I can think of someone who could easily apply the above cartoon to me. Probably more than one, but one for sure. What a palaver!
It’s anonymous but I can out myself – I have been in a twelve step program for over 12 years. Not AA or NA, or OA or GA or SA or DA or SLAA (alcohol, narcotics, overeaters, gamblers, smokers, debtors, or sex/love). I have been in a program for friends and families of alcoholics, Al-Anon. You could also describe it as being co-dependent, overly enmeshed in someone else’s life to the detriment of your own. All you really need is to be overly obsessed with someone else’s behavior so that living your own life becomes unmanageable.
I went into therapy because I had general anxiety. I couldn’t pinpoint where it came from but I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop – I would wake up to the vulture at the end of the bed. I was really unhappy because I was, well, anxious all the time. I must begin by saying that not everyone with anxiety has an addict in their lives but Al-Anon can help regardless. Also, often when people start to think about those around them or whom they grew up with they find the addict and their anxiety can be traced back.
I found Al-Anon many years ago while in therapy. My therapist asked if I’d ever been abused. I said no, but he said I acted as if I had been. He suggested I go to Al-Anon. Often children of alcoholics have been abused, if not physically than emotionally and psychologically. Never knowing if it was going to be good mommy or daddy or bad one, walking on eggshells, having to clean up after their parent and assume adult responsibilities. Afraid a lot of the time. The same is true of siblings, spouses, business associates and friends. People in our lives whom we love or whom we are heavily involved with whose lives are out of control because of drugs or alcohol or any addiction really, have an effect on us and how we live our lives, the decisions we make and the relationships we have.
I realized that I did have some bad behavior in my family. My sister was a rage-aholic, slamming doors and screaming since I was very young and disrupting the whole family. My parents drank a little too much, not that I’d label either of them as alcoholic, but certainly what they did was numbing something, and making them inaccessible to me. I craved approval, never knowing where the love was going to come from and therefore knocking on the wrong doors looking for it. A pattern of course, we go to what is familiar. In Al-Anon we call it “going to the hardware store for milk” eg; going somewhere where you can’t get what you need. It isn’t there so why are we in the hardware store? Why? Because, as they say, there is a sale on milk 2x a year, meaning sometimes you get what you want from one of these addicts so you think it’s going to happen again and you set yourself up for a fall every time. Go to the hardware store for hammer and nails. The milk is in aisle 5 in the grocery store.
I would have likely killed myself without Al-Anon and the fellowship I received there. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I was plenty unhappy much of my early adulthood. I couldn’t have proper relationships, I was picking the wrong people in every aspect of life and I did feel abused, in fact I was allowing myself to be abused. Setting it up, which is all a part of the disease. I was knocking on closed doors, as addicts can only give a little bit, and are too selfish (but charming as hell) to care otherwise, even in sobriety (a broad generalization but we call this a dry drunk, no longer drinking but still acting like an active drinker) and so I was lonely as all heck.
I’ve spent a great deal of time in my professional life working with addicts, Addicts are often very creative and successful. The creativity is a cause and effect of the disease, whatever it may be. I don’t need to tell you the hundreds of actors and actresses, singers, musicians, etc.., who are addicts. The list is long and illustrious. Often as well, addicts are bi-polar so their creativity can flow and they don’t want it to stop so they don’t get help for the depression and thrive on the mania.
I gave my whole life over to take care of someone who was an addict. It was my fault, my old problems and I needed help. I got it thankfully but it was a struggle and took years for us to extricate ourselves from one another. Indeed, I was so fully enmeshed in their life that we would often say we didn’t know how we could live without one another (and this was a completely non-sexual, non-romantic relationship). It was the epitome of an addict/al-anon dynamic. One person needs to be taken care of, needs to be guided, and propped up, and the other craves doing it until they become so bitter and resentful at not getting anything in return that they blow up. Who’s problem is this? Mine. I could have left at any time. It was complicated. It always is. But seriously, let it begin with me. No pining this on anyone else.
