Search Results for: codependency

Codependency: Interview With An Al-Anon Member

I was browsing the All Treatment site, and ran across this excellent interview with Syd, a scientist and recovering codependent.  It gives remarkable insight into what it's like to grow up and live with active addiction in a family, and to how it can affect us emotionally, spiritually — even physically — without our picking up a drink or drug ourselves.

We interviewed Syd, who is on the path to his own recovery.  Syd himself is not an alcoholic, but has had multiple people in his life struggle with alcoholism.  He created a blog to express his struggle and path to serenity:  In the interview below, he talks at length about dealing with loved ones who are alcoholics, how his life has been impacted by them and becoming a member of Al-Anon.

Interview With An Al-Anon Member

Some Comments About Codependency

Codependency, originally called co-alcoholism, refers to a group of emotional difficulties commonly experienced by people who are involved with addicts: family, close friends, co-workers, and so forth.

Our Addicts Make Us Crazy

Addicts behave in crazy ways, and their behavior affects the people close to them.  As their codependents adjust their lives and attitudes to life with a person suffering from chemically-induced insanity, they begin to move away from normal behavior, in an attempt to keep life on something like an even keel.

To begin with, this may include things like calling the addict in sick when he or she is too impaired to make it in to work, or supplying drinks or drugs to keep the addict pacified.  Kids may make excuses for dad not being at their school activities, or their inability to invite friends home as guests because of mom's condition.  As the addict's functioning decreases, the spouse make take on more responsibilities, and may spend a great deal of time and energy trying to control the addict and keep him or her from using. Most of us have seen this sort of thing, and wondered why in the world people put up with living that way.

Family Secrets

The family is the basic unit of society, and family members are often loyal to a fault.  All of the family members adjust their attitudes and behavior to keep the family as stable as possible — to keep the family secrets — in the face of the worsening circumstances.  Older children may become companions and support for the non-using partner or, in the case of more than one addict, may have to care for smaller children — perhaps protect them from the behavior of the adults.

No one likes these changes away from a normal life, but all try their best to keep the house of cards from falling down because they do not understand that there are alternatives, or are afraid to explore them.  As the process continues, the rest of the family becomes as abnormal in certain respects as the addict(s), because of the forced deviation from normal relationships and childhood development.  Everyone becomes convinced that things can't go on this way, but everyone is stymied, and cannot see a way out — a classic double-bind, that is classically crazy-making.

Looked at this way, it is easy to see how families can come to need treatment as much as their addicts.  However, there is often a lot of denial on the part of codependents: “Hey, he's the crazy one.  I'm the one who keeps things together!”  Adult partners may become accustomed to calling the shots, and may resist giving up the authority when the addict gets into recovery.  Children will not trust the using adult, although they still feel the familial bond.  They will be terribly confused.  Unless these family members — especially the children — get some help dealing with the crazy thinking, emotional (and often physical) abuse, and other problems caused by being so close to an addict's behavior for so long, their difficulties adjusting to new relationships later in life are likely to be severe.

All of the above applies, to greater or lesser degree, to everyone who has to cope with an active addict.  We all adjust our behavior to accommodate the skewed antics of our addicts.  When the adjustments are too big, or last too long, we ourselves become sucked into the addict's world.  That is why we say that addiction is a family disease.  Just as alcoholics and other addicts will do whatever they need to in order to support their addiction, so do codependents change their lives and do whatever they have to do to adjust to life with the addict.  In a sense, they become addicted to their addicts.

Codependency is also common in family members and caretakers of people with disabilities, major grief issues, and other life-changing, chronic conditions.

What To Do?

There are a number of 12-Step groups, such as Nar-Anon, Al-Anon and AlaTeen, formed so that folks who have been through the madness of codependency can help those who are still “under the influence” get their lives together.  There are also treatment centers that offer specialized treatment for codependents.  Such measures are strongly recommended for folks with loved ones and friends in recovery, and will do a great deal to insure the survival of the family after treatment.

