When you’re hurting, not helping the addict that you love: Hard truths to recover from codependency.
The smell of Jack Daniels oozed from his pores. I hung my head off of my side of the bed at night so the smell wouldn’t be so suffocating. I prayed constantly and sometimes even screamed at God at the top of my lungs, “How much more of this do you expect to take?”
Being in a relationship with an addict is hard. If you are codependent you may have been experiencing the agony for years or even decades. If you are still reading you probably know what I mean. Have you tried to get them to quit by begging and pleading until you are blue in the face? Do you feel like you can’t take any more but are afraid to move on at the same time? Are you afraid of what will happen to you if you leave? Or are you more concerned about your loved one’s future? If you are staying because you know they will perish without you, you are codependent. Don’t shoot the messenger. I know of what I speak. I am a recovering codependent. I’ve walked a mile in your shoes. In fact, I climbed Mount Everest in those puppies.
If I had someone like me to hold my hand, be a shoulder to cry on and coach me into recovery, it may not have taken so long to see the light at the end of my tunnel. I wasted years giving lip service to letting go and letting God. Codependents are control freaks for the most part. We can also be perfectionists and overachievers. Admitting that we are not in control does not come easy. Let me tell you a little bit about my road to recovery. My prayer is that it will speak hope into your situation.
My husband has been sober for over twelve years and there are many who said that it would never take place. It didn’t happen because I browbeat him either. I tried all of the usual tactics for years to no avail. You know the ones I’m talking about? Hiding the booze. Cutting up his credit cards. Screaming threats at the top of my lungs when I was totally intoxicated myself. Because, by God, if I had to go home to a drunk I wasn’t going to do it sober.
I too was drinking daily just to tolerate Tommy. Then my life came crashing down around me when he asked me for a divorce. Talk about a shock. I was working my tail off and paying all of the bills and he wanted to divorce me? And here’s the rub. I was working very hard at my bar. Yep, you heard me right. I owned a bar. And I knew my husband was an alcoholic when I bought it. Silly me only saw the advantage of getting his liquor at retail prices, that my friend is self-deception on steroids.
It didn’t take long for things to deteriorate. My husband quit his well-paying job within two months of my purchasing Johnny’s Bar & Grill in Hollister, California. I’d been in the bar business as a cocktail waitress and bartender since the tender age of seventeen. By the time I was nineteen I was managing a bar in San Jose, California. I took to the business like a duck to water. I’ve got an A-type, controlling personality. When I set my mind to something I get it done, on time and to the best of my capacities. I’m not bragging when I say that if I can’t excel at something I’m not interested in doing it. This is a blessing and a curse.
Realizing that I had issues that were affecting me in a very negative fashion I enlisted the help of a therapist shortly before I met Tommy. I had a penchant for choosing womanizers and I wanted to know why I kept repeating the trend. Therapy taught me that if dysfunction is all you know in your formative years it is what you will be comfortable with. I grew up in a very dysfunctional home full of chaos. When I realized why I was attracting womanizing, heartbreaking creeps I changed my perspective. This led to me opening my heart to a perfectly wonderful alcoholic. A fixer I was, and a fixer I continued to be. I didn’t have to worry about Tommy cheating on me with a woman but with his mistress was Jack Daniels. It’s hard to discern which is the lesser of two evils.
Tommy and I enjoyed each other’s company immensely. In the beginning, the fact that it always involved alcohol didn’t faze me. I’d been in the bar business almost half of my life and hung out with drinkers on a regular basis. It was just part of the lifestyle. A heads up, if you are packing a man’s lunch for work and including two beers and a large screwdriver (vodka and orange juice) not the tool, your significant other may have an alcohol problem.
Something else we codependents are good at is rationalizing. I figured as long as Tommy went to work and brought home a nice paycheck his drinking was irrelevant. It had to be what I was telling myself when I made the decision to buy a bar knowing full well that my husband was an alcoholic. What started out, as a fun and fulfilling career running my bar and keeping multitudes of people happy, became excruciatingly stressful when my husband’s disease accelerated.
For the first few years, I was thoroughly immersed in taking a fledgling bar and grill and turning it into a thriving bucket list destination. I worked 80-hour weeks and we no longer had a home life. Our home was the bar. So the fact that my alcoholic husband spent all day consuming copious amounts of booze, running up charge cards into the thousands and being zero help to me on the home front or the bar front should not have come as surprise. One of the hardest things that I had to do was face my accountability in our dire situation.
