Friday, February 4, 2005

Codependent? Moi?!

There's this amusing little phrase we like to use to describe the process of Recovery, called "peeling the onion." I have always thought this phrase reassuring, because it means we aren't creating artificially new selves, we're not consciously trying to alter our personalities, we're not pretending to be someone we're not... we are simply becoming more truly ourselves by peeling off the layers of scars and scabs that we've built up over the years. We aren't limiting ourselves with sobriety, we're liberating ourselves.

The thing is, when you're peeling an actual literal onion, underneath the layers of onion are usually more layers of onion; it would be rather startling to peel off a layer of an actual literal onion and find a layer of actual literal rutabaga underneath.

But when you're peeling layers off an alcoholic, one is often liable to come across a layer of codependent somewhere along the line... it is in fact an old saying in Al-Anon that if you prick an alcoholic, a codependent will bleed through. But I've never really thought about myself as a codependent, simply because I have never enabled another alcoholic... I was too busy being an alcoholic, I didn't have time to be a codependent as well.

And so I was quite surprised, recently, while peeling off my layers of alcoholism, to come across a pretty thick layer of codependency... as surprised as I would be if I found a layer of actual literal rutabaga in the midst of an actual literal onion.

But, as my dear friend T.H. pointed out in the comments to the last post, and as other recovery friends have pointed out when I told them of the events in that post, it is quite obvious that my problems with the Grandmother are codependent problems, and I am going to have to work some Al-Anon steps around these issues. And it is a surprise to find myself being codependent toward Grandmother: I have always thought of codependents as non-alcoholics who get into codependent relationships with alcoholics; I never thought of a codependent as being an alcoholic who is in a codependent relationship with a non-alcoholic. She's supposed to be my "co"; it never occurred to me that I could be hers.

I guess if I went to Al-Anon, this wouldn't surprise me at all. Because, if you think about it, any parent-child relationship I have with a codependent (especially an unadmitted-but-no-less-textbook codependent like Grandmother) is going to be codependent, and I am going to take on and internalize at least some of the codependent behaviors and patterns I learned at her knee.

More specifically, my problem with Grandmother on the occasion of her hissing at me about homosexuality being a sin is a problem of codependency: I wanted something from her that is contrary to her nature, I hoped I had changed her or could change her, I desire a relationship with her that is impossible, and I cling to that desire despite all evidence that it is impossible.

I find that the most typically codependent part of this issue is that I was trying to be such a good grandson that, by being good, I would change her mind about homosexuality. That is such typical codependent thinking, so obvious that a three-year-old could have spotted it; but in all these years we've spent together, in all my years of recovery, I was never able to see that this is what I was doing.

Now I do know, now I do see, now I can start working on it.

I know that I cannot change her... she might change, if she wants to, but I can't make her change. I can only change my expectations about her, my behavior towards her, and how much I allow her to hurt me. And our relationship has not changed this week because of what was said... Grandmother is perfectly willing to pretend that never happened, that I never said God created me gay, that she never hurt me with her hissing and hateful eyes; so any change that happens is going to be my change.


This comes at an interesting juncture in my development: I have been feeling pretty static in my recovery this last year or so, and I thought it was because I've gotten to a level of recovery where I have dealt with all the on-fire issues... I no longer have the desire to drink, I have a spiritual practice, I am working a pretty good program, and aside from the depression and some lingering relationship issues, I feel pretty much sane... my life has become manageable. But lately, I've felt that it wasn't enough, that I wasn't doing enough, that I wasn't happy enough.

So my sponsor told me that it is time to work the Steps again, that I can achieve or re-achieve happiness if I go further than just practicing the principles of AA in all of my affairs, but actually practicing all twelve of the Steps in all of my affairs, especially the affairs that are currently making me unhappy. So in the last week or two, I have been trying to discern what affairs are making me unhappy; I have also been considering how to do another run-through of the steps from One through Twelve around such non-alcohol issues... and I was a little stymied at Step One because alcohol is no longer the problem.

How do you do Step One a second time? The Step itself is "We admitted we were powerless of alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable"... so I have been considering what it is that I am powerless over now besides alcohol, and what is it that is making my life unhappy, rather than unmanageable?

And then comes along this drama with the Grandmother, and I find at least one thing to focus on with this Step: I admit that I am powerless over alcohol the Grandmother, and my life relationship with her has become unmanageable. So now I can practice all twelve steps just on the Grandmother; after that I can start moving on to the other people, places and things over which I am powerless, and which are making my life unhappy (if not unmanageable), and start really practicing these principles in all my affairs.

I am also going to start looking into Al Anon literature to start addressing a recovery from codependency. Because Grandmother isn't my only codependent relationship. I mean, I was raised by alcoholics and codependents, it's impossible that I can have reached adulthood without having some Al-Anon and ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) issues.


It kind of feels good to have something to focus on, somewhere to start the work, to have a real fire to put out. Not that the Grandmother is really on fire... like I said, we reverted rather quickly to a "nothing happened" air of detente. Actually, I feel rather liberated by this last episode, like we cleared the air somewhat, like we spoke something that had remained unspoken too long.

I guess I realized that I can learn to accept her as she is, stupid superstitious religion and all. And she does accept me, to a certain extent. I mean, it's not like she's trying to change me, it's not like she's throwing holy water at me at the dinner table, it's not like she's sneaking into my room at night to exorcise my gay demons... though she thinks my homosexuality is sinful, she still loves me.

On the other hand, I am not going to play the "Let's Not Talk About It" game any more. My cousin talks to Grandmother about her relationships, which are often out-of-wedlock and therefore just as sinful as any relationship I might have... but Grandmother doesn't preach to Kellie about fornication and adultery when she talks about Kellie's boyfriend or the child she's about to have without benefit of marriage. So why can't I talk about Gus and drag? Grandmother might just surprise me with what she can deal with, without my having to change her religious beliefs.

And if she can't accept it at all... well, tough. It's her house, if she doesn't like it, she can ask me to leave and I'll go. I hope it doesn't come to that, but I can't live with someone I can't talk to about basic things in life. That's just not comfortable. I'm not asking her to be my confidante or to counsel me on my problems, but if I'm going on a date I want to be able to say I'm going on a date; if I'm going to perform in a show, I want to say I'm going to perform in a show. I don't want to make up euphemisms and tell lies of omission any more. It's not good for my soul.


Well, anyway, that's me today. All in all, aside from being so preoccupied with various things that I haven't been getting any work done at the office, and aside from this weird and irritating ringing in my right ear that I think has to do with earwax, this has been a pretty good week. Not a happy week, necessarily, but an accomplished week... I've been taking my vitamins, brushing and flossing and Water-Pik-ing my teeth twice a day (the latter of which is a lot of fun), and getting a fair amount of exercise.

I haven't written much (I am stuck in the narrative of my novel, trying to get through a scene that I'm having a hard time visualizing, so I will have to go to Polk Street to gather "atmosphere") and I haven't read much, but what the hell. I am exploring my codependency and taking steps forward that are a lot deeper and more important than writing minutes or blog entries or novels, or reading books or watching movies or anything else.

(Oh, actually, I did see a movie this week... Kinsey, which I totally recommend. You should also read Kinsey's books on male and female sexuality... many of his findings have been debunked, and I personally feel that the skew of his statistics is due to his becoming enamored of his 0-6 scale long before he had enough data... it's always dangerous to have a pet theory before all the data is in... but the research was revolutionary and important. See this movie, see it with a friend and talk about it afterward. You'd be amazed how far American culture has come in the last fifty years in regard to sexuality.)

I'm going to go to bed now. Toodles!

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