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The Big Answer


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The Real Thirteenth Step

a book by Tina Tessina

(our site's book review)

Tina Tessina, author of The Real Thirteenth Step, has written an important book. The step from Anonymous group dependency to autonomy is a long and challenging one that most recovering codependents, alcoholics, and other types of addicts fail to take. In fact, most addicts never even go so far as to get to a help group. But, referring to those that do, the author poses the too-long-unasked question: Could it be that the various Anonymous groups (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous) are merely a case of one addiction replacing another? She grants that the groups are a better addiction than what they replace, but also poses an even more important too-long-unasked question: Once one has licked one’s addiction and is ready to move on, shouldn’t autonomy be the next goal?

This guy's feeling bad and like joining an Alcoholics Anonymous group
This guy's feeling bad and like joining an Alcoholics Anonymous group

Aren’t people meant to move from dependence to independence in life as a function of the process of becoming mature? Could it be possible that the groups are getting people to settle for less than full maturity when they fail to offer a bridge from group dependence to autonomy, and instead try to get participants to attend these groups forever—always referring to themselves as addicts or codependents? After all, most normal people stay more psychologically dependent than independent in their lives. So if it’s normal to be dependent, how bad can it be? Or so groups seem to be reasoning, to Tessina’s way of thinking.

Of course, the groups aren’t thinking of themselves as dependencies or addictions. And if they’re the healthiest friends/peers that most codependents are ever likely to find, then what is Tessina’s gripe, the groups would ask. Is she being utopian—or at least too idealistic or unrealistic? Besides, some of the groups’ participants do go on to become autonomous. And without the transitional step of the groups, many would have never reached such a goal. But the author is saying that the groups are made to seem like the necessarily permanent new family of the addicts/codependents that these addicts/codependents will always be dependent upon.

Tessina’s saying that the groups are made to seem like the necessarily permanent new family of the addicts/codependents that these addicts/codependents will always be dependent upon
Tessina’s saying that the groups are made to seem like the necessarily permanent new family of the addicts/codependents that these addicts/codependents will always be dependent upon

Given the realities of normalcy, it’s probable that these addicts/codependents will indeed be permanently dependent rather than independent and autonomous—she grants that. But most of us won't get that cushy job, or get rich, or become famous, or find Prince/Princess Charming either—but does that mean that we shouldn’t try? We all only live once. Shouldn’t we shoot for the stars, aim to do great things, plan for growth, maturity, and autonomy? Would one enter a marriage or new job planning for mediocrity? As one heals his broken leg and is starting to become mobile on a crutch, does one plan to use this aid forever?

 As one heals his broken leg and is starting to become mobile on a crutch, does one plan to use this aid forever?
As one heals his broken leg and is starting to become mobile on a crutch, does one plan to use this aid forever?

The author is right on all these points, of course, but she is on shaky ground when one considers her response to the groups’ claim that they represent the healthiest friends/peers that most codependents are ever likely to find. Tessina advocates the very wise goal of seeking the most autonomous friends one can as a positive, nurturing, and empowering environment that can pull one toward autonomy. (And it’s unlikely you'd be reading her book or this book review if you didn’t concur.) But is success at such a quest likely to occur simply from looking around, meeting people at bars or churches or classes, or even through video dating, Internet chat rooms or newsgroups? Or from the author’s specific strategy of “support group” formation?

Why would those people that answered ads or other solicitations for support group members be any different from the average person—who has a relatively dysfunctional past, a relatively dysfunctional present, many dysfunctional intentions, and mostly dysfunctional relationships? In fact, isn't it dysfunctional relationships that will have motivated this person to respond to the ad in the first place? And is there really that much that separates said responders from members of Anonymous groups, then? Aren't the Anonymous groups likely to contain a healthier or at least more supportive type of person than the type one’s “quest for the autonomous” is likely to turn up?

Unless there's an 'autonomy mine' where they can dig up autonomous people that these codependents need to empower and nurture them, autonomous people will be the least likely type for them to encounter
Unless there's an 'autonomy mine' where they can dig up autonomous people that these codependents need to empower and nurture them, autonomous people will be the least likely type for them to encounter

Unless we’re missing an obvious and important “autonomy mine” wherein a bit of digging produces predictable or even frequent strikes, the autonomous type of person that codependents need most to empower and nurture them will be the least likely type for them to encounter. Here's why:

Codependents tend to gravitate toward dysfunctionality—it blows their hair back
Codependents tend to gravitate toward dysfunctionality—it blows their hair back

If what we've presented here is correct and the quest for autonomous people is likely to fail, then the groups really do represent the best hope for the codependents, since even though they will be peopled by others like themselves, they will at least be motivated towards functional, kind, compassionate relationships which will be difficult to find outside of these Anonymous groups. This in no way means one shouldn’t be on the lookout for matured people to have as friends—quite the contrary. It only means that there are many factors working against anyone in such a search, and random chance encounters or searching modes of the type previously mentioned are not that likely to bear fruit. Support group formation—the strategy that the author recommends—is certainly worth a try, but they are not something about which one should have unrealistic hopes.

(Of course, the MC movement changes this whole situation dramatically, and if you’ve read up to here in this website, this should be obvious. This movement, by definition, makes it relatively simple to find the right type of people to get together with. Perhaps some of the Anonymous group members in a group you belong to are ready to build an MC with you, since they’ve begun to feel like the siblings you wished you had had when you were growing up (but didn’t.) See Why Register for an MC?.)

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match


Could it be that the various Anonymous groups are merely a case of one addiction replacing another?
Could it be that the various Anonymous groups are merely a case of one addiction replacing another?

The author notes that one tends to repeat dysfunctional patterns of relationship learned in childhood, and good intentions and Anonymous group togetherness won't change such patterns or, especially, the deep-seated need to repeat such patterns out of insecurity, ignorance, self-esteem problems and the bad self-talk it causes, neurosis, etc. One needs to virtually re-parent oneself if one is unlucky enough to be brought up in such a way as to form a codependent personality.

Tessina’s book guides one not only through the transformation from negative self-talk to positive self-talk (like Revolution From Within and Parenting From the Inside Out), but also through the transformation of one’s relationships with self and others from negative, dependent, and dysfunctional to positive, independent, and functional. Of course, the problem is still to find the right type of people to be with to support this process (see Why Register for an MC? and The Forest Through The Trees), since people capable of re-parenting themselves all the way to autonomy with good social support are rare enough, but those that can get there with little or no support are rare indeed.

The Forest Through The Trees demonstrates finding the right type of people to be with to support autonomy development
The Forest Through The Trees demonstrates finding the right type of people to be with to support autonomy development

Her book also champions active listening as in P.E.T., active speaking, Maslow’s self-actualization and peak experiences, and many other vital concepts. The fact that she offers exercises to help the reader through his or her growth processes is a big plus for this type of book—since the book could have focused too heavily on the conceptual to function effectively as a guide (like many other books do).