Get Your Life Back: Codependency in Recovery

Get Your Life Back- Codependency in Recovery
Get Your Life Back- Codependency in Recovery

"When we can really be anchored and rooted in this love that exists within us, then we're not dependent on this other person, fearfully holding them to be responsible for a love that actually we can only ever find and access from within us" -Meggan Watterson

More often than not, as alcoholics and addicts, we struggle with some form of codependency.

Codependency is not black and white, by any means.

Codependency can manifest itself in a variety of ways: people pleasing, manipulation, narcissism, drama-loving, controlling, stalking, 'doormat' syndrome, and more.

The term 'codependent' generally has a negative connotation. We use the term to inflict emotional pain on someone by saying: "She/He's sickly codependent,' 'I wouldn't date him/her, they're too codependent,' or "What's wrong with him/her? They're so sensitive and codependent."

Most people tend to forget that codependency is a disease, just like alcoholism. It is centered in the brain, which is why most of us alcoholics and addicts suffer from codependency; if not with people, then certainly with our drug of choice (this includes alcohol).

Codependency is not something to be ashamed about, rather, something to address in an attempts to ease the chaos of your inner-self.

Just for the duration of this article, I want you to give yourself a break; put aside the preconceived notions you have about codependency just for the next 10 minutes while reading this article and let yourself explore the topic of codependency. This does not mean you have to admit you are codependent, it simply means you are allowing yourself to have an open mind for long enough to take in some of this information that may or may not help you determine a trouble spot in your recovery.

What is Codependency?

After reading many, many definitions of codependency, I have settled on this definition from Codependency for Dummies:

"Someone who can't function from his or her innate self, and instead, organizes thinking and behavior around a substance, process, or other person(s)"

Innate basically means the essential characteristics of a person; the core of what makes you, you.

Finding Your True Self
Finding Your True Self

How Do I Know if I'm Codependent?

When I delved into the possibilities of having a tendency of codependency, I initially scoffed. I thought: "Codependents are obsessed girlfriends who need to know everything their significant other does. They show up to 'surprise' their significant other, in an attempts to catch them doing something wrong... They are basically nutty women."

But, what I didn't realize was that while this may be one outlet of codependency, there is so much more to codependency than a simple obsession with a person.

These signs of codependency are taken from Codependents Anonymous. I choose this list because it is the most all-inclusive list on the internet at present:

Patterns and Characteristics of Codependence

Denial PatternsCodependents often. . . :

• have difficulty identifying what they are feeling. • minimize, alter, or deny how they truly feel. • perceive themselves as completely unselfish and dedicated to the well-being of others. • lack empathy for the feelings and needs of others. • label others with their negative traits. • think they can take care of themselves without any help from others. • mask pain in various ways such as anger, humor, or isolation. • express negativity or aggression in indirect and passive ways. • do not recognize the unavailability of those people to whom they are attracted.

Low Self-esteem Patterns Codependents often. . . :

• have difficulty making decisions. • judge what they think, say, or do harshly, as never good enough. • are embarrassed to receive recognition, praise, or gifts. • value others’ approval of their thinking, feelings, and behavior over their own. • do not perceive themselves as lovable or worthwhile persons. • seek recognition and praise to overcome feeling less than. • have difficulty admitting a mistake. • need to appear to be right in the eyes of others and may even lie to look good. • are unable to identify or ask for what they need and want. • perceive themselves as superior to others. • look to others to provide their sense of safety. • have difficulty getting started, meeting deadlines, and completing projects. • have trouble setting healthy priorities and boundaries.

Compliance PatternsCodependents often. . . :

• are extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long. • compromise their own values and integrity to avoid rejection or anger. • put aside their own interests in order to do what others want. • are hypervigilant regarding the feelings of others and take on those feelings. • are afraid to express their beliefs, opinions, and feelings when they differ from those of others. • accept sexual attention when they want love. • make decisions without regard to the consequences. • give up their truth to gain the approval of others or to avoid change.

Control Patterns Codependents often. . . :

• believe people are incapable of taking care of themselves. • attempt to convince others what to think, do, or feel. • freely offer advice and direction without being asked. • become resentful when others decline their help or reject their advice. • lavish gifts and favors on those they want to influence. • use sexual attention to gain approval and acceptance. • have to feel needed in order to have a relationship with others. • demand that their needs be met by others. • use charm and charisma to convince others of their capacity to be caring and compassionate. • use blame and shame to exploit others emotionally. • refuse to cooperate, compromise, or negotiate. • adopt an attitude of indifference, helplessness, authority, or rage to manipulate outcomes. • use recovery jargon in an attempt to control the behavior of others. • pretend to agree with others to get what they want.

