In the process of recovery, I learned that I was a “top-dog” in the relationship power position in the codependent role I learned as a child. If one looks at any family, some family members will be the “boss” or top-dog and some, for lack of a better word, will be the “slaves”or underdog. This arrangement teaches each of us who we “are” in the family of origin.
Being the eldest in my family of origin meant that I was the first to test the arrangement and to try to move into the boss role. Needless to say, much conflict with my parents occurred. A general “who do you think you are” was the assessment of my leadership ability. Because my parents never resolved the power between themselves, I was elected “it”. Then they were each free to find fault with my solutions.
This was not a family with peace as the main objective of family life. During my early recovery, I studied much about codependency. I was fortunate to find the books by Melodie Beatty which helped to give up the old roles in power plays. In learning what later became the Changemaker roles, I found that I have a high amount of logic energy so problem-solving is easy for me.
I also learned during this period that I had to step back emotionally from my parents and any relationships that I was playing “top-dog” in. Eventually my parents joined me in learning better ways to relate. My five years living in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba during my early recovery made it easier for me to try new ways of relating.
Today, after 32 years of continual recovery from alcoholism, I find myself in another codependent relationship. How do I know it is codependent? When I am the main, and sometimes only giver, then the relationship is the old power play.
If the relationship between another adult and me is about what I can do for the other, then I can’t emotionally afford that person. If the giving is a one-way street, then I am hooked again. If the other person is too “busy”, “weak”, “sick” to ever find ways to please me, then I have jumped on my white horse again.
The problem with this balance of power is that the “giver” feels used and abused and unappreciated. Bring me flowers or clean my house or invite me out to lunch or take me for a ride to the ocean–all things that I enjoy– to show me that you appreciate me. This balance of power “game” is owned by the “taker” or “slave”. And, if and when, the “giver” gives up the relationship, the “taker” turns to another sucker on their wide list of “givers”.
I can see it happening all around me. In any game of power, the winner is the one who is most getting everything s/he wants. My wonderful mother who is waiting for me in Heaven used to call me long-distance to tell me what she had done and ask if I thought that this was co-dependent behavior. I used to laugh and tell her that she wouldn’t have called to ask if she didn’t already know the answer.
It isn’t always easy to give up power to get peace. Peace should never be a substitute for self-esteem. Keeping your mouth shut all the time means that you are stuffing your feelings. But I am finally learning that being happy is more important than being “right”.