I am a gratefully recovered S-Anon, Co-Dependent, Al-Anon and love addict.
I grew up in volatility, violence, chaos, obsession, suspicion, emotional, physical and sexual abuse, where, as it says in The Doctors Opinion on page xxviii of the Big Book of AA ‘“they cannot after a time differentiate the true from the false”, in a family effected by Sex Addiction and Co-Dependency.
I experienced my mother to be frightening, beautiful, mysterious, cruel, untouchable, unknowable and the nucleus in which my family expanded, contracted, reacted and acted. My father was physically violent, raging, giant and terrifying. I was one of four children, all girls. Something was undeniably wrong, and I didn’t know addiction had consumed our home.
I was singled out for emotional and physical abuse and my sisters were enlisted. There was never calm. There were explosions and the tension between. Everyone had a job to do in the family system, to shore up, support and protect the family narrative or become the object of rage. Each sibling found a way to stay safe within the family system. Some acted as the front to protect the family secrets from the outside word, some stayed invisible, some acted as the deflector and I was the scapegoat, the place where the blame for the family dysfunction was placed. Reason and logic didn’t matter, so absolute was the belief within the family system that I was bad and what was happening to me, I had coming.
My earliest memories revolved around the feeling I was different, separate, didn’t belong. I was an outsider, worthless, unlovable and I was emotionally, physically, eternally unsafe. I found a way to get belonging by absorbing the feelings and problems of others. I believed I was fundamentally bad, what was happening was my fault. I would have moments of rebellion against the role I played, and thought I didn’t deserve what was happening, but would eventually go back to the family story, I was the cause of it all.
My father began sexually acting out with me when I was a teenager. I spent a year denying what was happening. I thought it was me, it was an accident, he didn’t mean to, and I was bad for thinking he was doing something bad. By the time I accepted what was happening, I employed strategies and thought if I showed no expression, no indication I knew what was happening, I could find a way to survive.
At seventeen I was completely broken. I could not go on living with my circumstances and when the next crisis arrived I saw only three choices. I was going to go insane, die, or I had to run - that very moment, that very day. It wasn’t self-worth that set me on my feet. It was anger, an anger which I would carry with me until I found recovery. I left everything behind. The Big Book of AA describes addiction and alcoholism as “fatal” malady. This was my experience. In one moment, my life, family, home, identity, relationships, past and future burned to the ground. I didn’t have awareness at the time, but I had decided, whoever I was, I couldn’t take with me either. From that point forward, I hid not only from my family, I hid from everyone.
I became obsessed with three ideas. I was going to be normal, happy and was going to succeed. I thought I could earn my worth. It worked temporarily, but inevitably I became restless, irritable and discontented. Succeeding wasn’t enough, I needed more. I was obsessed with the idea of getting a relationship, someone to love me. I managed my image in front of men, tried leaving my past behind, but it didn’t work. There was something terribly wrong and I couldn’t hide it. The more I tried, the more I failed, and the more desperate my thinking and actions became. I never wanted to try again, to expose how abnormal I was again, but I couldn’t quit. My drive to get love was relentless. Each time I would meet someone, I saw them as the one that was going to save me. I took direction from others and followed where they led. I had no regard for my personal safety or well-being, and no true regard or care for the people I was meeting, that they were people, not objects to make me feel better.
It’s like I was racing towards an imaginary finish line. The finish meant I had arrived at the moment where I was finally normal. “Normal” is one of my metaphorical drinks, and it is a bottomless pit. I could never be enough, do enough, get enough love, approval, validation to get to the finish. I repeated the same relationship and behavior patterns over and over again. When I finally got the love I thought I wanted, misery creeped back in. It wasn’t enough. They didn’t really love me, know me, didn’t love me the right way.
I tried every kind of self-help. I tried spiritual practices. My anger was insurmountable. My attitude towards God was, there was someuniversal Force, and it was cruel, unyielding, punishing. The Universe’s cruelty was “the game”, and I was going to beat it. I was going to get normal, get love, get happiness in spite of God. But it wasn’t God I was fighting. I was fighting me. On page 23 of the Big Book of AA it says, “There is the obsession that somehow, someway, they will beat the game.”
