Self-care: First step in the journey toward healing

By Dan Carpenter

“I am the most important person in the world.”

For many of us, all it takes to utter that proclamation is a little brass or a sense of humor.

For those on the journey to recovery as codependents of persons addicted to alcohol or other drugs, it is an act of liberation and of courage.

For the codependent, the journey upward and forward must first be a step back and a look inside.

For the codependent, the addiction is The Other – he or she who is out there God knows where doing the Devil knows what, and taking family and friends along for the ride to destruction as helplessly as he himself or she herself is carried.

The alcoholic, knowing better, takes one drink. Back home, the wife, the father, the lover, the friend worries, waits up, works the phone, prowls the bars, pays the bail and the bills, issues the ultimatums, shouts the indignation, pleads for common sense, makes excuses to the drinker’s boss, concocts lies for the neighbors, and generally sacrifices health and happiness to the cause of saving the life for which the codependent feels responsible.

Knowing better.

“For those on the journey to recovery as codependents of persons addicted to alcohol or other drugs, it is an act of liberation and of courage.”

Knowing, if he’ll just review his own record and consult the wealth of literature and the vast experience of others in his fix, that it doesn’t work.

Not helping the alcoholic hurts those of us who love him. Hurts like hell. And guess what? Helping the alcoholic hurts him. Often, to hell.

Freeing the alcoholic to find his own path to sanity and a decent life means overcoming one’s own aversion to feeling selfish. It means embracing self-care. It means stepping back to accept the futility of denying one’s powerlessness, and looking downward to find the sources of one’s impulses to control, to cure and to play the martyr.

It’s scary, just like the fundamental change that the alcoholic must undertake in order to escape the opposite trap of self-absorption. In each case, the most important and most avoided person in the universe must be confronted at last – the true self, warts and all, needs and not-really-needs.

In neither case can the journey be made alone. Just as not drinking and not using have proved impossible without the fellowship of love and without a surrender to a Higher Power of some definition, so goes the challenge of learning to sleep with the phone turned off, to spend the lawyer money on a long-overdue vacation, to tell your husband’s boss nothing and your own boss you’ll be happy to take on that time-intensive extra project. Oh, and did I mention Al-Anon and Alateen and meetings, sponsorship, meetings, prayer and meetings? Just like “your” alcoholic and his/her program. Only from this foundation of honesty and self-worth can real generosity be accomplished.

And guess what? “Your” alcoholic is very likely to feel, not resentment, but riddance from a resentment that codependence has only aggravated. That’s in the experience and literature also. In other words, you’re not alone as Number One. Go for it.

 

Dan Carpenter is a former columnist for The Indianapolis Star and the author of two books of observations and opinions from his long journalism career, Hard Pieces and Indiana Out Loud.   

Join is Nov. 8, 2014 at Fairbanks Recovery Center for Spirit & Place Festival event, “From Addiction and Loss to Wholeness.” Learn more

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