As a Codependent, You Have A Lot In Common With Your Loved One
As a Codependent, You Have A Lot In Common With Your Loved One
Today I’m going to talk about kind of the parallel journey of our loved one suffering from addiction and our own codependency. You may be surprised to learn how our own hurt, pain, and struggles as a codependent are very, very similar to the ones we love.
Listen to the podcast episode here:
Read the transcript and find more details here:
I think we have lots of common denominators with our loved ones who are suffering from addiction. And I think our commonalities are one reason we were attracted to them, to begin with, and why we continue to stay in an unhealthy relationship that we should probably leave. I know that’s not true for everyone, but for a lot of us, it is.
I’m going to talk about the traits of a codependent, and then I’m going to talk about the traits of an alcoholic or an addict, and I’m going to compare them. While I’m comparing these, you can see if you can identify with any of these things, and maybe at the end of this podcast, you will feel more compassion and more forgiveness and more love towards your loved one who’s struggling with addiction.
Getting to a point of forgiveness
I’m not saying that you’re going to excuse their behavior or stay in an abusive relationship that you should leave. Still, even if you decide to go, it’s important to get to a place of forgiveness. When I decided to leave my ex-husband, I wasn’t angry anymore, but I was really angry and really sad up until that point.
Anger fueled me to get better. My sadness pushed me to try and achieve something greater. All the pain pushed me: the times that he didn’t come home, cheated on me, or didn’t show up for family events, or when he did, he would get drunk and pass out on the couch or hide in a room all by himself.
All that pain, all that suffering pushed me forward to get to a point where I could one day look at him and clear as day, know that leaving was my only choice. I had to go. But, eventually, over the next couple of years, there were many moments where I felt extreme forgiveness for all of the pain and suffering that he had caused me. It wasn’t right away, and it shouldn’t have been right away. It wouldn’t have been healthy for it to come right away.
But now I can look at him with complete forgiveness.
I look at him with complete peace, and that is the ultimate destination that we all need to get to. First, we need to forgive ourselves, and then we need to forgive them. And this, what I’m about to go into, I hope, will help you get to the point of forgiveness because you will recognize in your loved one very similar traits that you have within yourself.
And so why not offer forgiveness for everyone? So a codependent – and I’m assuming that you are one because you’re listening to this and as am I – looks to someone else to feel better, right?
We give our power away to other people. We place our worth in other people’s hands, right? An alcoholic looks to a substance to feel better. Codependents look to other people, but an alcoholic looks to a drug or a liquid or gambling or pornography.
The point is both of us look outside of ourselves to feel better.
We’re both giving our power away to something, an unhealthy something, to feel good, validated, special, or safe. A codependent hides their pain and trauma behind another person’s pain or trauma. I know when I was married to a substance abuser, it was amazingly beneficial to ignore all of my issues and my bad behavior. It was easy to ignore my childhood trauma so that I could completely focus on their trauma and their childhood and their pain. It was a great way to avoid doing the work I needed to do.
An alcoholic or an addict hides their pain and trauma behind a substance. So instead of using another person like a codependent does, they’re using a substance to alter the way they feel and to hide behind that substance. That substance is a smokescreen to avoid dealing with what they need to deal with – the hard stuff in life that they’re avoiding.
A codependent avoids making hard decisions. For example, one of the hard decisions I know I struggled with for ten years was leaving my very unhealthy relationship. So I avoided making that really hard decision to leave for many years, and an addict avoids making hard decisions too. And guess what their hard decision is that they avoid? They’re avoiding getting sober once and for all and admitting that they have a problem with addiction. Both of us are kind of big avoiders.
We codependents depend on another person’s love for us.
So we are completely dependent on how to crave somebody else loving us to make us feel good. And a person suffering from addiction has a dependence on another substance to make them feel good, right? Because getting high or drunk makes you feel good temporarily. Otherwise, why would you do it? If it made you feel crap all the time, then no one would be addicted to it. It makes you feel high for a while.
And we as codependents have a complete dependence on another person to love them. So we’re both struggling with dependence. For us, it’s another person, and for our substance abuser, a substance.
A codependent uses a relationship with an addict to handle or cope with unwanted feelings.
What I mean is sort of similar to avoiding, but we work through our heart issues through that person. And so, we actually don’t work through them. We just rely on or look to that person to help us handle these unwanted feelings. And how often does that work out for us?
We kind of want that mentor-mentee relationship, but it oftentimes leaves us feeling disappointed in that person because they don’t meet our needs. And the alcoholic or substance abuser uses drugs or alcohol to handle or cope with unwanted feelings, right? So their “tools” are drugs and alcohol. When they’re feeling ashamed or afraid or sad, deep, deep sadness, or depression, they turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with those feelings.
When we feel those feelings, our addiction is to that other person. And we turn to them, which is very ironic because we’re turning to a sick person to try and help us with our sickness, which is never going to work.
And then we are not willing – we can be very, very stubborn – but we codependents are not willing to give up or cut ties with our loved one. A lot of us are not willing to walk away.
