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Codependents' Guide to the Twelve Steps: New Stories

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Lucy & Phyllis is a Certified B Corporation that meets the highest standards of social and eveironmental impact.

The New York Times bestselling self-help book that offers advice on how to find and choose the recovery program for you, as well as a directory of the wide range of Twelve Step programs, including AA, Codependents Anonymous, Codependents of Sex Addicts, Adult Children of Alcoholics, and more.

Millions identified with Melody Beattie in Codependent No More and gained inspiration from her in Beyond Codependency. Now she’s back to help you discover how recovery programs work and to help you find the right one for you. Interpreting the famous Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Steps specifically for codependent issues for the very first time, this groundbreaking book combines Melody’s expertise with the experience of other people to:

• Explain each step and how you can apply it to your particular issues
• Offer specific exercises and activities to use both in group settings and on your own
• Provide a directory of the wide range of Twelve Step programs—including Al-Anon, Codependents Anonymous, Codependents of Sex Addicts, Adult Children of Alcoholics, and more

The uniquely warm and compassionate voice of Melody Beattie will inspire you to turn your life around—one step at a time.

ISBN-13: 9780671762278

Publisher: Touchstone

Publication Date: 04-09-1992

Pages: 224

Product Dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.44(h) x 0.60(d)

Melody Beattie ha escrito numerosos libros sobre el crecimiento y las relaciones personales, y su mensaje se basa en la sabiduría curativa de los Doce Pasos, el cristianismo y las religiones orientales. Con la publicación en 1986 de Ya No Seas Codependiente, Melody se convirtió en una de las principales voces de la literatura de autoayuda cautivando a millones de lectores empeñados en tener relaciones más sanas. Ella vive en Malibu, California.

Chapter 1

"Surrender happens of its own accord. It just dawns on me.

Then, peace of mind settles in, and my life starts to get more manageable."

Bob T.



Step One of CoDA

The first time I heard this Step, I didn't get it. I didn't understand. It felt dark, scary, and untrue.

Powerless over others? My life — unmanageable?

I thought I was in complete control of myself and others. I thought there was no circumstance too overwhelming, no feeling so great that I couldn't handle it by sheer force of willpower. I thought being in control was expected of me. It was my job. That's how I got through life!

And I thought my life looked so much more manageable than the lives of those around me — until I started looking within. That's when I found the undercurrent of fear, anger, pain, loneliness, emptiness, and unmet needs that had controlled me most of my life.

That's when I took my eyes off the other person long enough to take a look at the state of affairs in my life.

That's when I began to find a life and come alive.

"I didn't know about power and powerlessness," said Mary, talking about the First Step. "Being a victim and being in control was how I was in power. If I was powerless, then someone else was in control."

Now we are learning a better way to own our power than being victims and being controlling. It begins by admitting and accepting the truth about ourselves and our relationships.

We are powerless over others. When we try to exert power where we have none, our lives at some level may become unmanageable. Let's take a look at some ways unmanageability can present itself in our lives, and where our ideas about controlling others — or allowing them to control us — began.


I can still remember the scene vividly, even though it happened more than a decade ago. Someone I cared about a lot was drinking. He was an alcoholic. And he wouldn't stop. I had done everything I could to make him stop. Nothing worked.


Neither was I able to stop my efforts to control his drinking. After yet another round of promises, forgiveness, then broken promises, I settled on the ultimate plan to make him stop drinking. I would show him how it felt to love someone who was using chemicals. I would make it look like I had returned to drug usage. That would get his attention. That would show him how much I hurt. Then he would stop.

Carefully, I set the stage. Although I had been clean of drugs for years, I laid out the paraphernalia of a user: a small packet with white powder in it (I used sugar); a spoon, burnt on one side; a piece of cotton in the spoon. Then I lay down on the couch to make it look like I was under the influence of narcotics.

A short time later, the person who was the focus (at that time) of my control efforts entered the room. He looked around, saw the spoon, saw me, and started to react. I jumped off the couch and started lecturing.

"See!" I screamed. "See how it feels to love someone and see them using chemicals! See how much it hurts! See what you've been doing to me for these years!"

