The journey to sobriety for addicted loved ones is as important as the journey to recovery of those who have become their co-dependents. Co-dependency is an extreme emotional or psychological reliance on a loved one who requires more attention due to illness or addiction.
Sometimes, a person who is addicted to a substance may be in a relationship with someone—a coworker, a friend, a family member, or a partner—who is co-dependent upon them. This person, perhaps without meaning to, may enable, abet, and facilitate their loved one's addiction. The following testimonials are from co-dependents of addicted persons who have managed to turn their lives around.
Long before I knew what addiction was, I already understood that my dad was an alcoholic. Way before I ever knew what a codependency was, I played the part like a pro.
As a little girl, when I wasn’t tip-toeing around my dad’s emotional and physical hangovers, I was dreaming and scheming of ways to make him happy. Every Christmas, I’d write to Santa and beg him to make my dad feel better. When the tenants from the apartment buildings my dad owned refused to pay rent, I’d fantasize about swooping in and bullying them until they paid up—like a female version of Robin Hood, I imagined, I would trot home and swing swollen bags of money at my dad’s feet, after which all would be well in his world.
I was his devoted daughter to a fault, and over the years my tender concern for his wellbeing quickly became an all-consuming obsession.
Like many codependents, the more I worried about my dad, the more my own needs fell off the radar. I was so busy trying to manage his drinking, dramas and mental meltdowns that I barely noticed how depressing and unmanageable my life had become. All I ever wanted was for my dad to be happy and sober. And in my twisted thinking, I was sure that once I sorted out his life, mine would fall effortlessly into place. But I was wrong.
It took me years to get here, but once I surrendered to the truth that I couldn’t dictate nor was I responsible for the quality of my father’s existence, that I could let go. Was it a painful process? Yes. Did I feel guilty? Yes. But in the space that I created between us, I was finally able to recognize and address my codependent tendencies. And in that process, I became aware of the part that I willingly played in my relationship with my dad. Taking responsibility for my behavior was huge for me.
The best advice I can give to someone that struggles with codependency is this, “the next time you’re triggered, try to take a step back. And instead of reacting, just try to observe what you’re about to say or do. What you’re looking for is a pattern. I guarantee you that there is a pattern that unfolds between you and the addict or alcoholic in your life that you’ve both silently agreed to. Recognizing that pattern will free up the mental space you need to start addressing your codependent triggers and behaviors. This process takes time and focused effort, but all you really need is just a willingness to learn. You’re not aiming for perfection here, just progress.”
I like to say I came late to the alcoholism party, very late, especially when you consider the long arm of addiction’s reach.
I met my husband when I was in my thirties. Up to that point, I had literally had no contact or interaction with alcoholics.
None, nada, zip, zilch.
Even looking back at my childhood, I couldn't tell that Uncle Jack was indeed an alcoholic and not just an asshole. When we were with extended family – grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, they all drank coffee. No joke! The biggest “controversy” was that my mother’s one cousin never filled the cup up to the “tippy top,” per my mother’s requirement.
So when I met my husband, even though I knew within the first hours of meeting him that both his parents had died of alcoholism and that he drinks excessively, I was not worried.
This was not denial.
This was pure naiveté.
Prior to meeting me, my husband had quit smoking cold turkey. I sincerely believed that he would quit drinking, too. It didn't seem odd that a single guy in his 30s drank a bit “too much.” But now that we were in love, getting married, and going to start a family, why did he need to drink six, seven, eight or more beers a night?
Fifteen years later, here I am, writing a blog, trying to figure out if and how and when I am going to leave my marriage. Fifteen years isn’t long enough to get your head around the pure insanity of alcoholism – the hostile behavior, the extreme selfishness, and the gradual but drastic personality changes.
What I couldn't process, for the longest time, was the gross contradiction of who my husband really was versus who he was becoming. It took time to make sense of it all. During this time, as my head and heart and soul slowly came to terms with what was happening to my husband, myself, and my marriage, I will say three things served me best.
To read more about Sandy James story, click here.
I'm always honored to be able to share with readers why it is so important to face our issues (codependency is usually a combination of disorders and problems) and to keep working on them each day.
I have two daughters. They are my reasons for making the decision to do whatever it took to face down my codependent behavior and thinking. I did NOT want to pass on to them all the pain, fear and loss that I was always dealing with. Like any loving mom, I wanted my girls to be strong, sure of themselves and well adjusted. I wanted them to have wonderful memories of their childhoods, to have dreams and the confidence to make those dreams a reality. As a terribly codependent woman, I had none of those qualities. I was always afraid, prone to depression and anxiety; I had no self-confidence and my dreams were small. To top it off, I had years of no memory at all of my childhood. In spite my efforts to shield them, I could see signs that they were turning into me. That's when I put all my reading, therapy, prayer and years of learning to work. I wrote You're Not Crazy—You're Codependent. It was really the story of my own transformation. In putting my story, knowledge, and goals on paper, I could see my own progress, which gave me hope. It also allowed me to see how far I had come.
Codependency, in my opinion, is a form of addiction. Our thoughts and behaviors become automatic. They drive us to do, say, and think things that are destructive. So, like any addiction, our recovery from it is day by day and it is hard. As they say in AA, "Progress, not perfection." And perfection is one of the problems codependent people struggle with every day. In my journey to becoming healthy, I had many setbacks—I still do. But every time I weather the storm and get back up, I'm a little stronger and a wiser.
My now grown daughters are so much happier, well-rounded and stronger than I ever was. When one of us struggles with an issue, we talk about it, which is not allowed in a typical dysfunctional family. That is the reason I made the decision to stop the generational cycle of codependency.
When we prioritize the wants and needs of addicted individuals, we forget those who have been affected by it, aside from the user. With drugs and alcohol involved, a normal relationship will likely become a toxic partnership. Indirectly, it becomes an addition to the people suffering from dependency issues.
Although there are now an increasing number of services available to codependents, blogging is one way to raise awareness and help co-dependents address their emotional and psychological issues concerning this problem. Furthermore, there are still others who may not be co-dependents but still are affected by the chemical dependency of their loved ones. If we all share our story and progress, we can help others come to terms with their own issues and possibly encourage them to seek professional assistance for not only themselves but their beloved addict as well.