My newest drawing “Calm”, was going to be the introduction to a collection inspired by my own journey and experience with 12 steps of recovery for co-dependency, but I feel that my heart and spirit is telling me that this post is where this journey will start and where it will end. This is enough for now. Still, I wanted to give a short overview of my experience with the 12 Steps.
There’s “The Bottom” and Then There’s “Rock Bottom”
“Rock Bottom” is what a person has to hit in order for genuine change to happen. There is a place called “The Bottom”, which looks like “Rock Bottom”, but it’s not. When a person has reached “The Bottom” they might realize that something is wrong in their life, and they might even realize that they have a problem or that they are the problem, but they haven’t come to terms with changing and healing. They continue on in their same lifestyle for the most part, getting caught up in drugs or alcohol (or anything they are addicted to, which could literally be anything), or they could lose themselves completely within other people. Their lives have become out of control, but not so out of control that they won’t stop themselves from their patterns of destruction and abuse. This pattern of “false realization” might happen once, twice, or too many times to count, but for whatever reason this person continues to point the finger at everyone else while holding their self-proclaimed title of “victim”. All of this is called denial. This is also why people bounce in and out of recovery: they haven’t had enough.
A person who has hit “Rock Bottom” has gone so far beyond this point of denial that there is no more slack in his rope for him to walk anywhere but straight into recovery. This point is relative; it is different for everyone, and every person comes to this point in their own pace and timing. A person knows when they’ve hit “Rock Bottom” only when they’ve hit it, and not a moment before. There is an internal shift, and the world around them looks different than it ever was before the moment. For some people this moment comes after chemical addiction has robbed them of their family, friends, and life. For others, the inability to control the people around them has caused them to lose control of themselves entirely and they collapse under the pressure. Everyone has a breaking point, but the most important thing to take away from all this is that you can’t force somebody to heal, you can’t fix anybody, and a person’s “Rock Bottom” can only be determined by that person and no one else. They have to be willing and able to change, and more importantly they have to want to change enough to do so. “When they are sick and tired of being sick and tired, only then will they will do what they need to do to change.”
What the 12 Steps Helped Give Me
After I pieced together that I was a codependent person who chose to be in relationships with abusive people, I sought help. For a very long time I thought of myself as a victim who kept falling in love with people who turned out to be abusive, later on. I kept pointing the finger at everyone else except myself, and it wasn’t until I pointed the finger at myself and took a good long look in the mirror that I realized that I was my own worst enemy. I was the only person who was in control of my life. I learned that I was not in control of anyone else’s life, and no amount of lecturing, finger-pointing, blaming, or fighting was going to change anyone around me. It is not my responsibility to be responsible for people who are irresponsible. The only person that I am responsible for is me.
Through the 12 step program, I would learn how to build genuine self-esteem, confidence, and a healthy and realistic love for myself, for the first time in my life. Most of all, this program helped me build a loving, balanced relationship with God. (My version of God was warped by abuse) And although all of this growth will always be a work in progress, I am much further along than I ever have been before. I feel like I am living a life that was meant for me for the first time, with God’s genuine guidance and love. I feel like I can say “no” to people without feeling guilty for hurting their feelings. (It’s still difficult, but I’m always practicing) I don’t have to stretch myself too thin, or take on too much, and I have given myself permission to enjoy life, because it is meant to be enjoyed above all else. This is what the 12 step program gave me. It gave me a sense of peace, freedom, and calm. It helped me center myself, it helped me solidify my spirituality, and it helped me set the stones to become the person who God had intended me to be all along, and maybe even a more whole and more compassionate version because of the adversity.
There are times when I look at friends who have been dealt a healthier life, and I do become jealous. They were taught how to create boundaries, and they were taught how to say no. They were taught how to value themselves, they were loved unconditionally, and as a result they had lived relatively healthy lives with minimal to no abuse. I do not wish for anyone to go through abuse, but I understand that hard times hit all of us in one way or another. Some of these things can be prevented, and some of these things we cannot prevent, no matter how hard we try. The only thing that we can do is to learn and grow from our trials and the brokenness that has been passed onto us by the broken adults in our lives.
Wholeness and Beauty in Brokenness
In Japan, broken pottery pieces are mended together using gold, so that their cracks are highlighted. The Japanese people believe that the hardship that these pieces went through have made the pottery more beautiful. Their stories and their trials have made them uniquely whole, and have made their journey more valuable. I do believe that adversity needs to be present in a person’s life in order for them to become completely whole. There is a certain knowledge and understanding that is obtained through the breaking and mending process, and maybe it is more of a form of compassion than anything else. Regardless, one person’s recovery story is a shining light for people who are currently going through recovery or who have not found the courage to start yet. This is why it is so important to be open about recovery, and to try to share our stories.
Our society in America is not one that is fond of mental health practices as a whole. I know a lot of people who think that psychologists are nut cases, and that the people who go to them are crazier than the psychologist herself. The 12 step program is wrapped up in this malicious way of thinking. No one should ever be made to feel that they are stupid, or that they are less of a person because they are trying to better themselves. Mental health is equal, if not, more important than physical health, and it does effect physical well-being more than people realize. So many ailments and diseases (including cancer) stem from stress and a lack of mental rest and balance.
It would benefit every person to read about the 12 step program. I believe that everyone can walk away learning something either for themselves or for a loved one. Everyone knows somebody who is an addict, or somebody whose life is spiraling out of control (or maybe just annoyingly unbalanced and subtly unhealthy), and it might be you, or it might be a loved one. It’s great for everyone to have this information under their belt so that when adversity does hit (and it will), every person will be prepared for what comes next.
AA, Al-Anon, Co-DA, and every other 12 step recovery group follow the following guide (revised for each group of people dealing with different ailments – the list below is for Co-DA – Codependents Anonymous). I do encourage people to look up more information so that they might help themselves or people around them. Just remember that the 12 steps is a program that has to happen through the pace and willingness of the addict.
The 12 Steps of Co-Dependency
- We admitted we were powerless over others, that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understood God.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other codependents, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Each step is to be taken at the right moment, and it is a process that cannot be rushed. The more thorough, honest, and self-aware a person is, the more they will get out of the program. Many times, individuals have decades of abuse to work through. I have noticed that people who start the program in their mid life, which is usually the case, have exponentially more baggage than those who start in their 20’s or 30’s. (not all of the time, but most of the time) As a result, a lot of people have to work through the program multiple times in order to get to the REAL root of ALL their problems: themselves.
A lot of people work through the program the first time continuing their finger-pointing victimization process instead of looking at themselves, and they can get stuck in this mindset for another decade or two over the course of their recovery. There are a lot of people who stay stuck in recovery, forever pointing fingers and holding grudges. A person will change when they are ready to change, and nothing that you do can push them to move faster. But, understanding human brokenness, and practicing empathy and compassion, is something that all of us need to do if we are going to survive this crazy roller coaster ride.
Some people never have to get on the roller coaster, and some people don’t know what the roller coaster feels like. Some people have been on the roller coaster and have ridden it enough times to know that they don’t want to ride anymore. And then there are people who think they want to get off the roller coaster who really don’t want to. It’s not our job to unbuckle the people from the roller coaster and force them down the stairs and off the ride. But understanding how they got on there to begin with, understanding the physics of the ride, and the passengers, and understanding what it takes to step off the ride can help those who need help when they ask for support. So please, read through at least some of the program, because being aware and being conscious of other people and their battles, is what brings us all closer together. The compassion that we practice makes this world of much better place.