His reaction was not nearly as important as my neighbor's reaction later that evening. "What you're doing is really crazy," she said, "and you need to go to Al-Anon."

It took me months to learn the truth: I didn't need to prove to the alcoholic how much I hurt. I needed to become aware of how much pain I was in. I needed to take care of myself.

That's only one of many incidents that shows the lengths I went to to control people. I was so good at seeing the behaviors, especially the out-of-control behaviors, of another. Yet I couldn't see unmanageability in my own life. I couldn't see myself. And I was trapped, locked into the victim role. People didn't just do things. They did things to me. No matter what happened, each event felt like a pointed attempt to do me in.

My ability to separate myself from others — to separate my issues, my business, my affairs, and my responsibilities from the issues, business, affairs, and responsibilities of others — was nonexistent, I blended into the rest of the world like an amoeba.

If someone needed something, I considered that need my personal and private responsibility, even if I was just guessing about what he or she needed. If someone had a feeling, it was my responsibility to work through it for him or her. If someone had a problem, it was mine to solve.

I didn't know how to say no. I didn't have a life of my own. I had a backlog of feelings from childhood, and chances were great that whatever I was reacting to today was probably a patterned reaction from childhood. Two weeks after I got married, I raced home from work, flung open the closet doors, and checked to see if my husband's clothes were still in the closet. I was certain I was going to be abandoned, left. I felt totally unlovable. And I didn't have the foggiest idea what it meant to own my power.

The base I operated from was fear, coupled with low self-esteem. I spent most of my time reacting to other people, trying to control them, allowing them to control me, and feeling confused by it all.

I thought I was doing everything right. Aren't people supposed to be perfect? Aren't people supposed to be stoic? Shouldn't we keep pushing forward, no matter how much it hurts? Isn't it good to give until it hurts, then keep giving until we're doubled over in pain? And how can we allow others to go about their life course? Isn't it our job to stop them, set them straight? Isn't that the right way, the good way, the Christian way?

The codependent way.

As many others have said about themselves, I wasn't me. I was whoever people wanted me to be, And I felt quite victimized and used up by it all. After years of practicing hard-line codependency, the unmanageability in my life was overwhelming. Some of my codependency I didn't understand until well into recovery.

When I began recovery I was more than $50,000 in debt, as a result of the unmanageability in my financial affairs. No amount was too great to be borrowed if it would help someone else.

My spirituality had been taxed to the limit. How many times had I prayed for God to change other people? How often had God refused? I thought God had abandoned me. I didn't know that I had abandoned myself. I didn't know that now that I was an adult, people couldn't abandon me. All they could do was leave.

In some instances, I may have been better off if they had.

My relationships with my children were chaotic. It's hard to be an effective parent when you're bound up in pain, denial, and repressed feelings and are regularly wishing for death.

My relationships with friends were strained. I had little to offer friends, except my perpetual complaints about the misery in my life. Most of my friendships centered around shared stories of victimization, interspersed with Rabelaisian humor to make it bearable.

"Guess who used me today?"

I had no feelings that I was aware of. I had no needs that I was aware of. I prided myself on my ability to endure needless suffering, deprive myself, and go without.

I neglected my career.

My health was failing. I spent years seeking medical treatment for nonspecific viruses. I had a hysterectomy. I had viral meningitis. I had gastritis. My back hurt. My head ached. Arthritis was beginning to settle in.

And I was only thirty-two years old.

Codependency is a powerful force. So is denial and the ability to ignore what is before our eyes. What's there has the power to hurt, especially when we feel helpless, vulnerable, frightened, and ashamed by it all.


Stanley is a successful architect in his fifties. It took him sixteen years to notice the unmanageability and chaos in his life — sixteen years of denying, putting up with, pretending, and going deeper into hiding within himself before he saw the truth,

Stanley's father is an alcoholic. Stanley's wife's father died of alcoholism. And after sixteen years of trying to control his youngest son, Stanley reached the point of emotional collapse.

"By the time our youngest son, John, was six, I knew we were in trouble," Stanley said. "He constantly fought at school. He was belligerent and refused to do his homework. At home, he caused problems. He hollered at his mother, swore at her, and sometimes hit her.

