What Recovery Taught Me About Co-dependency
When I entered recovery in 2012, a close family member gave me a copy of Melody Beattie’s book: The Language of Letting Go. First off, I thought it was rich that a person suffering with co-dependency bought me a book on how to change my thinking (!). Humor and judgment aside, I realized that they were giving me a gift. In the process of recovery, I learned so much more about myself than I expected; not only did I uncover why I drank, but I learned how to have meaningful relationships that didn’t constantly end in disappointment, or my getting hurt.
In its most basic sense, co-dependency is defined as: “excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically a partner who requires support due to an illness or addiction.”
That was my initial understanding of co-dependency; being attached at the hip to a boyfriend or girlfriend, and incapable of being alone. I saw a co-dependent as having a clinginess that I would associate to a wet shower curtain. None of these descriptions were me; I’d spent my entire life pushing people away. I suffered a chasm of bone-aching-loneliness that I filled with more drugs and alcohol. Naturally, it didn’t work; the chasm just grew.
I looked at that book with contempt for several months. As I became awakened in recovery, people kept mentioning that word, co-dependency; and I realized I’d rolled my eyes at them long enough. The pain of life became so unbearable that I picked up the book to find out what all the hype was about. Immediately my jaw dropped on the floor—I felt the same level of identification that I felt when I walked into a recovery meeting for the first time.
Melody says: “Ever since people first existed, they have been doing all the things we label “codependent.” They have worried themselves sick about other people. They have tried to help in ways that didn’t help. They have said yes when they meant no. They have tried to make other people see things their way. They have bent over backwards avoiding hurting people’s feelings and, in so doing, have hurt themselves. They have been afraid to trust their feelings. They have believed lies and then felt betrayed. They have wanted to get even and punish others. They have felt so angry they wanted to kill. They have struggled for their rights while other people said they didn’t have any. They have worn sackcloth because they didn’t believe they deserved silk.”
― Melody Beattie, Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself
I laughed with identification and continued to explore the concept of co-dependency with morbid curiosity. I learned that there are various ways that it can manifest in your life. For me, it is in the following ways:
- Caretaker co-dependency:
- I tried to fix people that I thought needed my help.
- I proceeded to help people in a way I thought best, even though they haven’t asked for it, and then got upset when they weren’t grateful for my help.
- I assumed responsibility for others well-being—if they felt bad, so did I.
- I rescued people from their responsibilities because I saw how overwhelmed they were, and assumed it would be far easier for me to complete their responsibilities for them. Only to become annoyed when they didn’t thank me for my [unrequested] help.
- I surrounded myself with people who ‘needed’ my help. In reality, Melody points out that it is me who was dependent—as I felt validated by their ‘need’ for my help.
- I have felt an inane desire to fix an uncomfortable situation, even if it was me who was wronged.
- Poor communication co-dependency:
- I find it difficult (still) to accurately describe my feelings.
- I feel very uncomfortable asserting my needs and when I do, I have this inane desire to care take the other person’s feelings.
- Low self-worth co-dependency:
- I sought approval and validation in motherly figures, which I used to justify my existence and fueled my terribly low self-esteem.
- I assumed responsibility for fixing uncomfortable situations.
- I avoided caring for myself and was more concerned with ‘helping’ others.
- When I felt rejected, I then rejected myself and saw it as a measure of my self-worth—that I am only worthy of being rejected, and not good enough.
- Weak boundaries codependency:
- I’ve said I won’t tolerate certain behaviors from other people and then proceeded to tolerate more and more.
- I let others hurt me, repeatedly, and then wondered why they would do that to me, until I exploded with rage.
With some work, I finally learned to detach myself from my perceived notion that others needed my help. I learned to—as a good friend of mine suggested—put down the microscope and pick up the mirror. I finally saw that I am only responsible for me and that to live well, I needed to communicate and enforce healthy boundaries—and sit with the uncomfortable feelings that arose out of doing that. Aside from stopping using drugs and alcohol, this has been the biggest part of my recovery—and the most freeing. I did need that book, and I’m thankful I was given it.
Article by Olivia Pennelle
Writer and wellness advocate, Olivia Pennelle (Liv), is in long-term recovery. Liv passionately believes in a fluid and holistic approach to recovery. Her popular site Liv’s Recovery Kitchen is a resource for the journey toward health and wellness in recovery. For Liv, the kitchen represents the heart of the home: to eat, share, and love. You will find Liv featured amongst top recovery writers and bloggers, published on websites such as: Recovery.Org, The Fix, Intervene, Workit Health, iExhale, Sapling, Addiction Unscripted, Transformation is Real, Sanford House, Winward Way & Casa Capri.