The Difference Between Modern Life and Recovery Life
In modern life, we live in a society that craves instant gratification. After all, we are in the middle of a technology revolution, where computers and social media are performing tasks and communicating information with merely a click of a button. While the instant gratification concept is helping our society progress and makes work less daunting, craving instant gratification does not help the recovery process. In fact, craving instant gratification derails the recovery process for many people because they expect overnight change, become frustrated, and even give up when they discover the process does not meet that expectation.
Practicing Patience on the Path of Recovery
In a non-12-step meeting that I attend, the facilitator often says, "We did not get here overnight, so we are not going to fix the problem overnight." Codependency/addiction is a progressive disease. For example, I did not start out needing to constantly follow my cousin, his drug friends, and my other dysfunctional family members on social media and driving by their houses to get a rush to feel good and relieve my stress and anxiety. It took years to get to that point. It started with enjoying talking about them and looking at their social media profiles just for fun. I have learned that just as I did not become addicted overnight, I will not recover overnight.
A quote from the program says, "Change is a process, not an event." Another quote that I like even more says, "Recovery is a journey, not a destination." In my adult coloring book, I was coloring a quote that says, "Life is a journey, not a race." Recovery requires patience from both yourself and those around you. Unfortunately, you cannot control others' desires and opinions; therefore, the most important source of patience is yourself. Recovery does not mean that you will have the perfect life; it only promises that you will not suffer as much because you will have tools to deal with life's struggles. You will still have bad days, setbacks, lapses (slight slips), and even relapses (jumping right back into active codependency/addiction). The question is what you learn from them.
Do not expect too much of yourself. Courage to Change says, "Expectations are premeditated resentments." As a human being, you cannot control who you love and who and what you are attracted to. I did not wake up one day and think, "Today, I am going to love my dad and my cousin and want them to be clean and sober." I simply loved them and wanted that for them. Addicted is defined by the NIDA as a "relapsing brain disease." When you falter, be gentle with yourself and be kind to yourself. My meeting told me, "Treat yourself the way you would want others to treat you" and "Treat yourself the way you would treat your best friend. If you got hurt when playing outside, you would want your mother to take you into her arms and comfort you. If your best friend just made the worst mistake of his or her life, you would give them reassuring words. Value the few small victories as opposed to the thousand mistakes you have made. Recovery is a process, and you have to trust the process. There is no cure for codependency and addiction, but it can be arrested if you follow a program and/or seek and accept professional help.
Life Update- Where Have I Been?
If any of you who are reading this are loyal followers of this blog, you may have been wondering where I have been this past month. You may even be concerned, considering the melancholy tone of my last post, which happened to be very personal. While I am not nearly in as much pain as I was during that week, I am still grieving and struggling to work my program. I am attending my meetings every week and am going on my third session with a counselor who understands me. I have not written a post because my depression made it difficult for me to find a topic to write about. As a result of my codependency/mental health taking a turn for the worse, I decided not to attend college online. I am considering going into English and/or Social Studies Secondary Education instead of addictions counseling after thinking about the daily reality of being an addictions counselor, the long, complicated licensure process, hearing what it is like from people who work in the field, and hearing the opinions of those who are closest to me. I made a last-minute decision to go to a community college, but when I went for the first day of classes, I discovered the campus was unsafe and the hybrid classes I had to settle on were not the best option for me. Unfortunately, I will not be starting college until January at the university that I was originally accepted to. While I wish that I was in school as originally planned and like the rest of my peers, I feel like the time off will benefit me because I can focus on my recovery and mental health and figure out which career path I really want to take.
The Word "Help" is Not Always Positive
At a non-12-Step Family Meeting that I have been attending in my area, we have been doing an activity this past several weeks where several members are given a word on a piece of paper. When prompted to do so, they have to share how the word has applied to them in their journey of addiction and recovery. This week, I was one of the members who was given a word. My word was "Help." The word "Help" has a positive connotation in the American English language, so my first instinct was to share about seeking and accepting help.
Fortunately, I had enough time to think deeper about it. I realized that as codependent, "helping" has done more harm than good for me. As discussed in the last session with my counselor, I did not really have a normal adolescence as a result of doing the caretaking in my family. When I was 11 years-old and in fifth grade, I started watching Addicted and Intervention and reading books about addiction. While I was drawn to the subject out of my own curiosity, I also wanted to use what I have learned to fix my family. That was also the reason I went all the way through two years of psychology in high school. Eventually, it progressed to the point that I became so addicted to helping others, who did not want/were not ready to get help, that I lost myself, which is part of the reason I am not in college now because I did not take 2-3 years in high school to figure out which college I wanted to go to and which career I wanted. As my counselor put it, I went from 11 years-old to 21 years-old over the course of one year. After all, I wrote and published my first book at 14 years-old and had five books written and published by the time that I graduated high school. While all of my knowledge and accomplishments were admirable and prevented me from turning to drugs and alcohol or having a mental breakdown, they did not help my development.
The biggest problem was that I was giving help that I was not qualified to give. I do not recall having the title CADC, LCADC, LPC, LMFT, or LCSW after my name at any point in the past eight years lol. Giving advice that I was not qualified to give (e.g. telling my cousin to go to Florida) was part of the reason my cousin and I stopped speaking and why he still refuses to even acknowledge me and avoids me like the I am the Black Plague. I had not even graduated eighth grade and I was already the family addictions counselor.
A major realization that I have come to this past week was my caretaking efforts were not genuinely about the people I was trying to fix. Instead, it was about myself and alleviating my distress. Someone in Al-Anon compared common codependent behaviors (e.g. social media snooping, driving around to people’s houses, etc.) to self-mutilation. Her theory was codependents-unlike enablers-engage in their behaviors for their own high (e.g. satisfying an unhealthy curiosity), which hurts themselves. Long-time codependents who have been active in a program in an attempt to recovery logically know the bizarre behaviors will not help them or the other person. Instead, the behavior will only hurt the codependent and the relationship with the other person. I used to not believe this, but I now believe that most cases of co-dependency stem from lack of self-worth. When I think about it, if I truly loved myself and my life, I would not feel the need to focus on others and try to manage and control their lives.
The Final Verdict on "Help"
There are two different kinds of help: healthy, consensual help and unhealthy, controlling help. An example of healthy, consensual help is helping your elderly neighbor a few times a week while you are not letting it be a detriment to your mental health, quality of life, and other relationships. Healthy, consensual help is actually good for your mental health because it makes you feel good about yourself and gives you a sense of purpose. An example of unhealthy, controlling help is trying to convince and manipulate your addicted cousin into going to a self-help meeting with you and going on his or her social media accounts to find out who he or she hanging out with and where he or she is partying at. Unhealthy, controlling help will only make your life unmanageable to the point that you are sacrificing your mental health, self-care, relationships, and even education/career. You cannot control another person, and people have to make their own mistakes and hit their own bottoms to be motivated to change. Detachment is not the same as abandoning, disowning, or cutting off a person. Detachment is preventing another person's negative behavior from hurting you. In other words, you do not have to suffer the consequences of another person's behavior.
Bria Riley is a published author, recovering codependent and adult child of an alcoholic, who is active in several recovery programs. She knows the turmoil and heartbreak of growing up in an addiction-stricken family and wants to help others who have also been affected by addiction through her writing.