"My wife and I fought all the time. I tried to be understanding. She had special circumstances. She had been in the camps during World War II, and she believed children should be loved and adored. She didn't want us to discipline John.

"John caused complete chaos at home. He was bright. He knew how to push everyone's buttons. He had my wife and I fighting, his siblings and I fighting. He even had his grandparents going at it."

When John was ten, Stanley gave his wife an ultimatum: Either they sought professional help for John and the family or Stanley was moving out. They went to a psychologist who told them not to worry. John, the psychologist said, was a bright child, a bit precocious, but he'd grow out of this stage.

That session was the beginning of $20,000 (after insurance coverage) of fruitless family counseling.

When John was eleven, Stanley's wife threw up her arms in despair and walked out of a school counseling session. She was tired. She had given all she could to the situation. She vowed never to set foot inside a school again. A short time later she moved out, leaving Stanley to raise the three children alone.

By the time John was twelve, Stanley was spending more time in school than John. Stanley was there three days a week, explaining why John was only there two days a week.

"The only way I could get John graduated from ninth to tenth grade was by promising to leave that school system," Stanley said. "How codependent is that? I sold our home and moved to another school system so the school would graduate John."

On one occasion, Stanley came home to find his middle son, Jeremy, choking John. Jeremy had his hands around John's neck and had lifted him off the ground. Jeremy quietly said that he had put up with John for twelve years and could do it no longer.

Another time, Stanley walked into a room just as John was throwing a knife at another child. Stanley was able to deflect the course of the knife, causing it to pierce a window screen instead of the boy.

When John was sixteen, things came to a head. By then, Stanley's wife had moved back home. One Sunday, Stanley was in the den watching football, and his wife was in the kitchen preparing brunch. John walked into the kitchen and began arguing with his mother. Stanley listened, as their discussion escalated and their voices grew louder.

"I was afraid," said Stanley. "John still acted abusively toward his mother, hollering at her and sometimes hitting her. I wasn't going to let that happen again."

Stanley walked into the kitchen just as John was about to strike his mother, Stanley grabbed John and restrained him in a bear hug. When he did this, his wife came to John's rescue. She started pulling at Stanley, trying to get him to let John loose.

Then Jeremy, the middle son, walked into the kitchen. He started pulling at his mother, trying to get her to leave Stanley alone, so he could restrain John.

The four of them toppled to the floor. Stanley cut his head open. Blood gushed out. Stanley let John loose, ran to the car, drove to the emergency room at the hospital, received forty-five stitches, and drove back home.

There in the living room stood Jeremy and John, toe to toe. They were still going at it.

"They were ready to duke it out," said Stanley. "My wife was standing next to them, watching. She didn't know what to do. The boys were fully grown. John was six feet tall and weighed 175 pounds. Both of them had been trained in martial arts.

"Damn it," Stanley said. 'If there's going to be any fighting around here, I'm going to do it."

Then Stanley stepped in between the two boys and punched them both.

The next day Jeremy moved out. A few weeks later, the oldest sister moved out. Two weeks after that, Stanley moved out. Two months later, Stanley's wife moved out.

"A sixteen-year-old boy had gained complete control of the house and two dogs," Stanley said. "That was it. I moved back in."

Two weeks later, a school counselor called Stanley. "I think you've got a problem," she said. The counselor then informed Stanley that John was using drugs and had been since he was eight years old — a fact that $20,000 worth of counseling and therapy had failed to reveal.

By then, when he wasn't dealing with the school or police officials, Stanley was spending his days locked in his office, head down on his desk, crying.

"I was drained, and felt totally devoid of any worth as a human being," Stanley said.

Stanley began attending Al-Anon, then Families Anonymous. He was ready to face and accept his powerlessness and the unmanageability in his own life. He was ready to detach and begin taking care of himself.

(The epilogue to the story is this: John went to treatment but wasn't successful. Later on, after going to jail on a narcotics sale charge, he began a true recovery. He is now a successful businessman and has a close relationship with his father. Stanley and his wife divorced. Jeremy and the oldest sister are not yet in recovery for codependency. Stanley has lost one hundred pounds, exercises regularly, feels peaceful and hopeful about life, and takes care of himself daily.)


