Co-Dependency Book and Guide

The following pages were created and written by members of Cornerstone of Southern California, Family Group members and recovering codependents.

In Recognition of Nora Metcalf of Cornerstone

This is a copy of the draft of Nora's Book. Please print copies and give to anyone and everyone who may be able to benefit from Nora's wisdom on codependency.


On any given Tuesday night, a group comes together at Cornerstone in Santa Ana. The magnet that attracts these people, from sometimes miles away, is a lady named Nora Metcalf. They come to "Nora's Group".

Nora's group comes to have their broken hearts mended. They come to have their faith renewed. They come to have their desperation soothed. They come in search of understanding and strength in dealing with life as co-dependents to an alcoholic or addict (a/a).

Nora Metcalf has a heart that is so big that it is larger than anyone's pain. She can always give a desperate group member hope and perspective. Her group always leaves with the strength and resolve needed to make it through another week, 'till the next Tuesday night at Nora's Group.

The things that Nora tells the group are very simple, basic common sense, to the point, and often catchy. And sometimes they are quite blunt. But to her group, they are so visionary, so profound and prophetic that, together, they literally become a framework for survival and stability.

Nora has another special talent. In the midst of all the heart break and pain, she somehow gets the group to smile and to laugh. Sometimes they laugh at themselves, sometimes at each other. But it is a special kind of laughter that lets the group keep its sanity without going off into a hopeless "never-never" land of craziness.

As Nora approaches retirement, her group has prepared a collection of Nora's advice and guidance so that it can be passed on to others in groups in the future.

This is the best way we could think of to say Thank You to Nora.


1. Prepare Your Survival Plan;

What I want you to do is to work on your Survival Plan. A Survival Plan is not something you do as punishment, but as a way to protect yourself and your family. It should be what you are willing to do if the A/a chooses to drink or use again. It is what you must do to keep yourself and your family from being drawn back into the "craziness" and "madness" of addiction again. Your survival plan should be in writing; maybe it could even be posted on the refrigerator door. It must be something that is agreed upon by you and your family members. The A/a must know what the plan is and must know that it is serious and is something you are prepared to do and will do if he/she chooses not to remain clean and sober.

2. You Didn't Cause It, You Can't Control It,

You Can't Cure It. Did you go out and buy the drugs and give them to the A/a? Did you hold them down and force them to take the drugs? Did you make their life so miserable that they had to go use in order to escape the sad life you had caused them to live? Of course not. You simply didn't cause it. Since all the things you have done to try to control him/her and to prevent the A/a from using didn't work, are there other things that you can do to control him/her? When you turn your back will you still be able to control this adult A/a? Of course not. There is nothing you can do to control it. Think of all the ways you have tried to cure the A/a, to fix the problem, to be a good co-dependent and make things ok. Did anything work? Of course not. What makes us think that if we just do something again and again that the results will somehow magically be different? Guess what. The results will be the same next time. Only the A/a can make it better. It has to be a conscious decision to be clean and sober. We can't make that decision for him/her. We can see that he/she gets the tools, and we can trust them to our higher power, but we didn't cause it, we can't control it, and we can't cure it.

3. "No" Is A Complete Sentence.

When you say "no", it doesn't have to be explained. It doesn't have to be justified. Just say No. No is a complete sentence. You don't have to feel guilty, you don't have to be ashamed to stand up and do what you (and the A/a) know is right. Just say No. No is a complete sentence. You don't have to feel intimidated by the threats and accusations that sometimes come with your saying "no". When you are right, you must stick to your guns and be unconditional. Just say No. No is a complete sentence.

4. Understand What "Triage" Means

In medical terms, it is a priority system and means to give full treatment to those that can benefit the most and little or none to those not likely to survive or to benefit. When there are babies or little children involved, they have to come first. They cannot defend themselves and must be protected at all costs, even if it means that the A/a has to be left out in the cold. Don't let your babies be innocent victims of the bad choices that your A/a is making. You cannot. You must not. They have to be your only, number one priority.

5. On the Subject of Children;

And on the subject of children; never lie to them. You sometimes don't need to tell them the "whole" truth, in all its dirty details, but don't lie to them. They are smarter than we think and may already have an idea of what's going on. And the little ones need to know that what the A/a is doing is not their fault. Make sure they can talk about it and re-assure them that they should feel no guilt. And they need to know that it is ok to feel angry and it is ok to feel afraid. They know that someone they love is not acting right. They need to know that the addiction is a disease and that Dad/Mom is very sick and trying to get well. Make sure that they know that it doesn't mean that their Dad/Mom doesn't love them.

