Martha Rosenberg :
Your 1987 Hazelden book Codependent No More has been compared to the Big Book
of Alcoholics Anonymous for articulating a malady that affected millions of
people for the first time and pointing them toward recovery. Yet you stress in
your new book, Codependent No More Workbook, that recovery in the 12 Steps of
Alcoholics Anonymous is very different from recovery from codependence in
groups like Codependents Anonymous (CODA.)
Melody Beattie: Well alcoholics have usually led pretty self-centered lives and early in recovery they are told to start trying to be less selfish and help others which of course is the Twelfth Step. But codependents have often been "giving" their whole lives or so they think. In fact the joke goes that you can't kill yourself if you're codependent because too many people need you.
Martha Rosenberg: So "sponsorship" risks enacting the very codependent behaviors that brought you into recovery?
Melody Beattie: We can recreate our original families! Sponsors can help compulsively and for the wrong reasons and sponsees can accept help instead of finding their own inner voice they can trust. Another danger is rigid thinking -- the so-called "Back Belt" in codependence recovery where you're afraid if you give in a little to another person, you'll slip back into your disease.
Martha Rosenberg: Isn't the admission of powerlessness also different between the two groups?
Melody Beattie: It's usually easier for someone in AA to say, "that was crazy," when they totaled their car, lost their job and ended up in jail. But codependents can look pretty good by comparison. It's hard to give up the self-esteem connected to being codependent and appearing "right" which is probably a survival behavior learned from growing up in a crazy family. It feels like you will actually disappear.
Martha Rosenberg: It's pretty clear whether or not you've had a drink today and you can start counting the days. What does the codependent give up?