Addiction & Codependency

If it was not obvious from my last few blog posts, I am going through a lot right now! In the spirit of speaking my truth while upholding my integrity and respect for others’ privacy, confidentiality, and anonymity, I am writing about a deeply inter/personal experience only sharing the lessons and insights it has given me that may help a fellow survivor. As I have continued to work on myself and move through some intense trauma, grief, and heartbreak, I am learning where my responsibility and agency lie so as to understand the ways in which I participate in my own suffering. In doing so, I have gained greater insight into the role of addiction in codependency.

When I Googled the word codependency, this was the first definition I saw:

excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one who requires support on account of an illness or addiction

Oxford Languages

I was surprised to learn that the term codependency emerged from the field of chemical dependency, specifically coined in the 1950s within the context of Alcoholics Anonymous. Although codependency does not only occur in romantic partnerships or the context of illness or addiction, I realize my own codependent tendencies operate within this very destructive dynamic. This is why addiction is a “family disease.” Think of it like this: the family is the body and each part is a member ā€” a parent, a sibling, a spouse, a family friend etc. When one body part is hurt, all the other members mobilize in service of and compensation for the injured part causing the healthier body parts to overwork, wear out, and become vulnerable to illness or injury. All parts of the body, every family member, participates in the subsequent impairment of the entire body, even though the intention was originally to aid the weaker member.

It’s for this reason that I do not easily buy into the codependency binary. Like the abuser/victim paradigm of the domestic violence model, the codependency binary pairs givers with takers or narcissists with empaths. However, as I explained in my post about domestic violence, these binaries do not portray the full picture. As they say, “hurt people hurt people.” It is easy for victims to, in turn, become perpetrators of violence as they develop dysfunctional coping mechanisms that inadvertently ripple out and impact others.

@Annie_Undone expressed this beautifully. She articulates the binary as someone who “benefits” more from relationship dynamics such that “they get more perks while the other person seems to be on the losing end.” She goes on:

It would stand to reason that the person receiving all these codependency perks has it made in the shade right? Wrong. See while I was busy running around making myself “essential” and actively (although unconsciously) participating in the codependency narrative, the other person actually had a bit of an inability to function without me. Because at some point, if you move into greater awareness or better mental health, you start to think, “I don’t like this… this needs to change.” But you’re locked in a codependent dance, and functioning for that other person is handicapped. I started thinking about this because it’s SO easy to blame the more outwardly codependent person as being “the problem” … but a person cannot come codependent on their own. And me, as a participant, can’t break this in the future without knowing how I originally created that dynamic.

@Annie_Undone, Instagram Story August 19, 2022

I find this to be a much more accurate and empowering perspective than that of the winner and loser. Ultimately, codependency is a lose-lose scenario because eventually the enabler’s internal and material resources run dry, the enabler comes resentful, and there is less for the taker to take ā€” their narcissistic supply runs dry.

I am done with feeling like a victim because I’m not one. I am an agentic dancer in control of my own goals, actions, and destiny in my codependent tango. One of the hardest truths I am reckoning with to achieve this awareness is this fact:

I am an addict.

I’m addicted to the drug of codependency. In the framework of the family disease of addiction, loved ones become addicted to their addict. And it is so much about being addicted to the person, but about being addicted to worrying about their wellbeing, trying to control outcomes, needing to be needed, feeling useful or having a sense of purpose. Caretaking behaviors become compulsive and addictive, blurring boundaries, and creating power imbalances.

For me, part of healing codependency is learning what is within the realm of my responsibility and what is not. It’s about detaching with love instead of over-empathizing. It’s about focusing on myself and on my wellbeing. It’s about developing a healthy trust in others, in life, in a Higher Power, in the process. It’s about healing my own inner child to assuage my fear of abandonment if I am not all things to all people. It’s about building up my self-worth and self-esteem so I know I am enough just taking care of me and what is my responsibility.

Image Description: A photograph of two electrical plugs in an outlet set on fire.

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