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I love self-help books.
It’s embarrassing… but I’m, like, drawn to them. It may be the natural counselor in me. I’ve read: French Women Don’t Sleep Alone: Pleasurable Secrets to Finding Love; Succulent, Wild Women: Dancing with Your Wonder-Full Self; Radical Self-Love: A Guide to Loving Yourself and Living Your Dreams; and my most recent late night Amazon purchase, Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself.
I got this book for a couple of reasons. First, the issue of codependency comes up again and again in my work as a counselor at Sanford House. Codependency is strongly linked to substance abuse. So much so, in fact, psychologists have developed theories to address it specifically.
Second, I am an adult child of an alcoholic (ACOA). I see signs of codependency in my interactions with others all the time. I recently started a new relationship with a pretty neat someone, and I don’t want my issues with codependency to poison the waters.
So I decided to fix it.
(According to my book, one trait of ACOA's is an overdeveloped sense of responsibility.)
The effects of addiction stretch farther than the addicted individual alone. Addiction affects an individual’s friends, co-workers, barista… And addiction touches all members of a household, including the dog. Addicted behaviors are particularly impactful on little ones. Little ones developing ideas about the way the world works, and the way a family should function.
We can forget (often and easily, I think) that kids see EVERYTHING. Kids aren’t oblivious bystanders, they pay attention to absolutely everything we do and say. It’s their job after all, they are programmed to watch and copy.
So what effects do our addictive behaviors have on our tiny buddies?
Like our reaction to most stimuli, COA’s may respond to parental addiction externally or internally. Examples of external symptoms include rule breaking, aggression and impulsivity. Internal responses look more like anxiety and depression. It’s important to remember these behaviors may have roots in indirect effects of addiction. For example: Dad’s substance use may not be the reason Marilyn is fighting with girls at her school... Rather, Marilyn is a witness to domestic violence (and pattern of physical solutions to anger, conflict) spurred by Dad's drinking.
And then those externally or internally responding kiddos grow up to be adults. Adults in marriages, adults performing professional duties, adults parenting children. There is an entire organization, like AA, dedicated to supporting adult children of alcoholics. Appropriately named Adult Children of Alcoholics, or ACA. The organization’s website has a myriad of resources including meetings, literature, counselors, etc. And they define codependency in the following ways:
Especially that first one. My good feelings about who I am stem from being liked by you. Damn. That’s heavy! And so damaging...
I like this list because it does a good job of describing the experience/concept of codependency. A word, much like “bipolar,” that a lot of people use but few use correctly. Codependency isn’t about an individual’s preference for company. It’s about placing your self-worth, energy, and soul into another person with the assumption that it will help you to define and be your best self.
Does this describe you? Your kiddos? Never underestimate the weight your natural and unconscious behaviors and interactions hold. So much information there.
*There are a number of wonderful articles written on this topic. If this subject is important or interesting to you, I encourage you to spend some time researching. Knowledge is power! I’ve taken my information from a 1997 article called, Psychological Characteristics of Children of Alcoholics by Kenneth J. Sher, Ph.D. It comes out of Missouri. It’s a bit dated, but still good.