6. They are Ego Maniacs with an Inferiority Complex

A/a's have huge ego's. They think that they are "special". They will tell you that they are "not like those other people" (in the program). They will insist that they should be treated better. They can explain that the only reason that they are in trouble is that the police/boss/somebody was being mean and unfair to them. Yet a big reason that they keep using is that they lack the healthy egos to just feel good being themselves. They need the alcohol/drugs to make up for the feelings of inferiority.

7. The Golden Rule:

He/she who has the Gold, Rules. It's your house, it's your car, it's your money. You have the right and the responsibility to exercise control. You get to set conditions for the A/a to live there. You get to make rules and expect them to be met. The A/a has no "rights" to what is yours. An adult A/a living with parents often still thinks that he/she has "his/her room" there. Not so. That room is your room and you get to decide under what conditions anyone lives there. That goes for "inspections" as well. It's your house and you need to know what is going on in your house. That's your responsibility (and a legal obligation) and it is not negated by the A/a's claim that you are invading his/her privacy. It's your gold. You make the rules.

8. The God Box

A God Box is a place you put your A/a when you realize that there is nothing more that you can do for him/her. It can be a real box. Or it can just be symbolic. But, it is a very real place. Trust your higher power when you realize there is nothing that you can do to change the A/a. Once you put him/her into the "God Box", it's amazing how you will be able to sleep better and work better and just be at peace. Magic things can happen in a "God Box". Let God/Your Higher Power do what you can't.

9. Your Higher Power;

Your Higher Power is anything that is bigger than you. It doesn't have to be religious at all. It's simply your spiritual awareness that there is something more powerful than you are. Recognizing your Higher Power can be a part of the humbling experience that is important to understanding that we do not have the power to fix the A/a. It really doesn't matter if the Higher Power is only a block of wood. It represents the awareness that we as humans are powerless to control the destinies of others.

10. They Will Walk Right Over Your Dead Body

The nature of this disease is such that the A/a will walk right over your dead body to get what they need to get the drug/booze they want. It doesn't mean that they don't love you. They simply don't care. Drugs and alcohol just wipe out their ability to feel pain, to feel shame, even to feel love. That's the nature of their disease. The only person important to an addict/alcoholic is themselves. Your pain is second to theirs. Your needs are second to theirs. While they are stoned, they will walk right over your dead body without a second thought. That's the nature of their disease. When they're not stoned, they can be very different and very caring. But then they probably wouldn't even remember seeing your dead body, much less having walked over it.

11. They Lie, Cheat and Steal

They lie, they cheat and they steal. That's what they do. Don't take it personally. That's just what they do. When in doubt, remember they lie, they cheat and they steal. So something they just told you is probably not the truth. And given the chance, they will probably cheat you and steal from you again. Just like before. It's not that they mean you any harm or ill will. It is just necessary for them to get the drugs/booze they want and need so bad. And they can always pay you back when they get back on their feet. Oh, Right!

12. Don't Reward or Praise "Normal/Sober" Behavior

Sometimes A/a's try to use the occasion of a 30 day chip (for example) to seek a reward. When this happens, we have to remind them that people don't get special treatment for being normal and sober. That behavior is expected for everyone. The everyday joy of normal, sober life will seem boring to the A/a until they are well into sobriety. Their brains have been "hanging on the edge" for so long that it takes time to get back. Normal, sober behavior should be encouraged and acknowledged but it's not a reason for any big reward.

13. Set Your Boundaries

It's important that you set boundaries, beyond which the A/a cannot go. He/she must know that you will not permit certain actions, that you will not tolerate certain behavior. He/she must know that it is your right and responsibility to set and observe standards of behavior and actions. Your boundaries have to be clear and absolute. Otherwise you will see the A/a's remarkable maneuvering skills put to work to not only remove the boundaries, but to make you feel guilty for not supporting them and just trying to make them go out and use again. Don't buy it. Set your boundaries.

14. Alcoholism is The Only Disease

Alcoholism/addiction is the only disease where the caretaker can die of the patient's disease. Alcoholism/addiction is the only disease where the patient has the power to choose to go into remission. Once the A/a is sick and tired of being sick and tired, he/she can start to make the right choices to get to recovery. It's a deliberate choice that they can make. They can decide to get stoned again or to get well. When the A/a is "under the influence", he/she is powerless to make the right decisions and choices. But during recovery, the decisions and choices are there and he/she has to make them. And they have to be made every day. In the meantime, a good co-dependent can ruin a perfectly healthy body and screw up an otherwise healthy mind just trying to deal with the madness of the alcoholism/addiction. It is contrary to the instincts we all have to do whatever is necessary to help them get better, but we have to stop helping them get high (enabling), to stop making it worse. The A/a must take control and make the right decisions.