Addicts are inconsistent even in sobriety, even with recovery through 12 Step or another program (though honestly, I don’t think sobriety can be held without practicing 12 step every day). But it’s not a thing you do once in a while, it has to be every day. It’s a huge commitment and millions round the world have made it work for them, but it’s hard, especially when the diseases you have within would prefer to run rampant.
I interfered, I gave everything I had, physically, emotionally, psychologically. I let my mother die while I was too busy with the addict’s troubles to pay close enough attention, I walked behind the addict, was a doormat for the addict, sold my intelligence and pride for the addict and I felt completely comfortable doing all this until it made me so ill I wanted to die.
So I got help, I had to work it so hard I could almost do nothing else. There were terrible blow-ups and then reconcilliations, great understandings of one another, we were family, long-lost sisters and then…. horrible betrayals. Addicts are untrustworthy. They’d sell you down the river for a bottle of booze, right? Well, an Al-Anon is about as manipulative as they come. We will do everything to convince the addict we’re needed and it’s not hard to convince them; the addict can hardy take care of themselves even in recovery unless it’s been a long time and solid recovery. Al-Anon’s want to be loved just as WE need to be, not as an addict is able to. So, onwards goes the plan to change the addict into the person who will love us, make us feel how we need to feel – worthwhile. A pretty silly and destructive idea, right? We look for ways to fix, ways to solve problems, ways to make the addict look to us before and above everything else. We become indispensable and, of course, the erratic addict is never consistent, never on time or polite or stable, there is always something that breaks and make things so awful and terrible and self-involved (for that is the crux of addiction) that it cannot continue and everything falls apart in a terrible way. I suppose ‘never’ is incorrect, it’s just you don’t know from one time to the other that kind of behavior you’re going to get, so honestly, that counts as never to me.
I cannot get into details for private reasons. I have had several addicts around me, my family, some friends, even those in recovery, who have been on a very slippery slope that I had to extricate myself from to remain sane. The biggest exhibition of my disease came from someone whom I completely lost myself to when I became co-worker, friend, confidante, saviour, sister, mother, everything. I could not find myself inside that list but why find myself when I could gain the slightest bit of self-esteem when I had done something to help the addict? Problem is, the erratic nature of the addict would have me on a pedestal and then suddenly out of the blue my calls wouldn’t get returned for weeks. I was the enemy, I knew too much, had seen them at their worst, saw the vulnerability, saw the humanity. It was pain like nothing I’ve known, co-dependence - and it took a good 8-10 years to extricate myself fully.
I still slip here and there but essentially I have detached enough (with love) that I am no longer affected by the addicts in my life and whatever it is they do that is going to fuck up whatever opportunity they have, the lies they tell, the way they treat people. I no longer have to clean up their messes and worry half the night if they’re going to make it til morning. I have a child and I worry about him in normal and healthy ways. I take care of myself. I don’t let any relationships overshadow those two things. I care, I help, I am there for you but not over me. Not before my family and my needs.
With the addict I became gaunt and weary. I was in constant anxiety and fear. I was afraid for them and myself. I was unwanted, but needed, I was unloved but cherished and I was alone but constantly with them until I was thrown to the curb only to be asked back the next day. I walked the mountain for the addicts in my life and I was proud at the time. There was nothing wrong with being kind and loving to someone who craved and needed it from a fellow human being but not at the expense of my own dignity, not by being yelled at and used, not by putting my own mental health in danger. My disease of co-dependency changed my life immensely when I got help and worked the 12 Steps. I got back on my feet and today, recovery is a constant state of being in my body and soul.
I am open to hearing from anyone who is suffering within themselves because of an addict in their life. Addicts are not necessarily bad people. They have a disease and they can get help for it but they need to want it more than anything else in he world. It has to be the most important thing on their list and you cannot make it so. They have to show up for themselves, you cannot do it for them. But, you can do it for yourself and it doesn’t mean you have to leave the addict – it may mean you should, but there are many paths to take. I am happy to say I have guided several down the path to emotional sobriety. If anyone wants a hand you know where to find me – @tryingtrue
Twitter: @AlAnon_WSO www.al-anon.alateen.org www.al-anonuk.org.uk