Let’s Have A Conversation About Codependency: Week Six

The Importance Of Support Groups

By Holli Kenley

We have been discussing codependency as it relates to us and our wellbeing. Please consider visiting the prior articles to make the most out of this healing series.

Week 1: What Is It?

Week 2: Am I Codependent? And Why?

Week 3: Now What Do I Do ? Shift and Detach

Week 4: Now What Do I Do?  Self Care

Week 5: Now What Do I Do? Boundary Work

In concluding this series, it is important to talk about Support Groups. No matter where you are in your recovering journey with codependency, Support Groups can and do play a vital role in your healing. 

Personal Journey

When I was in my early thirties, I was teaching at a middle school where a I met a wonderful teacher who befriended me. I will call her Alice. She was an older, very wise woman. I was captivated by Alice as she described her difficult past of addiction followed by her many years of sobriety. As Alice came to know me, getting acquainted with my codependent personality, she encouraged me to attend Al-Anon. Even though I had been in counselling previously to address other issues, I did not know what she was talking about. At the time, I didn’t even know what a codependent was. Alice began teaching me about codependency and encouraged me to attend Al-Anon.

Even though Alice typically attended her AA meetings, she agreed to accompany me to my first Al-Anon meeting. At the last minute, Alice had to cancel but I went alone. I will never forget that initial meeting. Although I was nervous, I didn’t have to say anything except my first name. Immediately, I was mesmerized by the individuals and their stories. As each person shared his/her struggles and conflicts as well as ensuing stories of growth and healing with codependency, I felt a level of belonging I had not experienced in a long time. The complex and complicated mixture of codependent feelings I held on to for so long were shared by others; I was not alone. I attended for over a year, and continued going whenever I felt I needed additional support.  I learned something incredibly valuable.

It is often quite easy to see the faults or flaws in others. Mostly it is difficult to discover them in ourselves. Support Groups are mirrors into our ways of being as we confront and courageously examine what is there.

Today, there are a variety of support programs available for codependents.  Where do you start? Get on your computer and search your area for CODA (specifically for codependency) groups; or Al-Anon groups. If you belong to a faith-based organization, many places of worship have “Celebrate Recovery” groups and may also provide other support groups. If you have a recovery center in your area, call them or get on their website; typically they have ongoing groups as well. Today, there are usually numerous meetings in a week; sometimes in a day.  Many of them provide child care and most of them are at no cost. Also, if you know someone who has attended a group or knows of someone else who has, get a recommendation. Or call a therapist in your area and ask for direction in finding a group.

This is very important. If you attend a group and don’t like it for whatever the reason is, don’t give up.  Find another group or meeting.  In addition, another source of support is through attending codependency workshops or classes. Again, get online and search your area or check with the recovery centers in your community. There is most often a fee for these workshops or classes, but they can be extremely helpful and healing.  

A  Support Group of Extraordinary Women

During my last few years in private practice, I invited a select group of women to join a closed support group (limited in size) I was leading on codependency. I asked these eight codependent women to participate because although each had worked very hard on her issues through individual counselling for over a year, each was still struggling in areas of their codependent behaviours. I felt they might benefit from group work. For the first session, I asked them to complete one assignment – to write down their personal journey and to be prepared to read it to the group.

On the evening of the first session as each woman read her story, the others wept for the reader and for herself. There was really just one story with eight versions, but the pain-filled themes remained the same. As the year unfolded, meeting twice a month, I witnessed how this remarkable group of women supported one another, held each other accountable, and grew in ways I never thought possible. For our last meeting, I asked them to make a two part collage of words, pictures, etc. that represented them before the group started and now, at the close. 

As was true for our first meeting, as with many other sessions, the women wept but this time their tears reflected a shared healing experience of doing the hard work of detaching from their old ways of being and of embracing Self Care. The flow of emotion represented a celebration of reclaiming themselves and redefining their identities, and of a collective joy that bonded them in the process.

This is the power of Support Groups.    

While your recovery work remains your own to do,  it doesn’t mean you have to do it alone.

This concludes our series on codependency. You are encouraged to embrace these healing resources as compassionate companions on your journey.

Publisher’s Note: Holli Kenley is an American Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the author of “ Daughters Betrayed By Their Mothers: Moving from Brokenness to Wholeness” and “Power Down & Parent Up!: Cyber Bullying, Screen Dependence & Raising Tech-Healthy Children”