Reality is a tremendous nuisance to active alcoholics and codependents. It’s so damn stubborn, but we’re more so! We have a firm idea of how things really are and we’re stickin’ to it, however painful our grip. The pain in both cases comes from everything that refuses to align with our story of how things can be okay – usually involving other people and their actions or views. When I was living alcoholically, people kept misinterpreting my drinking. Now that I’m sober but battling codependency, they keep not doing what they should.
The trouble is, as long as I’m in this mindset – I know shit – I’m cut off from god. God animates reality, but its truth can’t be admitted by my sick thinking. In other words, god’s guidance is heard via honesty, but denial makes us deaf.
First, let’s talk about alcoholism.
During the 14 years that I drank pretty much daily, I had a good story: I just liked to drink! There was no big deal about it, though some people liked to pretend there was. My life was as normal as anybody’s except that I was maybe a little more free about kicking back. Alcohol was a just a feature of the good life – something that accompanied relaxation, candor, humor, and the ease of not taking stuff so damn seriously. Didn’t I still have a job and a car? Hadn’t I earned a fancy degree? Wasn’t my health still good? Okay, then, get off my back, everyone!
Hitting bottom was the result of losing my levity, my ability to float a hot air balloon of egotism just enough to skim over the landscape of consequences beneath me. Many people were hurt and angry, but they couldn’t reach me. Many people would be hurt and angry if they found out certain things, but so far I’d dodged those impacts. In the end it was the intensity of my own pain and self-loathing that weighed down my balloon basket more heavily every year, every month, and, as I gradually lost altitude, every day – until the ground of reality came up to meet me and I crashed.
I had no more escape. My entire life was rife with lies. Everything I’d been fleeing caught up with me and the pain was unbearable. Finally, I admitted: “This is the truth. This is how it is. Addiction powers my every thought and deed, and without it, I have nothing. I am nothing. I have no power.”
Finally! That’s when the door swings open. It’s when god says, “Bingo! That shit just doesn’t work. How about I show you how to live in the world instead of your head?” In my case, god showed me through the loving words spoken and written by people in AA, both living and dead. “Here,” they explained, “is how you can live a meaningful life.” The 12 steps were a means of clearing from my head the false stories I’d used to deny reality. I began to work with what is to become the woman I want to be.
Now let’s talk about codependency.
It’s actually a whole lot like alcoholism, because it, like alcoholism, centers on denial. Here’s the American Medical Association’s definition of alcoholism, tweaked just a bit to describe codependency:
“CODEPENDENCY is a chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. The disease is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by continuous or periodic impaired control over ATTACHMENT, preoccupation with the ADDICT, use of OBSESSIVE TACTICS despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably denial.”
Look at that! The denial part, I didn’t even have to mess with; it’s the mainstay of both diseases.
Just as denial let me pretend my drinking harmed no one, so it lets me pretend my attempts to change the alcoholic harm no one. Now I’m riding in the hot air balloon of dependence – actually the offspring of ego and fear: a conviction that my well-being depends on someone else. I need them to change so that I can be happy. My levity comes from the certainty that if I just _______ the right thing, the alcoholic will come to his senses. (Insert do, say, offer, model, threaten, etc.) There have been some great attempts, but they haven’t quite worked yet. Failures pass under me. So do the alcoholic’s betrayals, lies, actions that clearly show he has no intention of doing anything other than being himself – an alcoholic. I keep skimming over them all, using my will and my hope and my love with all my might! I’ll say this and he’ll realize that! I run the videos in my mind day after day: I say my lines, watch my ideation of the alcoholic comprehending.
But gradually, I lose altitude. The weight of pain brings me down again – that my love is not reciprocated in the form of whatever integrity I long for the alcoholic to achieve. The alcoholic remains deaf, is blind, stays asleep to everything but his own dream of denial, and there is nothing – nothing – I can do to wake him. All my efforts are futile or, worse still, galvanize his denial.
I have no more escape. This is how it is. My entire life is rife with lies. Everything I’ve been grasping for has evaporated, and the pain is unbearable. Finally, I admit: “This is the truth. This is how it is. Codependent illusions power my every thought and deed, and without them, I have nothing. I am powerless.”
Here again god steps in. “Correcto-mundo!” says god. “But you don’t have nothing, sweetheart! You have you. You have me. You have all of life and this beautiful world to thrive in.” I begin to listen. I realize what god offers is real, not projected. It doesn’t have to wait for someday; it can start now.
Just as I took my first shaky steps sober and wide awake all those years ago, now I begin to take my first steps on my own. No one needs to live as I see fit for me to be happy. Whether my attachment has been to a family member or a lover, I can free them to live their own life, make their own mistakes, and suffer their own consequences, whether through wasted potential or death. I can do it because, in reality, I have no other option.
Reality, in both cases, is so much simpler, so much easier, and so much richer than my thinking. Now I have choices, and I can hear god’s guidance as I weigh them.