Avoidance PatternsCodependents often. . . :

• act in ways that invite others to reject, shame, or express anger toward them. • judge harshly what others think, say, or do. • avoid emotional, physical, or sexual intimacy as a way to maintain distance. • allow addictions to people, places, and things to distract them from achieving intimacy in relationships. • use indirect or evasive communication to avoid conflict or confrontation. • diminish their capacity to have healthy relationships by declining to use the tools of recovery. • suppress their feelings or needs to avoid feeling vulnerable. • pull people toward them, but when others get close, push them away. • refuse to give up their self-will to avoid surrendering to a power greater than themselves. • believe displays of emotion are a sign of weakness. • withhold expressions of appreciation.

Source: Codependents Anonymous 

If you can identify with one or two from each section, an entire section, or maybe every bullet point listed, this is a great start!

I suggest printing out this article and highlighting the ones you identify with. You'll notice that the more you look at this list, the more you identify with certain behavioral patterns now that you are aware of them.

One Person's Codependency Story

I always held the opinion that I could never be codependent because I spent so much of my time preventing codependent behaviors in my romantic relationships. I would make sure not to text back right away; I would make sure to be unavailable ever so often, to maintain my independence; I would limit the time I allowed myself to spend with my significant other, in order to keep the 'spark' alive.

What I didn't realize was that my codependency had little to do with my romantic relationships, and a lot to do with my relationship with my parents, primarily with my father.

As far back as I can remember, I would look to my dad for approval before I accepted my own success or failure.

When I was ice skating competitively or playing soccer, I would look over to the sidelines and the crowds for a nod from my father when I made a great save or landed a killer jump. If I made a mistake, I would look over to the sidelines in fear that he would shake his head at my mistake, or tell me I did a horrible job.

In high school, I would be petrified if I got a bad grade on an exam; I would hide my exam, and just wait with utter dread for the moment he called me out on it. I had punished myself enough for the both of us, and his punishments would never be as awful as the ones I put myself through.

When I decided to forfeit my soccer scholarship at University because I was burnt out of both soccer and life at the time, I truly don't believe I would have done so if I didn't have my dad's OK.

When I went to community college for a year, I did some soul searching to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life, and penetrating the fashion industry was something that resonated with me. I enrolled in all fashion courses from design to sewing with my own money, and I had a plan to go to FIDM in Los Angeles or Parsons in New York. When I got home from my first day of classes with high aspirations and extreme excitement about the prospect of becoming a fashion icon, I told my dad the good news and he replied: "You're too smart to go to fashion school." I dropped all of my classes and enrolled in English, Science, and History classes.

You see, I didn't realize that these were codependent behaviors. I thought that you were supposed to listen to your parents and do what they say because, well, they knew more than I did. I wasn't just listening to suggestion from my dad... I was taking everything he said as my reality and essentially living the life he wanted for me, not the life I wanted for myself. I didn't even know what kind of life I wanted for myself.

When I got sober, I realized I had a lot more going on than just a drinking problem. So, I started a CoDA meeting with a friend of mine, and we learned as much as we could about codependency. Some of our friends inquired about the meeting with interest, and the meeting grew into a 10-15 person group, which allowed us to open up the meeting for dialogue and suggestion.

I realized that the major decisions I made over the course of my life were based out of fear for my father's approval. I learned to enjoy a few things of my own, without talking to my dad about it. I felt guilty that I wasn't keeping him involved in my day-to-day decision making, but it got easier and easier the longer I did it.

Slowly, I developed some boundaries (for myself more than my dad), and I stuck to them with the help of friends who understood my codependency struggles.

The funny part: when I started making decisions for myself, my dad told me he was proud of me. He said that all he ever wanted was for me to be successful and independent. I was now making independent decisions based on what wanted to do, and he was happy.

Codependency Literature

Each of these books has been taken from the Amazon Best Seller list and received 4.5 stars or higher.

Some you may have heard of, some may seem obsolete, but the best way to learn at your own rate is by the written word.

