Living with a philandering Asshat brought me to my knees. So I started attending CODA (Codependents Anonymous), a 12-step program that helps people who are addicted to other people, and working the program with the passion of The Damned.
I did quite well with the First Step:
"We admitted we were powerless over others -- that our lives had become unmanageable."
It was hard to ignore the fact that no matter what I did -- stalking, begging, pleading, performing acrobatic sexual feats -- my man was gonna stray, that I was powerless over him and moderate-to-DefCon 5 insane.
But when it came to the second step:
"Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity."
I was stumped.
As a devout agnostic/religiphobe this step seemed utterly intangible. How does one come to believe in something one can't hear, see or touch?
And how was I going to succeed in a 12-step program when I couldn't even get past the first step?
The more I thought about a "power greater than myself" or, a more troubling, yet compact word, God, the more I began to sense that I already did have a relationship with Him. One I was predominantly unaware of.
This is when these two simple tasks came to me. One's I hoped would give me some clarity about the God of my Understanding.
Here are my two tasks for effectively working Step Two of a 12-Step program.
TASK ONE: Write down in precise detail what you think God is right now.
Is God a person? A man? A woman? A dog?
What do you see when you think of God? Is He wearing robes, sitting on a cloud brandishing a staff? Is She in a toga holding a pomegranate and a sword?
What does God think about you? If a reporter on the street came up to God with a microphone and said, "Hey, what do you think about Susan?" (if your name is Susan), what would God say?
I'm going to embarrass myself by sharing a bit of my own Task One. What I wrote:
"What God is to me. That word. God. It already makes me angry. It alienates me. It's like he's the Big Shot, the Big Guy. God!
"I have to schedule an appointment to see Him and then He only tolerates me when I'm there and thinks about how annoying I am, how petty my little problems are. What a small person I am.
"He's got global poverty to worry about. Why can't I -- as a privileged, white woman, get my shit together?"
It got worse from there. I think it's safe to say my relationship with God was almost as negative as the one with my beau.
What I realized through this task was that my impression of God stemmed directly from the authority figures in my childhood.
Parents who may have been impatient with me. A God I learned about from my family's religion; a kind of judgmental, fire-and-brimstone, sin-tallying God.
And that God wasn't serving me as I tried to become humble enough to change and work a spiritual program, because I just wanted to rebel against Him by continuing my self-destructive behavior. So...
When I was finished with Task One, I moved on to what I hoped might be a helpful exercise.
TASK TWO: If you could have anything you wanted, any God you wanted, what would that be? Write it down in specific detail.
What would this God-of-your-dreams look like? Sound like? What would He/She think of you? What would He/She say about you? Think about everything that gives you joy and write from there.
Here's a snippet of mine. Again a bit too revelatory and embarrassing. You owe me:
"God created the sunset for me to see, the purple, the pink, against the slate blue of the deep and beautiful ocean.
"He is constantly awed and pleased by all my new discoveries. He looks on me, his soft, feminine creation, with wonder and joy.
"God loves me every second of every minute of every day, even when I'm lazy or obsessing. God loves me when I'm good, bad, scared, hurt.
"He forgives me for every mistake I've ever made. He forgives me for every bad thought I've ever had. He forgives me because he is Love.
"God is my father and my mother. He wants the world, the heavens, the stars, the moon for me."
You can imagine my surprise when I finished this opus. I was suddenly flooded with self-compassion instead of self-hatred.
Tears flowed freely and I was grateful that I'd recaptured the God I knew when I was a tiny girl who loved the ocean and rivers and nature, and thought that was God.
Finishing those two simple steps was the catalyst for my "coming to believe."
Over time, this patient, loving God of my Understanding helped me navigate the remaining 10 steps and my way out of my self-destructive relationship and into the arms of a smart, funny, loving man who still has some of his hair after our 17 years together.
As a life coach now helping other people escape the maze of their unhealthy, self-destructive relationships, I've found these two simple tasks to be the ones that surprise and delight my clients the most. Even the atheists.
Try these simple tasks and let me know what you discover.
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