by Daphne K.

Twelve-Step programmes are for all, Christians included. The focus is on codependence and Al-Anon, the programme for those affected by alcoholism in a relative or friend

Do you feel there’s something wrong with you that you can’t quite put your finger on?
Discovering what codependence is will probably give you many of the answers.
Are there areas of your life where you don’t succeed however hard you try?
You may be trying to control someone or something over which you are powerless. You are not foolish, idle or guilty! You just need help, which is available. This book will give you insight and information.
Some books change your life.
Twelve-Step programmes have changed millions of lives (with no dues or fees), as they changed mine. They could change yours too. That’s why one reader of this book said: ‘Everyone should have a copy’.
‘This highly regarded book’
Fr. Jim McManus CSsR

Book cover – TSWJback cover

Click to enlarge

‘Most of us are addict-codependents, experiencing addictions to relieve the pain of our untreated codependence’ – Pia Mellody

‘This book is designed mainly as an introduction for Christians to 12-step programmes and to codependence, but it is also very helpful for any person living with someone who suffers from addiction.’ – Review from Addiction Today, Nov/Dec. 2003

Twelve Steps with Jesus
ISBN 978 1 903623 30 5
Price £11.99

UK only:
The books can be bought, post free, from Daphne K. at
PO Box 45670, London SW10 9TH.
(price £11.99, cheques payable to Daphne K.)
On orders of 6 copies, there is a 35% booksellers' discount and £10.23 p & p, total £56.99.

UK or abroad:
The books can also be bought or ordered from bookshops.
(When ordering it helps to quote ISBN no.: 978 1 903623 30 5).
Also available from:
The publishers website, New Life Publishing (,
or by email:
Or from Amazon books, quoting the ISBN no.


Vicious Circle

  1. A dysfunctional family (i.e. a family that functions painfully), uses substances or addictive behaviours as emotional ‘painkillers’ and so is unable to provide healthy amounts of love and care to each other or to their children. Abuse may be mild or serious, conditions controlled or chaotic. Happens in all social classes. Family secrets.
  2. Codependence is a disease caused by stress, fear and distorted perceptions of self. It affects children and adults who secretly feel they must be ‘bad’ in some way and do not deserve love. It is this shame leads to codependence. Codependent behaviours are ‘ways of getting our needs met that don’t get our needs met.’ They include ‘controlling’, ‘People-pleasing’, ‘caretaking’ and ‘rescuing’ and may well include ‘taking care of’ an alcoholic, addict or other needy person. Once this disease is recognised, it can be treated! It is a majority not a minority disease. There is
  3. To EXIT INTO RECOVERY, probably via a 12-Step programme such as CODA (Codependents Anonymous), AL-ANON (for families and friends of alcoholics) or Families Anonymous (family programme for Narcotics Anonymous). Here distorted perceptions of self are re-examined with others who can understand, accept and love and in the care of God/a Higher Power who loves unconditionally. (For atheists this can be the Power of the group.) Powerlessness to control others is accepted, reality (good and bad) is gradually faced, feelings are felt and expressed (not suppressed), and recovery leads to self-acceptance and serenity, a day at a time. OR
  4. Need for stronger ‘painkillers’ (i.e. addictions) by remaining ‘stuck’ in relationships while trying to deny and suppress painful feelings. Denial can be protective for a time but long-term it is damaging.
  5. Addictions to substances (e.g. alcohol, legal or illegal drugs) or to behaviours (e.g. eating disorders, sexual addictions, compulsive gambling, compulsive spending or workaholism). All addictions are attempts not to feel our feelings, rather than to listen to them and take action.
  6. To Exit into recovery via the appropriate 12-Step programme (e.g. Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Workaholics Anonymous). These are not easy options but a great improvement on the alternatives:
  7. Continuing sickness/premature death or forming new dysfunctional families where the cycle will repeat itself.

Comments by Readers on the first edition of Twelve Steps with Jesus

About the book
This 331-page book covers the following topics:

  1. Twelve-Step programmes, of which the first was Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
    • The Christian origins of Twelve-Step Fellowships.
    • The reasons for opening up AA (and subsequent Fellowships) to all those looking for recovery from their addictions, using the words ‘God as you understand Him’ or ‘a Power greater than ourselves/Higher Power’, (which can be understood as the power of the group).
    • How these Steps can be applied to bring about recovery from a wide variety of addictions and dependencies.
    • How the Steps work is illustrated by my own story, so that you can apply it to your own. In a sense, my story is irrelevant – it is yours that counts!
    • The many different Fellowships and how to contact them.
  2. Codependence
    • How it was originally understood: as the dis-ease or disease of those living with alcoholics or other addicts, compulsive gamblers, workaholics, ‘rageaholics’ etc. (i.e. any condition that prevents people from giving the love and care that healthy people can provide).
      • living under great stress,
      • not having their own needs met,
      • feeling over-responsible for the addict,
      • trying to control the increasing chaos in their lives,
      • failing to do so and suffering from guilt, shame and depression,
      • whilst trying to present an air of normality to those around them.
    • How it was later discovered that such feelings of shame and low self-esteem (the basis of codependence) were also present in the addicts themselves and were the reason for their own addictions.
    • How addicts need to deal with their codependence in order to maintain their own recovery.