But I'm not in that much trouble, you might be thinking. My response is: good. You don't have to be in a lot of trouble to recognize unmanageability and begin recovering from codependency. It takes many of us much pain to become ready for recovery. Others do not need as much chaos.

Mike's awareness of the unmanageability in his life was a quiet one.

"I came home from work one night, and I could no longer stand my usual system of sitting in front of the television, staring at it, and escaping from myself by reading the newspaper. My sister, who has always been borderline psychotic, called. She started going on and on, giving fifteen different reasons for why she had lost her job. It was about the fifteenth one in a row she had lost. And the thought occurred to me that I could either go on and on with my life as it was, being bored and quietly escaping through the television, or I could start doing something different. Someone had given me the address of a Twelve Step group for adult children of alcoholics. I got up, turned off the television, and went to a meeting. I was ready to take this First Step — out of sheer boredom."

Karen's unmanageability with her codependency became apparent while she was in recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol.

"I had been recovering from chemical addiction for fifteen years. I was doing everything everyone told me to. I was going to five meetings a week. I was helping people constantly, whether they wanted it or not. But inside, I was just as ashamed of myself as I was the day I got sober. I had no self-worth. I couldn't tell people 'no.' I couldn't say what I thought. And everything I did, I did to make people like me — from the way I dressed, to the way I combed my hair and put on my makeup, to the way I sat, and the things I did for people. I felt so victimized. I never felt good enough. If I ever did say no or take care of myself with people, I felt so guilty. And, I felt angry and resentful, because my days and hours were consumed with doing things for people I felt I had to do, and people never seemed to appreciate what I did for them.

"I felt so bad about myself, I hoped that if I helped enough people, God would start treating me good. That's when it dawned on me that I needed to start treating myself good. God wasn't making me do all these things. God wasn't stopping the good from happening in my life. I was.

"I knew I needed, wanted, and deserved more from my sobriety than what I was getting. I came to understand that to get that 'more,' I had to begin addressing my codependency. It was time."

To use author Charlotte Kasl's phrase, Karen was constantly "giving more than she could afford" to others and not giving to herself — a codependent behavior that ultimately creates unmanageability. We can give more of ourselves than we can afford financially or emotionally. Any time our giving begins to get compulsive or is induced by feelings of guilt and obligation or leaves us feeling victimized, we are in danger. Any time we're uncomfortable with what we're doing because it goes against our own truth and what we want, we are in danger.

Consistently giving more than our share and not getting our needs met in relationships can create unmanageability.

After ending a relationship and staying away from love relationships for a while, Martha met Jack. He really charmed her one evening in the early days of their relationship when he drove her to the train station and carried her bags to the platform for her.

"No man had ever done anything like that for me in my life," she said. "It was love at first sight."

The problems began subtly and were hard to identify. Jack told her early on that once she got to know him, she wouldn't like him. Jack was right.

"He seemed to want to control my opinions and thinking," Martha said. "Whenever I voiced an opinion that was different than his, even if it was about a piece of art, he would argue with me until I gave in and agreed with him."

Whenever it came time to be dose, Jack withdrew. He would have sexual relations with Martha, but he refused to spend the night with her. He would go for long periods without seeing her, then make a date, and at the last minute, cancel.

The relationship evolved into long conversations on each other's answering machines.

"My friends kept telling me this relationship was no good," Martha said, "but I had a hard time seeing it. I couldn't break loose. I got stuck, trapped in it. It caused me a lot of pain. My self-esteem dropped. I cried a lot and sat waiting by the phone. I stopped trusting myself."

Finally, Martha began attending meetings of CoDA. Soon she was able to terminate the relationship and begin taking care of herself. Martha learned that giving away her power and allowing herself to be victimized created unmanageability in her relationship and her life. She also began to look at and change some of the underlying reasons she had done this. (We will, too, in the chapters on the Fourth and Fifth Steps.)


Our codependency, and our unmanageability, doesn't always surround addicts and alcoholics. Many of us discover that our efforts to control another's behavior extend beyond that of controlling one person's addiction. Many of us get caught up in overt, and subtle, gestures to control many people — what they do, think, feel, and how and when they change.

