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Sobriety leads to new role as a guide

Marilu Thornburgh’s outgoing personality has been built upon a survivor’s instinct.

There was a time when her world was perilously close to collapse. A time when co-dependency and her subsequent descent into alcoholism prevailed.

But Thornburgh did survive, she got help to overcome her problems and has been sober since the 1990s. Now she readily accepts her role as a guide for women who suffer from the same problems.

Co-dependency is “an emotional and behavioral condition”> that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship,” according to a report in Mental Health America. People with co-dependency issues, also known as “relationship addiction,” often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and can ultimately become abusive.

It was an all-too familiar pattern for Thornburgh. “When I got sober, I could see life far more clearly because I had a support system with Alcoholics Anonymous,” she said. “My sponsor told me about CoDependents Anonymous CoDa and through their help, I realized what my life had been. I was afraid to stand up for myself. The CoDa program helped me overcome that and come to terms with my ex-husband’s demeaning attitudes.”

As a consequence, Thornburgh’s spiritual beliefs were reawakened. “My parents were Baptists, but back then it was a strict, suffocating religion,” she said. “At a young age, I simply walked away from the church.”

Years later, Thornburgh rediscovered her faith. “I started to believe there’s a power and that power restored me to sanity,” she said. “Because when you’re an alcoholic, you’re insane.”

Now happily remarried, the Kentucky native conducts a women’s-only CoDa meeting every week at the Unity Church in Sarasota.

“It’s a passion of mine,” she said. “The minister here, Nick Griffin, said to me, ‘This is your ministry. It’s so obvious this work is your calling.’

“My classes are about self-help and self-discovery. We are real people and in our meetings we identify with someone who shares our problems. We’re a sisterhood.”

A feeling of self respect and awareness of her beliefs have offered Thornburgh an insight into the frailties of many women’s lives; she knows too well the precipice many walk. But her advice is simple.

“When I discovered CoDa, my ex-husband said I was being brainwashed,” she said. “And I said, ‘Of course I am. My brain needs to be washed and hung out to dry.’ I needed to start a new way of living and I did.”
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