If you’ve ever been involved with an alcoholic—active or recovering—you’re probably familiar with the frustration and resentment in realizing you need to attend your own 12-step program just to deal with that person (especially if you are also a recovering addict yourself). After all that these drunks and drug addicts have cost us, few things are more frustrating than the feeling that you have to carve out even more time in your life to devote to the cause. If you’re anything like me, in fact, you’ve given this concept two enthusiastic middle fingers.
Losing Yourself in Someone Else
So I understand why Darlene Lancer entered the rooms of Alanon expecting to learn how to deal with the alcoholic in her life and not to discover the depths of her own illness. But it doesn’t take more than a couple of episodes of A&E’s Intervention to know that addiction is a family disease and that means it extends to friends, lovers, co-workers, business partners and neighbors. But what the person being informed that she (or he) should focus on self-improvement can’t understand is that truly overcoming codependency doesn’t just improve a relationship with the drunk or addict; in fact, it may not improve that much at all. But if truly dealt with, it can change every other relationship for the better. And so it was that through Alanon, Lancer learned about codependency—her inability to fully trust and value herself, understand her own needs or even take pleasure in activities that didn’t involve another person. She realized she had lost herself in the obsession that the alcoholic in her life would change—that someday, he would be a man of his word and she would be enough for him. Sound familiar?
But as people who will be attracted to the title of this book may well know, the prison of codependency isn’t limited to living with an alcoholic. Those of us that grew up in dysfunctional families, in chaotic households with mentally ill parents or just a “crazy” mom, understand what it means to walk on eggshells in our own homes. We may pride ourselves in knowing how to adapt to all kinds of situations and navigate people’s emotions to avoid explosions, but, like soldiers with PTSD, we’ve learned that the compulsion to be the “grown up” and micromanage everything and everyone is nothing short of utter torture.
Breaking the Cycle of Codependency
What Lancer came to understand is that beneath her “veneer of superiority,” she was nothing more than a scared child who desperately needed to take care of everyone else because she didn’t know how to take care of herself. It was then that she began to overcome her shame and break her codependent patterns. Through extensive research and her own experiences, Lancer now passes this wisdom on to us in her new book: Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You (Hazelden, 2014), which will be released on June 24th.
If you can relate to anything I’ve written in the previous three paragraphs, then this book is a solid resource for you. It’s basically a how-to manual for those of us who suffer from codependency and the underlying shame it’s rooted in.
Each of Lancer’s chapters focuses not just on breaking down this behavior but also on the serious impact it’s had on our lives. Whether this was caused by growing up with alcoholism, mental illness, or something else in childhood, a conscious and unconscious sense of worthlessness tends to lead to a toxic downward spiral of self-blame and self-sabotage. Lancer guides us through the process of taking the shame out of shame and getting into healing.
Although there are only eight steps, 12-steppers will certainly feel right at home, what with all the writing about feelings and experiences and having to be rigorously honest in order to get anywhere. The upside is, if you do the work, you’ll undoubtedly walk away with a fresh perspective, a renewed sense of self-worth and hope for the future. The downside is that it’s a lot of work. And so, like many things worth working for, it requires a great deal of time, self-discipline and willingness to both do the exercises and face the pain that’s likely to come up during the process. Having gone through both 12-step and The Artists Way, I can say firsthand that no matter how fired up I am in the beginning, I inevitably lose steam once some of my pain dissipates. And with this much writing and self-exploration, I imagine students of Lancer’s eight steps will find their short-term pain alleviated rather quickly, making competition of the program difficult. Which, of course, is both good and bad news.
Worth the Effort
That said, there are important lessons and pearls of wisdom in Lancer’s research that should not be passed up. If you’re interested in this book, chances are that you’re aware something is wrong. You may feel like you’re living with some kind of emptiness, an underlying self-hatred or a general malaise. Conquering Shame and Codependency can help you. And hey—remember that you don’t have to go at it alone. Just like how we don’t do 12-step work on our own, going through this with another person or a small group (possibly even with a leader who understands what can be gained by sticking to the curriculum) would likely be the most effective. As far as I see it, the bottom line is this: if anything I’m writing about here is relatable, it would be a shame not to give this book a try.
Photo courtesy of Anthony Easton/flickr: PinkMoose (https://www.flickr.com/photos/pinkmoose/2611293086/) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons