The 12 Steps Re-Imagined…*
If You Love an Alcoholic
If you love an alcoholic, then you probably have tried Al-Anon, a Twelve-Step Program for friends and family of alcoholics. It’s anonymous, it’s free, and meetings are virtually everywhere. Meetings take place by phone, virtual, via chat, and in person. The Al-Anon program is a spin-off, sister-program/companion program to the AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) —the original Twelve Step program. It has helped millions of people and families stuck in the alcoholic-codependent dilemma.
It’s helpful, valuable, and can be a sanity-saver. I, myself, have used and relied on the program. Al-Anon adopted its twelve steps from AA. What I often wonder is, was that the right idea? Should we have our own program geared more towards what we deal with?
The Wrong Focus?
After attending Al-Anon for over 20 years and working through the Twelve Steps many times, I have often wondered what the steps would have looked like if Bill W.’s wife, Louis, had written the steps first? The now-famous Twelve Steps were created by two alcoholics seeking solutions for their problems (Bill W. was one of them). What if two wives of alcoholics sat down first and wrote their own steps? Would the focus have been on being powerless over alcohol, or something else?
While I love the Al-Anon program and believe it offers so much to the suffering co-alcoholic, I have always felt like something was missing from my perspective. After writing two books on loving an alcoholic and overcoming codependency, I have finally figured out the missing components that would have made my Al-Anon program way more powerful, help me heal, and completely break free. It’s taken years of self-reflection to see why I kept going back to the alcoholic and repeating my same destructive patterns that harmed me.
Get the Proper Focus = Focus on Yourself
If you want real transformation and change, your focus can’t be outside of yourself. Change on the inside is what helps us make changes on the outside. So, for example, a codependent who uses Step 1. — which states being powerless over alcohol misses the mark. In order to address the root problems, we have to admit our powerlessness over codependent cravings, trauma bonds, and love addiction. It just makes more sense to bring the focus to ourselves—if we need help for ourselves.
To focus on being powerless over alcohol is one helpful thing to consider, but we are also powerless over people, places, and things. More importantly, we are powerless over our compulsions and obsessions when it comes to the alcoholic. We have become unmanageable just being ourselves. We are in a chronic, stressful, anxiety-ridden, “reaction mode” to an unhealthy relationship situation. If we put the focus onto ourselves and search out what we need to recover from, it’s not the alcoholic, it’s being our trauma-bonded selves! The right focus can make all the difference.
With the right focus on what we really need to heal, we can then break free of the chains of codependency and all the painful attachments. We can monitor our slips, compulsions, cravings, and desires to fix, save, and rescue. If you want to truly heal, you will have to focus on yourself, not the alcoholic’s alcohol consumption!
If the Twelve Steps Were Aligned With Codependency Recovery
To get really clear with myself, I decided to write the steps as a recovering codependent would just to see what would have been different if the focus was on healing toxic codependency instead. I imagined Louis W. and I sitting in the kitchen and discussing our problems and coming up with a program just for us. How would we have written it to give us our best chance at emotional sobriety, healthy living, a peaceful life, with true serenity? Because there’s more to life than just dulling our anxiety and distracting ourselves from worry. Denial only works for so long. We can’t always pray away all of our problems. And nowadays, women have rights, so we don’t have to be subservient and subject ourselves to chronic dysfunction and ruin. Plus, there’s more to our lives than the alcoholic’s life— anyway.
In my view, there’s serious work to be done from our side of the problem that often gets ignored. The chaos and confusion of an alcoholic-codependent relationship tends to strip victims of their power. Taking our power back comes with recognizing our power of choice and just how sick we, too, have become. Our sickness may be silent, subtle, or below the surface. Denying it with our pride and shame doesn’t make it go away. We have to be humble and recognize our humanness, vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and mistakes— too.
Here are the Twelve Steps re-imagined if the primary goal was to save ourselves by getting sober from our codependency sickness. I consider this a bit more complex, so that’s why it feels so obscure. It is a heavy mixture of past programming, childhood wounds, love-addiction, self-doubt, codependency, PTSD, C-PTSD, trauma bonds, emotional abuse, and an attachment disorder. These combinations not only lead to a life with a focus on someone else (namely the alcoholic) but too often results of self-sabotage, self-harm, and self-betrayal. At the worst level, these become personal injuries to our soul. (Read: 2 Ways to Bounce Back from A Codependent Bottom)
Codependency can be serious and dangerous stuff. It takes courage to look at ourselves. We need to pause and ask; What have we been doing with our lives? What have we been investing in? Does it make sense? Is it sustainable? Is it self-preserving? Facing the truth can set us free!
