â€œTell us â€˜How do you feel?â€™ and â€˜What did you do for yourself this week?â€™â€ These were the first two questions we all had to answer during â€œcheck inâ€ at our family group meetings at the residential treatment center to which my loved one admitted himself several years ago. At first, I thought it was really dumb. I had one feeling â€“ anger â€“ and as for doing something for myself, I didnâ€™t have time! I was too busy keeping the home front going while he was in residence at the center. And, before that, I was too busy keeping everyone squared away while I battled his drinking. Besides, doing something for myself sounded â€“ well â€“ selfish.
Our family groupâ€™s therapist kept at it, however, week after week. She didnâ€™t allow answers like, â€œfine,â€ â€œgoodâ€ or â€œokay,â€ either. Giving an â€œacceptableâ€ answer was difficult for most of us, and our therapist was often greeted with a look that said, â€œSo whatâ€™s wrong with â€œgood,â€ â€œfineâ€ or â€œokayâ€?â€ Weâ€™d eventually learn to appreciate that those answers were vague and intentionally evasive, as we began to understand the reason for her effort. Our family therapist was helping us unlearn one of a codependentâ€™s primary coping skills â€“ that of â€œnot feeling.â€
This pre-meeting â€œcheck-in,â€ as it was called, forced us to think about ourselves, about how we felt, not about how someone else felt. In time, we could describe our feelings with words like,Â â€œfrustrated,â€ â€œanxious,â€ â€œbetrayed,â€ â€œused,â€ â€œstressedâ€ â€“ even, â€œhopeful,â€ â€œhappyâ€ and â€œcontent.â€ As for, â€œWhat did you do for yourself this week?â€ it could be something like taking a walk, getting a manicure, watching a football game, not reacting to a loved one when he came home drunk. It could be as simple as going for an ice cream with the children.Â But, initially, most of us couldnâ€™t answer this question either. Weâ€™d offer reasons, like: â€œI was swamped at work.â€ â€œI had to finish my tax return.â€ â€œI had to take care of my mother-in-law.â€ â€œMy friendâ€™s mother was ill, so I had to watch her kids.â€ These all seemed like reasonable reasons, but our family therapist would just nod and say she understood (and you believed her because she really did), and then sheâ€™d gently encourage us to try to do something for ourselves the following week.
Believe it or not, eventually we got that, too. Some got so bold as to do something on a daily basis (like exercising) and others actually did something way out of the ordinary, like taking a week-end trip with a friend. Being able to do something â€œselfishâ€ was hugely satisfying and (dare I say) â€œFun!â€ It was also freeing because we could see that taking the focus off the alcoholic/alcohol abuser or another family member did not cause our world to fall apart. For most of us, it was also the first time, in a long time, weâ€™d thought about what might (or did) make us happy, not what we thought would make someone else happy.
So, I would suggest you try this exercise periodically throughout the day. Ask yourself how youâ€™re feeling without answering â€œgood,â€ â€œfineâ€ or â€œokay,â€ and then ask yourself what you would like to do for yourself and do it! Learning how you feel and what you want will eventually free you to do it on a more regular basis, and in time, more often than not. (And, what you want may be to do something for someone else. Thatâ€™s okay! Itâ€™s what you want to do.)