Collateral Damage

During a recent recovery training class I attended the teacher asked the following question:  Who is the person that all addiction professionals have the hardest time helping? The answers were coming fast, and all were wrong according to him.  Some said “meth-heads,” others said “methadone addicts,” and other answers consisted of bulimics, anorexics, over-eaters, cigarette-smokers, etc.  The professor just kept shaking his head no.  Finally someone gave the answer he was looking for:  co-dependents. There was a collective sigh of agreement from the room when the answer was given.

The human ego is our outward expression of who we think we are.  Ego is what we show to the world.  A Course in Miracles defines ego as “nothing more than a part of your belief about yourself.”  Of course, for the most part, our belief about our self is almost always very limited and oftentimes incorrect. Nonetheless, it is a critical part of who we are and how we experience life here. 

So one of the most difficult things to get across to someone who has been affected by the behaviors of their loved ones is that they have been negatively impacted much in the same way that their loved ones are.  When the topic of co-dependency comes up with a family member of an addict or abuser, the answer we get is almost always the same: “I am not the one with the problem; they are!”

It sure is easy to see it that way, too.  The alcoholic/drug addict has clear and definitive symptoms. Their lying, stealing, scrapes with the law, loss of jobs and relationships directly relate to addiction.  Yeah, addicts are pretty much out in the open with their disease, but guess what?  They don’t see it themselves.  And the same is true for co-dependents.  They do not see the destructive nature of their behavior but, most people around them do.

For the outsiders, co-dependent behavior is baffling.  Many say, why won’t she just leave him? Or how many chances will he give her?  Or I can’t believe they put up with that kind of behavior.  Rational people cannot grasp what keeps the co-dependent repeating self-destructive behaviors.

My heart goes out to the sufferers of co-dependency.  The longing for love lost is heartbreaking to witness.

When an addict takes his first drink or drug, they have no idea they are going to become enslaved and addicted to it.  At some level, however, we understand that what we are doing could have some serious consequences. When a person falls in love with an addict or an abuser or a person with a narcissistic personality, they are much more unaware that they have become collateral damage to the disease of addiction.

To some degree, addiction is contagious.

How can a person’s thinking not be affected by the unpredictable behavior of their loved ones?  Our ego, in many cases, attaches ownership to our significant others.  We feel responsible for their behavior and their public image.  Soon we begin to lie to cover for them.  Not to protect them.  Usually by that point we don’t care much about them anymore.  No, we do it to protect us.  We don’t want anyone to see that we don’t have it all together.

This is the point our ego becomes the obstacle we must overcome.  And sadly, many do not.  If only we in the helping community could get the point across that when we have one finger pointing at someone else, there are always 3 pointing right back at us.  Try it and see.  No, the thumb doesn’t count!

What I would like to get across here in this blog and in my life’s work is that recovery from anything is really our human quest.  Staying the same, remaining unchanged, attempting to uphold an image of perfection goes against what the human experience is all about.  We are here to grow and experience all there is and as much of it as possible.

Sadly, what happens to all too many of us is that we end up experiencing the same things over and over again.  After 50, 60, 70 years of that, many are so done with it they just wish life would end. I don’t feel it needs to be this way.  I have met countless people now in my 26 years of recovery; and for the most part, these people are living and enjoying life again.

Being in a place of actively welcoming change into your life is a magical place. Breaking down the walls of ego and being transparent with your life is a gift from the soul.  We can’t learn anything if we are always right. We can’t receive compassion from others if we hide our pain and sorrow.  We can’t experience love others until we learn to love ourselves.

Co-dependency, like addiction, is not a derogatory identity to have. It is merely the path we have chosen to take on this particular journey through the physical.  We have been here before; and undoubtedly, we will be here again.

If this article has struck a chord with you please feel free — no, feel inspired to comment below.  Be the one who starts the conversation.  Be the source of recovery from the destructive thought patterns that limit our experience here in the physical realm. This is your invitation.

(Kevin McCormack, C.A.d ,is a certified addictions professional and auriculotherapist.  He is a recovering addict with 26 years of sobriety. Kevin is a practicing auriculotherapist, life coach, and interventionist specializing in individual and family recovery and also co-facilitates spiritual recovery retreats for the CWG foundation.  You can visit his website Life After Addicton for more information. To connect with Kevin, please email him at Kevin@TheGlobalConversation.com)

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  • PJ

    Wow. Yes. Struck a chord. I am the mother of a recovering drug addict. My most tumultuous years were the past 3 years. After experiencing the pain of all you mentioned with regards to lying, scrapes with the law, rehab, etc etc, I more clearly understand my role as a codependent in this. After a year now of her sobriety, my daughter and I are delicately piecing both of our lives together. I resonate with what you’ve shared. That said, my question is this…. As parents isn’t our codependency to our children innate? From day one of their birth don’t we do about anything to ensure their survival? Wouldn’t most of us do anything to save our children?

    • “As parents isn’t our codependency to our children innate? From day one of their birth don’t we do about anything to ensure their survival? Wouldn’t most of us do anything to save our children?”

      Hi PJ, thank you for writing. Congratulations to you and your daughter for getting sober and rebuilding your lives.

      The care taking aspect of codependent behavior actually keeps the person who is being cared for in a place of illness or dependence. Doing this to a child would have the same result, the child becoming dependent on the parent to the point that the cannot take care of themselves. Some parents actually do this to their children.

      Our job as parents is to provide the sustenance of life that the child cannot provide for themselves and offer wisdom so they may choose their path. Many times, completely out of love, we take our role as parents too far. Hell, there is no handbook right?

      So yes innately we would do anything to save our children and I believe that is a deep part of our programming. Just like addiction however, the programming can become tainted, corrupted, misguided, or hurtful.

      The only way to know is to look at the results. Is the person getting better or worse? Is the relationship growing closer our further apart? Are both parties gaining freedom or losing freedom?

      We are teaching our children independence all throughout their growing up. When we do for them the things that they should be doing for themselves we should take a good hard look at what we are trying to achieve and is it working.

      This is a great conversation to be having and I would love to hear more stories like this. I think one of the greatest things we can do as parents is be open to learning more about what it means to be loving, caring and inspiring.

  • Catherine Day

    Perfect timing for this discussion. I have finally realized my hope of following my intuition and leaving my ego behind. After 15 years of living with an alcoholic who also suffers with PTSD, I am leaving. I somehow liked the role of victim, a sacrificial lamb in the life of alcoholism. But it no longer serves me. I feel so free and alive now that I have moved on. Going to a NDW retreat in Oct.2012 started this change. I feel so blessed to be apart of this CWG movement. Love, C