In a Nutshell: A reminder for the therapeutically forgetful:



 Author's Note: On the occasion of January 8th, my 21st anniversary with sobriety, I have decided to share an oldie, but a goodie. "The Dying Battery & The Recovering Codependent" is something I wrote many years ago in celebration of being clean and sober. The story appears in Chicken Soup for The Recovering Soul. And it is as much an expression of gratitude to my wife, as it is anything else.

 I hope you enjoy it.  

Here's to a stellar year for recovery, in all its many forms.


February 1985

It is December and I drive a diesel automobile. Diesels are notorious for slow starts in cold weather and so a dying battery has become a regular part of my daily life. Like a good scout, I have been prepared. Before my wife, Dede, leaves for work each morning, I go out and jump-start my car using my cables and her battery. I just hook the two up and it's as easy as pie. Routine. Normal. At least it has been. Until this morning.

This morning Dede confronted me. She had consulted an expert, an objective third party, she informed me solemnly. "And you're not going to like what I have to say," she continued. Silence followed as we sat there, knee to knee and eye to eye.

"What is it?" I asked, already scared, already angry.

You see, lately Dede had been asking questions such as: "Is it harmful to my battery to be used so often to jump start your car?" Of course I told her that was ridiculous. I told her that she needed to learn to give. Yesterday she said she was thinking of asking a mechanic her question. I was shocked and told her so. "You are making this a relationship issue! You don't trust me."    

So there we sat, me angry just from hearing her confrontive tone. Dede was direct and her position was well thought out. The mechanic had told her that it was not good for her battery to be used so often to start my car. He told her that if it continued, we would soon be in the market for two new batteries.

She said that she believed that I truly had not known this before, but in light of this new, more reliable information, she wanted me to be responsible for taking my car in for the necessary repairs. Dede wasn't going to stand by and watch her battery die.

I was furious. "I cannot believe this! You really are making this into a relationship issue!"

"I'm not saying that, Thom . . . " she began.

"Yes, you are. You act like I'm trying to treat you like a doormat, like I'm abusing you in some way." I was exaggerating. I was distracting, trying to get the focus back on her, where it belonged.

Dede left for work. I stewed. I thought of my alternatives. I thought of friends I could call on to come over and help me jump start my car. A different friend every day? How exhausting. I thought of how guilty I would feel if I now used one friend regularly for this, in light of the new information Dede had presented me about the potential drain to my friend's battery.

I thought of making a point each night of getting out of bed every two hours or so, going out in the cold night to start my car in order to keep the battery charged. Dede would surely feel sorry for me then, and insist that I use her car to start mine. But with the new information, I would feel guilty. Damn.

And then it occurred to me one of those rare moments of true inspiration. The proverbial light bulb went on. By George, I had it! I would make time to take my car to the shop for repairs. I would take responsibility for my car. I would make it a top priority. I felt absolutely brilliant.

Acting on my new plan, I took the car in for service. Within an hour, a brand new battery had been installed and I was on my way. "Maybe Dede is not as ridiculous as I have thought," I thought as I drove home that evening, excited to tell her that getting a new battery isn't really such a big deal.

Epilogue 1985

You see, Dede is a recovering codependent and she knows that draining your own battery is not what giving is all about. I have learned that from her. And that lesson is a much greater gift than a jump start for a dying battery. Thank you, Dede.

Epilogue 2008

I wrote this story during the winter of 1985 after literally experiencing the struggle described over my car battery. I intended the story as a metaphor, a description of a recovering codependent woman in a relationship with an actively addicted man. I thought of the episode with my car battery as simply the inspiration for a clever story. What I know today is that my unconscious mind, or perhaps a Higher Power, wrote the story for me, about me.

In January 1986, with same firmness described in The Dying Battery story, Dede confronted me about my alcoholism. Six months sober herself, she said, "You're drunk. You'll need to do something about that if you want our relationship to last." I knew just what she meant. I didn't like it, but I knew.

So I began recovery from alcoholism. I have not had a drink since that January evening. And today we are two fully charged batteries. One day at a time. Thanks again, Dede.

Someone told me the other day that abstinence from addictive behaviors is really just the positive application of procrastination. I like that.

Lying in bed the night before my 21th Anniversary with abstinence, I said to Dede, "Now let me see if I remember this correctly. Twenty-one years ago you told me in no uncertain terms that I should not have another drink for 21 years. Is that right?"

She laughed. "No, you are not remembering that correctly."

"O.K. Just checking, " I said.


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 Thom Rutledge is the author of several books, including Embracing Fear. For more information, visit or email