The Twelve Steps for a Sick and Suffering Codependent if a Codependency Recovery Expert Had Written Them
Here’s my personal/imagined opinion of what the Twelve Steps might have looked like if they were targeting a codependent’s problems specifically. You may want to ponder these.
Step #1: Admitted we were powerless over our toxic codependency — harming ourselves by hanging onto an unhealthy relationship so that our lives have become completely, utterly, and painfully unmanageable.
Step #2: Came to believe that we need to apply logic and common sense to the chaos of our life because we are going insane and need sanity.
Step #3: Made a decision to stop controlling and forcing our will on another adult human being and turn to face our lives and what we need for ourselves. *If we can’t do this on our own, we will ask for help from an expert or a Higher Power. (If we don’t have a Higher Power, we find something good to believe in. We can use love.)
Step#4: Courageously looked at ourselves, and inventoried our weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and faulty thinking. Listing our compulsions, attachments, reactions, and obsessions.
Step #5: Admitted to our therapist, domestic violence counselor, or a narcissistic abuse recovery expert the exact nature of how we have harmed ourselves. We confessed our transgressions against ourselves.
Step #6: Became entirely ready to change and stop our bad habits and patterns of loving others over loving ourselves. We started our focus on self-preservation.
Step #7: Humbly asked our Higher Self, Inner Loving Parent, and Wise self to remove all our weaknesses, trauma, and faulty thinking. *If we can’t access a higher source of strength in ourselves, we will ask a Higher Power to help.
Step #8: Wrote a list of all the ways we have harmed ourselves and became willing to make amends to ourselves by cleaning up all the self-harm, self-betrayal, self-hate, self-destruction, and self-sabotage.
Step #9: Make direct amends to ourselves by writing an apology to ourselves and vowing not to engage in self-harm again. We start the discipline of self-preservation and step into the self-love solution.
Step #10: Make it a practice to always sit down and face any mistakes where we are continuing to harm ourselves, mentally, emotionally, physically, financially, and otherwise.
Step #11: Sought through private journaling, prayer, and meditation to improve our conscious contact with our Wise Inner Loving Self (our own Soul). *Praying to a Higher Power when we need to.
Step #12: Having cleaned up our codependent life by self-partnering rather than trying to partner with an unhealthy person, and as the result of these steps, we carry our message of freedom and sanity to others in need and practice our steps in all parts of our lives, creating the peace we crave.
If we can be honest with ourselves, we can heal, change, and grow. Self-honesty can feel hard to do (at first), so we may have to ask for help facing all the harm we have done to ourselves. Getting support is crucial. We get courage through connection. So, finding others on a healing journey can help us make brave and bold choices. Hearing other women speak up who have escaped from an alcoholic marriage can really give us the hope we need to proceed. Just to be clear, I often suggest Al-Anon, ACOA, and CODA to women who are struggling with loving an alcoholic. I encourage anyone struggling to definitely give the original Twelve Steps a try. I found tremendous value in those meeting rooms and in working the steps. I was able to identify and relate which was key to breaking my denial and getting clarity. Plus, meetings helped me feel less alone. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the stories of others. The programs also gave me hope. Knowing that women do fully heal and exercise their rights to freedom, proved that I could overcome my problems. There are many testimonies of women surviving alcoholic relationships and going on to thrive. Broken hearts and broken lives do heal!
We can recover from the things we have endured. We can turn our lives around and get the happiness with ourselves that we longed for from the alcoholic. This will take work. Self-work. This will also take the right focus—the focus on ourselves.
*The author is independent and not associated with any Twelve Step Program. She does not represent Al-Anon or any other Twelve Step Program. These are the author’s personal opinions only as a recovering codependent. The author is not a licensed mental health professional. These are not studied nor proven steps for help and healing. Please follow your own therapists, recovery program, domestic violence counselor, lawyer, doctor’s advice for any treatment of love addiction and codependency. Take what you like and leave the rest. This blog/idea is copyright protected and not to be used or relied upon.
—Grace W. Wroldson, mother, author, survivor, and thriver of 5 self-help books available on Amazon
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