Addiction affects not only the individual afflicted by it but also affects loved ones closely associated with the person suffering from it. Addiction is thus a “Family Disease” and treating one without treating the other can have disastrous consequences.
Co-dependency has a range of behaviours that manifest in relationships. In addition, the dependent lives his/her life around drugs/alcohol. The family and close friends base their lives around them trying to control their usage, in the bargain losing their identity.
The co-dependent who has thus lost control over a chaotic life searches for a semblance of control by taking on responsibilities of the house, many times the business, the children and the affairs of the dependent.
They give more love, care and respect to the dependent than they will ever receive back. They are ridden by insecurities and a low self -esteem making them believe that they cannot live without the other person. What they think as “love” turns out to be clinginess, emotional dependency, possessiveness and the like, thereby stifling themselves and the loved ones.
There is a huge amount of resentment that accumulates. There are manipulative behaviours that consciously or unconsciously surface in order to get the love, care and respect they crave from the other.
The passive co-dependents dread and fear conflict and will do anything to maintain peace. This probably arises out of the fear of being alone, low self-esteem and low self-worth. They would be abject people pleasers who never can say no even if it hurts them or inconveniences them. They manipulate the dependent subtly and subversively into receiving love and care from them. This could be by:
▷ giving them money for their alcohol/drug usage to avoid a fight
▷ Buying alcohol/drugs for them out of fear
▷ One co-dependent who had visited us actually wanted her husband to continue to drink because only when he was drunk he would be nice to her and would not be violent towards her!
▷ Creating a wedge between other constructive relations and the dependent thus isolating him from others for oneself.
▷ Playing the victim consciously or unconsciously, blaming the person addicted for the miserable state of mind /life they are leading, thus emotionally manipulating the other through guilt.
▷ The children too are many a time emotionally manipulated and controlled as the dependency shifts to them…
Thus their methods adopted to manipulate are covert and subtle and the usually intelligent person addicted to the substance fails to see it.
The active co-dependents can appear to be domineering and are not afraid of confrontation. They would many times be confrontational when the person afflicted is intoxicated resulting in a fight which can take ugly turns. They can pick up arguments and demand the love, time, respect, and care that they feel is their right, that the person afflicted should be fulfilling, but is not, due to the all-consuming addiction to alcohol/drugs. Here too the codependent is unable to walk away or emotionally detach from the dependent and live their lives. Under the hope that someday this person shall look at them and see them and their love and care and will change towards them.
The feeling that they need this relationship to feel complete or to fulfil them. The belief is that the responsibility to care for their emotions, love, and self-respect is on the other person. Their lives have been made a living hell because of the person who is using. This garners sympathy from family and friends and puts them in the “right “ only as a matter of relativity of the other using the substance, thus, being in the wrong.
Many times, the addition of the dependent is kept in wraps, excuses made for and violence is hidden because of the feeling that it is my duty to protect him/her from the world and I can take care of him/her, I can make him stop his addiction. If I hide it I am listening to him and he will love me more and will value me. Or, If I talk about it I will have to face shame, blame and ridicule from society.
Thus the co-dependents emotional manipulation that are unconscious or conscious, most times results in enabling the afflicted person’s addictions.
Sadly, if the co-dependency is not treated, the co-dependent does not realize that they are responsible for whatever is happening in their lives and are the result of the choices they have made. When the person addicted goes into a rehabilitation treatment process and change happens in him, he takes control of his life and starts participating in the family dynamics which he/she had been isolated from due to the addiction, taking responsibilities of the children, of work etc. Here, the co-dependent if untreated, feels threatened and insecure again and the happiness at the sobriety of the afflicted is short-lived. The resentment and the bitterness boil over and they try to again control the situation which leaves them also baffled. Now, being in the “right” as a matter of relativity is also absent.
The Co-dependent can become the right kind of enabler to get the dependent into accepting help by following the guidelines below:
▷ The right time to speak is in the morning when you know the person is sober and clean and is in remorse.
▷ The right thing to share is what one feels and experiences as a consequence of the other’s drinking/using without blaming and shaming the individual for it
▷ Say that if he thinks he needs help then get him to meet the experiential addiction counselor who can motivate him to come into residential rehabilitation treatment.
▷ Once the person comes into the treatment of his own free will, into a non-medical residential facility, then it is primarily through sharing, self-disclosure, writing, meditation, and other alternate therapies that would be the apt therapeutic modalities that would get him to understand himself, increase his awareness of self and reach to a stage of not finding the need to use.
When the individual who is addicted comes into treatment it is very essential for the family to come into counselling and receive parallel treatment themselves with the family therapist. It is very important for them to realize through therapy that they are solely responsible for their emotions and the way they feel, it is a choice. This realization and sense of responsibility makes them self-reliant and not emotionally dependent on the person who suffers from addiction.
It is very natural at this time for the co-dependent to feel that this individual who was an absentee father/mother, an absentee son/daughter, an absentee husband /wife suddenly wants to take on and participate in all these roles. It takes time for the co-dependent family to accept and acknowledge this apparent sudden shift in paradigm. It is not easy for them to then leave their control over the house, the children, the business, the finances. This is due to their past experiences with the individual when they were drinking and using. If they have not received help and worse, if they have not accepted help for themselves, the spouse, parent, or children of the dependent continue to look at the addict who is now in recovery with “ old eyes”. The past is brought up frequently and thrown at them in arguments and conversations.
Expectations also increase with the person back home as though going to the rehab has been a miracle turning point and everything will now be fine. Far from reality, the actual life issues surface and are and have to be faced head-on with emotional stability.
▷ Do not throw the past at each other’s face
▷ Face a fresh issue as a fresh one.
▷ As Dr. Jerajani says “Stop Comparing, Criticising, Complaining and Questioning each other” what remains is only the doorway to communication.
▷ Let the language change to that of sharing, being transparent and honest.
However, the above is truly possible only when the spouse/family are willing to and work on themselves too as much as the person addicted to the substance does, with the writing, the counselling and the meditations.
When the Individual in residential treatment and the co-dependent become self-reliant individuals, then they can meet on a common platform of friendliness and compassion. Dysfunctionalities dwindle away and a life that is truly fulfilling beyond drinking and using surfaces. This is a process and requires patience, effort and compassion between all parties involved.
Treatment involves Counselling with an experiential co-dependent counselor and possible residential treatment in a loving, compassionate, understanding, non-judgmental environment wherein the co-dependent gets the time and space to look at oneself and learns to detach emotionally from the other and recognizes that responsibility of one’s happiness lies within oneself. The process involves meditation, Counselling, introspective writing, and other therapies in order to reconnect with oneself.