“It’s impossible to stumble when you are on your knees.” ~ Recovery Quote
Almost a year ago, a longtime colleague and friend invited me to attend a Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA) meeting.
At the time, I was struggling in my romantic partnership with deep-rooted feelings of anxiety, insecurity, and jealousy.
CoDA is a 12 step program similar to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or Al-Anon in that one works the 12 steps to bring about change in their life; the only requirement for membership in CoDA is the desire for loving and healthy relationships.
As I started to attend meetings, I was moved by sitting in a room where folks are sharing their struggles, vulnerability, growth, and healing. What I did not know at the time, is that by entering CoDA on my knees, I was beginning a journey of deep personal and spiritual transformation. (In 12 step programs, it is often said that we do not walk through the door the first time, but enter on our knees.)
Step One asks that you admit you are powerless over yourself and others and that your life has become unmanageable. My inner and outer life was unmanageable.
At the time, I was unhealthy in my obsessive thinking about my partner. I was imagining worst-case scenarios and having daily anxiety attacks.
I tried to control him and his schedule and made almost all of my decisions from a place of fear. And that caused a great deal of stress in our partnership and to my physical and mental health. I wanted so badly to “make the relationship work.”
I even went on anti-anxiety meds because I thought that if I “fixed me” he would respond to me in a different manner. But there is no “making things work” when you are trying to change someone else’s behavior. And so I slowly started to pivot my focus and look at myself…
It’s been quite an adventure. After finding a sponsor and working the 12 steps, I began to pray. I had never been someone who prayed. I had meditated for five years, each morning for 10 minutes, but not prayer.
An old friend had become a spiritual director and so I began to meet with her monthly to talk about my relationship with God. Some folks are not comfortable the word God or the idea of God. I interchange the word God with “the universe” or “higher power” or “inner divine” and more. It is very fluid to me especially in the end about letting go of control and trusting that I am taken care of and that there is a bigger plan for me in the world.
I also found Refuge in Recovery Meetings. Noah Levine, who wrote Dharma Punx, is a great spiritual teacher, the son of a famous Buddhist thought leader, and himself a recovering addict. His book Refuge in Recovery offers great solace in terms of recovery and Buddhism. And I am learning a great deal by sitting in the room with folks who are recovering from various addictions and hearing about their journey. And I was coming to understand that my negative thoughts and fear based controlling patterns were a form of addiction.
In early July, I happened to have a fasting blood sugar test (for my physical) and was given a pre-diabetes diagnosis. I was shocked and immediately propelled into action. I did not want to be overweight, on meds, and pre-diabetic and I knew that I could correct all of that with some lifestyle changes.
I went on a Paleo diet, dramatically dropped my alcohol intake, quit my anti-anxiety meds, and began walking 30 minutes every day. This physical healing brought a deeper calm and connection to the spiritual healing. It also forced me to look at what was happening in my partnership. I was still bringing anxiety and fear instead of love and there was so much distrust and pain that stemmed from my co-dependent behaviors as well as his patterns of response.
Fast forward three months.
I had lost 15 pounds and was healing more and more each day. But the dynamic of our partnership was still broken and battered. And one night, after I got angry at him for not meeting my needs, he left abruptly, moved out.
I was devastated.
I was left holding a tangled bundle of emotions, blame toward him and myself, and loads of grief. So I decided to sit with it, walk into it, experience the deep, deep grief and what it had to teach me. Marianne Williamson’s new book Tears to Triumph “argues that our desire to avoid pain is actually detrimental to our lives, disconnecting us from our deepest emotions and preventing true healing and spiritual transcendence.”
So I have been crying a lot and resting and sitting and exploring what I learned from this relationship and specifically what it had to teach me about where I needed to heal from past hurts. When I was in my 20s, I had lost my brother and then my father to cancer, and each time I had barely cried.
I remember being numb, in shock, and wondering why I couldn’t cry. What I have stumbled upon, with this most recent loss, is a deep well of grief about those losses and about how I have abandoned myself in seeking attention from a romantic partner to “complete me.”
Gabrielle Bernstein in her latest book, The Universe Has Your Back, says that certain people or situations are an “assignment.” And he was my assignment to learn my greatest life lesson—to love myself. What a hard lesson! And I know that I will be exploring this for the rest of my life. I am also practicing the Buddhist Loving-Kindness Meditation and forgiveness of myself and of him. We are both human with our flaws and wounds and family histories and we brought them to the relationship and yet could not help each other heal with the tools we had at the time.
Moving forward, I am curious about how we bring our most authentic selves to partnership — the shining light and the broken pieces. And how do we respond lovingly to both? And in the meantime, I am deeply committed to learning to love myself, to surrender to the universe and to stay on my self-care path through diet, walking, making art, hanging with loved ones, working the steps, and meditating.
And so I continue to sit…
I imagine light pouring into my heart and back out into world.
A few thought leaders that have helped me on my journey are Tosha Silver, Marianne Williamson, and Anne Lamott. A few awesome coaches and intuitive guides are Diana Dorell, Natalie Vartanian, and Janice Noehulani. To learn more about Codependence visit CoDA.
Author: Michelle Holdt
Image: Donna Littchen
Editor: Travis May