Codependency and Recovery

image"Why do I need to go to counseling, he or she is the one with the problem?"

I hear this a lot.   Living with an addict is not fun.  It creates problems for us.

"My 30 old son is abusing alcohol and if he lives with us, he won't drink.  I think he won't.  Am I enabling him?"

Are we preventing a fall? Is this keeping him on "life support?"

I had to ask my wife to leave because of her drinking.  But do I really want her to leave?  Who will take care of the kids?  Well, I am confused here.  She is really taking pretty good care of them, but in some ways, they are taking care of her.  Wouldn't it be better if they didn't have stranger take care of them?  That is why she stays."

It is confusing.  There are no easy answers.  Addiction creates this dilemma.  We feel damned if we do and damned if we don't.

 "I used to be a kind and compassionate person before this relationship with an addict.  When I came to Al-Anon (a group for family members of alcoholics) I was mean and nasty.  Today with recovery,  I don't have to live like that anymore."

All we do is scream and yell.  Everyone tells each other what to do, what to think. . . it is downright controlling.  Can't we just leave each other alone.

We struggle when in a relationship with an addict.  It is that simple.  We "try" a lot.  We try to fix it and make it better.  We try to get along.  We try to patch things up.  We try to get an alcoholic, sexaholic, drug addict, spend-a-holic, compulsive gambler or anyone who looks like they have a problem to "sober up."  Ultimately, we try to run someone's life and make choices for them.  It doesn't feel like it, but if we are honest with ourselves or can the light shine in, we discover that this is what we are doing. 

Just like the alcoholic, we are compulsive.  I had a client once read the book on codependency and say, "Well, I just stop doing all these things.  I will stop being codependent."  If it were only that simple.  (the alcoholic does the same thing, thinking they have control over the disease)

We struggle with seeing someone we love mess up their lives with drugs and alcohol.  This begins to affect us.  Being strong and independent, we feel that their problem shouldn't affect us.  Just like the alcoholic who says, "the alcohol isn't affect me" we say "the alcoholic isn't affect me."  We feel though a compulsion to make him stop.  We feel that if she would just listen to me and just do it, they would get better. 

There are symptoms of Codependency, many of which are similar to the disease of alcoholism and other addictions.  The best approach is to see that we are battling the same disease, just at a different level.  It has been said by a recovering codependent:  "I have a problem with alcohol too, it is just that I can stop drinking.

A video - Boundaries in Relationships and Codependency


How did we get this way?

More likely than not it is from our childhood.  This sounds so psycho-analytic, but it pretty true.  We interact with our family for about 20 years before we leave home.  During that time, we have an emotional imprint that is impressed about us. 
  • How did we experience love?
  •  How did we deal with stress?
  • Did we talk with each other and reason things out?
  • Were our parents addicted?
  • Were our parents controlling or was there a letting go?
  • Was one parent an addict and the other a codependent?

This creates emotional programming.  This all has to do with bonding.  Bonding for the codependent is when we "help" them.  We may worry or fix them.  To love them is to help them get better.  We may not be attracted to people with problems.  We could have picked someone who didn't struggle with addiction, but we find that we did.

The other thing that can happen that we become codependent later in life when we connect with an addict.  Our childhood was pretty healthy, but as we stayed in the relationship we found ourselves getting more addicted to helping them.



The 12 steps
These principles, even though they appear simplistic, are pretty profound and life changing once they are explored, understood and practiced. The recovering addict claims "spiritual progress, rather than perfection." (taken from the book Alcoholics Anonymous) Perfection was part of the disease. Addicts could not admit many mistakes, imperfection or any problems prior to recovery. Why? Shame is a big part of it. We tend to use the word shame to describe what in fact is really, "toxic shame." Healthy shame reminds us that "we are not God." Most of the shame addicts experience is this "toxic shame," that is not being human. To compensate for the sense of shame, they are perfectionists. It is difficult for them to be honest with themselves about their faults, their shortcomings and the life in general. Without honesty, there is little growth. So unrecovered addicts tend to repeat the same mistakes without ever learning. Shame makes them arrogant, prideful and "better than life." They are in a "better than/less than" dance. You are either better than them or less than them. Health is recognizing that each person was created by God and that we have all been affected by the fall. This disease has affect us all. Since we have the serum, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, why then do we pretend to not have the disease. Shame? If we can only see ourselves as we really how, think how much more we could repent and make progress. In a shame-free environment, there is acceptance. Acceptance of another human weaknesses and strengths. By accepting we don't meaning condoning sinful behavior, but acknowledging and dealing with it. Because of shame we don't even want to deal with it. We bury it. We repress it. We actually don't think it is there. That is why so many alcoholics don't really think that there is a problem. Shame is the experience of being a "defective human being." Recovery helps us see that we are a "human being with defects." This shift in our approach to ourselves, helps us see ourselves as we really are and then repent and recover.


The Illusion of Control
Another element that addicts experience is that they feel so out of control, that they overcompensate by trying to control the externals--people, place, situation. Letting go is foreign to the life of an addict. In essence, they are "control freaks." We tend to think of negative situations involving control. But control can be trying to make everyone happy. Not ever really telling people that we are upset, because we don't want to upset the proverbial apple cart which would ultimately make us feel out of control. We don't want to be rejected, so we lie. Lying could be seen as form of control. We would any of us lie, except to alter peoples perceptions of ourselves. God knows that truth. We try to control our feelings. The more we seem to control, the more out of control we feel. We use our drug of choice, to give us a false sense of control.