Complete Honesty In Step 4 Is Difficult The First Time

This is going to offend some folks, and that’s the point.

Over the years, I’ve spoken with alcoholics and other addicts who have done three and four 4th Steps, and (presumably) a 5th and 6th along with them. I’ve also talked with others who have adamantly stated that they did their 4th Step, cleaned house, and that’s it, that The Book doesn’t say anything about doing it more than once, and The Book is the way they work their program.

Without wanting to seem confrontational, that’s pure b.s. Honesty in Step 4, especially, is nearly impossible in early recovery and The Book doesn't say we shouldn't repeat it, either.  When Bill Wilson wrote the book Alcoholics Anonymous three-quarters of a century ago, there was a boatload of things that he left out simply because no one had thought of them yet. Bill followed up the Big Book with several others that expanded on his thinking, but some folks seem to believe that all essential knowledge about addiction reached its peak in 1938-39. And, let’s be honest, the basic texts of virtually all the other fellowships rely so heavily on the Big Book that they’re practically interchangeable except for the adjectives and a few nouns, so it’s easy to carry that thinking over to those fellowships as well.

Fast-forward 70-odd years, and we know incomparably more about alcoholism and other addictions than Bill ever thought of. For example, there’s a superb article in last week’s edition of The Fix, CBT and the 12 Steps Have a Lot in Common, that compares the Twelve Steps to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  It establishes in one more way the validity of the Steps as they compare to modern knowledge and theory, and also confirms (once again) Bill Wilson's brilliance.

I recommend the article, but it’s not the point of this one. The real point is that in the first stages of sobriety we aren't able to face and/or talk about all of our issues. Our fragile self-image, just beginning to emerge from the shame of our primary addiction(s), can’t take any more battering, and we’re extremely likely to sweep a lot of stuff back under the pantry door instead of finishing the job of cleaning the kitchen. We aren't able to be completely honest with ourselves, let alone with someone we've known for only a few months, no matter how sincerely we try.

So how can we trust a process we went through in the first few months of our recovery, and truly believe that we've done a good job with that initial inventory? The answer is our old demon, denial. We want to believe that we’re finally okay, and we are afraid to face the facts that mean we are not, that ignore issues that we've failed to address, and that are still screwing up our lives.

My drug of choice was alcohol (not that I didn’t sample many others over 20+ years of active substance addiction) and I was also addicted to some prescription drugs. Fortunately, circumstances in my life precluded easy access to illegal drugs, or undoubtedly I would have been hooked on some of those too. In any case, booze brought me to my knees, and that and the surrounding issues are what I dealt with during my step work. There was enough chaos connected with alcohol that it was easy to ignore some other things that were, in their way, creating dysfunction just as powerful if much less obvious. I’m still working on some of those, many years after that initial step work.

Nicotine, shopping, sex, codependency, gambling, energy drinks, eating disorders of any kind, hoarding, collecting carried to ridiculous extremes, video games (again, to excess), over-exercising — anything that will allow us to distract ourselves and that will give us that brief rush of feel-good brain chemicals — are disorders of our brains’ reward response. They make us feel better, while allowing us to ignore for a bit the normal problems of life that we haven’t learned to face. The trouble is, the good feelings don’t last and we’re so confused we don’t know or remember how to look for them in places less harmful.  Our unhealthy attempts to avoid the normal unpleasantries and pain of life simply increase, along with our dysfunction, until we are in some way forced to contemplate change.

So I put it to you this way, my fellow addicts: If we think we have nothing to deal with but our substance abuse, the chances are we’re fooling ourselves. Until we become willing to revisit Steps 4, 5 and 6, whether in the rooms or with a good therapist who understands addiction, we may be hopping through life on one lame leg, thinking we're just fine. And that kind of movement through life is not only uncomfortable, it also makes us far more likely to fall under a bus.