I met my husband and he proposed shortly after we met. I never once thought about what I was going to bring to him and to our relationship, how I could be a partner, share and give love. I said yes, because I had finally gotten what I thought I wanted, someone wanted me. I discovered his sexual acting out behaviors early on, and spiraled into my addictions. First I believed it was me. I was abnormal because of what had happened in my past and that was why he was turning to other things. I tried making myself the object I thought he wanted. When that didn’t work I turned my focus sharply on him and blamed him entirely. I thought more information would make me feel better. I searched everywhere. I would find something, or not, and there was a moment of relief until the insane idea to look for more information came again. I had no regard for his privacy. I screamed and said terrible things to try and get control over his behavior. I never considered his struggles and that he might be drowning too. When I couldn’t control him, I became obsessed with trying to control anything and everything else.
I stopped communicating with every friend I had. I was completely self-obsessed. I had no thought for my friends, their lives, their joys, struggles and that they might have needed a friend, someone who cared. I hid, never revealing anything about myself, my past, or current reality to new people I met. With old friends, I traded with, recycled and used my painful past as a way to try and get love.
During this time, I also had a problem with someone else’s drinking, and someone else’s drug addiction. I thought addiction was a choice, they could stop if they wanted to and and they were choosing to destroy their lives. My same insane strategies applied. The root of my thinking was, if this madness doesn’t stop, if people don’t get in line, I will never get what I want. I will never be normal. I will never beat this thing.
I went to an Al-Anon meeting and for the first time began to understand addiction. I didn’t take alcohol and drugs as personally as I did sex and love, so had a little more openness to listen. I began to understand addiction isn’t a choice, and once we have passed the point of human aid, there is little hope we will ever be able to quit on our own will power. I understood this because I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t quit my behaviors and patterns. I wasn’t any different. I was the same. After years of living with “something is wrong with me,” or something is wrong with them”, a thought was given which said, “something is wrong.” Compassion entered my heart.
Al Anon led me to S-Anon, and during my first meeting I heard the words, “I had sex addiction in my family of origin.” It was as if grace stepped in and I could see my life clearly for the first time, this connective thread of addiction in every relationship I had ever had. I had grown up in a family of addiction. I was an addict and to trying to get something on the outside to make me feel better on the inside.
I attended other meetings, which were topic and discussion meetings. I didn’t know how recovery worked. I thought it meant trying to white knuckle, and struggle to have a better feeling towards and speak more positively about the unmanageability of life. I had already tried that and it didn’t work. When I heard people share hope, I didn’t feel hopeful. I felt worse, because I didn’t know what to do to find the hope I heard.
I found my way to a Primary Purpose Group for S-Anon’s and Codependents, and I heard something new. I heard a plan, tangible actions to take to recover. I heard there was something to DO. I heard a lightness in their beings and something I wanted, relief. At first, I thought they couldn’t have the same problems I have, or they wouldn’t sound how they sounded. When I heard the words obsessing, focusing on others, controlling, blaming, managing, fixing, trying to get love, belonging acceptance, those behaviors were so much a part of my reality, I never questioned them. Maybe they weren’t the way to make it all stop, maybe they were symptoms, and symptoms we shared.
I found a sponsor and asked for help and she started to take me through the steps. When I read the first 60 pages of the Big Book of AA, and saw this was a spiritual program, this was about God, my heart dropped. Anything but that. When asked the question, and made a decision, was I willing to believe that a Power greater than myself could restore me to sanity?” I can find no words to describe it better than the founders of AA did. On page 48 in the Big Book of AA it says, “Faced with alcoholic destruction, we soon became as open minded on spiritual matters as we had tried to be on other questions. In this respect, alcohol was the great persuader. It finally beat us into a state of reasonableness.”
Working the steps, the effect for me was immediate. The steps helped me to see we are all sick and suffering. We all feel the pain around our old ideas of separation and reach for something to feel better. The program has given me the gift of seeing that my circumstances weren’t forced on me by a cruel and unloving Universe. As an adult, my circumstances and suffering were of my own making. I thought I was selfless and kind, and the program helped me see my dishonesty. My acts of kindness always came with a motive. To get love, approval, belonging, When I took the actions, followed the precise directions in the book, a new “as I understand God” began to show up. This program has given me lightness of heart, joy in living in give, compassion, a purpose, a sense of usefulness, joy in watching others recover and find their personal Higher Power and a toolkit which in every moment I use it, reliably connects me to love.
