Codependency is a toxic care taking relationship between a person with a substance use problem (SUP), and someone without a substance use problem. While there are many other definitions, I actively hate most of them as diminishing and at times cruel. If you are experiencing codependency, know it is a normal response to loving a someone with a SUP. Further, with work and education- you can change your behaviors to move past codependency.

Ok, rant over! Let’s get to the ideas.

We are powerless over another person’s addiction.

As codependents, we believe we can save the other person. In fact, we believe it is our duty to save the other person. In reality, we are powerless to stop someone else’s addiction. No matter how many problems we fix, or how many hours we spend in agony- we cannot cure someone else.

I know. It feels awful. But it is so so important to understand.

When the other person drinks – you must know that you had absolutely no power to change that. As a codependent, you will no doubt spend hours thinking ‘if only I’d said it like this’ or ‘if only I was more that’.

They use alcohol because they are addicted- not because you are a bad person, or asked them the wrong question.

The individual with the SUP may tell you otherwise. Lord knows I was blamed for the drinking on many occasions. But this is not true. It can never be true.

So, in those moments, that you try to take on the blame- remember- you are powerless over their addiction.

We are never responsible for the choices of another adult person.

This flows from the last mantra, but it is its own struggle. We are chronic rescuers, and as such, we will try to rescue the other from the consequences of their choices and behaviors. We will clean up their messes, we will tell stories, we will take the blame.

We are the ‘official fall guy’. But just as we are powerless over their addiction, so we are not responsible for their actions or the repercussions that follow from them. We must learn to let them bare their own consequences.

I know this is terrifying. We feel so much pity and responsibility for this person. We see their pain and their struggle. But ultimately our job is to take care of ourselves. We cannot force someone to heal. We cannot love someone out of addiction. 

We feel guilt. We feel that it is some kind of grand negligence to let this person to themselves. However, a huge piece of learning to detach from the person, is in allowing this space.

A key way to move towards this belief is to consider what we would do for a different adult person. Would we also make their bed? Or clean up after them? Or cover up for their indiscretions? Or take the blame from family and friends? This is helpful in drawing the line between helpful behaviors, and enabling ones.

Take care of yourself first.

Codependents are used to putting themselves last. We feed, and clothe, and care for every single being before ourselves. Switching this around is fundamental to self-repair. What we come to learn over our healing journey, is that we cannot help anyone if we are falling apart.

The metaphor I came to use in my own struggles with codependency was that of the drowning man. My person was constantly drowning, and in their panic, they were constantly pulling me under as I tried to hoist them up. Finally, a coach and friend asked me ‘how are you contributing to the drowning?’

I realized; I didn’t need to be drowning. I didn’t need to make the situation worse by trying to save someone I couldn’t possibly save. In my own situation, once I backed away, the person actually started swimming on their own. Both of us ended up better for it.

Take care of yourself first. This isn’t selfish, it isn’t wrong. It is necessary for you to survive.

Photo by Autumn Mott Rodeheaver on Unsplash

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