In my previous post, Alcoholism: Addiction with a Twist, I commented on how addiction can lead to addictive or co-dependent relationships. I ended with,
“The benefits to all of overcoming an addiction to the wellbeing of another are far reaching, but as always, the healing process begins with awareness.”
Awareness alone doesn’t remove the problem, but it may produce a road map to wholeness. And with wholeness can come real intimacy.
Codependency is full of opposites
Imagine a husband and wife where the man is addicted to alcohol and the woman is addicted to him and his well-being. She has an intense pull towards her husband. She loses herself in the intensity of the need to care for him. On the other hand she has a strong need to pull away from him and get a life for herself.
We have all seen it: one of them leaves and comes back, and then leaves again and comes back again. There seems to be no middle ground. It’s either total enmeshment or complete cut-off.
What isn’t well understood is that the cut-off is just as much a part of codependency as the enmeshment. With the under-functioning alcoholic, compulsive drinking and compulsive abstinence are two sides of the same coin, and compulsive abstinence does not “cure” the alcoholism. Similarly, distancing from the alcoholic spouse will not cure the codependency. She is still over-functioning to compensate for his under-functioning. Although sex may be great or mediocre, there is little real intimacy between the two beings.
A recipe for staying stuck
What is the effect of the codependency on the under-functioning, alcoholic husband? To put it bluntly, he stays stuck in his alcoholism. When she’s there and enmeshed with him, he has no incentive to change. When she distances herself, he declares his undying love and gives a hint of cleaning up. Nothing really changes, nor can it change as long as the non-alcoholic partner continues to overcompensate for the partner’s shortcomings.
If you are wondering whether you have codependent tendencies, just ask yourself,
“Am I more of an expert on what he needs than on what I need?”
If your answer is “yes,” then you are probably to some degree in the midst of a codependent relationship.
If you have become an expert on what your partner needs and are not really clear about your own needs as a person, you are a part of the dysfunction and are helping to hold it in place. The good news is that this understanding gives you a roadmap to find your way out.
Your central task if you want to overcome your addictive/co-dependent tendencies is your own self-development. I’m not talking joining the gym or taking up a hobby. I refer to your doing whatever it takes to become an expert on yourself and your soul’s purpose.
When you have gained an understanding of and caring for who you are, independent of other people, and have developed your practice of self-care so it has become second nature, and you no longer turn to jelly or rage when an under-functioning person tries to suck you in, then you are capable of real intimacy with another.
And who knows, when you are no longer are a part of his dysfunction, he may change too.