15. You Can Lead A Horse . . .

You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. At Cornerstone we try to make them thirsty. We can only give them the knowledge and tools to get well; it's up to them to use them. We give them a whole tool box of the knowledge of how to stay sober. But we can't care more about their recovery than they do. They just have to decide to open the tool box and use the tools. As co-dependents we sometimes try so hard to force them into recovery. We just simply don't have the power to do that. But if we do our part, we can help make them thirsty.

16. Once Sober, They Often Revert Back

Once sober, the A/a will often revert back to the age/maturity level they were at when they first started using. If he/she started using say at age 15 and that was 10 years ago, then he/she probably never matured emotionally or mentally past the age of 15. So some of the childish behavior that the A/a displays is really only because that is his/her "real" level of maturity. But once they become clean, the maturity can progress again and the A/a can quickly become noticeably more adult-like in behavior and decisions.

17. Go With Your Gut

You can trust what your gut tells you. If your gut tells you that something is wrong, then something is wrong. Your head can get all screwed up by different signals and rationalizations and hopes. Our minds have believed the most outrageous lies when the truth was right there staring us in the face. Your gut knows the truth. Say you are trying to figure out if something is true or not. Your brain can build a great case that supports what your heart really wants the answer to be. Before you buy that answer, check right here (your gut). Your gut knows the truth. Go with your gut.

18. We Can Love Them to Death

We can love them so much that we actually make it possible for them to do more to kill themselves than they might be able to do without our help. Even if we could step in front of a train to save them, it wouldn't work. Not 'till they are ready to be clean and sober. When the A/a is "under the influence", the A/a can't and doesn't make good decisions and choices. Our instincts are to do whatever is necessary to help them get better. But in reality, we are only helping them get high or stoned again (enabling). We provide a nurturing place for them to become better alcoholics/addicts. We make it possible and easier for them to live as an alcoholic/addict with a roof over their heads and food to eat without having to get clean and be responsible for themselves. So we love them to death. We have to stop making it worse and prolonging/delaying their recovery. We have to give the A/a a chance to take control and make the right decisions. The longer we help them, the longer they will continue the same behavior and get worse. Yes, we are loving them to death.

19. Miracles Do Happen Never give up hope.

The early days of recovery can be exciting and so uplifting. It makes our hearts glad to see the A/a making progress to return to normal life. Then after a few days/weeks/months, the first relapse happens. The joy comes crashing down and we turn to trying to understand why they relapsed. The answer is that they are alcoholics/addicts and it's very, very difficult to go straight. And it certainly was not because of something we did or did not do that caused the relapse. But miracles do happen. We must never give up hope. But we must not "pin" our hope to our hearts so that every time they disappoint us we are devastated again. And remember the notion that says that our enabling only works to delay the miracles.

20. They Have To Know There Will Be Negative Consequences

We all know that everything in life has a consequence. Bad things have Negative Consequences. Alcoholics/addicts don't understand this. For so long, they have done the bad behavior and the parent/spouse/co-dependent has covered for them and helped them avoid all the negative consequences. Having to deal with the nasty messes they create is sometimes a big incentive for the A/a to finally start to work seriously on recovery. It sounds too simple? It is simple.

21. The Bank of Mom and Dad is Closed

The Bank of Mom and Dad is one of the key "institutions" of co-dependency. The A/a would never be able to make it through their addiction were it not for the Bank of Mom and Dad. They always need a loan for this or for that, just 'till they get back on their feet again. Lucky for them, the Bank of Mom and Dad is always open.

At the Bank of Mom and Dad, bail can be arranged at any hour of the day or night. Late payments can be arranged; repossessions can be avoided. No collateral is required, not even an IOU. Just a phone call in the middle of the night will work. That's what the Bank of Mom and Dad is there for.

So it's time to close the Bank. But how will they manage on their own? Well, they always seem to be able to find the money to get drugs without help from the 'Bank". They always seem to be able to find a ride to go score without the "Bank" providing a car. They can do what they want to do. So close the Bank of Mom and Dad. Closed. Totally closed. Not just open for small loans, but closed.

22. Say "I'm sure you will find a way to work this out"

When the A/a comes to you with another sad compelling story that says basically that you have to bail them out (again), you must learn to say "I'm sure that you will find a way to work this out." Rather than taking over (again) and doing it for them, just let them work it out.

We have to give them the dignity to make their own choices and to deal with the consequences of their actions.

If they can make even a barely do-able solution to a problem, that's better than if we take over and do it for them. They gain self-respect, which they don't have a lot of, and they learn responsibility.