I still try and get belonging, love, approval, acceptance, and when I do it reliably takes me back to my misery. What has changed is, the hopelessness is gone. I now have a choice which I never had before. At any moment, I can choose to turn to the steps, and turn to giving love, acceptance, giving tolerance, and kindness, to care about others and bring belonging. Bring myself. Show up and contribute what Higher Power guides me to contribute. in taking these actions, this is how I turn my life over to a Higher Power.
I thought relief would only come if those who had harmed me took responsibility. When I only saw others as doing harm, I was too big. Now I know it wasn’t personal - their behaviors were symptoms of their suffering. I have symptoms, too and finding my own harms helped me to become right sized to my Higher Power and to my fellows. What I found in working the steps, specifically Steps 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9, the relief came when I searched for and found ways in which we were the same. Ways in which I had done the things I was mad at everyone else for. Some ways I had done identical harms, and was blocked from looking at myself when I was busy blaming and focusing on others. In some ways, I hadn’t done the same harms, but I could find a parallel if I searched fearlessly and took actions to amend my harms. When I did this, I was no longer separate, better than, or less than, And when I followed the directions, with help from my sponsor, I was able to see the reasons why we act out, and do harms, and act in selfish and self-centered ways are the same, if we have this spiritual malady, We have lost our connection to love, to giving, to our Higher Power, our True Purpose.
I suffered around my family every minute of every day, it had complete power over me. It no longer does. I don’t have to fend it off, or keep it at bay, The most painful parts have been removed. Now, what is left is like layers of an onion, and each time I am disturbed I can choose to turn back to the steps, this practical approach to living and spiritual way of life and I am lifted back and out, and set on my feet, My painful past now has a useful, joyful, purpose- to try and help others, who are like me. God has not wasted a single moment, a single memory.
In my codependency, I am always watching others, for every change in their voice, eyes, heart, for , “what do they think of me,” “do they hate me, love me, like me”, “do I belong.”. With recovery, I can practice something new. Instead of focusing on me, I can turn to sharing and giving love, including, asking about and caring about others, and take my direction from a Higher Power instead of others. When I get busy looking to give and hold on to giving with both hands, I stop looking at everyone else for my worth. I experience my Higher Power, and experience my true worth in the action of being loving, useful and helpful.
In my codependency, I agree to things I don’t agree with, and then become angry and resentful at everyone for overstepping invisible lines they aren’t responsible for to begin with. I thought boundaries were for other people, they needed to change or stop. Now, boundaries are for me. What I can and cannot lovingly participate in.
I still face challenges and difficulties every day. What is different now is, I don’t have problems. I have symptoms, I have attitudes, I have suffering around what I think are my problems. And if my problems aren’t my problems, if my suffering and attitudes are a symptom of my problem and ultimately my real problem is- I am in self-will, self-seeking, selfish and self-centered thinking, dishonesty, fear and not considering others- I think I am without my Higher Power- I can do something about that. Love can do something about that. What is different now is hope and choice. I always have hope, because when I take the actions and follow the directions for a spiritual solution, I experience spiritual growth and relief. I continue to walk shoulder to shoulder with those sharing their recovery, which gives me hope. And I always have a choice, to turn- to turn to something that for me, works. Is the only thing that has ever worked.
Higher Power is to me now, a life force of love, of goodness, kindness, goodwill, true self-sacrifice for others. Working the steps has given me the desire to be but a part of a great whole. Instead of spinning into space alone, I am in this beautiful ship. This beautiful, broken down, patched together old ship, holding hands with my fellows. We are taking the individual and collective actions to live this new way of life and practice these principles, trusting together a higher purpose is guiding our way. With each hand reaching out to help, our fellowship grows. As our fellowship grows, our boat grows. There is infinite room. There is infinite capacity. I love these people with all of my heart. They have all opened up rooms in my heart I never knew, before arriving in recovery. This is my journey to a Higher Power. I have ceased fighting it. I don’t want a different ship. I am a recovered S-Anon, Co-dependent, Al-Anon and a love addict. That is who I am. Who I’ve always been. I am overflowing with gratitude. I am finally home and I am happy to help.