The Four Paradoxes in Recovery

In recovery, paradoxes become evident.

  • We surrender to win.
  • We give away to keep.
  • We suffer to get well.
  • We die in order to live.

We SURRENDER TO WIN. We need to totally surrender unconditionally.  We acknowledge that we cannot win the battle against addiction and have totally made a mess of our our life.  We are better off if we stop running our life and let God run it for us.  We pray in Step 11, "asking only for God's will and the power to carry it out."  We are like a prisoner of war who who surrenders with our hands up and we do whatever our higher power tells us to do.

We GIVE AWAY TO KEEP. This strange expression identifies our selfishness and understanding that we can only be healed as "we give away what God has given us."  "Freely you have received, freely give." (Matthew 10:8)  When we are hoarding, greedy and stingy we are likely to use our addiction again as we have left a state of Grace.

We SUFFER TO GET WELL. There is no way to escape pain or suffering in this life.  It is a truth that most alcoholics as well as most people try to ignore.  The alcoholic, drug addict and sex addict use their substance to avoid suffering.  This is why they use.  Many people reserve the term alcoholic for those that really suffer--shaking, needing another drink, getting sick from drinking.  But perhaps they are numbing themselves in minor ways and are too out of touch with themselves to identify that they are drinking as a form of self medication.  To recover, we must go through the pain.  We must learn to be mature and to face reality.  Thankfully, the 12 steps help us face reality with the Grace of God.

We DIE TO LIVE. This beautiful paradox comes right out of the biblical idea of "losing our life" (Matt. 10:39) and denying one's self and carrying one's cross. (Matt. 16:24) The harder we hold on to our life, the more it slips through our fingers without us realizing it. (We call this white knuckling it)  But when we empty ourselves of our ego, and die to our dreams, our will and our ways, God will give us life.  We must die daily.  While we may decide to surrender at a certain point of time, we must surrender every moment, so as to acquire God's grace to keep us sober.  This only comes through death, his and ours.


Handouts and Articles on Addiction


Personality Traits of Addiction

Defensive Mechanisms of Addiction  (in MS Word)

Warning signs of Alcohol or Drug problems in Teenagers

How do I know I am a sex addict?

The 4th Step Handout  (PDF Format)

The Neurobiology of Addiction - by David Marley, Pharm.D.

"My Autobiography in Five Short Chapters" by Portia Nelson

Signs of Love Addiction

Continuum of Addictive Risk and Healthy Behavior

Questions for Alcoholism Assessment--developed by John Hopkins University

The Passions and the 12 Steps of AA

The 12 Steps in Reverse

Who am I? I am your Disease This chilling letter from the disease of alcoholism and drug addiction wakes the addict up to the damage addiction causes and the battle that takes place in recovery.

Gamblers Anonymous - 12 step for Compulsive Gambler

20 Questions for Compulsive Gamblers


Articles on Addiction
"Prescription Addiction" by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (in PDF format)

"How can I be codependent when I am not married to an alcoholic?"         by Erik Bohlin, M.A.

Emotional Leprosy by Erik Bohlin, M.A. (MS Word)

Treatment for Sexual Addiction (PDF) - by Erik Bohlin, M.A. 

Treatment for Sexual Addiction-mp3 recording.  This talk was given to the Stephen's ministers at Northcreek Presbyterian Church.  The above handout on Treatment for Sexual Addiction can goes with this talk.



Resources and Links for Addiction Recovery



Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Debtors Anonymous (DA)

Debtors Anonymous (DA) - Washington State Link  

Business Debtors Anonymous (BDA)

Narcotics Anonymous (NA)

Narcotics Anonymous (NA) - Everett Area and Snohomish Co.

Overeaters Anonymous (OA)

Overeaters Anonymous (OA) - Seattle Area Link

Gamblers Anonymous (GA)

Sexaholics Anonymous (SA)

Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) - Puget Sound Area

Workaholics Anonymous (WA)

The --a website dedicated to recovery principles.


Meeting Lists

Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting List (Greater Seattle Area)   This list covers from the Eastside (North Bend) to West Seattle.  From the North (Shoreline, Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mill Creek) to the South (Federal Way, Enumclaw).  Open the list the day you want the meeting for.

Alcoholic Anonymous Meeting List (Western Washington)    Look for your particular area or district for the list.

Debtors Anonymous Meeting List for Washington State

GA Meeting List - meeting list for Gamblers Anonymous

Narcotics Anonymous Meeting List (Everett area and Snohomish Co.)

Sexaholics Anonymous Meetings List in Puget Sound

Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) in Puget Sound Area (in MS Word format) (in PDF Format)


Recordings and Podcasts

Treatment for Sexual Addiction (PDF) - by Erik Bohlin, M.A. 

Treatment for Sexual Addiction-mp3 recording.  This talk was given to the Stephen's ministers at Northcreek Presbyterian Church.  The above handout on Treatment for Sexual Addiction can goes with this talk.


Treatment Centers

Treatment Center Resources - Listing of resources around Washington, Oregon, California and Arizona

Contact us for more information or help.