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Sadventure Completed #6: Searching out all those Exes and BFFs

I was asked to read this book on behalf of a friend. Mine is not to reason why, but instead obediently obey, especially when they buy me lunch in exchange. I assume another lunch will take place so that she can make use of all my learnings from the book.

I have always been a bit 'pooh-poohey' about this genre of books: believing that self-help books lacked self-helping abilities. That is until I had the life-changing discovery that in order to benefit from a self-help book, one must not just read the dramatic tales of derring-do or dismal demoralisation of its slightly fictional contributions, but work one's way through the dry bits of technical explanations and actually do the bloody associated exercises, no matter how daft, ludicrous, ridiculous or just plain cringe-inducing I thought they were. In other words, in order to help myself, I had to do things differently. Well, that thought was like a thunderbolt from the sky.

Two months later, I raced out to and actually acted on this thought. Another two months went by before I had a second coming of thought. I bought Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. After doing chants around my living room; writing out memes and pinning them around the place; actually joining a self-development group, and all the other tasks laid out in the book, bar putting a motivational cassette into one's tape player (I YouTubed instead), I then embarked on feeling the fear and doing it anyway. This website is the result. I'll let you know how it goes.

And so I was asked to read 'Codependent No More' by Melody Beattie. Like FtF, it is a classic - written in in the 1980s, and formerly a New York Times Best Seller. It was seminal for addressing the reality that many adults have unhealthy relationships with dysfunctional people (this book specifically focuses on alcoholics). In childhood, for various reasons, many people develop self-protective strategies. As we age, we find these behaviours are now harmful to our interpersonal relationships with others: be that a spouse, friend, lover or parent. As a co-dependent, we become busy responding to other people's problems and don't take the time to identify, let alone take care of, our own problems. The result is depression, anxiety, stress, emotional breakdown and other self-harming behaviours, e.g. drinking, eating or shopping too much (to list a few). In Melody Beattie's words, we develop 'a pattern of coping with life that is not healthy' and are forever 'doing the wrong thing for the right reasons'.

The book itself has very strong roots in Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon, reflecting the author's own life experiences both personal and professional. As such, those familiar with the 'Twelve Steps', and comfortable with references to God/Higher Power, will relate readily to her way of thinking. The Areligious will also be impervious, but any evangelical Atheists may not be able to see past the author's own beliefs. I think I slightly struggled to connect with it because I'm not feeling overly attached to anyone bar the cat. I'm divorced and single: and that's exactly how I want to be. Once upon a time, however, I was very much in an unhealthy marriage, and my ex-husband himself was also in a very unhealthy marriage with me. From reading this book, I have no doubt we were codependent. It was damaging, destructive and ultimately devastating.

An absolute core-strength of this book was Ms Beattie's ability to articulate how emotions feel, what precisely she means rather than using words we are apt to bandy about, e.g. stressed, depressed and anxious. I found her description differenting between anxiety and fear a prime example of her eloquence:

It hits you in the stomach. The feeling fills you up - that gut-twisting, handwringing anxiety that is so familiar to codependents. It is what causes us to do much of what we do that hurts ourselves; it is the substance worry and obsession feed upon. It is fear at its worst. Fear usually comes and goes, leaving us in flight, ready to fight, or just temporarily frightened. But anxiety hangs in there. It grips the mind, paralyzing it for all but its own purposes - an endless rehashing of the same useless thoughts. It is the fuel that propels us into controlling behaviours of all sorts. We can think of nothing but keeping a lid on things, controlling the problem, and making it go away; it is the stuff codependency is made of.

I found her clarity, her lack of jargon, her ability to use everyday words really powerful. None of that 'Look at me, look at how learned and educated and qualified I am' tone that I can mangle into 'Gosh, I really am dumb' when I'm seeking to conquer my own current angst. Her approach is not scientific, but rather 'this is me, and this is what I've learned and this is what I've found I can do about it''. She invites you to consider doing things differently by outlining what the behaviour is, how it feels and why it is harmful. As she unpacks each aspect of codependency, she then sets a number of micro-essay type tasks for one's own self reflection.

Yet, it is this old-fashioned way of presenting ideas is what dates the book. The author is a huge fan of lists. She has lists of lists (in fact, that actually makes her my kind of woman). The result is that the solutions to the behaviours are densely delivered and difficult to implement. Thus, once one has determined how their own codependent behaviours are manifest, the taking of action to address them one by one is like the search for Red October. In my own self-development, I have evolved from 'Why am I like this' to 'Sod the why, what do I need to do differently? And then, no matter what my personal opinion is, to just try it someone else's way for a while. That, for me, is what works. Therefore this book, in my own opinion, is brilliant for describing the problem and an enlightening read. For it truly to be a great self-help book, I feel it needs to be re-structured to take into account the reader to enable them to practice the doing the 'right things for the right reasons' more, and be able to actually change one's behaviour.

Would I recommend it? I already have. I have two friends with troubled relationships which are painful to observe. For them, I think this book will be mind-blowing. For me, I am struck by the paradox that I've been reading about codependecy, and yet building a way of life that is wholly dependent on other people telling me what to do!

And with that, I'm off shopping in my slippers.

#codependent, #codependencynomore #melodybeattie #alcholicsanonymous #alanon

#selfdestruction #selfhelp #selfhelpbooks

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