Yes, for the most part, it is easier to talk about dogs than codependency. But I created this challenge when I decided to put these two topics together in My Life as a Border Collie.
Last night was more a night for talking about the dogs than for talking about codependency, though frankly I never really know what comes from the many conversations I have been blessed to have with people who stop at my book table and talk – often personally.
With my book table set up right inside the entrance of theBarnes & Noble at Rittenhouse Square in downtown Philadelphia, I was given an excellent place to greet the general public with my big Border Collie book cover poster and copies of the book available for sale. Many people stopped by to talk, drawn in by the book cover poster and by their curiosity about what the book is about.
In such book event situations, people immediately start talking with me about their dogs – stories both happy and sad; stories of love and loss. Some people don’t even want to go further than talking about their dogs. Others do ask about what codependency is and how have I put this all together.
As I explain about codependency and how I have found it similar to the border collie traits, the responses from the general public can range from no response to the topic of codependency to not understanding the concept to interest in this new topic to deep familiarity with it.
It is easy and exciting to talk with the people who are curious and/or familiar with codependency and who readily then tell me their personal stories and often buy the book.
For those who do not join me in the discussion about how this book pours into human lessons not dog lessons, I feel considerably more challenged. For the most part, I simply continue to join them in the dog stories and let go of any efforts to teach what I want them to know. As I said above, I really am not the one who knows what may actually come from our conversations and their opportunities to talk about their pets who they love dearly, as I love Daisy.
But it is also a reminder to me of how hard all of this self-awareness and self-growth can be. If I was just out for an evening to the bookstore for an easy time and the person at the front door was inviting me to learn more about my self, I, too, might just rather talk about dogs.
Though maybe later, in my own private moments, the words spoken at the book table about not letting my strengths become my weaknesses and about creating balance in my care of self and others may come to mind and heart.
There is little doubt about it: people do not like the word “codependence.” It did not take the book tour for me to know this. Our fields of mental health and addictions don’t even know what to do with the term or, more importantly, with the constellations of behaviors that are involved in codependency. It is not unusual for people to associate it with blame, shame, and illness. I am so sorry for these meanings and am offering what I can to help people move past the word and look at themselves and their behaviors.
These concerns were highlighted for me in a most engaging conversation I had with a woman at a book event Wednesday night at Chester County Book & Music Company in West Chester, PA. In this amazing store which is one of the largest independently owned bookstores in the United States, I had the honor of having a couple of very meaningful connections with individuals who are interested in this topic and want to help to get out the word about My Life as a Border Collie.
Bill Mason of WCHT in Westchester, PA  saw the poster about this book event and had me on his show on Wednesday morning. Clearly understanding codependency, he asked questions about first steps people can take if they believe they may be codependent: I told him willingness and education from knowing sources. Later in the day he came to the book signing to get to know me and this topic better and stated he plans to suggest that I be invited to an hour-long radio show through their station for deeper discussion of “this important topic.”
And then there was this woman and our engaging conversation. Clearly she, too, was interested in this topic of codependence and wanted to know about its relationship to addictions and if it is an addiction itself. She understood the importance of self and balance in care of self and others and yet was concerned about the word “codependence.” She laughingly suggested a title: Codependence is not a Four Letter Word.
After a rich and long conversation, she told me that she is interested in my book for her club. I was happy to hear this. Recently I thought about how well the book might work in a book club setting. It certainly is written in a way so as to promote discussion.
I was also happy to hear that she is going to use it for her book club, because that’s a way we can continue all of these great conversations. That’s a way to help us all move away from this word “codependence” and our negative reactions to it and move toward an honest look at our own feelings, thoughts, and behaviors and the choices available to us to make our life better.
I talk about living in the gray very often to my clients. Codependent behaviors can present in an all-or-nothing/black-or-white/now-or-never fashion: either we all go or none of us goes; either we re-do the entire room or forget the whole thing; either I stay at work until everything is completed or I put things off until I can do them completely.
I have highlighted the extreme words above, because my experience with my codependent behaviors is that if I am not working my program, I opt for the extremes of all, entire, and everything. Living in the gray means learning how to do some things but not all at once, learning how to function even if everyone doesn’t want to do the same thing, learning how to be grateful for what has been accomplished and not resentful for what hasn’t.
Sitting in my chair in my office sharing these treatment ideas with clients is easier than practicing it out here in the world. No surprise.
Last night I had a book event at the Barnes & Noble at Concord Mall in Wilmington, DE. Once again, I was greeted with a warm welcome by the staff as well as a book table set-up right inside the front door with a large poster announcing my signing at 6pm. A dream-come-true: I am walking into a Barnes & Noble and they are selling my book!
