If you’ve got a loved one who’s addicted to drugs or alcohol, you may not even be aware of what that relationship has cost you. It may have gone on so long that the life you once knew has slipped away in bits and pieces until you almost wouldn’t be able to recognize it anymore.
That’s what happens when you’re trapped into codependency with someone whose actions and needs take over everything else. For relationships and families to work, there has to be a balance, and if one side of that equation is a drug abuser or alcoholic, you’ve been compensating on the other side to keep things on an even keel. It’s become your job to avoid tension and conflict so that you can function with a sense of normalcy and present a happy face to the world.
Meanwhile, you’re choked with shame, your self-worth erodes, and your stomach churns as you spend your time trying to placate and please the other person while your own wants and needs are ignored.
You’d think that with all you go through to make everything feel right that it would make things better for the addict in your life. It doesn’t, of course, because the end result is that you’re enabling his or her behavior and making it easier for it to continue.
The Way Out
Is there a way out? Well, with all the emphasis on drug and alcohol rehab programs for users, you may not know that there’s also codependency treatment for you, too. The first thing to realize is that you’re not alone. You’re probably not comfortable talking about it with friends or family, but you don’t have to row the boat by yourself. You may have gone past the point of believing it, but it’s important to remember that you deserve nothing less than to be able to live your own full, satisfying life.
To understand codependency, you have to recognize that a codependent relationship is made up of two people, one who is the enabler (you), and one who is enabled by the way you respond to him or her.
You didn’t willingly sign on for it, but as time goes by, you find that you’ve spiraled into a pattern where you:
- Feel lost or lonely when you’re by yourself, yet isolate yourself from people other than your partner.
- Are afraid of being rejected or abandoned.
- Define your worth through your dysfunctional partner’s eyes.
- Feel you have lost your own identity.
- Boost your own self-esteem by comparing yourself to your dysfunctional partner.
- Stay with your partner in spite of recognizing his or her unhealthy behavior.
- Give support to your partner at the cost of your own mental, emotional, and physical health.
While the enabler is becoming more and more psychologically dependent upon his or her partner, the person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol is finding that:
- His or her poor functioning brings much needed love, care, and attention.
- Because of the enabler’s consistent support, there’s no pressure to change dysfunctional behavior or advance life skills and confidence.
- He or she has become highly dependent on the enabler to satisfy needs normally met by multiple close relationships.
Steps to Ending a Codependent Relationship
Once it’s really gotten through to you that you’re in a codependent relationship that is doing harm to your own well-being and quality of life, while at the same time only reinforcing your partner’s behavior, it’s time for you to:
- Honestly assess your relationship with your partner.
- Take ownership of your own life and your responsibility for it and to it.
- Be more assertive on your own behalf.
- Accept the fact that you are not to blame for your partner’s addiction.
- Set boundaries to prevent tension and inequality in the relationship.
- Let go and detach from the problems of your partner’s addiction.
- Change your focus onto yourself.
- Reach out for help and support.
The longer you remain in a codependent relationship, the more difficult it is to break out of its grasp. As you reassert your right to your own life, you can take a more positive and active role in your loved one’s rehabilitation. It’s a win-win.
Codependency doesn’t have to involve substance abuse, by the way. There are other forms of addictions and behaviors that can also create one-sided relationships. There are many informational resources available that may help you in considering your own relationship, including this article from Mental Health America.