  3. The story of how one codependent (myself), married to a man who became an alcoholic, and how I found help.
    • I write about my initial resistance to the idea that, just as my husband needed AA, I too needed a recovery programme.
    • How, after spending a week at the treatment centre my husband had attended, I became convinced that I, too, needed ongoing help and found it in Al-Anon, of which I am still a very grateful member.
    • How, as a Christian, more used to being exhorted to ‘love my neighbour’ than to love myself, I had initial problems in Al-Anon, where I was encouraged to look at my own feelings, needs and wants and to take appropriate care of them. But I realized that Jesus did encourage people to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ not instead of yourself! I had to create a better balance, not to stop loving my neighbour but to give myself more encouragement and less criticism!
  4. Why I decided to write this book
    Some of my Christian friends, especially those who had experienced physical and emotional healing in a Christian context, could not understand why I needed the specialized help of Al-Anon or what I needed to change in my life. It was for them and for so many others like them that I decided to write this book. It was the sort of book I would like to have read myself.

    I had discovered not only the pain of living with addiction but also how to find recovery. I wanted to share this ‘experience, strength and hope’ with anyone who needs it (and over half the population qualify for Al-Anon). Al-Anon is anonymous but it is not meant to be unknown, which it often is. As a result, millions (literally) of those who qualify are still suffering in isolation, without the support of others who understand ‘where they are coming from’ – and how to move in a different direction!

The story itself tries to be very honest and not to hide the pain. I wanted readers to be able to identify:

There is also hope, encouragement and humour in the book. ‘Letting go and letting God’ is not easy but it is a great improvement on attempting the impossible i.e. trying to control other people, especially their addictions.

My husband’s recovery was rather an on/off affair, but life went on. Until he retired, Philip (not his real name) continued to work as a publisher and a broadcaster. Our sons grew up, went through university and one now has two sons of his own. We bought a house in France and spent half our time there. (One reader said the book was like ‘Codependent No More’ meets ‘A Year in Provence’!)

Some people have wondered why I made the story so personal, (whilst preserving the Al-Anon Tradition 11 of preserving anonymity ‘at the level of press, radio, TV and films’). I felt that in order to be real I had to be personal. I also felt that when discussing things such as ‘caretaking’, ‘controlling’ and ‘people-pleasing’, some of the main codependent defects, I could say that I did these things but it was more delicate to suggest that you might be doing them too!

If you identify with various behaviours, I hope the comments will be useful. But, as they say in Al-Anon meetings, ‘take what you like and leave the rest’. Incidentally, none of those defects in inverted commas are quite as they might sound e.g. ‘caretaking’ is not the same thing as caring.

I hope you will read this book and enjoy it. Because no family is perfect, we are all codependent to some degree. If nobody among your family or close friends is suffering from an addiction of any kind, be thankful. But, sadly, you are in a statistical minority and this book will help you to understand some of the issues that your friends and colleagues may be facing.

My background

I was born into a family that was outwardly successful, with a beautiful and talented mother and a very intelligent father who rose to the top of his profession. (I mention this in case you associate ‘dysfunctional families’ only with poverty, which is far from true.) But the marriage was not so functional emotionally and my parents eventually separated. I had two elder brothers. I won a scholarship to a very academic girls’ boarding school, a rather mixed blessing as my housemistress was verbally abusive in a way that contributed much to my own codependence.

Related Links:

Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.

Co-Dependents Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women whose common purpose is to develop healthy relationships. The only requirement for membership is a desire for healthy and fulfilling relationships.

Al-Anon offers understanding and support for families and friends of problem drinkers, whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not.

Alateen, a part of Al-Anon, is for young people aged 12-20 who have been affected by someone else’s drinking, usually that of a parent.

Castle Craig
Treatment under medical direction
in a private Scottish clinic.

How the book begins: The Introduction.

(This section emphasises how normal I felt my life was. This is not surprising: for most of us ‘normal’ means ‘our own experience’. You probably feel your life is ‘normal’ too. But, as I discovered, there may be problems we have not recognised and which are affecting our lives.)

