One thing that almost every loved one of an alcoholic or addict has in common is codependency. Codependency is the emotional, psychological, and physical reliance on a dysfunctional relationship, and if you are in a relationship with an addict, your relationship is automatically dysfunctional. Whether we know it or not, codependency is what leads to us enable their actions. We make excuses for them, get pushed over to save face, and tell lies, allowing our codependent to continue to do what they want. Codependency isn’t just being controlling or being a liar, it’s about loving someone so much you’d do anything to help them; but, sometimes that love hurts them. And that’s the hardest part.
“He is sick.”
If I had a penny for every time I said that, I’d be somewhere on a beach right now. My life revolved around the excuses I made and the white lies I told. It was never anything serious, mainly why Keith didn’t show up somewhere. Yes, he was sick, just not in the way he was talking about. If this doesn’t scream codependency, nothing will.
Making Excuses: I’m great at making excuses. I have a million different excuses ready for why I haven’t done the dishes, vacuumed, or folded the laundry. The kind of excuses I don’t like doing are the ones where I am covering for someone. It’s often a white lie, but it was constant and repetitive. I frequently made excuses for Keith’s behavior and my own as well. If Keith was “sick,” I was less likely to show up somewhere as well. I was “too tired” or “had too much work to do.” As codependents, we feel responsible for the behavior our codependent is displaying, therefore, we use excuses to indirectly address our feelings. We use this rationalization to make ourselves and others feel better. I didn’t want my family or friends to think that he was choosing to drink over them because they just didn’t understand. No one did. Even my friends who claimed to understand didn’t actually understand. So I stopped telling them the truth and stuck to excuses.
Pleasing Others: I live my life to please others. I always put others before myself, even before I met Keith. Was I meant to be codependent? Was that a sign I should have seen? Well, maybe, but until I began my recovery, I had no idea what codependency was. The making of excuses plays directly into my need to please others. Whether we know it or not, as codependents, we seek approval, acceptance, and love, and a large component of that is pleasing others. When I wasn’t getting the acceptance and love I needed at home, I sought it from friends. Codependency and the need to put others first is what makes the self-care part of recovery so difficult.
“I did this.”
It’s easy to blame yourself for things you didn’t do, especially when the person at fault doesn’t accept the responsibility. Every time Keith would start drinking, I couldn’t help but wonder what I did. The answer was nothing, but that’s not how I felt at the time. Did I use the wrong tone of voice? Did I say the wrong thing? Did I forget to do the dishes? Anything and everything was a trigger, so the constant worry and blame were crippling.
Codependents often take things personally, I know I do. We often don’t have boundaries in our lives, and if we do, we often don’t enforce them. Therefore, every comment or action from our codependent we see as a reflection of ourselves. I rarely enforced my boundaries with Keith as a way to save face during arguments. I didn’t want the arguments to escalate so I would cave in. Therefore, anything that happened as a result, I blamed on myself. That quickly turned into a cycle of victimizing myself. I was the victim of everything. The negative reflection on ourselves every time something happens makes us feel powerless and takes away our ability to see our role.
I never saw how I was contributing to the issues and enabling his behavior. I’m not cured of this mindset by any means. I still find myself in victim mode and throwing pity parties, but I’m getting a handle on my role in his life and my role in my own.
“Don’t Do That”
I’ve always been stubborn, you can ask my mom. I take the lead and I like to feel in control. But codependency takes that to a different level. Instead of wanting to make the plans, it was controlling details down to the minute while telling people what they could and couldn’t do. I found myself trying to control every detail of my life and the lives of those around me. Looking back, I could not have been more controlling. I tried to control everything in our lives because I couldn’t control his drinking, as if that would have made up for it.
Codependents often feel out of control because they are unable to control their loved one’s addiction. There is nothing we can say or do as their significant other to force them to give up alcohol or their drug of choice, but knowing that doesn’t always stop us from trying. We feel responsible for solving our loved one’s problems and that we are the only ones that can help. It all goes back to trying to regain control of our lives. We know addiction affects the brain’s ability to make sound decisions, so we take it into our own hands to try and make the decisions. Without a sober person’s input, it will turn to disaster, right? This need for control and solving others’ problems spills over into other friendships and relationships and can start destroying those as well.
“Let Me Help.”
I’d rather speak about the problems my friends have than those in my life. Addiction can be a shameful and embarrassing subject and most people in my life were not aware of its role in my life until Keith sought out sobriety. I didn’t know how to express the emotions I was feeling and the struggles I faced daily. The friends I had just didn’t understand why he couldn’t just stop, therefore they saw it as voluntary. This made it impossible to talk about the problems in my life without feeling judged, so I turned focus away from me and my issues.
As codependents, we are easily riled up by the injustices that happen to our friends and family, but fail to feel that same anger if a similar injustice is done to ourselves. If our best friend’s boyfriend fought with her every day, you wouldn’t stand for it, but if that’s your relationship, it’s okay. We turn those feelings of anger into unsolicited advice.
I’ve always been the friend people turn to for advice, and I love that. I never realized that it may be part of a problem, not just being a caring person. The number of times I went on and on with advice for friends who never even asked for it after telling me something is indefinite. I would become so angered by the pain of those in my life that I thought my only option was to control the situation. I absorb other people’s problems as my own, and that’s all thanks to codependency.
Codependency always goes back to control. We offer up advice we think is needed because it allows us to try to control the situation when it is not our situation to control. We jump at any opportunity to throw in our two cents because we’ve seen worse and we could help them! But they aren’t addicts or are they in love with addicts. Their worst is completely different than ours.
There are a lot of things codependency changes about you and I think it brought out some of the bad parts of me, but it’s also forced me to learn more about myself. It taught me how to take control of myself, my life, my emotions, and my actions.
How has codependency affected you?