How Beauty Made Me Sober

When I was in kindergarten, I remember seeing the janitor carrying a bundle of day old balloons. They didn’t look old to me at the time or my classmates. The entire class was lined up watching those balloons. In the janitor’s eyes, these balloons probably meant trash.

But he must have seen the light in my eyes because he handed the balloons to me, as a present. I walked them into the classroom as if on a cloud. I was as awestruck as a strictly raised five-year-old could be,

“The janitor GAVE them to me.”

Free gorgeous balloons. I still remember how huge my heart felt as I carried those treasures to my seat.

That was before I was codependent. 

Forty years later, I watched my five-year old at the Balloon Rodeo in Steamboat Springs. He and his friend, R, watched the balloons rise and dip into the water. Their baskets skimming the water as part of the rodeo’s obstacle course. My son, O, didn’t get to ride in a hot air balloon or even take a small balloon home. He just watched and pointed from a distance.

That day we enjoyed the beauty without being chosen. That was after I learned how to become sober. 


Sobriety. Sounds like I was addicted, right? Well, in a way I was. 

Codependency follows the same cycle of crazy-making as any other chemical addiction. You question your judgment, grow out of touch with what you actually enjoy, try to manage perceptions of yourself, even forget what you value. Just like an alcoholic, a bulimic, or a love addict. Codependents actually unhitch from their own thoughts, feelings and beliefs. 

All addicts experience this fracturing work; we are people who are out of touch with ourselves (for a full list of the characteristics of the disease, see the footnote on codependency*)

Whenever I’m around a lot of people, I can feel the temptation to slide back into codependency, to try to control other people to like me, to lean too far into other people’s opinions, to swan dive into other people’s lives, to steer them the way I want.  It’s why I’m going to share three things I do to stay sober. 

  1. I practice regular rhythms to disconnect from society. I tune out society’s plans for my life. Because a lot to people out there want to tell us how to run our lives: to tell me which balloons I should want, to incite me to demand a hot air balloon ride. I rest from work of all sorts from Friday evening until Sat evening. Every week. I rest from social media, email and any business texting. It’s a true break from comparison, competition and control (all characteristics of addicts*). I have a chance to reconnect with who I am wanting to be. This is when I can best hear the Spirit of God.
  2. I listen to my children extra closely when they cry, sing, or express disgust. My boys help me face feelings (codependents struggle with staying in touch with their own feelings*). My boys are often sensitive to what the Spirit is doing each day. They’re also super annoying, loud and break things. They’re not angels. But, God speaks through them.  I remember a day I was consumed with the worries of the world, with marketing my work, with the friendships that remain stuck. Over brushing my teeth, my son popped out of bed to tell me, “Mom, did you know? It is not by might, nor power, but by my Spirit”?!**  Holy cow! God’s gifts packaged just for me. If I can listen. It is through watching my children that I realize how much was taken from me in my dysfunctional family of origin. I watch how much my children can receive even when they’re not chosen, or “special.”  I see how much I missed because I spent decades controlling others for the attention I thought I needed. I listen to how open-hearted my kids are to ask for help, to grieve fully, even when the entire grocery store aisle is uncomfortable.
  3. I practice the discipline of listening to myself with journaling. Memories can return, like when the janitor handed me the balloons. And as I listen to myself, I can begin to thread something as simple as receiving balloons in kindergarten to my delight in painting today. Receiving gifts, receiving beauty. And I tease apart the special gift from the grandiosity that developed. I can see how it’s also my job to stay on the ground and watch people get balloons, or balloon-rides, to soar way above me. Journaling helps me know when being ordinary is my place. Without journaling I let a lot of other people pace me too fast, too slow, or in the wrong direction. Without journaling, I overdo it. I slip into perfectionism and I cannot hear the Spirit’s gentle pacing.

If we recover from codependency, we will be able to trust God’s nudge to forego climbing into a hot air balloon that isn’t meant for us. We won’t always assume special treatment means we are better than the peons around us. We will become reconnected with ourselves. 

God can reacquaint you with all you believe, feel, and desire. And you will become more yourself. You will become at home with yourself, your God, your place in this world. It won’t feel dramatic, but you will find a sustainable way to live. And the beauty will increase, I promise.


Know someone who would enjoy this series? Forward them the link using a button below. 


Want more?

Part 1: How Special Do You Need to Be?

Part 2: Perfectionism and Art

*Codependency is part of the chemical dependency disease. Codependents, like all addicts, are addicted to a chemical (ex. alcoholics) or a process (ex. codependents. All addicts are characterized by: dishonesty (denial, projection, delusion), not dealing with feelings, control, confusion, perfectionism, fear, rigidity, judgmentalism, depression, inferiority/grandiosity, self-centeredness, external referencing, etc. For a codependent, one fudged truth about who they really are is like an alcoholic’s first drink. Our culture is invested in keeping people codependent. For a short, smart book on the topic see Co-Dependence: Misunderstood-Mistreated by Anne Wilson Schaef.

**O had been listening to Psalty singing about Zechariah 4: 6 earlier that day. The message had sunk deeply into his heart so he shared it with me. He knew I was anxious. I don’t think I would have remembered, but I had recorded it into my journal. I celebrate that I had ears to hear. 



My son O and his friend R were watching the balloons at Steamboat’s annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo. We woke up at 5 am to get there in time. Everyone was sleepy and cranky by the time the balloons finally lifted off the ground. 

I have tried to paint this scene many times. In this one, I took more responsibility to alter the balloons so these children were pointing to something magnificent. I created the image of the balloon reflecting into the water out of my head. This last rental season on the Merrimack River has paid off in this one moment. 

Observing water has helped me paint it better. But I wasn’t able to watch or observe for years. It’s a new quality, a result of sobriety.
It’s quite beautiful to stop and take note of how much more we see when we are sober.

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There is so much beauty here, Jonalyn!
Your point number 1 reminds me of what I am reading right now on solitude in Henri Nouwen’s book The Way of the Heart.
Solitude makes that space for us disconnect from the codependency. And the compulsion to be codependent is what keeps us from seeking solitude! Do you find it possible to be in a place of solitude, even with your family there? Is it our Codependent drive to fix and respond that makes it hard to find solitude among our people?

Such a timely reminder for me! I have been feeling disconnected recently- from myself, from God and from others, and I know I have lost my regular rhythms, including journaling. Trying to figure out new rhythms that are life-giving in this season of life.

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