I attend a Celebrate Recovery (CR) meeting on Thurs evenings. I’ve attended CR for four years and I’ve always gone to the men’s codependency small share group after the big meeting at both churches where I’ve attended CR. I had addiction issues when I was younger. I drank heavily in my late-20s and early-30s, but after I met my ex-wife I pretty much stopped drinking and drugging. I transferred my dependency from alcohol to a person. In its essence, that’s what codependecy is—an addiction to a person.
We codep folk, lacking self-esteem, usually latch on to someone (often a spouse) to meet our ego needs for self-affirmation and public recognition. We are basically “people pleasers” and because of our nature we are in constant danger of being used. We orient our lives around others—usually, “The” other. Our own needs go on the back-burner in deference to “The” other’s needs. We are easily controlled by the person we are addicted to, but in our own way we try to control them too—every good addict wants to assure their stash, right?. But they seldom cooperate and so we get pissed. Also, we desperately want to be liked and always over-react to anything that smacks of rejection or abandonment. Along with that rejection and abandonment goes a lot of additional rage. Anyway, these are the main characteristics of codependency.
In the first CR program I attended after about a year several guys left the small share group and started a group for men with anger issues. I’ve always known that anger is a big problem for me, perhaps bigger than codependency, but I’ve stuck with the codep group. What struck me was that the guys who formed the core of the anger group did not seem overtly angry at all. In fact, they impressed me as fairly kind, soft-spoken and gentle folks. Heck, I felt a lot angrier than they appeared. My old friend Ed, who knew me quite well, once said, “It’s a good thing you’re not a brute.” Ed could see the anger in me and he knew that if I was big and powerful like our Chicago Bear idol Dick Butkus I’d probably be in jail.
I started attending CR mostly out of curiosity, but I quickly became captured by the program. And it quickly became apparent to me that I really hadn’t much thought about or addressed my basic codependent nature and its accompanying baggage. Hey, I’m a PSYCHOtherapist—working on self is for mere mortals!
Anyway, when I introduce myself in the small CR group I always say: “Hi, I’m Carl, a grateful believer in Jesus, and I suffer with codependency, anger, lust and depression.”
The CR I attend now is smaller than my old program and the men’s codep and anger groups are combined. They fit together well. Of the 7 or 8 who are regulars only one is a pure codependent. Most of us list anger as one of the problems which we try to address. The other day, the “why” of anger and codependency going together well, popped into my mind. I thought that there must be some underlying issue or dynamic.
Clearly, the seeds of both codependency and anger are sown in early childhood. My guess is that it has something to do with feeling helpless, feeling a victim—the result of living in an out of control family environment. My own early childhood was pretty dicey. I think experiences with a couple out-of-control parents, plus some genetic weighting predisposed me to chronic depression (dysthymia), and consequently a tendency to look for affection and affirmation in all the wrong places. Beyond alcohol, the balm for my wounds was to be found in relationships (I thought). And as I’ve noted in other blogs, the people-users, the self-possessed, the narcissists see the codependents coming a mile away.
I think many codependents become control-freaks. They are constantly trying to compensate for an out-of-control childhood that’s likely being reenacted in their codependent relationship. That’s a losing battle. In my defense, I’m not much of a controller. I so much resent those who are that I’m hypersensitive to their hands around my neck. I just generally try to avoid them. That’s probably not very nice. As Christians we’re supposed to try to love the unlovable.
Power and control go together. In my book “Jesus v. satan: The Message of the Wilderness Temptations” I view one of satan’s temptations as that of power and control, but Jesus answers him by saying we should worship and serve God only (Luke 4:5-8). I see that as Jesus saying we should not worship the idol of control—yet, many codependents do. In any event, the first of CR’s eight principles is fairly easy for me to accept—“realize that I’m not God and admit that I’m powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong things…”