Codependency, A Toxic Marriage, and Al-Anon: A Secular Carmelite Finds Recovery and Healing

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In 1999, Tina was sitting in an Al-anon meeting because of a brother struggling with an addiction to drugs and alcohol. It was during that first meeting when, reading over indicators for co-dependency behavior, she initially realized she might have an issue herself with co-dependency.

According to Mental Health American, co-dependency is “an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as ‘relationship addiction’ because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive, and/or abusive.”

Tina would bury this realization for another few years, living in denial of this unhealthy form of “relationship addiction.”

“I didn’t really know what a boundary was and didn’t know what a healthy relationship was because my mom and dad, as loving and caring as they were and as much as they did for me and my brother, had a dysfunctional relationship,” Tina said.

Tina married the man who introduced her to Al-anon a couple of years later. Three years later they were separated.

“My ex-husband was sick and mentally ill,” Tina shared. “I thought I could save him and make him better and ended up marrying my mother and brother combined.”

Her codependency led her into an unhealthy and dysfunctional relationship with others, causing her to try to fix and help them in ways that proved massively detrimental to herself.

“In 2004 I separated from what was a sick marriage. This is what eventually brought things to a head and while I had kept going every day to Al-anon meetings it wasn’t until I finally sat down in a family meeting in 2006 that the light bulb went on,” Tina shared. “It just crystallized at that moment and I knew there was something horribly wrong. I realized how much my codependency played a very negative role in my marriage. It’s what served as the grounds for my marriage annulment.”

It was in 2006 where she first admitted she truly had a problem with co-dependency, and in 2007 she began attending Co-dependency Anonymous (CoDA) meetings.

Progress can be difficult to measure, though, since it depends on being extremely honest with oneself and others as well as being willing to ask for the help of trusted sponsors.

“It really depends on how honest you can be and how much feedback you can take from others,” Tina said. “I still sometimes do some caretaking and might feel sorry for someone if they seem to be overworked but I’m much better than I was. Also asking for help has been huge because in the past I would blame everyone else and not ask for help. Today, I’m much better at saying I’m feeling overwhelmed and identifying my feelings and expressing what I need much more readily.”

It was a few years after working the Steps in CoDA that Tina began to realize she had another problem. Her spending habits had caused her to be in thousands of dollars of debt. Prompted by one of her sponsors, she began also attending Debtors Annonymous (DA) meetings.

“I got into DA-HOW, which is a very strict program where you have to report your financial numbers to a sponsor every day as well as do fifteen minutes of writing on the Steps and share that with a sponsor every day also,” Tina said.

Her commitment to working the Steps in DA has been tremendously fruitful. As a result, she has gone from having several thousands of dollars of unsecured debt to be being completed debt-free.

As a secular Carmelite, Tina is also very serious about her Catholic faith. She had been looking for a more Christ-centered approach to her recovery when she came across an episode of EWTN’s “Women of Grace” featuring Catholic in Recovery founder Scott Weeman.

She immediately looked into getting involved with Catholic in Recovery. Since she was in Canada and there were no local meetings at the time, she began joining virtual meetings. She had been attending virtual meetings every week since.

“Catholic in Recovery has been amazing and it has been really such a blessing to be able to incorporate the sacraments and the Gospel into my recovery,” Tina shared. “It has boosted my morale and taken my recovery to a different level. It’s so nice to hear people say things about praying the Rosary during meetings! I would say if you want a fuller spiritual experience, get the Steps and Catholic faith together.”

Despite being able to only attend meetings virtually, Tina has still felt connected to others during her Catholic in Recovery meetings.

“I was surprised how real it is virtually, and it’s like people are right there and they are being themselves in their own environment and it’s been very real,” Tina said. “It is almost like being there.”