Now here’s where living in the gray comes in. I cannot expect to sell all my books. I cannot expect everyone who stops and talks to me at the table to all buy a copy of the book. I cannot expect everyone to understand the book as I know it. I cannot expect everyone to agree with me. I cannot make everyone stop at my table and for all to proclaim that this is the book that can change the world.
Instead, I remind my self to show up, do my part, celebrate what is, and let go of what I cannot control to my higher power. This is living in the gray. This is where my peace lives.

Last night I did a book reading and discussion at the Eleventh Step Book Store in Westmont, NJ. This is a recovery bookstore that has been in operation for over 20 years. The owners, Mae and Ray, greeted me warmly and enthusiastically. I could not help but notice the many other CRP books displayed invitingly on their shelves which are full of carefully selected books for recovery.
Mae and Ray had already read My Life as a Border Collie and clearly were interested in the topic of codependency. With great love, Mae told me about their dog, Cody, who had been at their store daily with them for 17 years. She showed me Cody’s picture and talked about how customers would come into the store especially to visit Cody who was so engaging and responsive to others. She then smiled and said to me, “You know why the dog’s name was Cody, don’t you? It was short for Codependent.”
In such an atmosphere of informed recovery, it did not surprise me when Ray, later in the reading and discussion, described My Life as a Border Collie as offering “gentle guidance” on this topic of codependence. He spoke about the ways codependency can be presented to others and the defensiveness that often arises. He was saying the gentle stories and lessons may help others to see themselves more easily.
And Beau Carr, the events coordinator at the William & Mary/B&N Bookstore in Williamsburg, had independently used the word gentle in his blurb about my signing there, saying the book offers “insight and gentle humor.”
I am glad to hear people using this word “gentle.” As I wrote in my book I was not trying to ease people into this topic. This is just the way I created the book. But if people are finding that the book enables them to feel comfortable with this topic and thus better able to understand more things about themselves, then I am grateful.
It appears that this gentleness allows people to benefit from My Life as a Border Colliefrom several points of entry. Those who do not know the topic by the name of codependency seem to pay attention to the notions of loss of self in others and those who really know the topic of codependency seem to be enjoying a very different, metaphorical way to extend their recovery.
I am pleased to offer gentle teachings to such a powerful issue as codependency.
On the Road with Grace

Yesterday I had no book events. That was intentional on the part of the planners of this grand tour. They wanted to give me a day off in the middle of all that I have been doing. So here in Philadelphia in a lovely hotel in the historic district, I was able to have some precious unscheduled time for me.
Challenged yet again by my border collie eagerness to work and get-things-done, I found a balance in doing that and in wandering around without a watch on and no plan in mind.
When I give my self such physical and temporal space, I can feel my self starting to have more space within me as well. In that fresh internal space I become creative and inspired. I also become grateful.
This particular time I connected with my gratitude for all the people who have made this trip possible. There are many people on that list. To start with, I am grateful for all of the staff at Central Recovery Press who designed this tour and who so support my work. I am grateful for each of the bookstores on this tour who have opened their doors to me and for all of the customers who have spent time at my book table talking and learning.
I am also very grateful for my family members who are helping to make this trip possible. Some of you may have already wondered, “Well who’s taking care of Daisy?” That’s an extremely important question. She is at home with my husband, Monty, and all of the other animals at the Johnston home. Thank you Monty. He reports that Daisy is doing fine with her eating and walking on her arthritic legs. I could really allow my self to get into worrying about her with me away like this, but then I remember to “Let Go and Let God.”
And then there is the amazing act of Letting Go and Letting God and finding that my daughter, Grace, is able to travel this trip with me. A 24-year-old adult now, I did not expect her back from her adventures and work in England and Europe until this coming December. But life had it that she needed to come back to the States early. Seeing this as the spiritual flow of life, I share this view with her as she deals with her disappointments in coming back early, and I celebrate this view as it offers me her excellent company and many of her talents.
As my co-pilot and as my driver, Grace is making our travels so much easier. Four eyes and four hands are way better up here in the busy northeast. And just to let you know, Grace is the woman behind the camera taking all of these photos of the book events you are getting to see at She has 6 years of experience as an events photographer, and I am so lucky to have her skills capturing the moments of this trip to share with each of you. Thank you Grace.
When I am not in my recovery, it is too easy for me as an over-functioning codependent to think, “I am doing it all. If I don’t do it, no one will.” Well that’s the thinking that keeps me stuck. Stopping and creating internal space for my self gives me the opportunity to look around and see what both humans and my higher power are doing and offering and to feel very grateful for it all.