23. Caretakers versus Co-Dependents

Someone who cares for another person who is not able to care for themselves is a Caretaker. The person may be disabled, may be temporarily sick, may have some other infirmity. But the person cannot care for themselves. Someone who cares for another person who is perfectly able to care for themselves, but chooses not to, is a Co-dependent. Co-dependents are easy to identify. They have a big sign across their foreheads which says "C0-DEPENDENT" in bright red letters. However, only an alcoholic/addict can see the sign; and they can see it easily from many blocks away. Co-dependents are drawn to A/a's like moths to a light bulb at night. They need to be needed. They need to fix things. They need to be in control of things and make them better. Co-dependents usually think that they are Caretakers. Not so. They may be lots of other things; like victims of abuse, and like suckers, and all, but they are clearly not Caretakers.

24. One Foot in the Past; One Foot in the Future; Missing the Present

A/a's have a saying that goes: "If you have one foot in the past, and one foot in the future, then you're on the present." If you're focused on what happened in the past, and what is going to happen in the future, then you're missing the blessings of the present. So don't worry about the future, and forget about the past and enjoy and appreciate the present. Dwelling on past hurts and heart breaks won't change things. The A/a probably doesn't even remember them. Worrying about the future won't change things. You don't have the power to change the future. But you can wreck you own health and your own life. So don't. Just be thankful for today and enjoy.

25. Stay With the "I" Statement

You may honestly say to the A/a, "You are acting bitter and resentful, I am worried that you are not doing well." Or you might have said, "You haven't been going to meetings like you were and I am getting scared that something is not right." Or you said, "You have been late getting home for the last four nights and it makes me crazy to think that you may be using again. These sound like perfectly normal non-threatening statements to perfectly normal people. Right? But what the A/a actually heard was more like: Now she's bitching about my attitude again. I can never keep her happy. Or: now the old man's upset again that I didn't go to that stupid meeting. Why won't he just get off my back. Or: I can't even work a little overtime without getting accused of using again. I've had it with this guy! When you stay in the "I" Statement, you sound differently while saying almost exactly the same thing. "I am worried that you are not doing well. It sounds like your attitude has become bitter and resentful, and it really worries me." "I am getting scared that something is not right because you have missed several meetings recently." "I have been making myself crazy thinking that you may be using again because you have been late getting home for the last four nights." Talk about how you feel, your emotions, your reactions, don't talk about "you". It comes off as threatening to the A/a

26. Don't Accept Any Guilt Trips

There is always someone or something that can be blamed for the A/a current situation. Maybe the Parole Officer was just too strict and not very understanding. Maybe the Counselor was too rigid and didn't really understand that the A/a had different needs. Maybe the Parent was too firm in refusing to support the relapses any longer. Maybe the Spouse was not being very loving because if he/she really loved the A/a, they would help him/her just one more time. So the guilt for whatever is happening can always be properly laid at the feet of someone else. Usually that someone may be a good co-dependent who has a bad habit of taking too many free guilt trips. If you stand back and look at it, it might be obvious what's going on. Don't take any more free guilt trips.

27. Reply to Threats: "That Would Be a Really Dumb Choice"

An A/a may have learned that the threat of some serious crime or some self-destructive act can get any good co-dependent to come around and be more sympathetic and to be more willing to do what ever it is that the A/a is after. When threats are made, you might say to the A/a something like this: "You know, it is your choice to do (this thing or that) if you really want to, but I personally think it would be a very dumb choice for you to make." So they may say " I'll just go steal (something)", or "I won't be around much longer unless ...". The expected reaction is that you will give in and help out just this one more time. Instead, try saying "It's your choice to do that if you want to but it would be a really bad decision if you do."

28. They Will Celebrate The Dog's Birthday

An A/a will drink or use because it is their dog's birthday. Or they will drink or use because it is not their dog's birthday. We worry ourselves sick sometimes trying to understand why they do it. What was it that "set them off". What was the trigger that put them over the edge. Why did I do/not do what I did/didn't do that made them go out and drink/use? We have a hard time getting it through our heads that they drink/use be cause they are alcoholics/addicts and they want to get stoned/slammed, and, by the way, it just happened to be the dog's birthday. It's not our fault. It's not the dog's fault. It is the nature of their disease. And yes, they will drink or use because it is their dog's birthday. Or they will drink or use because it is not their dog's birthday.

29. The Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference. Amen.

And the closing of Nora's Group: "Keep coming back 'cause it works if you work it and it sucks if you don't, so work it 'cause you're worth it!

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First - compulsion. This is not all the time, it is not every day but it is obvious. The cocaine addict gets the urge to use cocaine, the alcoholic craves a drink and the Vicodin addict is driven to get the pills. Addicts get the compulsion to do "it" (what they are addicted to) ...

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"Cornerstone is a Family-Run Recovery and Treatment Center and we hope you find your answers here."

~ Jessica & Michael Stone, MD