‘There was a time when many stories ended when the happy couple, united after many trials, finally floated up the aisle to the altar. This is not quite where my story begins but, had I not married Philip, I would not have had this story to write. It was marrying Philip that eventually brought me into a Twelve-Step programme, taught me much of what changed my life for the better and made me want to write about it.

I had first met Philip a few years earlier, but only professionally. Then we re-met at a party and a few days later I had a letter from him. I invited him to my birthday party where he met some of my friends and family. After that he decided he should disentangle himself from his current girlfriend before ‘declaring his intentions’, to use the old-fashioned phrase. When he had done so, he invited me out to dinner.

He was a publisher, I was running a computer personnel consultancy and we both worked in London. We each had a flat but he was on the point of leaving his, having rented a thatched cottage beside a river in Wiltshire, a very idyllic spot. For some years I had had people wanting to marry me that I had not wanted to marry, and vice versa. I had recently prayed saying: ‘Lord, if You want me to be married, could You please find me a man who is a Christian, intelligent, loving, honest and with a sense of humour, not an Adonis but reasonably attractive, not rich but solvent and not a racist.’ These seemed to me minimum requirements and not too demanding!

Not long afterwards, Philip appeared, meeting all these specifications, and I decided that he was, literally, ‘an answer to prayer.’ He had said that when I next visited my brother in Wiltshire, I must come and see him at his cottage. When I took him up on this, I found he had a rather trying eighty-year old aunt staying for the weekend and decided he must have a very kind heart as well as all his other qualities! The more I knew him, the more I liked him. He was very in love with me, I found him very easy to love and soon we were engaged. Two months later, in 1970, we had a beautiful country wedding and a honeymoon in France.

Nine months after that I had a pre-natal check-up, six weeks before ‘the baby’ was due. But the baby turned out to be twins, who arrived five days later! They were both boys and we called them Richard and John. Apart from being premature they were healthy and beautiful and a great joy. When they were just a year old, we all went on holiday to Lebanon. It was a relaxed and happy time, much of it spent on the vine-covered roof-garden of our friend’s villa near the sea. The boys could crawl about in safety without the temptation to fill their mouths with pebbles, as they did on the beach.

It was before ‘the Troubles’ (as the Lebanese called the war), in a very peaceful Christian village. The housekeeper’s daughter loved wheeling the blue-eyed twins around the village, showing them off to her friends. I was rested and recovered from the first year of motherhood, which had been exiting but distinctly short on sleep. There were no visible clouds on my mental horizon that seemed to be ‘set fair’.

Two women

About eight years on, in 1980, I had a mental picture of two women in the front pew of our church. One of them was ‘a pillar of the parish’: a member of the parish council and a cheerful mother of two. The other woman looked tired and tense, she was sitting very still and crying silently. The odd thing was that they were the same woman and both of them were me.

I still loved Philip and he loved me. Richard and John were healthy and lovely and doing well at school. Philip still had a good job in publishing. We had left Wiltshire and bought a house in London. It had needed quite a lot of work, most of which I had done myself, but by then it was finished.

So why the tension and the silent tears? The most obvious reason was that I was very concerned about Philip’s drinking. For about eight years he had been drinking too much (often until he passed out) but trying to control it. Sometimes he seemed to be succeeding but then it would start up again.

Because most of his drinking was done at home, few people knew the extent of the problem and I did not feel free to talk about it. I was stressed and depressed. The past and the present were full of uncertainty and the future looked set to become worse.

But that was only part of the problem. Although I could not see it at the time, a lot of my unhappiness came from the way I was responding to the situation. For example, I felt I was responsible for his drinking, if not for causing it at least for ‘not being able to help him to stop’. As a result, I felt inadequate and guilty as well as anxious.

Although I was very worried about Philip’s drinking, I also had the idea that if I were a better Christian I should be able to ‘rise above it’. Looking back at my life, I felt I had much to be grateful for and that now I should just put a brave face on my problems, which most of the time I did.

Why did I react as I did? Feeling responsible for someone else’s behaviour is not exactly rational. But it is very common. and seems to be connected with childhood experiences.

Childhood and Rose-coloured spectacles

I describe my childhood more fully in the following chapter but I want to say here that, like most people, I grew up thinking my family was quite normal. I loved my parents and tended to see them through rose-coloured spectacles, appreciating their strengths and being somewhat blind to their shortcomings. This may have been reassuring but it prevented me from seeing the whole truth.

When my father retired, he left my mother and never lived in England again. I was nursing at the time and not living at home except on my days off. When I heard that my father was leaving the next day, it came as a complete shock. I knew my mother loved my father and I had seldom even heard them arguing. It was not for some years that I came to understand that their marriage and my childhood were not as normal as I had thought at the time.

