God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Christine’s Experience with Codependency
"Codependency is trying to fix an internal problem with an external solution."
For years I sensed something wasn’t quite right in my home and that began a fear within me that was consuming my peace of mind and well-being. When we discovered our sons’ addiction to heroin and other substances I found myself constantly obsessing over the "what if’s" and initially felt so much despair, sorrow, and hopelessness. I remember hearing people laugh and thinking to myself, "I wonder if I will ever laugh again." I felt so powerless to help my precious sons.
As my husband and I began the recovery process I learned about codependency. Codependency is manifest through enabling, rescuing, controlling, persecuting, and suffering behaviors in order to cope with painful feelings such as fear, resentment, and anger. One form of codependency is obsessively focusing on the behaviors of others and allowing their choices to negatively impact our quality of life.
I was taught that codependents don’t cause, can’t control, or cure their loved ones addiction. Initially that was a relief because as a mother, I was devastated by the thought that I had somehow failed my sons. Gradually, I began to feel that although those 3 C’s may be true, deep down I felt that perhaps I could have contributed in some way to my sons’ addictions. The more I engaged in recovery the more I began to see how my fear, enabling, emotional dishonesty, etc… contributed to the dysfunction in our home.
My husband and I learned that addiction is frequently referred to as a "feelings disease" and at the core center of that is shame and guilt. Shame is the worst kind of pain. It’s that burning in our faces when we think those around us have finally figured out how worthless we are. We think we are inadequate or worthless and hate to look anyone in the eye, often wishing we could disappear. We learned that shaming someone contributes to emotional "bleeding" which can trigger cravings and cause an addict to want to use or "numb out" from the pain. In addition to words, we learned that a person can shame someone through non-verbal ways, such as giving them a condescending look of disgust. Because of deep shame and guilt, persons struggling with addiction are very, very sensitive.
I initially began attending twelve step meetings to learn how to "fix" my sons but soon learned that the BEST thing I could do for my loved ones suffering from addiction was to WORK MY OWN RECOVERY. I also thought in the beginning that THEY were totally responsible for the chaos in our home, but as I learned more about codependency or destructive dependency as I like to call it, I definitely learned that I needed to focus on fixing "myself" and be accountable for my own shortcomings.
My husband will tell you that his greatest lessons came from learning how to not shame and guilt his sons, which flowed into treating everyone in the family (including me) with more respect and unconditional love. You can hear a little of his story in the Music & Testimonials portion of this website.
When one of my sons went to an inpatient treatment center we attended the family support meetings. The therapist stated to us that of the two forms of dis-ease within a family: substance abuse or codependency, the hardest to cure is codependency! I thought: Finally! My insomnia, obsessing, and unmanageable thoughts and feelings are validated! That statement astounded me then. Now as I have weekly opportunities to help educate family members who have a loved one suffering with addiction, I see how that statement holds true! Perhaps it is because codependency is often referred to as the disease of pride. I remember that initially I blamed everything on my sons and husband. I was completely blinded to my own weaknesses and shortcomings and often numbed my own emotional pain by relying on the classic coping mechanisms of minimizing and denial.
Attending family support meetings and twelve step meetings for my own personal recovery has been one of the greatest paths to self-discovery, emotional healing, and growth that I have found in helping me find peace amidst the storm of addiction.
The two most helpful meetings I have found are Al-Anon, a family support group of the Alcoholics Anonymous program and the LDS sponsored family support meetings. Both have literature that has been extremely helpful for me in recognizing and managing my negative codependent behaviors. It’s best to attend several different meetings at first to find the one that you feel is most helpful. Some are more spiritually centered and some are more cognitive centered. Most programs utilize the same proven 12 step principles. There are even some meetings online if you live in an area where meetings are unavailable.
In addition to meetings, I have found many books, CD's, and websites very helpful. See the "Resources" tab in this website for some of my favorites.
A huge part of my recovery has been learning to let go and let God. I remember feeling heavy feelings of desperation and defeat one day as I was contemplating how completely powerless I was to save my sons from their addiction. I felt so alone. I decided to pray more earnestly than ever for God to "take the wheel" and help my sons. During that prayer I felt a loving reassurance flow through me and I knew that my prayer was heard. I began to focus on my own healing and leave God in charge of the rest. I also learned to get out of the way of natural consequences, which worked better than all my past efforts.
Now years later, I have found it simply amazing how God can turn our darkest past into our current purpose and our brightest hope-filled future! The principles that I am still learning in 12 step addiction recovery meetings bring great peace, clarity, joy, and bless me and the relationships in my life every day. I wish you the very best in your recovery. May God bless you as you embark on your own personal healing journey… one step at a time!