A new concern emerges now that I am alone…I could easily become absorbed in me. My grief. My sadness. My concerns. My feelings. As each day passes I’m becoming more aware of how easily I could slip into self pity. I started attending 12 step meetings many years ago because our teens had gotten caught up in the drug culture, I’ve continued attending, even though they have been sober and productive for years. Early on, I realized this program was not about changing them, but changing me.
Their drug use was not my problem to fix. Me and my responses were. I was the only one I could fix or change. I was the one who needed to learn how to know, love, accept, and reinvent myself. Not them.
What I could do for them was model how not to be defeated by life, how our personal growth, self acceptance, and courage happens by working the program. In those amazing rooms, I discovered that by taking the focus off of them and putting it on myself, I could give them the space they needed to assume responsibility for themselves and their choices. Over the years, I’ve gratefully drawn on 12 step experience, wisdom, and hope in facing my life challenges.
What many fail to realize is that the steps relate to everything in life. The 12 steps saved my sanity in the 80’s when I faced criticism, personal attacks, focused anger and rejection from many church leaders because I, as a woman, dared respond to God’s call to Christian ministry. When I experienced verbal and spiritual abuse, when other pastors shamed and blamed me, I’d remind myself of a basic 12 principle. Whatever the another’s actions, beliefs, or feelings, they were not about me. Yet, no matter how hurtful, I still needed to pay attention to what they were saying and doing because what they said or did provided me with important information about who they were, what they believed, and what they feared. By learning to separate myself from their criticism and values, I became able to listen and see the person behind the vitriol without judging them or myself. In fact, by developing the ability to not take their criticism personally, I was able to glean important information that allowed me to either work with them or remove myself from hurtful situations. Besides, there were many times their attacks contained more than a kernel of truth that I needed to hear.
We focus a great deal on self care in our Co-Dependents Anonymous meetings. One of the chief symptoms of codependency is trying to live vicariously through our children, spouse, lover, best friend, job, etc. As a codependent, what we want or need becomes less important to us than what others want or need. As codependents we happily take responsibility for everyone else’s choices, feelings, and actions. Why? Because that makes us feel needed and important. For years I blamed myself for our teens addictions. I believed I was a bad mother, that I’d failed. And, to be honest, I did many things that contributed to their addictions, especially enabling and excusing their behaviors. Fortunately, I eventually came to understand that since I didn’t cause their addiction, I couldn’t control or cure it. My role as a caring parent, was and continues to be to love and accept them for who they are without demanding they change to suit me. If any changing needs doing, I am the one to change and adjust.
Self care is all about learning how to set healthy boundaries and assuming responsibility for the part we play in any situation but then letting the rest go. Self care demands we stop taking every little remark or inference personally, be that negative or positive. In the end, it is just as selfish to blame ourselves for every bad thing that happens as it is to take the credit for others small victories and successes.
So, here I am on this sunny but chilly spring day, looking toward the rest of my life as a widow. Am I going to feel sorry for myself or will I accept his death as the painful loss it is, yet determined to grieve his loss as courageously and triumphantly as I can by believing it is a greater tribute to him and who he was to live as dynamically and fully as I possibly can in the days I have left.