Who is the author most identified with the concept of codependency and the codependent? I suspect it is Melody Beattie. She herself was a recovering alcoholic and drug addict when, while working in a treatment facility in Minnesota, she was asked to hold groups for spouses of their alcoholic and drug addicted patients. She admits she was none too happy about this. After all, from her days as an alcoholic and addict, she held some negative attitudes about these spouses referred to in the recovery field as codependents. But then later on, she herself became a codependent and suddenly, she saw the plight of these spouses differently.
When she was able to observe these codependent spouses with a more open heart and mind, what did she notice?
Beattie saw people who were still often hostile, controlling, manipulative, indirect, and all the other things she’d concluded about codependents while an active alcoholic and drug addict. Now, however, she also saw how the codependent spouses were typically behaving in these ways in response to their partners’ alcoholism or drug addiction. These individuals, usually women, weren’t necessarily this way at their core. Thus, many of them were not only in great pain because of the discouraging circumstances of their lives that the presence of alcoholism and addictions had imparted, but also because they knew they were behaving inconsistently with their core values. Indeed, they were not being true to themselves.
Beattie noticed that many of the women she most typically dealt with were controlling, but it was because everything about their lives was falling faster and faster out of control. If these codependent women didn’t strive to keep things in order, all would soon fall apart. These codependent womenm then, felt they had little choice but to run themselves ragged cleaning up messes their alcoholic and addict husbands created time and time again.
Of course, therapists might tell these codependent women that was exactly what needed to happen. They might point out how their controlling behavior was keeping things going smoothly enough, that their alcoholic or drug addicted husbands never suffered the full consequences of their behaviors. Because of their codependency, they were enabling their spouses’ addictions because these addicts were essentially never allowed to hit bottom. Yet, it is after hitting bottom that some alcoholics and drug addicts are finally willing to get help for their addictions.
By now, Beattie could understand that it is difficult to sit back, take no action, and allow your life to be destroyed along with that of your alcoholic or drug addict spouse, however. The substance abuser may be largely unaware of what is happening, but the codependent spouse is sober and quite aware as she struggles to keep the house from falling into foreclosure, for example.
Beattie also talks about how codependents are manipulative. Again, while as an addict she condemned this aspect of codependency, she came to realize that in many cases, this was the only way the codependent could get anything done. The codependent was often not allowed to be honest; the unhealthy system in which she now operated did not allow this.
When Beattie was an alcoholic and addict, she thought that the codependents around her were crazy. When she herself was suffering from codependency, she came to understand how living with an addict can make you feel like you are going insane. She realized, as so many of us have learned from living with alcoholics or addicts ourselves, that you doubt your perceptions or your take on reality. You have been lied to so often, or else told that you are crazy and misperceiving things, that you don't know what is real and what isn't. Living with an alcoholic or drug addict does make you doubt your sanity. This is a sane reaction to an insane world.
Would you like to know something else Beattie noticed when she slipped into codependency herself? She soon realized that the codependent becomes so absorbed in other people’s problems that she doesn't realize she has some of her own, and these must be deal with, too. She said she realized that the codependent often cares deeply for the addict, though she might act angry and hostile at times. But of course, she has been put through so much, that Beattie admits the codependent often has tons to be angry and hostile about. For the most part, though, she found the codependent was trying so hard to be so responsible and so helpful that she was totally ignoring her own needs. Beattie talks about one woman who aged so rapidly from struugling to cope with an alcoholic spouse, that the woman died in her mid thirties.
I have heard of other cases where women who displayed codependency stayed with their abusive addicts to the point they suffered illnesses and died, too.
Yes, codependents often race about becoming increasingly unhealthy versions of their formers selves as they play roles such as martyr, stoic, or saint. But there is also a darker side to all of this besides potential illness for these people pleasers. See, rescuers can become persecutors, too.
When you are living with an alcoholic or a drug addict, it is easy to keep switching roles. Sometimes you play the role of victim, sometimes you play the role of rescuer, and sometimes you play the role of persecutor. However, the codependent more typically tries to play the rescuer role, while being continually victimized or persecuted by the alcoholic or addict.
As Beattie discovered, and perhaps you have as well, this is no way to live. You also don’t have to, as amazing as this might sound to a codependent. However, just as the alcoholic has trouble giving up his addiction on his own, you might need support as well. An Al-Anon group might be a good place to start. This twelve-step program can provide you with the means to move beyond your codependency. Then, after you step out of your codependent role, you can start striving to become the powerful woman you were always intended to be.
Honestly, doesn’t that sound better than codependency?
Dr. Diane England is a specialist in codependency and recovery as both a clinical social worker and a woman forced to make this transition herself. Read more articles about codependency or the codependent at www.NarcissismAddictionsAbuse.com
, plus discover reviews of Beattie's and others' books on codependency via the Other Resources link. Sign up for her newsletter while you are there, too.