I recently was talking to a friend who attends an organization called CODA. She was telling me that many codependent people find themselves in relationships with alcoholics. I’d never really given the idea much thought. After researching the disease, I began to see many of the same personality traits within my self. I found the video below to be very helpful in understanding a little about what it means to be codependent.
Video Transcript Starting At 45 Seconds:
What I’m going to do today is literally go across this chart that I’ve got up on the board so that you can begin to gain an understanding of the disease of codependence.
The problem with this disease is that it’s so inherent in this culture that it’s hard to know that how it works is dysfunctional because how it works is normal for this culture.
We normally do the disease which means most of – about everybody does it. So it feels normal but the facts are it’s dysfunctional and I’m here today to talk about how it’s dysfunctional.
The reason why I finally made a chart up, which took me about 10 years, was because I couldn’t keep track of my own disease and I had a hard time tracking my patient’s disease. So I made up this chart so at any moment, I could know as a therapist where my patient was and also I could know at any moment where I was in my disease because you see, I have it too.
I define the disease as being a state of dis-ease and I spread the word out, D-I-S hyphen E-A-S-E and the reason why I do that is because for me I guess I don’t see it as a disease. I don’t see myself as diseased in this disease even though we describe it as a disease so we can get third party payment.
But I really see this disease as an issue of immaturity and I define it as a state of dis-ease caused by child abuse, that renders a person unable to do the five things necessary for themselves in order to be a mature person.
The five things they can’t do are in this third column on the board. A person who is a codependent is unable to experience appropriate levels of self-esteem. That’s this first issue right here, self-esteem issues. (I certainly found this to be true in the relationship I had with the Alcoholic.)
The second thing that they have trouble doing is they have trouble setting functional boundaries with other people. (We find that it is vitally important to set boundaries with an alcoholic, but don’t know how. So we let them plow us over.)
The third thing they have trouble doing is they have difficulty owning their own reality politically. By political, I mean they don’t know when to hold it and they don’t know when to let it out. They let it out when it’s inappropriate to let it out and they hold it in when it’s important to let it out.
What happens in that is they lose their sense of self in the process which is the major complaint most codependents have about themselves. They don’t know who they are and who they are is determined by somebody else, so this is a major issue. (This is why learning detachment from the alcoholic is crucial.)
The fourth thing that codependents are unable to do is they are unable to deal with their adult dependency issues around needing and wanting.
The fifth thing they are unable to do which usually gets them in the most trouble is they’re unable to experience and express their reality in moderation, which involves two issues.
One is that I don’t experience my reality inside myself moderately. I either find myself exploding inside, thinking wild thoughts and oftentimes exploding that out on other people. But I also might be so shut down, I don’t feel myself. So I’m exploding or not feeling inside and then what I do is I explode or hold it so far in that you can’t tell who I am. So on the outside, I’m either shut down or exploding and that’s basically the nature I see of this illness.
It’s a state of dis-ease caused by child abuse (I think we can also say that when we are abused by an alcoholic the same applies) that renders a person unable to experience appropriate levels of self-esteem. They’re either one down or one up around issues of how valuable they are. They see some people as better than and some people as less than they are and that’s why we say appropriate levels of self-esteem. There are two issues involved here.
They are unable to set functional boundaries with others so they can protect themselves and keep themselves from being offenders. They are unable to own their own reality politically so they can know who they are. They are unable to take care of their adult issues around needing and wanting. Needs are what you have to have in order to survive.
Basically there are about six or seven of them that I fool with. One is food. Another is clothing. Another is shelter. Another is physical nurturing. All people need to get physical nurturing from other people and physically nurture their own body through self-care. Emotional nurturing is probably the biggest one of all. We all need time, attention and direction from others forever. It’s how we grow and how we keep ourselves feeling good.
We all need medical attention. We all need dental attention in order to survive. We all have sexual needs that we have to attend to responsibly in order to survive and probably the biggest one of all especially for women that’s totally ignored is that we all are financially needy.
The second issue around wanting is probably the one that I’ve had the most difficulty in my recovery. Wants are what personally bring you joy and only you can determine that.
They literally determine the quality of your life and they’re what usually is ignored in recovery and not handled properly. My wants bring me joy. So is that important in your life? You bet it is.
It’s extremely important because it’s what makes me enjoy my everyday living or not and I divided wants into little wants and big wants. Little wants are the things that bring you joy but aren’t as important as the big wants.
Sometimes they seem as important but part of recovery is learning that there’s a vast difference in doing the little wants and the big wants and the more important wants are the big wants.
But the little wants are things like how I actually want to dress, what jewelry I might pick out for myself, what kind of car I’m going to buy, how I’m going to wear my hair, things like that, where I’m going to go on vacation. You know, doing the things that I like to do or having the things that I like to have in order to feel happy, just to give you an idea of how that kind of works.
I always thought I wanted a Cadillac. That brought instant conflict in my marriage with Pat because he doesn’t particularly like them and he likes old Mercedes. And I don’t like old Mercedes because old Mercedes jiggle and are hard to steer and I feel really worn out by the time I’ve sat in one for about an hour.
They also smell and I think they’re ugly and I don’t like them. I wanted a Cadillac. Not a new one actually, an older one. I had a heck of a time telling him that I wanted that because I had a lot of shame around my wanting and I actually didn’t know if I really wanted it or not because the issue around wanting is, “If you get it, is it going to make you happy?”
You see I said to myself in order to do that, that it has got to make me happy. Otherwise, I’ve made a mistake instead of understanding that how you find out what you want is you get it and try it out and if it isn’t what works, then you change your mind and go do something else.
But a lot of codependents can’t do that. It has got to be perfectly what I want. I’ve got to know that in advance and that’s what I did. Actually I did finally tell him I wanted that. I went into a shame attack that lasted two weeks. I mean a continual shame attack where I felt as though I was walking around about a foot off the ground. It was just a terrible experience.
But anyway I got it and I love it. I still have it. I’m probably going to have it for a long time. When it fails, I will probably get another one because I know I like Cadillacs. I found that out by getting it and it’s just wonderful. It brings me joy all the time every time I get in it. (This is why we encourage our readers to make a list of the things they enjoy in life and start doing them without the alcoholic. It breaks the enmeshment of codependency. You and I deserve to have a happy life while being with an alcoholic. The only way to do that is to create the happiness for ourselves.
And I drive it purposely because I do a lot of flying and I have to drive almost an hour and a half to two hours to the airport. So when I’m really taking good care of myself, I drive it down, I drive it back, because when I get off the road, I’m exhausted. But if I drive that Cadillac on my way home, it’s soothes me. I put music in the radio and I come home. By the time I get home, I’m OK. I don’t fall asleep on the road. So I use my Cadillac for many things and it’s just wonderful but it’s a little want.
The big wants are the things like who I’m going to marry, who I’m going to be in relationship with, what kind of work I’m going to do in my life, where I’m going to live, homes I’m going to buy, children I’m going to have, those sorts of things.
What do I want? Those are extremely important and give your life decided direction. Most codependents in recovery ignore this issue.
The last thing they have trouble doing is expressing their reality moderately both to themselves and to other people. So it’s a phenomenal disease.