Tell Someone! - Step 5
By Dawn Obrecht, M.D.
I recently watched that great old classic movie, Crocodile Dundee, and was struck by the following conversation taking place at a cocktail party in NYC:
Sue to Croc: "A shrink, that's a Psychiatrist."
We share our burdens by telling someone, not carrying the load alone. Why else would God make so many of us human beings? We're here to help each other through the sometimes cold and cruel world, to make each journey a bit easier and more full of joy and peace. Alone is so, so, so....well, lonely. Sure, some solitude is important, especially when we live and work with others, but living without trusted friends is tough, even for those in healthy families and relationships.
Crocodile Dundee also says, "...me and God, we're mates." Sometimes God is the one we need to talk with, the friend we need and can access at any moment of joy or despair, any time of day or night.
So what about telling someone our problems? Maybe we could begin by acknowledging them to ourselves, God and another person. Think you can skip that first part because you know your problems, every one of them? Don't do it. As usual, my dear readers, there is a catch. Look at your issues, worries, grudges, conflicts, whatever you call them, from a different point of view. Look at them with the question, "how did I participate?" Where was I rude, unkind, dishonest, or worse, or just operating out of fear? There are always two sides to a pancake, so put yourself in the other person's shoes, however briefly. All of the behaviors above, including fear, trigger reactions, which often cause harm, causing in turn a problem for us. If we break the problem down, get honest with ourselves, talk it over with God and another person, we can usually see our part.
That "other person" should be objective, non-judgmental and not willing to cosign your bullsh-t. He or she is there to listen to you and help you see your part in each of your problems. If we don't have an emotionally healthy and objective friend, perhaps an older, wiser relative, clergy, counselor or teacher would be willing to help us get honest with ourselves. If we are lucky enough to be in a support group, a sponsor or mentor is easier to find. Find someone! The usefulness to you is directly proportional to the completeness and honesty of the information you provide. If you tell someone your car is a problem, too noisy, poor mileage, broken parts and ask them what to do, they may give you certain advice. If you are honest with them and tell them you have not done the maintenance, tuning, oil changing or had the repairs done after your accident, they may give you completely different feedback, helping you to see how you could do it differently. The car is not the problem; you are. Get it?
Once we are able to see what we do, in spite of what the other person has done to us, we have a fighting chance of changing. Important note: I am not talking about child abuse, rape, or assault. Real victims are not responsible for the abuse that happens to them. We get to learn how we contribute to our own complaints, conflicts, and unhealthy relationships. We can stop blaming others and take responsibility for ourselves. We can outgrow this useless, troublesome, usually repetitive behavior and the destructive people that go with it.
The sooner we look at ourselves, the faster we can change. And, remember, we can only change ourselves. I hear all you codependents saying, "I know someone who could use this information, so-and-so really needs to hear this..." Ughhh. Pass this column on to good old so-and-so if you must, but use it to change yourself. You cannot change so-and-so.
Step five of twelve step programs says, "Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs." If you are in a twelve step program and looking at how you participate in your own problems, congratulations, you are doing step five. If you are not in a twelve step program, (are you sure you should not be, even in Codependents Anonymous or Alanon?), you have learned a healthy way to grow towards being the best person you can be.
Dr. Dawn Obrecht is the only MD addiction medicine specialist on the western slope of Colorado. She is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and her office is in Steamboat Springs. She teaches a communication course to medical students at the University Of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver firstname.lastname@example.org.