However, I was much happier at home than I was at the boarding-school I went to at the age of twelve. The years I spent there. in the ‘care’ of a verbally abusive house mistress were much more destructive than anything I encountered at home.

Alcoholism enters our life

About a week after we returned from our holiday in Lebanon, Philip’s brother died in tragic circumstances. Philip felt that he was somehow responsible, for no good reason, and became depressed. It was soon after this that his drinking began to cross the narrow line where social drinking becomes an addiction. The process was slow and insidious and although it was clearly a problem, it was years before either of us put a label on it.

I prayed for help and for some solutions to the many unanswered questions that were rattling around my head. Some of these were ‘why?’ questions but more pressing were those of the ‘what should I be doing about the situation?’ variety. In general, I believed that God wanted us to be healthy and happy. As we were not, I was convinced we were missing something but I could not see what it was.

Over time, I am glad to say, the Lord did provide many answers, including answers to questions I had not even thought of asking. These led to a long-term recovery, which included discovering what it was that I needed to recover from!

Introducing Codependence

Several years later, I discovered that what I needed to recover from was a condition that had a name. It was known as codependence (co-dependence or co-dependency) of which, at that time, I had never heard. This was hardly surprising as, although the condition itself is as old as the human race, codependence was not identified or named until the late 1970s.

If one has never heard the term ‘codependence’ it might sound like a good thing, with echoes of co-operation or interdependence. In fact it is, to them, what a forgery is to a genuine article. Codependence is a form of dis-ease or disease. Not only is it painful in itself but it is progressive, with serious implications both for individuals and for society at large.

It usually begins in childhood, in a family where unconditional love is missing or limited. Genuine love may even be present but not expressed in a way a child can understand it. For example, a father may genuinely love his children but, if he is seldom at home and rarely sees them, they probably do not know that he loves them. Or there may be a handicapped child in the family so that most of the parents’ time and energy is given to this child, leaving the others believing they do not deserve love and are not lovable.

The commonest reason is that one or both of the parents is absorbed by some problem or addiction of their own and is just not able to give their child unconditional love.

If love is really absent (rather than simply unexpressed), it will result in various forms of abuse (emotional, psychological, spiritual, verbal or physical) and codependence will almost certainly follow. Children depend on their parents and other adults for life itself. So it is very frightening for them to think that these adults might be unable (because of problems of their own) to provide the love they need. It feels safer and simpler to see themselves as unlovable and to believe that, if they change, then the adults may start to love them, or to love them better. They feel ashamed of being (as they see it) unlovable and begin to criticise and reject themselves. Once started, this self-rejection will probably continue into adult life and become a breeding-ground for many other problems or addictions.

‘Codependent No More. How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself’  by Melody Beattie.  This inspiring, straightforward, personal explanation of what codependency is and who has it gives listeners the option to change unhealthy behaviors and stressful relationships, as they rediscover hope, guidance, and encouragement.

‘Facing Love Addiction’  by Pia Mellody. This groundbreaking exploration from the author of the best-selling ‘Facing Codependence’ and ‘Breaking Free’ unravels the intricate and debilitating dynamics of co-addicted relationships.

In his book Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen writes: Yes, there is that voice, the voice that speaks from above and from within and that whispers softly or declares loudly: ‘You are my Beloved, on you my favour rests.’ It certainly is not easy to hear that voice in a world filled with voices that shout: ‘You are no good, you are ugly; you are worthless; you are despicable, you are nobody – unless you can demonstrate the opposite’. These negative voices are so loud and so persistent that it is easy to believe them. That’s the great trap. It is the trap of self-rejection. Over the years, I have come to realise that the greatest trap is not success, popularity or power, but self-rejection.

A warning light?

The fact that God was not answering my prayers for Philip’s recovery seemed to confirm my secret fears that I was a disappointment to Him and that my prayers did not deserve to be answered. I did not feel that He loved me personally. I did not blame Him: I found it hard to love myself and felt that God must have much higher standards than mine.

It was not an intellectual problem: in theory at least, I believed in God’s unconditional love for mankind. I did not think I had to earn His love or His salvation and I could say the Creed with conviction. I realised my feelings were illogical but I did not know why I felt as I did or what to do about it. In fact, I did not really see that it was a problem. I just thought that God’s love was too great for us to take in.

Today I think that if we believe in God’s love for us in our heads but not in our hearts, it is like a red light, a warning that there are areas of our life that need healing.

It is true that a heart knowledge of God’s love is something that develops over time. But if we compare our idea of how God sees us to the reaction of the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, then it gives us a useful yardstick. Do we imagine He looks angry, sad or disappointed when He sees us or do we see Him coming towards us with outstretched arms? If we realise that our own picture does not match what He has revealed about His forgiveness and love, then we can ask ourselves, and Him, why that is?