“You got what you deserved,” you may be thinking. “I don’t own a bar. What can you do or say that would help me?” Each and every codependent plays a role in their addict’s predicament. We usually enable their lifestyle in one or another. In fact, in many cases we do the exact opposite of we should do if we really want to help them. It’s not an easy thing to face but as Jesus says in John 8:23, “The truth will set you free.”
You need to identify the things that you do and say that trigger the worst behavior your loved one. In doing that I was able to change my situation. If you are like me your mouth can be your worst enemy. The Bible likens the tongue to a two-edged sword and I can tell you I wielded a mean one. I was 43 when I gave my life over to God’s care. He used my husband’s disease and the threat of a divorce to change my mindset. Changing the things that came out of my mouth was the hardest and took the longest. God didn’t even begin to do a work in Tommy until He spent four years transforming me.
Have you been watching a loved one disappear into their addiction? Have you been picking up the pieces of their messes and making excuses for them to others? Do you feel like you don’t even exist to them anymore? Does their addiction trump everything else in their life including you, their job, their health and even your children? You feel helpless and alone. I get it.
But you are not alone. I remember my first Al-anon meeting well. I cried like a baby through the entire thing. Not just because my life was such a mess. I was so relieved to hear that many others understood my plight. They dealt with the same challenges and many suffered through experiences that were much worse than mine. But they trusted their lives to God and they persevered. The resounding message was that you are the only person responsible for your happiness and you are the only one that has the power to change the way you live.
I know that’s a tough one to swallow. It took me a while to embrace that truth. Some Al-anon members had been taking part in the program for more than twenty years. Some stuck it out with their alcoholics while they sobered up and then relapsed, sometimes more than once. You may think you have it bad. However, the realization that there are people who have it much worse than you do will cause you to reflect. It’s like having a guiding light in a dark tunnel. Those beautiful people in Al-anon helped me more than I can say.
I drove 50 miles to the meetings. I didn’t feel comfortable attending them in my hometown where I most likely served the alcoholics that were causing their loved ones so much pain. It was a huge commitment of my time and energy but I knew I needed help. I wasn’t capable of doing it alone. I worked the program, embraced my Christian faith with fervor and concentrated on my own issues instead of my husbands. The first of the Twelve Steps of recovery for codependency is admitting that we are powerless and that our lives have become unmanageable. It’s number one because it’s darn hard and without it, you have no hope of getting through the other eleven. The alcoholic has to admit that he is powerless over alcohol. It’s a physical and physiological addiction. The enemy is obvious because it’s the bottle. Not so for the codependent.
How can it be that you are the one with a problem? You have bailed them out, paid their debts, and covered their tracks by fixing their mistakes. Their problem overshadows yours by a landslide. Your enemy is covert. Facing it head on and with help is the only way to overcome it. Al-anon is a great program and there are many other group-attended curriculums that address codependency.
For me, a spiritually based recovery was a must. I buried myself in my spiritual walk and by the grace of God, I got my mind right. And then God worked on my husband. I sincerely believe that if I hadn’t concentrated on my own recovery, my husband would not have experienced his. If I’d continued to help my husband he’d probably be dead and we certainly wouldn’t be looking forward to our 25th wedding anniversary this year. In October we will have been together for 29 years. We enjoy each other more now than we ever have. God is at the center of our relationship and life is good.
You can experience freedom from codependency, enabling and caretaking behaviors. You can experience peace in the middle of adversity. You can remain joyful even when things aren’t going your way. You can leave your loved one in God’s hands and trust that He will take care of them while you can get to the root of your own issues and break free from emotional bondage.
It won’t come easy but I’d like to help. I’d like to see you liberated from codependency. God’s the answer and I’m His assistant. I believe He got me through my mess so that I can help others get through theirs. You don’t have to drive 50 miles or even five miles to get my assistance. I encourage involvement in codependency group meetings but sometimes it’s hard to fit those meetings into your schedule. Maybe you are more comfortable in a one on one setting. I may be the help you need. I offer one on one coaching online, on the phone or in person. The choice is yours.
Please sign up for a 30-minute strategy session at catyson.com and let’s see if I can help. Many people have shared how much my memoir Born Again in a Biker Bar helped them. It’s an open and honest tale of craziness and redemption. I’d love to hear your comments or have you share your experiences. God bless, Cat