Monday, April 18, 2011

A review of the "Codependent No More Workbook"

I was eager to read the latest book, Codependent No more Workbook: Exercises for Learning to Stop Controlling Others and Start Taking Care of Yourself by noted recovery author Melody Beattie.  Her ground breaking book, Codependent No More, was one that I read and re-read during my first year in Al-Anon.  I realized that my obsession with the alcoholics in my life was causing me a great deal of unhappiness and anxiety.  I was seeking to find out who I really was since my identity for so long had been enmeshed with others and their well being.  I got comfort from knowing that there was a solution to what I was feeling.

I learned from reading Melody Beattie that codependency is an adaptive but sick behavior.  The behaviors that are adopted from living around alcoholism are self-defeating and hurtful.  We learn not to feel, not to express our opinions, and not to trust.  As noted in the Workbook, "Most people with codependency issues feel genuinely unlovable. They attach themselves to people by caretaking, hoping to become indispensable instead." It is only if we are lucky enough to get to such a low point that we are isolated, feel unloved and alone, then there is a chance that we will seek help through a 12 step program such as Al-Anon, Co-Dependents Anonymous,  or ACOA.

And that is where the Workbook is so helpful.  The 12 steps of Co-Dependents Anonymous and how to work the steps form the "lessons" in the book.  Ms Beattie goes through each of the steps, providing examples of codependent behavior and how to use each step in recovery.  For example, in the lesson on Step One (We admitted we were powerless over others--that our lives had become unmanageable), she explains that control is a reaction to loss, that unmanageability doesn't have to define our lives and detachment is a powerful tool in recovery.

For those of us who are in 12 step recovery programs, this book provides a good review of the steps. But what I found most interesting were the numerous activities suggested for each step that will provide additional insight into your own recovery.  As I was reading the Workbook, I could see many opportunities to use the information when working with those I sponsor in Al-Anon.  I thought that the activities were particularly helpful for Step Three (Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God) which is often a hard step to grasp.  For example, she asks: "Who's creating the plan for your life? Before being exposed to the Third Step, did you think about who had control of your life and will?....Do you believe someone should take care of you because you take care of him or her? Or do you know that you can gently, lovingly, but with discipline when necessary, take care of yourself?"  I think that the activities would be a supplement to those that are provided through Al-Anon Conference Approved Literature. 

There were a few points in the book that I questioned.  One was the idea of setting up an appointment to work Step Five (Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs) before beginning work on Step Four (Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves).  The fourth step in Al-Anon takes quite a while.  For me, it took about four months to complete the Al-Anon workbook Blueprint for Progress and to do a fourth step adapted from AA's inventory sheets.  I think that being thorough is important in doing a fourth step, leaving nothing out.

I also found little emphasis on the importance of a sponsor in working the steps.  A mention in the Workbook on whether one would have to pay for a fifth step did not resonate well with me.  Perhaps that is a possibility if the fifth step is done with a therapist, but I had hoped that more emphasis would be placed on the importance of getting a good sponsor who will be more than willing to be a guide through the steps and gladly spend the time to do a thorough fifth step.  Instead, Ms. Beattie mentions that having a program member or sponsor listen to the fifth step could be "dangerous" because the person could relapse or otherwise break confidentiality more readily than a trained professional would.  This seems contradictory to developing trust which is important in recovery.

I found her list of emotions, beliefs, and codependent behaviors to be thorough.  These would be quite useful in considering character defects and harmful behaviors in Step Six (Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character).  Although Ms. Beattie recommends immediately doing Steps Six and Seven after the Fifth Step, my experience has shown that an exhaustive Fifth Step requires a time of quiet reflection after completion.  Yes, it is exhilarating but can also be filled with a lot of emotion.  I needed to rest after the several hours that it took for my fifth step. 

I don't know if the codependency ever completely goes away.  Likely this is something that I will struggle with at times for the rest of my life.  But it helps to be aware of the problem, to understand detachment and boundaries, and that over-functioning in relationships doesn't work.  My work on focusing on myself and finding out who I am continues.  I think that a major message from Ms. Beattie's Workbook is that working the steps is the solution.  She writes, "Treatment is good. Going to Twelve Step meetings and enjoying fellowship is helpful too. But I've seen people go to groups and only talk about their problems. If you're looking for long-term change, the kind that comes from the inside out, work the Steps. They're the heart of this program, and they're the work we do. Then when you go to meetings, you can talk about the solutions too."  That is what I believe too. And by focusing on the solutions, I can see though how far I have come in meeting my own needs.

