I have spent many years in AA and was several years sober before I started to seek emotional sobriety. My previous post on the healing my inner child talks about my journey to acceptance and forgiveness of my childhood trauma. I also found that as I got more physical sobriety under my belt that my need to have other people’s approval became acute. I expect it was always there but masked and at least not acknowledged by me due to my active alcohol addiction. As often happens in AA a wise friend recommended I go to Codependents Anonymous. I went to a meeting and was simply freaked out as I thought the people there were very sick, frightened and in some cases mentally ill. I went home and decided to do some research I read Melody Beatty’s life changing book Codependent no more and slowly started to identify my issues with other people. Wikipedia gives a good definition of Codependency and the part that resonates with me to this day and which I finally started to recognize was ” It also often involves placing a lower priority on one’s own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others” it also says “Narcissists are considered to be natural magnets for the codependent”
Through working my AA program I was able to recognize this as a character defect(people pleasing). I always thought that I was good to others because I was a kind person. I recognized that I did nothing for others without looking for approval. There was no “gifted giving” it was all about me. When I gave of myself and got no reward or praise I saw that this was a huge trigger to a resentment which would grow and fester. Remember that for the most part these people did not ask for my help I took it upon myself. At times I would have excruciating anxiety that not only did they not appreciate me but I had done something to offend them. I started to look at myself and realized that I did nothing for others that did not have something I call the “At a Girl” at the end. Using Melody Beattie’s book, a therapist and my sponsor’s support I slowly started to practice giving anonymously to see what it was like. At first it was comical and I would tell a stranger in Costco I was buying a gift for a church program and when they looked at me like I was nuts I would tell the checkout girl whose job it was to smile at me. Oh good there’s the “At a Girl” in her smile. Through careful and painstaking recognition of my actions I was able to stop what is essentially manipulating people for my own reward. The low self-esteem causing this is a whole other issue and no doubt came from my troubled childhood.
The attraction to narcissists took much longer to deal with. I would end up in situations one after the other where I felt controlled and manipulated. I would shout “why are these control freaks always attracted to me, why are these mean people so attracted to me” I learned that it was I who was attracted to them not the other way round. I choose these people to feed my codependency. I made some very serious mistakes and sometimes at huge financial cost in business by letting these people into my life. I used to say to my sponsor “I know how to get out of hell when I get there but how do I avoid the journey”. I am still working on this and trying to avoid the journey and the pain that the codependent relationships cause me especially with sick people. I have become much better at recognizing my part in these relationships and although I would love to say I completely avoid getting into them I am getting better at exiting them quicker. I recently walked away from a very lucrative deal where every sign that I was dealing with narcissistic people was right in front of me and that is progress. There was great discomfort and my instincts which I finally listen to said walk away.
Codependency is also prevalent in the non-alcoholic who is in the relationship with the drinker. This is often a family member who is not there by choice, a mother a father a child, brother or sister. Many codependents are attracted to the alcoholic so they can care of them. This leads to a downward spiral and to the type of depression and broken spirits I saw in the room of coda. Many co-alcoholics stay long past any sane and sound person would defying the reality that the alcoholic is going drink themselves to death. Indeed, I have seen situations where the alcoholic would have been long dead but for the care of their partner who picks them, up sobers them up, and pleads with them to get help then see them go out and earn the money for the alcoholic to get loaded again. Alcoholics in their disease are extremely selfish and care little for the hurt and pain they cause to their often sick partner or family member. It is no surprise that Lois Wilson set up AL anon through talking to other wives about their lives with the alcoholic and the resentments they had from the past she wisely recognized that they needed just as much help as the alcoholic. Many partners feel like they have no purpose now the alcoholic is sober. This is clearly not a normal reaction or response and needs help. I have heard wives say that it was actually better when their husbands were drunk they knew where they stood. That is a very scary place to be. More comfortable in the sick relationship than in a sober healthy one. I loved the movie with Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia “When a man loves a woman” it showed the role of the codependent played by Andy Garcia very well.
Regardless, of where you are at in your journey as either the drinker, addict, family member or partner there is help and it’s my personal experience that this disease does need to be treated with therapy as well as the 12 steps. I know in my case I suffered longer than I needed to by not recognizing the problem and getting the help I needed. I would start at AL Anon as the spiritual process of the 12 steps will benefit enormously but I also found the help of a skilled therapist got me to a better place quicker.