Some of you have, and congratulations, I’m very proud of you. If you have made that courageous step, I recognize you. But some of us have not, and we have not cut ties. We’ve not walked away. We have not said enough is enough. I’ve had enough. This is just like how a substance abuser or an addict is not willing to cut ties with a substance. Do you see how we’re paralleling our sickness?
We’re both sick and in very similar ways.
As codependents, we’re not willing to give up with our loved one, give up the relationship, and they’re not willing to give up their relationship with their drugs, alcohol, or whatever they’re addicted to.
And then as codependents often we neglect self-care to focus on drugs and alcohol. What do I mean by that? I mean, when I was married to a man who suffered from addiction, I gained 60 or 70 pounds and stopped doing my makeup or taking care of myself physically. I didn’t eat well and wore crappy clothes with holes and stains and slept a lot. Because I was so exhausted and consumed with trying to get my loved one sober by learning as much as I could about addiction and drugs and alcohol and how to help him, I just completely stopped taking care of myself.
And the addict or alcoholic often neglects self-care to focus on drugs and alcohol. I mean, it’s the exact same thing.
Oftentimes they let themselves go and maybe not physically, although a lot of people with substance abuse are underweight or overweight or don’t have proper hygiene or have very poor oral hygiene. Many don’t care about their clothing and appearance as much. Except there are some that still very much care about their appearance because they understand if it goes, if they start to look bad, people will catch on that they’re suffering from addiction. And so their appearance still matters to them.
Instead, they’ll let other areas of self-care go. They won’t work out, or they won’t meditate. They don’t make time to go to therapy, and they don’t read books anymore that help them grow or stimulate their mind. So they stop self-care in other areas.
The ones we love and we are not practicing self-care.
The last thing that we have in common with our loved one is we are neglecting other family members for drugs and alcohol. And so is the ones we love. We are neglecting. Sometimes we might be neglecting being a good mom or the type of mom that we need to be to our kids. I will call myself out on this immediately. I go over this in the Love Over Addiction program about how I was washing my kids’ hair in the bathtub. And they were talking to me, and I was there like going through the motions of being a good mom, making sure they were clean and helping them brush their teeth. And, secretly, my mind was completely filled with anxiety and worry and thinking about how to get my husband sober.
I was completely codependent on my husband’s behavior and approval.
If my husband would come home later that night, I wasn’t present with my kids. I was physically there, but I was not present with them. And then also, I really worked hard on protecting my husband from my family’s judgment. Instead of being honest with them, I covered up for him and avoided seeing them a lot because I knew if they were around enough, they would see how bad things were. So I kind of let my relationships with my family members and friends dissipate, and that’s exactly what our loved ones do. They neglect us. They neglect relationships with their spouse or their partner, with their kids, with their family, with anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the theory that drugs and alcohol are okay.
Our loved ones might have really close friends, but chances are those friends enable them and drink alongside them. The people that our loved ones choose to spend time with are the ones that are not holding them accountable for their behavior, but probably joining in right along with them.
Do you see how remarkable it is; how much we have in common with our loved one?
And not to say this again, but I go into great detail in the program about how we are addicted to addiction. Like maybe we weren’t addicted right from the beginning, but addiction has kind of groomed us into becoming addicted to them. And it’s because we have so many similar traits, and our growth is parallel to their growth. Now it’s not dependent on their growth either.
I say that almost every episode. I want to remind you that you can get better and you can accelerate your growth, whether they are choosing to do their work or not. Whether they’re choosing longterm sobriety or not has nothing to do with your happiness.
I know that sounds weird for some of you that are new. That sounds like, wait a second. How the heck can I be happy if he’s sitting over in the corner, drinking a beer, getting drunk, and neglecting all of us?
Well, let me pose to you a different question. Why are you relying on that guy in the corner to make you happy, to begin with? Don’t you want to live a life, whether he’s in it or not, where you can be happy on your own merits and your own basis and your own agenda? Don’t you want to be an independent woman where you can have a great day, regardless of if the person around you had a crappy day or not?
Why do you want to place your feelings in the hands of somebody else?
Anyone else – whether they’re sick or struggling with their addiction or not? I mean, I certainly don’t. I want to be in a great mood because I have chosen to make decisions throughout the day that make me in a great mood. I’m choosing to deny things too, by not doing things in my life that make me feel crappy, and I’m setting up boundaries for things or people in my life that make me feel bad about myself or bring me down. I’m very protective of my space and my day, and I also take serious ownership of my decisions and how I craft my day.
And I think the old school would probably say, that’s incredibly selfish. You should wake up and think about how you’re going to make everybody else feel better.
But the new school recognizes that that’s a really, really empty, dangerous place to live and it’s not fulfilling at all. So why not?
I know I am such a better mom. I’m so much happier. I can laugh at things. I’m not resentful or moody. If I can wake up and go, okay, what am I going to do today that’s going to make me feel good? And what do I need to avoid? Is there a phone call that I need to avoid or a responsibility that I said yes to that I need to politely change my mind to? Maybe I have a chore that I need to do that I’m not really interested in, but I know that if I put on my favorite TV show while I do it, I’ll enjoy it so much more.