Support Groups For Families And Friends

In the previous installment of this series on recovery programs, I discussed some of the reasons why family members, friends and even employers of folks addicted to drugs (including alcohol) may need to seek some support for themselves.  In this one, we'll talk about support groups.

These issues can all be lumped under the term “codependency.” However, the word has become so over-used, both inside and outside the recovery community, that many people tend to blow off discussions about it. That’s a shame, because addiction to alcohol and other drugs affects practically everyone in our society in one way or another. From time to time we all need to deal with an addict “up close and personal,” and most of us have no idea how to go about it. That lack of understanding can do considerable damage, to the addict and ourselves.

I’ve written about enabling several times on this blog, and you can find some of those articles here. The bottom line, however, is simply that “helping” an addict in any way that makes it easier for her to live her life while continuing her addiction is enabling the continuation of the addiction. We addicts are experts at using charm, lies, guilt and anger to influence the people around us. Unless those folks come to understand the way we operate, and the truly effective ways of helping us, they are only helping us down the road to jails, institutions and death.

Effective intervention with an addict or substance abuser, if indicated, requires the help of a professional as a sort of referee, and to assist us in making plans. However, the best guidance for families and others dealing with addicts often comes from other folks who have gone through the same process of learning about their own denial and how to work through it and other codependency issues.

How many times have you tried to open up with a friend, only to get a lot of unwanted advice from a person who clearly has no idea what you’re going through? Or, how many times have you wanted someone to talk to — someone who can understand — and not known where to find one. The support groups for families and friends are a safe source of understanding and useful information about subjects that are often family secrets, unspoken by anyone.

The first such support group was Al-Anon, founded by Lois Wilson and Anne Smith, wives of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. Now formally known as Al-Anon Family Groups, and made up of the original Ala-Anon plus Alateen (for kids of alcoholics), it is still the largest and widest-spread fellowship of its kind. Over the 50+ years of its existence, the collective wisdom of the fellowship in how to remain sane while loving a drunk has become enormous — and invaluable.

Other groups, no less important, that have sprouted off of Al-Anon include

  • Nar-Anon for those affected by people addicted to drugs other than alcohol
  • Gam-Anon for people close to compulsive gamblers
  • Codependents Anonymous (CODA), dedicated to developing healthy relationships of all kinds
  • COSA, a recovery program for men and women whose lives have been affected by someone else's compulsive sexual behavior
  • Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA), for adults dealing with family of origin issues

and several dozen others. The list above is for purposes of illustration, and not to imply endorsement of any one program over another.

These groups, along with many others, are easily available by searching for “family+support+(your+issue+here)”. Example: family+support+sex+addict gives us a huge selection of support groups, resources, and even online meetings for people dealing with someone else’s sexual behavior.

By no means should we ignore online supports. Often we are unable to find an appropriate meeting, embarrassed to open up in front of others, or perhaps we are even ashamed to be seen entering one. There are literally hundreds of online support groups for every sort of addiction and families of addicts. Two minutes of searching can turn up the one we need to get started on the road to emotional help, and to the skills needed to deal with our addicted loved ones.  We ought always to keep in mind, however, that sometimes there is nothing like talking face to face, or a warm hug, from someone who truly understands.

Our first responsibility is to ourselves.  We need to find ourselves in order to live our own lives.  We can't help anyone until we face that truth and act on it.    We can make changes only in ourselves.  We may, or may not, be able to influence our addict, but we need to admit to ourselves that the problem is partially ours, let go of our useless attempts to control, and learn to detach with love.

For our own sakes, and theirs.

My thanks to Michele O. Webb CAP, ICADC for her assistance.


Is it an adjustment for children once you are sober?

Having a family member get sober is an adjustment for everyone.  While we are drinking or using other drugs, our behavior and effect on other family members is considerably different than when we get sober.  It is sometimes a shock to newly-sober people to discover that when they get back home things are not always sweetness and light.