Book events can be challenging for the self. Yes, it is flattering and exciting to be sitting at a table as The author of This book. Sometimes people even reinforce these feelings by coming up to the table to congratulate me on being published, to meet an author, or to ask what it’s like to write a book.
And then there is the self-exposed side of things, the vulnerability that travels with putting one’s self out there in such a bold and permanent way and waiting to see how people react to what I have offered. Sitting at the book signing table as people smile and walk on can really reinforce these feelings of insecurity and discouragement.
Yesterday I was at the Doylestown Bookshop in Doylestown, PA. Received with a hearty welcome by the store owner and staff, it was clear they were ready for our book event. Posters in windows and on doors and My Life as a Border Collie strategically placed around the store, I felt their enthusiasm and support.
The signing started well and even early as a woman was there 45 minutes before the official beginning with the specific intent of getting a signed copy for her daughter. About an hour into the signing, things slowed down. This means no one was coming to my table to talk and no one was buying my books. For this border collie author, this type of lull poses an emotional challenge. I can’t get up and herd people to the table or better yet to the cash register. So I have to settle and be.
As I settled my self, Grace came over to sit with me a bit. I shared with her some of my feelings, laughing at my self some for thinking things always need to be at full tilt and really starting to let go of my pressing expectations to have more activity at my table.
At some point in this visit with Grace, I took off my scarf and put it back on in a new way. I jokingly said to Grace, “I have now re-arranged my scarf. Maybe this will help to change up things here at the table.” I also re-arranged the books for sale on the table, continuing to joke with Grace about creating new energy and space here.
Within minutes, much activity started to happen! My dear college roommate, Debby, entered this grand finale part of my story first, bringing into the bookshop and to my book table her wonderful energy. And then a slew of people started to come to the table, so many that I can’t remember all of the individuals and their stories. Excellent conversations occurred about the book, dogs, and codependency. The length of my signing event was increased and many books were sold. This border collie left the store feeling very good about her day’s work.
So what’s with the scarf part of this story? Well for me as a recovering codependent, that’s one of the most important parts of this story. No, I don’t believe in a direct way that re-arranging my scarf will invoke what I want. What I do believe is that my re-arranging my scarf became an active metaphor for connecting with and changing my internal self. In this case, it meant letting go of disturbing feelings and thoughts about my self and my work and being with what is. I re-arranged my internal self as I re-arranged my scarf. As I loosened the scarf and let it hang in a different way, I was helping my self to loosen and hang. I was freeing my self from the mental and emotional traps I was creating for my self.
Already Grace and I have had much fun reminding ourselves to “re-arrange our scarf” when we are feeling stuck and want to be free.
Oriole Field at Camden Yards,  Baltimore, MD, USA
Here’s another quick blog from the road. This time literally from the road, as Grace, my daughter and traveling companion, is driving and I am writing on a legal pad here in the passenger seat.
I was part of a charming book reading Friday night at Breathe Books in Baltimore, MD. Hosted by Susan Weis-Bohlen, owner, we had an intimate gathering on the second floor of her bookstore located in an historic townhouse on “The Avenue” in the Hampden district. As the event started, a weather front swept through bringing winds and heavy rain outside our windows and increasing the coziness within of my reading and our discussions which followed.
Guests included people who know codependency and people who know and love dogs: talk of dog behaviors, talk of what we can learn from them, and talk about useful tools for our self-development as we keep learning how to not let our strengths become our weaknesses.
Toward the end of our discussion, Susan, the owner, explained in an understanding way that “we have to work with what we’ve got.” Each breed of dogs has its own traits and temperaments, and as dog owners we have to both accept and train the dog with its nature in mind.
Similarly with codependent behaviors “we have to work with what we’ve got.” If we are, by nature, devoted, hard-working, and sensitive there is nothing wrong with that. It’s just that we want to learn to pay attention to our own traits and temperaments and work with them so as to increase ease within our relationships and peace within our self.
The White House, Washington, DC, USA
Here is a quick blog from the road.
As you can tell by the photos on the Facebook page for My Life as a Border Collie: Freedom from Codependency, I am on a book tour.
Yesterday I was at the Barnes & Noble at Union Station in Washington, DC. I was hosted so well by that store, and we all felt that the book event was very successful.
Many people came up to me to talk about the book, drawn in surely by the fantastic cover of this book. Some people were also drawn in by the topic of codependency which the subtitle clarifies – but not as many people were familiar with this topic as I might have imagined.