Believing that God loves us personally is only one part of the Christian life but it is a very important one. Unless we believe that He loves us, it is very difficult either to enjoy a loving relationship with Him or to love our neighbour as ourselves.

Jesus came to reveal the Father’s love

One of the reasons that the Son of God became man was to demonstrate just how much God does love us. When the angels sang at Jesus’s birth: ‘Glory to God in the highest and peace to men on whom His favour rests’ (Luke 2:14), that meant all of us. His love is not confined to ‘men of goodwill’, as it is sometimes translated. It is all of us who are the objects of His infinite goodwill or favour. He loves us just as we are, because He is good, not because we are good! Paul wrote:

‘But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8).

At first I thought my difficulty in this area was unusual for a Christian and I was ashamed of it. It seemed rude to God to say that I was not really convinced that He loved me. I could provide no good reason for my lack of belief. I had committed no dramatic sin that I felt God could never forgive.

A Basic Lie

There is a basic lie circulating among mankind that none of us can avoid hearing. It says: ‘Only the very good are lovable – our sins and defects make us unlovable.’ Because this has often been our experience of human beings, we ascribe the same inability to love to God Himself and parents may say to a child: ‘Unless you’re good, God won’t love you’.

Schools often reinforce these messages. A school report I once had was typical. The comment on a subject in which I had come top said: ‘Good, but could do better if tried’, which sounds very like ‘Better than the rest is still not good enough, only something near perfection will do’. To justify this idea, people may quote ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Mat. 5:48).

But how is our heavenly Father perfect? Jesus had just described His Father’s way of loving: an all-embracing way, with a love that ‘causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good’ (Mat. 5:.45). This is the opposite of perfectionism. The more we believe that God accepts and loves us as we are, the better we are able to love others in the same way. This is the sort of perfection we are called to, not the critical, spot-the-defect-at-twenty-paces kind. Luke’s gospel says: ‘Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful’ (Luke 6:36).

If, as children, we had too little unconditional love and too much criticism or abuse, it is difficult to accept ourselves as we are or to believe that God can love us as we are. We are susceptible to that lie which says that ‘only the very good are lovable’. An important part of recovery is learning by experience that it really is a lie.

Human beings are created in the image of God. This means that giving and receiving love is what we were created for. The idea that we are not lovable strikes at the root of our existence. To accept that we are all sinners, to various degrees, is just healthy realism. But a loved, forgiven sinner is very different from one who feels condemned.

Losing a sense of our own identity

One of the effects of believing that we should be ‘perfect’ is over-responsibility. We feel responsible for other people’s feelings and behaviour. If they are not happy, we are not happy. If they do not behave as we think they should, we feel guilty. Taken to extremes, this leads to living our lives through other people and losing a healthy sense of our own identity.

There is a joke about a codependent who throws himself off a bridge. As he falls, someone else’s life flashes before his eyes... For years, if someone said to me: ‘How are you?’ I would reply: ‘Well, Philip is doing this or that and the boys go back to school next week’ or some such answer. If they said ‘But how are you?’ I would have trouble knowing how I was myself.

Codependent traits: Wolves in sheep’s clothing

Many codependent traits can look like virtues and are not easy to recognise. It has taken me years to sort out those things in my life that are genuinely done out of love from those that come into categories known as ‘caretaking’, ‘controlling’, ‘fixing’, ‘people-pleasing’ and ‘rescuing’. Each of these words is in inverted commas because it does not mean what it might sound like. These ways of behaving may sound good but they are all wolves in sheep’s clothing.

For example, ‘people-pleasing’ means saying something I do not really mean or doing something I do not want to do, not out of love for the other person but in the hope that their response will meet my own needs. When we do these things, we seldom see that we are doing them. When I first heard the term ‘people-pleasing’ my reaction was: ‘But I thought Christians were supposed to please other people’. It had not occurred to me to question my motives.

Jesus never went in for ‘people-pleasing’. When the people in one village wanted Him to stay there when it was time to move on, He knew how to say no. At another time He said: ‘As for human approval, this means nothing to me’ (John 5:34).

A need to be needed

‘Caretaking’, ‘fixing’ and ‘rescuing’ are also terms used to describe actions that are not good either for those who do them or for those at the receiving end. They are not the same as genuine caring, loving, helping and serving, all of which are done for the benefit of others, not for one’s own needs. Codependence is sometimes described as ‘a need to be needed’.

Caretaking and caring, for example, may well co-exist, like wheat and weeds growing up in the same field, but they are not the same things. The differences are important and will become clearer in the course of the book. Too much weeding may not be good for the crop, but neither does one want to cultivate weeds!