We have written elsewhere about how unreasonable it is for alcoholics and other addicts to expect to be trusted, simply because they have been clean and sober for a few weeks or months.  Children may feel that a parent was not there for them when they needed support.  They may remember bouts of anger, even abuse of the other parent or themselves.  They probably have their own anger related to missed occasions, sports events, a normal family life, and general absence of a parent whom they love and look to for nurturing.

The same is true of a spouse.  In addition to all of the above, he or she may resent having had to single-handedly deal with responsibilities that should have been shared.  These things may apply to older children, as well.  It may even be that these members will resent the attempts of a formerly-ineffective parent to step up and fill the roles that they have gotten used to.

Some or all of these issues will exist in every family where a parent or sibling has been actively addicted.  For that reason, it is critical that families undergo joint therapy, where issues may be aired and adjustments made in the presence of skilled professionals.  Individual therapy may be necessary for some or all members as well.  Without such help, the likelihood of further family problems is high.

What is the difference between helping someone and enabling them?

Helping is doing for someone what they cannot do for themselves. It might include caring for a sick person, going to the store for an elderly neighbor, or driving someone who has no transportation to an AA meeting.

When we do something for someone that they could and should — or perhaps should not — be doing for themselves, we are enabling. Enabling is anything that helps someone avoid the consequences of their own unacceptable behavior.  Examples would be paying an addict’s rent so that she will have a place to stay, buying liquor for an alcoholic to keep him off the streets, buying ice cream for an overweight diabetic, or remaining silent about suspected child abuse because “it’s none of my business.”

Enabling is the dark side of helping. [Read more…]

Denial – What is it and how does it affect recovery?

When we become addicted, keeping the addiction fed becomes the number-one priority in our lives. The idea of giving up the drug(s) and associated behavior(s) that help us maintain our addiction is the thing that frightens us the most.  Because we do not want to admit how powerful the compulsion has become, and how it is affecting our lives, we try to convince ourselves and those around us that we are doing OK. The process and thought patterns that we use are called denial.

Denial is not a river in Africa (

Addiction involves profound changes in the way we think, through actual physical and chemical alteration of our brains.  Most of the changes take place in a part of the brain over which we have no control, the sub-cortical region that monitors and regulates our bodily processes (the “primitive brain”).  This is the part of the brain that tells us that we are hungry, prepares our bodies to run from danger — and that gives us the compulsion to use.

We have no more conscious control over these things than we have over breathing.  With practice, we can hold our breath until we pass out, but as soon as we are unconscious we begin to breathe again. Likewise, when we become addicted, our primitive brain tells us that not having our drugs puts us in danger. Because having our mood-altering chemicals or experiences has become essential for our comfort, we begin to find ways to protect our access to them.  We change our thinking to accomodate the circumstances.

We may justify our staying out drinking several nights a week and neglecting our family by telling ourselves and others things like,”I work hard all day; I'm entitled to a little fun,” or “If you were married to that *****, you wouldn't want to go home sober either.”  When our friends start to question our drug use, we avoid them and find new friends who “know how to have fun.”  We become adept at deflecting criticism. “I was reading an interesting article about that the other day, if I can find it I'll send it to you.  Oh, by the way, did you catch Idol last night?  Wasn't that….” These are only three examples of kinds of denial; there are several more.

We tell ourselves, “Hey, I hold down a job, I take care of my family, I've never had a DUI — I'm OK.”  Later it's “That s.o.b. never did like me, and I knew he'd fire me sooner or later!”  And still later: “No job, wife left me and took the kids. If you had my troubles, you'd drink too!”  “Yeah, I probably need to quit. As soon as I get my life squared away, I'll try, but right now….” Families do it, too: “Oh, he's not that bad, Uncle Jim was a real alcoholic!”

All of these twisted ways of thinking — and many others — protect our relationship with our drugs: alcohol, crack, cigarettes, porn, food, shopping, you name it.

Once denial has become habitual, it takes some work to break through to reality.  If we don't, it's easy for us to justify returning to our addictions every time life throws us a lemon.