In this very general public area where people are coming and going from trains at this station just outside of our national capitol building, I found myself explaining codependency to a number of people. Now I was careful not to make it an academic exercise but more to speak in language we all can understand on a daily basis: losing our self in someone else, over-functioning in someone else’s life, taking more care of others than of self.
As I offered this information, wanting to make sure that the potential book buyers did not think this was a dog training book but rather a book for personal development, I noted how often people said to me, “Well, this seems like a book most people could use.”
Then this morning from my Google alerts for codependency comes this article by a life coach and pastoral counselor, Randy Moraitis writing on how widespread codependency really is.
Yes, My Life as a Border Collie really is a book that most people could benefit from. Whether you call yourself codependent or not, I believe it’s important to bring to your awareness how you really are doing, what you may really need, and find ways to find that balance in care of self and others.
I’ll keep passing on the word.

As you know from my previous blog, I am sharing with you some of the content from our last two Codependence Camps on understanding the deeper roots of our codependent behaviors. Attachment theory provides some useful information that can help us to understand our vulnerability to codependency.
 Attachment theory in psychology originates with the seminal work of John Bowlby(1958). In the 1930’s John Bowlby worked as a psychiatrist in a Child Guidance Clinic in London, where he treated many emotionally disturbed children. This experience led Bowlby to consider the importance of the child’s relationship with their mother in terms of their social, emotional and cognitive development. Specifically, it shaped his belief about the link between early infant separations with the mother and later maladjustment, and led Bowlby to formulate his attachment theory.
Attachment theory is interested in whether an individual has developed secure or insecure attachments to others as a result of the way they were treated by their primary caregiver. The caregiver’s responsiveness and consistency in their relationship with the child are of particular importance.
Secure attachment develops in a child when they are responded to in a consistent and responsive way by their primary caregiver.
Insecure attachments develop from non-responsiveness and inconsistencies in parenting and present themselves in several ways: Insecure – Anxious can come from inconsistent parenting where the child can not trust that their primary caregiver will be there to meet their needs on a predictable basis. Insecure – Avoidant can come from non-responsive parenting where for the most part the parent does not notice and respond effectively to the needs of the child. In such cases, the child may become dismissive or fearful in their relationships with others.
The field of attachment theory is rich in research and applications of the theory. This is a very simple introduction to you about this material with the suggestions that our attachment styles likely influence our codependent behaviors. If my style is insecure-anxious, I am likely to seek reassurances and do things to try to insure that the object of my affection is not going to leave me. If my style is to be insecure-avoidant, I may well try to be self-contained and operate in rigid, controlling ways which may keep others at an unnecessary distance – a distance I may not really want.
All of this is about our sense of self, in this case our secure vs. insecure self. Recovery from codependency is about understanding our insecure self and fostering its growth into security and strength. Ideas on ways to do this will appear in future blogs.
our “Deeper Roots.”
This coming week-end I will be facilitating our 15th Codependence Camp along with my colleague, Margaret Cress, LMFT. We offer this Camp twice each year. The curriculum for the Camp began with my Disentangle work and has evolved as the participants have evolved and also as our knowledge about codependency has evolved.
A year ago as Camp was ending, it was clear that we were ready to go yet deeper into understanding the origins of our codependent behaviors. So for Camp this past spring our focus was “Deeper Roots: Empowering Our Self Further through Understanding.” In my over eager, over functioning codependent way, I prepared way more for our 2 days than could possibly be covered, absorbed, and applied. Camp this coming week-end will be continuing our “Deeper Roots” work.
What we studied in the spring were the influences of our childhood and family-of-origin experiences. Yes, we certainly had studied this before, but at that Camp we looked at several important areas of influence we had not so examined before. Here is the first of those three areas very briefly offered as ideas for you to examine as well.
The work of Alice Miller offers much to help us understand our focusing on others to the detriment of focusing on self. Working to connect with our true self vs. our false self, Alice Miller’s material informs us how in early childhood, some part(s) of us were split-off from our true self. Our feelings and needs were not attuned to and responded to by our primary caretaker. We were not mirrored or echoed. Instead, we learned to attune to the feelings and needs of our primary caretaker who was likely not doing this to us intentionally. Their needs for our mirroring of them were at an unconscious level.
As a result of these experiences, we developed a strong capacity to attune to the feelings and needs of others and to respond to those feelings and needs.
Sound familiar? What a great description of one of the core dynamics of codependency.
My plan for future blogs is to share three more areas of childhood and family-of-origin influences with you and then to offer a list of helpful ideas for recovery which come naturally from our understanding of our “Deeper Roots.”