‘All things turn to good...’

My own codependence showed itself partly in the ‘caretaking’ behaviour that can look so good and even ‘Christian’ and also in feeling responsible for, and therefore trying to control, the behaviour of other people. After much of a lifetime thinking I was quite normal and healthy, it came as a shock to discover that I had many symptoms of this disease.

But since it was by marrying someone who was well on his way to becoming an alcoholic that I eventually came into recovery myself, I can probably say it was the best thing I could have done. The process of recovery has often been painful but the liberating effects of it have more than made up for the pain. And the pain has been due more to the codependence than to the process of recovery. It has shown me much in Christianity that I had been unable to see before and restored my trust in God, myself and other people.

How the idea of Codependence has evolved

Different degrees of Codependence

Codependence exists in many different degrees, like a chest infection that can be anything from a slight cough to double pneumonia. In its milder forms, codependence is so common that, until recently, its symptoms have been seen simply as part of human nature rather than as an identifiable condition, a dis-ease or disease. This has meant that most of the people who suffer from it do not realise that their emotional pain has a name or a treatment. And if a condition is not diagnosed it will not be treated effectively.

This may not matter so much for the milder forms of codependence although, as it is a progressive disease, even mild forms will get worse if nothing is done. Codependence is a painful enough condition in itself but it is also the breeding ground for all the many addictions of our addictive society. Why wait until a codependent has also become a compulsive eater or gambler, an alcoholic or an addict?

The simple answer to that question is that, at present, codependence is seldom recognised, by the person concerned or by those around them, until it has led to some further addiction. There is a tendency to think of alcoholics, for example, as ‘different’ rather than as people we meet every day or see on our TV screen. When she diagnosed me as having a ‘stress-related depression’, my doctor warned me to look after myself or risk becoming an alcoholic too. (In fact, I seldom drink alcohol as it is tends to give me a headache. I am more tempted to overeat than to drink, but she was quite right to warn me.)

If the pain of codependence leads to dependence on, for example, alcohol, drugs or gambling, the need for some kind of treatment becomes increasingly obvious. Recognising and treating codependence, before it leads to such additional dependencies, is good preventive medicine.

Codependence: Bad news and Good news

The bad news about codependence is that its roots are in our past, in various forms of abuse or in an absence of love, and we cannot change the facts of our past. The good news, however, is that codependence is caused not so much by the absence of love in itself but by the ways that we have reacted to it and cut off from our feelings and from our true selves.

In ‘Belonging: Bonds of Healing and Recovery’ the authors put it like this: ‘Hurts themselves do not cripple us. What cripples us is the way we’ve turned on ourselves and disowned how we feel about what happened to us.’ As children, we reacted in the best way that we knew at the time. But as adults, we can learn new and better ways and begin to practise them.

‘Colonised by Love’

I have a friend whose father was tortured in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp. His family is extremely dysfunctional, lacking in love and abusive. Recently he said he was coming to believe that more areas of his life were ‘colonisable by love’. I thought this was a wonderful phrase to describe our lives. In those parts of them that have been ‘colonised by love’ we know that we are lovable and we can both receive and give love.

It also helps to explain why members of the same family turn out differently. The negative influences may have been similar but some members may have been ‘colonised by love’ from other sources, such a friends, relations or teachers, who have helped to undo the damage.

But the larger the area of our lives that has not yet been ‘colonised by love’, the more codependent we will be. The more codependent we are, the greater the pain and the greater the desire to take ‘pain-killers’. This is where addictions and compulsive behaviours begin. An addiction is like the tip of an iceberg: we see the addiction but we do not see the much larger area of codependence that lies beneath the surface.

Codependence: A Shame-based Disease

One of the reasons that codependence has taken so long to identify is that those who suffer from it are ashamed of the feeling that they are not lovable and so do their best to hide it. They may become workaholics and high achievers in the hope that it will make them feel good about themselves, but that is not the cure. They may look fine on the outside but be full of self-doubt on the inside.

I have another friend who has most of the things people believe would make them happy. She is beautiful, rich, intelligent and a Christian. But is she happy? Sometimes, yes, but it is not her normal state. She is one of several daughters whose parents longed for a son. Their grief and anger about the son they did not have spilt out on their daughters, who grew up feeling unwanted and unloved. My friend appears self-contained and self-sufficient and does an efficient (but unfortunate) job of hiding her sadness, except from close friends. She recognises in herself many of the painful symptoms of codependence.

If we see in ourselves a need for healing, we do not need to be ashamed of it. Jesus said He had come not for the healthy but for the sick. Even if we have made bad or wrong choices, He is quick to forgive us and wants us to forgive ourselves rather than to hide in our shame. And because we can learn to accept and love ourselves, with the help of God and other people, codependence is a reversible condition despite what has happened in our lives.