And I had a great time doing it because I take responsibility for my own happiness. I knew that this TV show would bring me joy, and I got it done. And then I was really proud of that.
We need to take ownership of how to make our days happy and fulfilled.
And if our loved one is in the corner, drinking themselves to death, you can sit there and go, gosh, you know, that sucks for you. And I’m sorry that you’re not choosing to do anything about your life today, but I’m going to go about living mine. I will make it great instead of spewing and stirring and resenting you, and getting pissed off at you. I’m going to go about making my day great.
And when you have a lot of those days in a row where you do that, then detachment comes. That’s when you actually start to recognize and realize that, Oh wait, I can actually live a great life with or without this person. I’m actually very capable of doing all of these things. I’ve just told myself I couldn’t do without them and be happy.
And then that’s where the empowerment comes. That’s when you can detach with love because you’re no longer relying on somebody else to justify or make you feel better. And that’s incredibly liberating. That’s a sign of a healthy human being.
Then leaving becomes an option.
The idea of leaving becomes much more reasonable and possible.
A lot of people I think come to this community and they want to know immediately, well, should I leave or should I stay? And I was like that. I always say, if you have to ask, then you’re not ready to make a decision. You got a lot more work to do. So let’s not start with that question. Let’s first get you to a place where you really genuinely know you can be a happy person with or without them because you’ve taken charge of your life.
And then what will organically happen? Eventually, you will detach. And a lot of women feel guilty about detaching. They say, oh, I feel so bad, but I don’t need them anymore. And I don’t love him anymore. And to that, I say, heck yeah, right on.
Because here’s the news flash to us codependents.
I love my husband, my second husband. He is a wonderful man, and we have a terrific marriage, but I don’t feel that I need him. That desperate clinginess from my first marriage isn’t there. I feel privileged to be his wife. I feel lucky and blessed and happy that I get to choose to spend my days with him. But it’s not a desperate, clingy, love that I have for him.
So when we sit there, and we think, oh, I feel so bad because you know, I’m not enjoying being around him and I’ve detached. It’s so funny because, well, that’s what a normal, healthy marriage feels like.
You just haven’t been living in a normal, healthy marriage for so long that you never knew what it was, what it feels like.
It feels very individualistic and liberating and very empowering.
Don’t beat yourself up for feeling that way, because after you’ve detached, you get to choose. Then you are in a place where you get to choose whether you want to stay or go. And the answer will be very clear to you. What happens next is you’re on your own. You’re very happy with your decision. You feel incredibly solid and learn about yourself even more. You discover who you are and what you like and what you want. And you become more content and grow roots and really do a lot of self-discovery.
And then after that period of time, you’ll meet somebody, but you’ll be showing up for that next relationship as such a strong, independent woman that you won’t scare that person away because of this desperate need for love or be too clingy or obsessive with them.
You won’t be codependent on them for your own happiness.
You know how that sometimes happens with women where they overthink everything, and they place too much stock in the guy. And then the guy or partner runs away, freaked out. Well, that’s because your energy is too desperate and you haven’t done your work. You’re not showing up as a self-sufficient, confident woman with gifts to offer. You’re showing up as insecure… Do you like me? Am I good enough for you? Am I pretty enough for you?
Do I say the right things? Do I win you over? Am I perfect enough?
And that energy is very insecure energy and unattractive to a lot of people. But when you show up and say this is who I am. I love who I am. I’m very confident in who I am, and I’m not apologizing for it. And I’m going to be meeting you tonight.
And then, you can say in your head, are you going to be lucky enough to be with me? Are you going to pass my tests? Can you be a healthy enough person to be able to be in a relationship with me? Are you honest enough? Do you have as much integrity as I do? Do you show up consistently for people? Are you reliable?
Do you see, there are two different energies?
You can’t get to that confident energy without detaching from your loved one that’s suffering from addiction. It’s a foundation that needs to be laid. And then you build upon that foundation, and it’s a process.
So when you come into our community and you say, should I leave or should I go? I go, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, wait, wait, wait. There’s still so much more work to do. And that’s good. That should be relieving.
You don’t need to make any decisions right now unless you are being physically abused. That’s what the community and the programs are about. It’s about building these foundations slowly so that you can get to a place where you feel like this addiction is your opportunity to grow into the person you were meant to become. I say that a lot.
This was heavy. There’s a ton of stuff. So feel free to listen to and read them over and over again if you need to. Personally, I know I’m that type of learner where I need to read a book maybe two or three times in order to really digest it. Know that I’m here for you and that I love you. And I’m thinking of you as always. And I think it’s gonna get better for you. You can do the work and the process that’s needed to become that person that I described.
Michelle Anderson has over 10 years of personal experience with loving someone who suffers from addiction. She was married to a good man who suffered from addiction to alcohol, illegal drugs, and pornography. She's used her experience to create powerful resources for women in the same circumstance. Using her own personal experience, combined with years of research and studying, she presents ideas, tips, and tools on how to handle this disease, and take care of yourself, and your family.
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