Many of us find ourselves trying to control others well into recovery. I have come to recognize that my need to control, or take care of another, is instinctive. It's my first reaction to people. It's no longer as obvious as it once was, but it's still there.

We can try to control people we love, people we work for, people who work for us, friends, enemies, relatives, children, neighbors, and even strangers.

Controlling and caretaking don't work. Codependency doesn't work. It makes us feel crazy. It makes us feel like people and circumstances are driving us crazy, Our lives become unmanageable. Controlling and caretaking create unmanageability.

And we don't see clearly what is going on while it is going on, It is as though we are in a fog.

This unmanageability can be external, internal, or both. We may become so enmeshed in other people and their issues, so focused on them and out of touch with ourselves, that we lose control of the external affairs in our life. Unmanageability may creep into our relationships, our spirituality, health, employment, recreational activities (or lack of them), home life, community involvement, and finances.

Our internal affairs — our feelings, thoughts, and reactions to others and ourselves may become unmanageable. Depression, fear, anger, sadness, and a whirlwind of chaotic thoughts may overtake us. Or we may become so consumed with thoughts of another and with wondering what that person is feeling, that we lose touch with ourselves and our own thoughts and feelings.

Our mental energy, our minds, our intellects, may be in an unmanageable state, clouded by denial, fear, and attempts to control another. We may be caught in a torrent of obsessive thinking. Or, we may get stuck in negative thought patterns, patterns detrimental to our health and well-being.

We may neglect our careers and our creative gifts and talents.

Our financial affairs may be unmanageable. We may be overspending, or underspending and depriving ourselves.

We may deprive ourselves so badly our martyrdom and self-sacrifice create ongoing feelings of victimization. We may allow others to victimize us; we may victimize ourselves. We may subject ourselves unnecessarily to other people and their inappropriate, abusive, or out-of-control behaviors. We may feel victimized by our inability to set the boundaries we need to set.

Our behaviors may be out of control. The behaviors we use to control another may be as crazy as the behaviors of the person we're trying to control.

We may feel compelled to take care of others in a way that diminishes their ability to take responsibility for themselves. When we do this overtly, taking responsibility for the consequences of another's addictive behaviors, we feel angry and used. When we are covert caretakers, walking through life feeling responsible for the feelings and needs of others, we neglect our own feelings and needs.

Not saying no, not saying what we mean, not being in touch with what we want and need, not living our own lives, creates unmanageability.

We may become so controlled by the expectations and desires of others that we feel like puppets on a string with no lives of our own.

Some of us become trapped in unhealthy relationships, unable to extricate ourselves. Some of us become isolated, terrified of risking further involvement with people because we feel so unable to take care of ourselves in relationships and so frightened of being disappointed or hurt again.

If codependency goes untreated long enough, the results can be serious, even deadly. We may begin using alcohol or drugs to stop our pain. We may get caught up in other compulsive behaviors. We may develop physical illnesses from stress and from not dealing with our emotions. We may end up thinking about, or actually attempting, suicide.

Or, we may become terminally miserable, enduring life, getting through, waiting for our reward in heaven, not knowing that there is a reward each day in being alive and living our own lives.

Unmanageability can creep into our recoveries, no matter how long we've been recovering. It happens whenever we try to control something we cannot control. It happens when we allow our fear and panic to control us. It happens when we allow others' expectations, demands, agendas, problems, and addictions to control us.

It happens when we neglect our responsibility to take care of ourselves lovingly. It happens when we try to exert power where we have none, then continue trying ferociously, even though what we're doing isn't working. Whenever we try to have power where we have none, we forfeit our personal power. Our real power is to think, feel, make choices, live our own lives, and take care of ourselves.

Unmanageability occurs when we stop owning our power and start believing that we do not have choices about how we want to act, regardless of what another person is or isn't doing.

Perhaps the relationship most affected by our attempts to control or change what we cannot, is our relationship with ourselves. We become frustrated, confused, and often immersed in negativity, self-hatred, repression, and depression. We stop loving and caring about ourselves because we have cared about others too much or in ways that don't work for them, for us, or for the benefit of the relationship.