Just as it is a lack of love that causes this disease, so it is love that heals it. Although my own family was not very good at expressing love, I have known others who have helped to make up for what I missed and to whom I am very grateful. And hearing other people’s stories makes me appreciate the good things about my own family.

Twelve-Step Programmes – channels of God’s love

People speak today, usually in disapproving tones, about ‘mood-altering drugs’. But the most widely used ‘mood-altering drug’ is alcohol, and we often treat it very lightly. Like fire, it can be both a pleasure and a menace. Alcohol dependence has always been a menace, even though it is one which society often prefers to ignore. In England there is no health warning on bottles containing alcohol, even though it causes tens of thousands of deaths per year directly and is a contributory cause of many others from cancer to heart disease.

Some figures from America show the scale of the problem, which is similar to that in Britain:

‘Since one out of every four Americans lives with or is intimately connected to an alcoholic as a son, daughter, brother, sister, spouse or friend, it is safe to assume that you know one. Somewhere between 5 and 10 per cent of all adult Americans are alcoholics. No one knows how many more are in the early stages of the disease. Whether the number of alcoholics is as low as five million or as high as thirty-six million, or even higher, every one of them affects an average of six other people. In other words, well over half of all Americans are touched somehow by this disease.’ – Joseph C. Martin in ‘No Laughing Matter’

Ruth Gledhill, Religious Affairs correspondent of ‘The Times’ wrote in ‘The Tablet’ in 1995:

‘As the millennium approaches, all journalists, myself included, are planning ahead for the retrospective inventories which we must soon make of the most significant developments in our fields of study. In the spiritual as opposed to the material world, but with an inestimable impact on both, the foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous in Akron, Ohio, in l935 must head or come near the top of the list. Anyone looking for signs of imminent apocalypse in the twentieth century need only consider the devastation wreaked on a daily basis in millions of lives by the obsessive illnesses of alcoholism and addiction.

For corresponding evidence of the saving grace of God in our world, we could then turn to the development of the Twelve Steps of AA by the fellowship’s founders, Bob S, an Akron surgeon, and Bill W, a New York stockbroker.’

When Bill W. hit a real ‘rock bottom’ and realised he was close to death, he cried out: ‘If there be a God, let him show himself!’ In his biography ‘Pass It On’ he described what happened next:

‘Suddenly, my room blazed with an indescribably white light. I was seized by an ecstasy beyond description. Every joy I had known was pale by comparison. The light, the ecstasy – I was conscious of nothing else for a time.

‘Then, seen in my mind’s eye, there was a mountain. I stood upon its summit, where a great wind blew. A wind, not of air, but of spirit. In great, clean strength, it blew right through me. Then came the blazing thought, ‘You are a free man’. I know not at all how long I remained in this state, but finally the light and the ecstasy subsided. I again saw the wall of my room. As I became more quiet, a great peace stole over me, and this was accompanied by a sensation difficult to describe.

I became acutely conscious of a Presence which seemed like a veritable sea of loving spirit. I lay on the shores of a new world. ‘This’, I thought, ‘must be the great reality. The God of the preachers... For the first time, I felt that I really belonged. I knew that I was loved and could love in return. I thanked my God, who had given me a glimpse of his absolute self.’

The meetings that would later become known as Alcoholics Anonymous began in a Christian group (the Oxford Group, sometimes known as Moral Rearmament). Among them were Bill W and some other Christian alcoholics who knew they could stay sober only with the grace and the power of God. Later they wanted to admit to the group some other alcoholics who also wanted to stop drinking.

But the newcomers were not necessarily Christians nor had they yet found sobriety ‘one day at a time’. This created problems for the original members of the Oxford Movement and also for the non-Christian alcoholics and those who were trying to help them. Eventually, the alcoholics continued to meet and to support each other but were no longer part of that original group – although many of them were Christians. For an explanation of the terms ‘Higher Power’ and ‘a Power greater than ourselves’, see ‘The Cover Photo Explained’ at the beginning of the book

A number of books have explored the links between Twelve-Step programmes and Christianity. One of the best of recent books on the subject is Belonging: Bonds of Healing and Recovery (quoted above) by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn and Matthew Linn SJ.

After the success of the first Twelve-Step Programme, others were formed. Because the programme is essentially one of admitting one’s need for God’s help and of turning to Him, it can be applied to many different circumstances. The first new Fellowship after AA was Al-Anon, for relatives and friends of alcoholics. Other Fellowships include Narcotics Anonymous (NA) for those addicted to drugs, (including prescribed ones such as tranquillisers and barbiturates) and, for their family members, Families Anonymous (FA), Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Codependents Anonymous (CoDA) and over two hundred others.

