I prided myself on the fact that of the five people in my family as a child, I was the only one who wasn’t addicted to drugs. My entire family was hooked on prescription medication. My mother and father died from it when I was only 18 years old, just 3 weeks apart, and my brother overdosed 7 years later at the incredibly young age of 24 years old. I saw what drugs had done, and I never wanted to engage in it. I truly believed that I was free from all addictions.
That was until the day that I realized that my toxic relationship was my drug.
My name is Dana, and I am a recovering codependent.
I thought I was being loyal. “This is what godly wives do.” I watched my parents argue my entire life. It was ugly, loud, and toxic, but no matter how bad it got, they stayed together. As a result, I believed love endured all, even if it meant at your own expense and sanity. They never physically fought with each other, so I didn’t equate the relationship with abuse. I can now see where it was just that in other ways.
Drugs never tempted me. I saw what they did, and I wanted no part of it. I told everyone, “I will not be like my family.” I love them dearly and miss them every day, but I wanted to live differently. I have strong faith as a Christian, and I felt these things were enough to say that I was free from addiction.
One day, when I was at my very worst amid the abuse, I sat in silence. I felt numb and defeated. Suddenly, I heard a small voice inside of me speak:
“You say that you aren’t an addict and are not like your family, but that relationship is your addiction. You are going in the same direction as your parents, and if you don’t get out now, you will eventually die young, just as they did.”
I was in utter shock. It was the truth. I may not have been doing drugs, but I was following in their footsteps. I thought I couldn’t breathe without being in the marriage I was in, as crazy as it may sound. Being his wife was my identity. I met him at 15 years old. He was there through my parents’ and brother’s deaths. We had three beautiful children together. The trauma bond we had was as solid as stone, and I just couldn’t bear to lose one more person in my life, especially him. He was my addiction, and I needed to be set free of it.
Facts on Codependency
Codependency is defined as a disregard of one’s personal necessities due to a severe fixation with people and external objects. It is often started by a traumatic experience that bonds the codependent, whose self-worth is usually low. Fear causes the codependency to get gradually worse due to emotions being suppressed by the codependent. This is seen often with families who have drug and alcohol struggles within them. (Cermak et al., 1989)
According to the journal, Patient Care (1989), some of the traits of a codependent are the following:
“Denial–of problems, of another’s condition, of feelings”
“Adherence to special rules of survival in a dysfunctional family, such as not talking about family secrets”
“Toleration of other people’s unreasonable behavior”
“Inability to break a codependent relationship without help”
“Persistent efforts to achieve the unachievable, such as willing a spouse away from alcoholism to abstinence”
“No understanding of normal behavior”
“Extreme anxiety and role distortions about intimacy and separation”
“Low self-esteem” (Cermak et al., 1989)
Many codependents originate by feeling helpless in their childhoods, and to cope, they learn to take on the role of the compliant caretaker, maintaining peace in the home out of fear of abandonment or rejection from one or more parents. Their self-worth is derived from the praise and admiration they get from exhibiting such behavior, but it’s at a cost and in exchange for their own feelings and emotions. Children are never meant to take on such burdens, and it becomes an unfortunate learned behavior, often plaguing their adult relationships. It’s a cycle that needs to be broken just like any other addiction. (Sullivan, 2018)
The codependent is a sitting duck for another type of person: a narcissist. Looking for someone to “fix” and show their undying loyalty to, a codependent is easily swayed by the charm, love-bombing, and manipulation of the narcissist. They exploit every bit of compassion and empathy a person has for them. Both narcissists and codependents are also fueled by shame and fear of abandonment, so they effortlessly bond together in the most dangerous way. The narcissist looks to the codependent to feed their ego, meet their needs, and reassure their worth, while the codependent eagerly obliges to it all. Ultimately, it will never be enough to feed the narcissist’s supply, and the codependent will exhaust themselves in the process. (Sullivan 2018)
What to Do if You are a Codependent
The first step to breaking codependency is realizing that you have a problem, to begin with. It takes courage to admit you have an addiction even if it’s to a person. Second, you must evaluate relationships in your life and see if they are toxic to your recovery. Sometimes, a codependent gets in a relationship with a healthy individual, and therapy can help the person heal with the connection intact; however, many cases are not so. My marriage was abusive and unhealthy, and I couldn’t heal in the place that made me sick. I had to cut my addiction cold turkey.
I will tell you, as with any addiction, the more you feed it the longer it takes to go away. I would have slip-ups when I first left my ex-husband where I would still act like we were a couple even though we were separated. It eventually came back to bite me when he abused me again. I knew I had to become strong and put my foot down. I started therapy and discovered a person whose needs and wants I never even considered because of putting everyone else’s first: me. I realized that I was worth fighting for, was a pretty cool girl, and deserved relationships with people that were interdependent, where both parties mutually give and take. This included friendships, family relationships, and intimate partners. My ex-husband wasn’t the only person in my life that I realized that I needed to distance myself from. Codependency doesn’t discriminate against people in our lives in other avenues. Chances are many relationships in your life are toxic if you are codependent.
You CAN heal from codependency! I am living proof that you can metamorphose into a healthy person who values yourself while loving others in a beneficial way to both parties involved. You can find romance after abuse that isn’t a toxic rollercoaster. I can stand proudly and say that I have broken the generational addictions of my family’s past, and I will teach my sons to continue this cycle instead. I still revere and respect my recovery, so I am never too prideful to think I couldn’t go back to what I was taught in my childhood, so I hold healthy boundaries in place in my life to keep me accountable. It’s a lifelong journey that I will work hard to sustain.
Recovery from codependency can be a beautiful adventure of self-love if you allow yourself to take the journey.
Cermak, T. L., Hunt, T., & Keene, B. (1989). Codependency: more than a catchword. Patient Care, 23(13), 131+. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A7889009/AONE?u=gain40375&sid=bookmark-AONE&xid=34d0a790
Sullivan, K. (2018). The Structure of Codependency and its Relationship to Narcissism. Journal of Heart Centered Therapies, 21(1), 53+. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A539922311/AONE?u=gain40375&sid=bookmark-AONE&xid=28561482