When did you wake up? Was it in a therapist’s office? Was it when you were diagnosed with an illness? Was it while you were taking a jog one morning? Was it while walking your dog? Or Was it the day you looked into someone’s eyes and you saw them for the very first time?
I woke up the day I noticed hair in my sink and realized the stress in my life was causing hair loss. I woke up when I looked in the refrigerator, and all I had was a carton of old soy milk and a jar of jelly inside. The culprit for me was co- dependency, which is one of those mental health terms that has made it into the mainstream vocabulary in a very big way. Even as a therapist and life coach who knew better intellectually, my co-dependency was at an all time high internally.
I stopped taking care of me and became addicted to getting my then husband sober. I believe it’s all about being transparent so that I can be authentic with my clients, and they know I am human too. Most people seriously misunderstand that this is a true problem.Many clients who I have worked with think codependency means they are highly dependent on someone else. Unless you work in the addiction field, an addict or alcoholic yourself, or loved an addict, you may not know what it codependency truly is.
One of the hallmarks of a codependent is they are unable to develop a normal, healthy relationship as they are unable to feel comfort in a normal give and take relationship. There are several other aspects of having a codependent personality, but this blog focuses on codependency in a relationship; and in my case, an ex husband.
“One of the effects of alcoholism has been that I have been overly involved in other people’s choices. If I feel responsible for someone else’s behavior, then I have not detached from whatever I am allowing to embarrass, frustrate, or otherwise bother me. I am still thinking of that person as belonging to me, as a possession rather than as an individual.” In All Our Affairs, p 101
A co-dependent person is all give and no take. They tend to seek people that need constant support and that demand the complete energy, attention and love of the co-dependent person. In virtually all situations a co-dependent person has grown up in a dysfunctional family where the parents played out this behavior.
Often the co-dependent person is completely unaware of their abnormal view of a relationship since this is all they have ever known. Throughout their life they grew up with one parent giving everything to the addict and virtually eliminated their own needs and usually the needs of the children.
Although commonly associated with alcohol and drug addition, families can engage in co-dependent behavior in any type of addiction situation. This could include addictions to work, food, and sex, gambling or shopping. The addictive behavior goes on and everyone else in the family learns how to keep the addict happy rather than deal with the consequences of their behavior.
I think of my own family of origin where my dad did everything for everyone, whether it was handling the bills, planning the vacations, or ignoring the subtle addictions that were going on around him like shopping and food addictions. My father was there to rescues all of us. The addictions in my family were more under the radar; but all the same, they were there.
When someone does not allow you to make your own mistakes or enables your behavior, you are sending the message out that you are incapable and un-trustworthy. When I found myself married to an alcoholic, I too became the rescuer and enabler just like my dad. I put my ex in many rehabs, made psychotherapy appointments, handled the finances, begged him to go to 12 step meetings and get a sponsor. A person that has learned to be co-dependent has no sense of self and their needs.
They are solely there to take care of the addict and ensure that he or she has their needs met. Being a codependent is a great way to avoid your own issues by directing your focus on someone else. Over time this leads to depression, anxiety, and sometimes increased risk of addiction for themselves. For me, it was a loss of self and self-esteem. I woke up one day after my divorce and realized I had lost many of my social connections, became a workaholic to cover my pain, and had no idea what it was I needed or wanted in my own life.
After attending Al-anon, finding a great sponsor, taking up outrigger canoeing, re establishing old friendships, making new ones, and not making work my entire life, I woke up and found me again. I wish for you that if you are struggling with a co-dependent relationship, whether it is your partner, your ex partner, a child, or anyone else in your life, you first and foremost acknowledge what is truly going on around you.
That is the very best first step you can take for yourself, and then find loving support, professional help, and a path that will assist you in becoming alive and awake again.