We may have developed a life pattern of self-neglect. If so, we can now learn how to take care of ourselves in a loving, gentle manner that feeds our soul and makes life worthwhile.

Many of us develop new definitions of unmanageability after we've been recovering for a while. We begin to expect more from our lives.

When I lose my peace and serenity, when I become excessively frightened, panicky, guilty, or ashamed, I consider my life unmanageable. When I stop dealing with my feelings, when I stop nurturing and caring for myself, when I stop listening to myself, when I get caught up in trying to control events and people, I consider my life unmanageable. The solution is to return to Step One.

So much of what we call codependency is simply human attempts to avoid, deny, or divert our pain. Taking this Step means we become ready to face and feel our pain. Be gentle with ourselves and others as we move from denial into the acceptance generated by this Step.


The belief that we have power over other people is a powerful belief — a destructive illusion that many of us learned in childhood.

Listen to how some recovering people were trained to believe they had control over others.

"When I was in high school, my mother started the habit of trying to kill herself," said Marcia, a grown woman now recovering from codependency. "She kept trying to gas herself in the oven. I was terrified for her. Every day at school I'd call her between classes. When she didn't answer the phone, I knew she was doing it again. I'd race home, turn off the oven, air out the house, put Mother to bed, and race back to school.

"At a young age, I learned I had an enormous amount of power over people. I learned I had power over my mother's life or death."

A twist to this story is that Marcia's mother also believed she wielded power over Marcia's life. When Marcia was sixteen, her mother parked her car on the railroad tracks on Easter Sunday morning. Then, she waited for a train to hit her, which it did.

Marcia's mother escaped with only a few cuts and bruises, but she was committed to a mental institution for four years because of that suicide attempt. While Marcia's mother was in the hospital, she told Marcia that she wanted her (Marcia) to have a better life, so she was sending her to another city to live with her Uncle Charly.

"Later on, when I was in college, my mother got out of the hospital. She told me that she never intended me to live with Uncle Charly, she had wanted me to live with her cousin Charly. I laughed at the irony of control: to almost kill yourself so your child could have a better life, then find out that the child was sent to the wrong Charly and had a horrible life because of it," Marcia said.

Some of us were raised with more subtle, but equally powerful, illusions about control.

"From the time I was a young child, about three, my mother ingrained in me the idea that 'I made her miserable,'" said Jackie. "I grew up honestly believing that I had this power over her. I also came to believe that I held the power to make her happy. Then, I spent my life alternating between the two ideas: acting out to make her miserable or turning myself inside out to make her happy, which I never succeeded at. I felt guilty, trapped, and in bondage by both ideas.

"As an adult, I lived with this belief for years. And it wasn't just about my mother. It spread to everyone I had contact with. I really believed I had the power to make people miserable, make them happy, make them feel. It was a tremendous responsibility, an inaccurate one, and it kept me walking on eggshells and feeling crazy most of my adult life, until I began recovering from codependency. I turned myself inside out to control how others felt or to avoid making them feel a certain way. I got so I hated to be around people, because controlling their feelings felt like such a big, tiresome job. I couldn't relax and enjoy being with people. My energy was out there — trying to make them feel, trying to control them. And I was out of touch with what I was feeling.

"I didn't know it was okay to have feelings," said Jackie.

Many of us grew up believing it wasn't okay to have feelings. That was part of the control we were taught to have — repression of our emotions. Now we are learning that whatever we try to control gains control of us. If we try to control our feelings in an unhealthy way — which many of us were taught to do and learned to do to survive — our feelings will gain control of us and create unmanageability.

"From the time I was old enough to listen, I was told not to feel," said Jackie. "It didn't take me long to begin telling myself that. I was told to stand tall, sit straight, and ignore my feelings.

"Actually, this advice was helpful. I lived in a cold, sterile environment. I received no nurturing and little love. From the time I was born, the people I expected to love me, disappointed me. I wasn't hugged. I wasn't told I was beautiful. I wasn't allowed to be afraid, to be angry, and of course, I didn't feel joy. I was told to be more, be better, try harder, and be stronger. Be in control.

"I learned that no situation merited falling apart or indulging in feelings.