Twelve-Step Programmes and Christianity

What a Twelve-Step programme has done for me is not to give me some wisdom that is different from Christian wisdom. It has highlighted principles in Christianity that are there but which can be passed over too lightly. I believe the Twelve Steps are reminders from the Holy Spirit. Jesus said: ‘The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you’ (John 14:26).

In an article called ‘Healing the Inside’, Rich Buhler writes of Twelve-Step recovery: ‘Some critics fear ‘recovery’ is an alternative to trusting Jesus. I suggest the opposite is true.’

Recovery is allowing an invasion of the truth and the power of God at the level of my life where it is probably most needed.

It’s not a replacement for prayer, it’s an opportunity for prayer to finally be offered on behalf of what may be the most destructive and life-bending experience or experiences I’ve ever had.

It’s not a substitute for feeding on the Word; it’s applying the Word to the deepest and most significant wound of my life.

It’s not something I do instead of having relationship with Jesus. It’s the life-changing step of finally taking his hand and letting him walk me through the dark valley of my injury.

Life of the Beloved Spiritual Living in a Secular World

Codependency: How to break free and live your own life 
by David Stafford

Belonging: Bonds of Healing and Recovery
by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn and Matthew Linn SJ

Why another book on codependence?

Codependence, addiction and recovery are the subject of many good books, a selection of which is listed at the back of this one. I have no wish to duplicate the information they provide. However, recovery generally involves a Twelve-Step programme which speaks of God or a ‘Higher Power’. Many people today do not believe in God, so even though the writers themselves do, they usually try to reassure the reader that a lack of faith in God does not make the programme impossible to follow. For example, to begin with it is possible to take ‘the power of the group’ as the ‘Higher Power’.

This very undogmatic approach makes recovery from addiction available to all. In addition, many people move from trusting a group of loving people to trusting the loving God who is their only authority. (Tradition Two of the programme states: ‘For our group purposes there is but one authority – a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern’.) Once people start to trust a loving God, turn to Him and ask for His help, He does reveal Himself in a remarkable way.

But it is usually taken for granted that someone who does believe in God will not have problems with a Twelve-Step programme, in theory at least. For many Christians this is true, but it was not true for me. However, my problems have been mainly about what is not in the programme. Nowadays, I simply find this in a Christian context. And I have to admit that if the programmes were as specifically Christian as I might have liked, millions of people who need them (often as a matter of life or death) would not benefit from them.

One day as I was praying about whether to keep going to Al-Anon, I had a mental picture of a clay pot being formed by a potter with both his hands. The Lord seemed to be saying to me: ‘I am the Potter and you are the clay. One of the hands represents the way I am moulding you in the Church. The other hand represents the way I am moulding you through Al-Anon. But don’t worry – they are both My hands!’.

There are millions of Christians who are also grateful members of Twelve-Step fellowships. But there are millions more who, although they could be greatly helped by them, are not members. There are many reasons for this. They may not have heard of these fellowships and the help they provide. They may not recognise their own needs. Or they may feel that, as Christians, they should not need them or that the programmes might, in some way, be incompatible with Christianity. For a time I was in this last category myself.

One reason I am writing this book is to reassure such people and enable them to receive all that these programmes can offer. It is true that there are elements that could be off-putting at first for Christians and might cause them not to return. The things that jarred on me at first turned out to be false problems that I resolved in time. Sometimes I have had to put things ‘on the back burner’ until apparent contradictions were sorted out.

This book is designed as an introduction for Christians to Twelve-Step programmes and to the subject of codependence. But I hope that readers will be encouraged to explore other, more complete, books on these subjects.

The preface to The Life Recovery Bible states:

‘The Bible is the greatest book on recovery ever written...Let us set out together on a journey toward healing and newfound strength. Not strength found within ourselves, but strength found through trusting God and allowing him to direct our decisions and plans. This journey will take us through the Twelve Steps and other material designed to help us focus on the powerful provisions God offers for recovery.’

Using ‘codependence’ in its broadest sense, as the soil from which all addictive behaviour, compulsions and dependencies spring, it can be seen as the opposite to ‘recovery’. I believe that we are all on a journey from some degree of codependence toward recovery, which is an ongoing process. It is about learning to be loved and to love. Complete recovery probably only happens in heaven!

It is said that we write the books we would like to read: this is a book I would like to have read a long time ago.

Daphne K, 2007

Twelve Steps with Jesus
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The Life Recovery Bible Designed for both the Christian who is seeking God’s view on recovery and the non-Christian who is seeking God and answers to recovery, the Life Recovery Bible will lead readers to the source of true healing-God himself.