In my path to healing old emotional wounds, I spent a lot of time attending groups such as Al-Anon and Adult Children of Alcoholics, as well as an excellent but now-defunct journaling group called SEAS. In the long run, I did derive some good from each of the meetings I attended. But in many cases I was not what one might call an optimal member. In fact, with one exception, most of the groups I graced with my presence were probably really glad to see the back of me when I finally decided to pull out.
Let me say it without shame: I could never stand what I considered the time-wasting and nit-picking traditions of so many of these associations. There were minutes to be reported and treasurer’s statements to be announced and chapters to be read aloud, often by people who could barely read, and altogether too much nonsense that bore no relation whatever to the stated reason for everyone’s presence: recovery. The plethora of formalities seemed just an extrapolation of the burden carried by every codependent; that is, the need to control, due to having lived in uncontrollable situations.
I grew tired of the repetitive and downright silly statement required of each member prior to speaking: “Hi! I’m Whatshername, and I’m a co-dependent!” To be followed, of course, by a cheery group chorus of, “Hi, Whatshername!” After one or two meetings, everyone knew who Whatshername was, up to and including some of those vague people who barely seemed certain of their own names. And we all knew we were co-dependents or an associate thereof, or we wouldn’t have been there in the first place. Not to mention that repeating the statement prior to every single word one uttered was time-wasting overkill. But never will I forget the tongue-lashing I took from a group leader when I side-stepped all the silliness and announced, “Hey, you all know me now and we all know why I’m here.” Everyone laughed, several members nodded, but Group Leader puffed up like an adder about to strike. After heaping scathing verbal abuse upon my unbowed head, she ordered me out unless I was prepared to “take tradition seriously!” I gathered up my purse and left, suddenly realizing that, although still in need of recovery, I was actually a bit more mentally healthy than a lot of these people (Group Leader being one of them). When I dared return the following week, that same Group Leader failed to show, and the rest of us ran a meeting totally free of tradition, hunkering down to essentials in open and free discussion so thoroughly that we overran our allotted time by an hour.
Control issues aside, however, my greatest problem with the groups I attended was their insistence that I say such terrible things of myself. “I am a co-dependent”. “I am the adult child of an alcoholic”. Oh, it wasn’t that the names themselves weren’t the truth—the problem I had with the phrase was in its way of diminishing me.
“I am that I am”. That was the name given by God in answer to Moses’ question. The church I attended for many years taught that to say “I am” was to recognize the spark of divinity within that made one a child of God. Therefore, one never diminished oneself by adding a negative to the words “I am”.
I learned not to say, “I am angry”, but “I feel angry.” Depressed, bitter, frightened, ugly, a bad person… I learned not to connect negatives with the Divine within me. So I simply could not say, “I am a co-dependent”. I could rephrase my truth and say, “I am currently expressing co-dependence”— “I have learned co-dependence and am trying to heal”–“I demonstrate the effects of growing up in an alcoholic’s household”. But I simply could not state the required phrase about myself by attaching a negative label to my acknowledgement of the Divine within me. And that fact brought me into conflict with one recovery group after another, usually after only a few meetings. So I would take whatever good I had gleaned from yet another disappointment and move on.
And, in the end, moving on was precisely the right choice for me, for I’d learned essential truths about myself from those disappointments: that I was my own best judge of what was necessary for my healing and recovery, and that I was willing to do that hard work, even if I had to do it completely alone.
I’m still a work in progress. But I’ll get there.