Title: Codependent No More Workbook
Author: Melody Beattie
Pages: 182
Genre: Mental Health, Psychology
Publisher: Hazelden
Pub. Date: April 1, 2011 (2nd ed.)

Follow the rest of the tour for more thoughts:
Monday, April 11th: Guinevere Gets Sober 
Wednesday, April 13th: Take Me Away

Thursday, April 28th: Books, Movies, and Chinese Food
Monday, May 2nd: A Room of Mama’s Own
Wednesday, May 4th: Bookshipper


  1. A very thorough review, Syd. I copied your words and emailed them to a friend who will greatly benefit from them.
    (Did you get any of the tornado devestation that we got?? Luckily it missed me by about 30 miles.)

  2. I like that you're calling this a 'tour'. Very creative.

  3. Excellent post, especially your take on the importance of a sponsor in recovery. I recall many times in meetings in which a newcomer said their therapist made them come to CODA. No substitute for the brutal honesty and elegance of the sponsor/steps combo.

  4. i have a few of her books too...i might need to reread...and put this one on my list of to get books. Thanks Syd.

  5. I think I still have a copy of her book and it did help me in my life and as I get older, I do not struggle with co-dependency the way I used to. I am not afraid anymore to focus on me and my needs, knowing that in doing so, I am better able to help the folks I love who might truly need me, not folks I really don't care about who just want to suck all the energy out of me.
    But like I always say- thank god for co-dependent people. They do about 90% of the work that needs doing. That's sort of a joke, but honestly- sort of true.

  6. I love her Language of Letting Go. But I am with you on the sponsor comments. Still, sounds like a book I will check out.

  7. hey man thanks for the thorough review as this might be a great resource for some that i work with...

  8. We have a few workbooks in codependency and they help in my recovery. For me, working the twelve steps with a sponsor is a no brainer. Never before being able to trust, I learned to trust my sponsor and she has helped me work the steps in a thorough manner without holding back anything. This is a really good post, especially for someone like me who has been working on recovering from my codependency for a few years now.

  9. Syd, good to see you are still spreading the word about AlAnon in your gentle, unique way.
    (But you can still get a little crazy sometimes:)

    PS I like the new pic.

  10. Hi Syd,
    It's taken me a couple of days of re-reading this blog to absorb the author's full scope of using information we (the fellowships) take for granted so easily - seeing as how the experience, strength and hope come sincerely from the heart, and I must add, good program knowledge is almost always imparted by a very experienced longtimer in the sponsor process.

    I have 'copied' a statement from the book and 'pasted' it here - since I take exception to a part of it:
    "Treatment is good. Going to Twelve Step meetings and enjoying fellowship is helpful too. But I've seen people go to groups and only talk about their problems. If you're looking for long-term change, the kind that comes from the inside out, work the Steps. They're the heart of this program, and they're the work we do. Then when you go to meetings, you can talk about the solutions too."

    While this statement 'on the surface' accurately describes the answer most of us discover from studying the steps and traditions, it neglects the human touch required in Step 5 and in Tradition 8 to aid someone new to the program. The beauty of Al-Anon is that is free. (By the way - - - my anonomity was broken by a profession on two different occasions - so I declare no more or less human than any Al-Anon member.

    I encourage the people who make enquiry of the merit of sponsorship to check the individual out - closely - to whom they have been attracted, making sure this person is very familiar with the Steps and Traditions, and knowledgeable at least of the 12 Concepts.

    When I first came to Al-Anon at the encouragement of a therapist, I was told that I should listen and then be willing to talk to someone about my intentions - after I had determined their knowledge was what I wanted myself. I have followed this advice, and pass along the same suggestion to the people who I sponsor in their desires to perform this service themselves.

    The relationship that develops between sponsor and sponsee is one of the most spiritual activities I have experienced, and seen others experience - - - even to the point of being able to offer some explanation or consolation about complaints that I hear from others about their sponsors. This is when I remind the tearful person that their Step 4 and 8, or Step 10 and some quiet prayer and meditation for clarity be done in order to understand a possible difficulty. I think I've said enough on the topic; my point was merely to point out that sponsorship is one of the best tools for regaining and learning about trust that I've ever used.

    Thank you for letting me take so much time with this. It is a powerful topic.

    Hugs to you,
    Anonymous #1

  11. Just wanted to thank you for reviewing this book and sharing your thoughts with your readers! We really appreciate it.

  12. Thanks, Syd! That's very helpful! ~T~


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