark Wine Waters: A Husband of a Thousand Joys and Sorrows“, I took an honest look at myself. Much of what I discovered wasn’t particularly pretty. But during the process of writing my book, I came to forgive myself, my husband, and my son.

2. Writing gratitude lists

Another helpful writing practice is composing a gratitude list which chisels away my lack of appreciation for life’s pleasures, big and small. Recent research on the psychology of gratitude has found that keeping a “gratitude journal” in which we list things we’re thankful for has many benefits. In one experiment subjects who kept a journal reported feeling happier and more optimistic than a control group who did not keep one. Another study reported that gratitude can serve as a protective buffer which increases our ability to deal with stressful situations. This benefit is especially significant for loved ones who face many challenges.

Composing a gratitude list is my all-purpose tool. When I am particularly vexed, I use a magic marker to list my “gratefuls” in big bold letters and tack it on my bulletin board to remind myself of my many blessings. It comes in handy whenever I find myself stumbling toward self-pity.  (I recently read about two friends who send one another a daily text of a gratitude.)

3. Writing sticky note reminders

I also write reminders, like patience, humility and faith on sticky notes and place them in my prayer box. Composing letters to my Higher Power helps let go of my fears and rebuild my faith. Early on in my recovery, I found myself sticking my nose in my son’s business. So I printed “Do not nag, preach, or lecture” in bold letters on a 5 by 7 inch index card and placed it beside my home phone. Another card carried the HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) message as well.

Codependence recovery and the gift of serenity

So, how can you start a program of codependence recovery? The bottom line is that by replacing the negatives with the positives, I restore my serenity which helps me stay present and enjoy simple pleasures in my own backyard: A cardinal alighting on the feeder outside my kitchen window, the rumble of the creek beside my home after a heavy rain, a doe resting on a pile of fallen leaves or sun rays slanting through the branches of tall trees. I’m better able to embrace hope, to cultivate humility, and to persevere even when confronted with a crisis.

Early on the 3Cs sustained me. Hanging in and using program tools as best I can has helped me repair what had been broken and maintain my recovery. And now, my sponsor reminds me to focus on “progress not perfection” which, in turn, restores my confidence when I relapse into co-dependent behaviors.

Photo credit: fauxto_digit

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About Fran Simone, PhD

Fran Simone is a Professor Emeritus from Marshall University, South Charleston Campus in West Virginia. Recently her memoir, Dark Wine Waters: a Husband of a Thousand Joys and Sorrows was published by Central Recovery Press. She can be reached through the Dark Wine Waters website or at darkwinewaters [at] gmail.

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