PREFACE TO THE 1992 EDITION
BACK in the early eighties, when I first envisioned writing a book about codependency - when I was desperately struggling to sort through my own pain - I vowed that if I ever figured out what happened to me and what I needed to do to get better, I'd write a book about it. That book, I decided, would be warm, gentle, nonjudgmental, nontechnical.
It would be kind. Because that's what I needed - information and kindness. I needed help with my healing process from my codependency issues.
About five years later, I sat down to write that book. Just separated from my husband of ten years, I went on welfare for four months, to help me support myself and my two children, Nichole and Shane, while I wrote Codependent No More.
When I wondered how I, a nonexpert, could write a book like that, I took comfort by telling myself that it was okay to say what I thought because only a few people would read it anyway. I also spent a great deal of time on the introduction, striving not only to introduce the book, but to introduce the concept of codependency
- the word - to a world that, for the most part, had not heard about it.
Now, another five years later, I've been asked to write an anniversary preface to a book that has sold over two million copies.
"What do I put in it?" I asked my editor and friend, Rebecca Post, from Hazelden.
"Tell about the changes that have happened - to women, to people in our country, to you,
since you wrote that book," she suggested.
"Hmmm," I pondered. "What changes have happened besides the Persian Gulf War, the breakdown of communism in the Soviet Union, and the Hill-Thomas hearings?"
I turn on the television. The movie of the week, I can't remember the name, is a story about a teenager struggling to deal with her alcoholism and the impact of being raped. Her mother, a nurse, has worked valiantly to break free from a dysfunctional and abusive relationship with her husband, the girl's father. Throughout the movie, mother and daughter talk directly about not rescuing each other because of the diminishing effects of such behavior. The movie ends with the daughter playing a guitar and singing a song she's written about not being a victim anymore.
I walk into a church, one I haven't attended for a long time. The sermon is somewhat unusual this cold, Sunday winter morning. The minister is speaking from his heart, telling the congregation that he is done leading a church that's based on shame, fear, guilt, and dishonesty. He wants instead, he says, to be part of a church that's based on equality, honesty, intimacy, acceptance, and the healing power of God's love. He wants to be part of a church where he can have his own issues and problems, and where people are functioning in healthy, honest relationships with each other and God.
My daughter comes home from her first week at a new school. "Guess what, Mom?" she says. "We're reading a meditation each day in homeroom class from your book, The Language of Letting Go.
And at my friend's school, they're talking about codependency issues in health class."
Codependent No More,
with a picture of handcuffs broken apart on the front cover, makes the best-seller list in France.
Catdependent No More,
parodying the title of my book, makes the 1991 Christmas book list here in Minnesota.
Some things have changed. I've written four more books, traveled the world, divorced (but not remarried), and paid back the welfare department for the financial help they gave me.
I feel more passionately about the importance of healing from our abuse issues. I feel more passionately. I've become more spontaneous, embraced my femininity, and learned new lessons along the way - about boundaries, flexibility, and owning my power. And about love. I'm learning to respect men. My relationships have deepened. Some have changed.
The most significant change in my life has been the loss of my son, Shane. As you may have heard or read, in February of 1991, three days after his twelfth birthday, my beloved Shane - so much a part of my life and work - was killed suddenly in a ski accident on the slopes at Afton Alps.
I'm learning about death and life.
I've grown and changed. I've watched my friends grow and change. Many of you have written to me about your growth and change.
I still struggle with feeling feelings and trusting my process, my path, and my Higher Power. I still feel afraid at times. Sometimes I forget and try to control everything. I may become obsessive, unless I catch myself.
And, despite its years on the best-seller list, the most common question I'm still asked by people and the media is, "Just exactly what is codependency?"
Some things haven't changed, at least not a lot. I still refuse to be an expert and permanently decline the title of "guru." But I'm still willing to tell you what I see, and believe.
Although some things appear not to have changed, things are constantly changing. Our consciousness, as individuals and as a society, has been raised. We've realized that women have souls, and men have feelings.
And I've gone deeper into my healing process than I ever intended.
* * *
I don't know how much my writing has contributed to this consciousness-raising, and how much the consciousness-raising has contributed to my writing. But I'm grateful to be part of what's happened.
I'm honored to be part of a movement influenced by people such as Anne Wilson Schaef, John Bradshaw, Patrick Games, Earnie Larsen, and led by people such as you, my readers - the real heroes - quietly and profoundly doing your own healing work and carrying the message to others, most significantly by example.
I've met many of you in my travels across the country. Some of you have written to me. Thank you for the love, support, and compassion you've shown me not only over the years, but throughout the rough, raw months of 1991 after Shane's death.
Many of you have written to me, saying how much I've helped you. Well, you've helped and touched me, too.
One woman wrote to me recently, saying she had read all my books and had been recovering from codependency for years. "I want to learn more, though," she wrote. "I want to go deeper into my codependency. Please write more about that."
Maybe we don't need to go deeper into our codependency. We can, instead, march forward into our destinies. We can remember and practice all we've learned about addictions, codependency, and abuse. With compassion and boundaries, we need to commit fully to loving God, ourselves, and others. We need to commit fully to trusting God, ourselves, and our process.
Then we can be open to the next step. We are on time, and we are where we need to be. We can be trusted. So can God. And letting go and gratitude still work. Keep your head up and your heart open. And let's see what's next. Happy five-year anniversary, Codependent No More.