Today we meet S who is married to a functioning alcoholic. He has been that way since they met and despite her protests, has never looked to change or to respect her wishes. In therapy, she constantly complains about him and how he treats her but will enable him and his issues by avoiding talking about his drinking and ensures that the fridge is full of his favourite beverage when she goes shopping.
I have been offering online therapy for over 10 years. During that time, I have built up a speciality in many areas of psychology (especially Codependency) and helped many clients move forward. Contact me for a free consultation. I engage fully with my clients to ensure the best possible chance of recovery. I firmly believe that awareness is important but action is the decisive element of recovery. I accompany my clients along that road not only by offering sessions focusing on their issues but as a resource between sessions too.
The drinking is driving me crazy. We cannot go out without him drinking too much, coming home staggering around, slurring his speech and dropping on the bed asleep. I hate it and yet I cannot leave it. What does that say about me? I know I worry about what life on the other side of this relationship might look like, the work I will need to do and the new people I might meet. It’s all very scary. I know I buy him beer to keep the status quo. I can deal with him only when he is passed out and I know this is controlling.
There is much written on the internet (including by me) about the “new codependency”, the “love addiction”, documenting poor souls trapped in relationships with “narcissist”, emotionally distant partners. In therapy, we quite rightly talk about how to fix the broken childhood of neglect and abuse that created the situation in the first place. We always talk about taking responsibility for behaviour, choices and the need to set healthy boundaries. However, in many of the cases of codependency I deal with, the spectre of addiction looms large in the background.
A striking number of cases of codependency I deal with are associated with a partner who is an alcoholic in the true sense of the word. Perhaps not surprising when we look at the original definition of codependency:
“relating to a relationship in which one person is physically or psychologically addicted, as to alcohol or gambling, and the other person is psychologically dependent on the first in an unhealthy way.“
Much of the work around alcoholism created since the foundation of AA, treats it as a disease. Before this, it was seen as a weakness of character coupled with poor motivation to stop drinking. One thing we do know, is that most alcoholics are in denial and will use manipulative tactics to continue their passion for drinking. They will also be subject to the addiction cycle where feelings and triggers drive the need to drink.
One factor important in the addiction cycle is the presence of a partner who will enable the addiction by not setting strong, healthy boundaries around the addiction. A Codependent is the ideal person for an alcoholic to be around. One, they like to fix and will often enable. Secondly, they will sympathise with the struggle their partner’s addiction produces and will sacrifice themselves and their needs to help them. Thirdly, and most importantly, they are easily manipulated by an alcoholic partner who will often blame them for the fact they drink.
It is often a relationship that spirals out of control. The codependent threatens and tries by setting ultimatums, leaving (and soon returning), pleading, shouting, trying to get friends and family to help, in fact everything to try to stop their partner drinking. The alcoholic will respond with denial or violence, will offer to go “cold turkey”, switch from spirits to beer and from beer to non-alcoholic beer. They may be able to maintain this for days, weeks or even months but one thing can be stated for sure. Without professional help (rehab and therapy), they will drink again. There is also an element of control from the codependent who is generally worried about life after the relationship.
It is a well known saying but one very true in these cases. It states that addicts will only start recovery if they really want to or if they are left with no choice. Codependents will not be able to healthily set boundaries and as such become part of the cycle with the alcoholic. Difficult as it may be, the only real solution is to state categorically that unless effective help is sought then a relationship is untenable. It is a concept also of self-protection. There is also evidence that many alcoholics will seek help only when they contemplate that they are about to lose everything.
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In my early 20s I returned to university in my home city. I had just returned from a year overseas and met a very nice young guy and we became engaged to be married.
His addiction was marijuana, which is not physically addictive, apparently. He lit up first thing in the morning and he was smoking until the very end of each day.
We lived together for nearly 2 years, my first 2 years at university. I was very busy and he worked and we were social people and it took a while.
I finally said the pot smoking had to stop. He was a “nothing” while always stoned. He did try to stop, except he felt “stoned” when he should have been straight. He was then in first year university and his learning was “state dependent”. It seemed his whole life was “state dependent. I made him move out. His mother actually phoned me and would insult me and tell me how useless I was that I couldn’t make a relationship last and make reference to her miscarriage when young, as she knew two of my brothers were killed in separate car accidents when I was in my teens and she was hoping to effect me that way.
In the end I moved to another part of the country, and he followed me.
Throughout this time after I had made him move out I was in no way encouraging him to be near me, quite the opposite.
Eventually I left the country and we had no contact. Very easy pre-internet.
I was visiting my family about 10 years later and expected that my former fiancée had moved on. I felt his family must by then realize … I phoned his family’s number to see where he was to catch up and see how life was for him. His younger brother answered the phone, now an adult. He was furious that I had phoned, accused me of ruining his brother’s life and … On and on. A mutual friend later told me where C was working and I phoned to say hello, expecting that he would be friendly, as we had eventually parted seemingly friends. I was actually physically forced backward in my upper body with the verbal accusations and abuse.
I had NO feelings for C at this time and honestly had thought he was a nice person, for someone else. I had never said anything bad about him to anyone, and had actually taken his side whenever his mother would try to stick him like a round peg in a square hole.
I felt badly about myself for some days. Not at all because of where C’s life had taken him with himself at the helm, just the nastiness of those other people spewing their venom on me because I hadn’t devoted my life to a substance abuser.
I can only sympathize with people who cannot get clear of these other toxic people, who accuse those who make the mistake of giving them positive regard.
As an alcoholic in remission I am interested in how we alcoholic men ALWAYS find codependent women like a magnet. Even in sobriety, consciously trying to meet “better” people, I’m still surrounded by them. Either the vast majority of American women are codependent or there is some mechanism by which we subconsciously are drawn to the same people over and over.