Here are five fantastic books on codependency (click on any book image to go to the Amazon listing):

Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself

by Melody Beattie

Synopsis (Via Amazon): Is someone else's problem your problem? If, like so many others, you've lost sight of your own life in the drama of tending to someone else's, you may be codependent--and you may find yourself in this book--Codependent No More. The healing touchstone of millions, this modern classic by one of America's best-loved and most inspirational authors holds the key to understanding codependency and to unlocking its stultifying hold on your life. With instructive life stories, personal reflections, exercises, and self-tests, Codependent No More is a simple, straightforward, readable map of the perplexing world of codependency--charting the path to freedom and a lifetime of healing, hope, and happiness.

Codependent No More - How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself
Codependent No More - How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself

Codependency: Loves Me, Loves Me Not - Learn How to Cultivate Healthy Relationships, Overcome Relationship Jealousy, Stop Controlling Others and Be Codependent No More

by Simeon Lindstrom

Synopsis: If you’ve had difficulty with starting or maintaining relationships, issues with feeling jealous and possessive or find that your connections with others are more a source of distress than anything else, this book is for you. By finding ways to be more mindful throughout the day, as well as exercises in improving your communication skills, this book will show you how to have relationships that are calmer and more stable and compassionate. We’ll begin with a look at the phenomenon of codependency, what it has traditionally meant in the psychological realm and how these traits and patterns can be traced back to issues of self-worth, compassion and more deliberate action.

Codependency - Loves Me, Loves Me Not
Codependency - Loves Me, Loves Me Not

Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You

By Darlene Lancer

Synopsis:  A nationally recognized author and codependency expert examines the roots of shame and its connection with codependent relationships. Learn how to heal from their destructive hold by implementing eight steps that will empower the real you, and lead to healthier relationships. Shame: the torment you feel when you’re exposed, humiliated, or rejected; the feeling of not being good enough. It’s a deeply painful and universal emotion, yet is not frequently discussed. For some, shame lurks in the unconscious, undermining self-esteem, destroying confidence, and leading to codependency. These codependent relationships--where we overlook our own needs and desires as we try to care for, protect, or please another--often cover up abuse, addiction, or other harmful behaviors. Shame and codependency feed off one another, making us feel stuck, never able to let go, move on, and become the true self we were meant to be. In Conquering Shame and Codependency, Darlene Lancer sheds new light on shame: how codependents’ feelings and beliefs about shame affect their identity, their behavior, and how shame can corrode relationships, destroying trust and love. She then provides eight steps to heal from shame, learn to love yourself, and develop healthy relationships.

Conquering Shame and Codependency - 8 Steps to Freeing the True You
Conquering Shame and Codependency - 8 Steps to Freeing the True You

Facing Codependence: What It Is, Where It Comes From, How it Sabotages Our Lives 

By Pia Mellody

Synopsis:  Pia Mellody creates a framework for identifying codependent thinking, emotions and behaviour and provides an effective approach to recovery. Mellody sets forth five primary adult symptoms of this crippling condition, then traces their origin to emotional, spiritual, intellectual, physical and sexual abuses that occur in childhood. Central to Mellody's approach is the concept that the codependent adult's injured inner child needs healing. Recovery from codependence, therefore, involves clearing up the toxic emotions left over from these painful childhood experiences.

Facing Codependence - What It Is, Where It Comes From, How It Sabotages Our Lives
Facing Codependence - What It Is, Where It Comes From, How It Sabotages Our Lives

You're Not Crazy - You're Codependent. What Everyone Affected By: Addiction, Abuse, Trauma, Toxic Shame Must Know to Have Peace in Their Lives

By Jeanette Elisabeth Menter

Synopsis: If your life has been affected by addiction (yours or someone else's), abuse, trauma or toxic shame, you may also be struggling with another invisible problem - codependency. Without your even being aware of the connection to the above issues, it has created additional life-long challenges such as endless guilt, anxiety, perfectionism, need to control, depression, a history of dysfunctional relationships and much more. This easy to understand, interactive book will reveal how codependency has sobotaged you, the lies it created in your beliefs and the truths that expose them. Also included is a Guide to Recovery using simple acts of mindfulness to overcome harmful habits in your thinking, actions and choices that are keeping you from having peace. Once you understand you are not crazy, just coping with the deep-seated effects of codependency, you will be free to create the life you were always meant to have.

You're Not Crazy - You're Codependent
You're Not Crazy - You're Codependent

Going Forward

Codependency is not something about which to be ashamed; it is a common struggle.

Maybe you don't feel comfortable speaking openly about your codependency, but there are tons of resources online and in meetings that can help you.

Here are a few links:

Codependency for Dummies

Wiki on Codependency

Therapy for Codependency