Writer dispels 'victim mind-set' Her newsletter aids co-dependents

August 24, 1993|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

The message Donna Thompson wants to send in her newsletter for co-dependents is, "You're not sick."

Twelve years ago, when she started attending Al-Anon meetings in an effort to cope with her husband's alcoholism, she bought into the assessment she heard: Co-dependents -- the people who live with addicts and frequently cover up for them -- are as sick as the addicts, some Al-Anon members told her.

Today, happily married after three unhappy marriages and recently moved to Carroll County, Mrs. Thompson no longer agrees. The trouble with the "you're sick" diagnosis is, "It kept me in a victim mind-set," she says.

Mrs. Thompson began publishing her newsletter for co-dependents, Challenges, in March 1992. She started the newsletter on the proverbial shoestring, with a home computer and an ink-jet printer that can prepare camera-ready copy for printing. She doesn't pay contributing authors, although she has paid to reprint syndicated columns. She refuses to disclose the newsletter's circulation.

In place of money, she put 40 years' worth of experience into the newsletter. She was married twice to alcoholics, one of whom physically abused her. Eventually she got treatment for herself and became a peer counselor and facilitator for "Women Who Love Too Much" groups.

Now, it all seems as if it happened years ago to someone else, she says. She and her husband, Stafford Thompson, were having dinner recently with her son and his family. The talk turned to a humorous situation and Mr. Thompson joked, "Well, you know what a nut your mother is."

Mrs. Thompson laughed, but said she was thinking, No, he doesn't. He doesn't know because all the years when he was growing up, she could never be myself. She was always holding back.

She graduated from high school in Worcester, Mass., in 1948. She was planning to attend college in the fall, but the parents of the man she was dating suggested that the couple get married. Mrs. Thompson was to become a secretary supporting her husband while he earned a doctorate. She did.

The marriage lasted for 15 years and produced two children. She describes it as "emotionally stressful."

Her second husband, a colonel in the U.S. Air Force, proposed two weeks after they met.

She says she didn't know he was an alcoholic.

"I just thought he was mean, and when he drank he got meaner," Mrs. Thompson says.

She says the physical abuse was easier to get over than the emotional abuse. When she found the courage to leave after five years, she figured she and the children were lucky to get out alive.

Her third husband was a businessman who didn't fit her image of an alcoholic. "He wasn't clothing himself out of the Goodwill bin, he wasn't sleeping on grates. . . . I didn't know what alcoholism was. I do now," she says.

When her husband acknowledged that he was an alcoholic and asked her to take him to a detoxification center, Mrs. Thompson began attending Al-Anon meetings. She didn't feel welcome, dropped out, but came back in 1981 when she knew she needed help and didn't know where else to find it.

She went into a treatment center for a week of intensive therapy where she learned, "I had to do everything the alcoholic had to do -- get a sponsor, get involved, work at getting better."

Mrs. Thompson ended her third marriage after 10 years, sold her house in Massachusetts and moved to Florida.

She married Mr. Thompson in 1989. His work as a consultant prompted them to move from Ohio to Maryland.

In addition to coping with her marriages, Mrs. Thompson wrote a play, worked as general manager for a summer theater, did radio interviews on a local station and worked as a fashion and feature writer for the Springfield, Mass., Herald.

After becoming active in Al-Anon in the 1980s, she became a peer counselor and has led "Women Who Love Too Much" groups.

She says she started the newsletter because she felt recovered from co-dependency, and "I could reach more people through a newsletter than in meetings or on the street."

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