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Providing non-judgmental and non-criticizing support for family and friends of end-stage alcoholics through one-on-one coaching, support groups, blog posts, workshops and public speaking.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Recipe for frog soup...

I’ve written a couple of posts about co-dependency: Co-dependent enabler on August. 20, 2011 and You may be co-dependent on November 20, 2010. That’s just in case you want to check them out because here comes another post about co-dependency.

While watching an episode of A&E’s Intervention, I heard this statement: “At the heart of co-dependency is chronic neglect self.” I did some research and found this statement on the website for Orange County Detox Center. You can find it here http://www.orangecountydetox.com/codependency.html.

OK. I get it. However, I have to disagree that it is the HEART of co-dependency, but rather it is a result of being co-dependent. In my opinion the true heart of being co-dependent is having a need for the alcoholic to remain an active drinker. In other words, there has to be some kind of reward in the drunkenness. That reward will often discourage the non-alcoholic from pushing or taking action to get the alcoholic sober. The reward becomes so important that the non-alcoholic loses focus on their own health or well-being that they begin to neglect themselves. In a sense, they become addicted to having an addicted partner.

I have openly stated before that I don’t buy into the entire co-dependency theory. I’m positively sure that it happens. There is no doubt in my mind about that. I just don’t believe that it is an absolute for each and every case in relationships with alcoholics.

I remember the first time I was told I was a co-dependent. I was extremely insulted. How dare this counselor tell me I actually wanted Riley to stay drunk. It was absurd. I did not need him to be drunk, nor did I find any pleasure in his drunkenness. I had nothing to gain from continued alcoholic behavior and just wanted it all to stop. With my most excellent 20/20 hindsight vision – I still do not see how I benefited from Riley being a drunk.

I think that often it is the old frog soup scenario. If you don’t know how to make frog soup, I’ll refresh your memory –

If you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will jump out immediately. If you put the frog in a pot of cold water and slowly bring the water to a boil – you’ll end up with frog soup.

Alcoholism is a progressive disease that can start very slowly as a little pimple on the butt of a relationship and can grow into a cavernous cancerous boil devouring any flesh that comes in contact. Caretaking is the same way. It may start with fixing a bowl of chicken-noodle soup because the alcoholic doesn’t feel well and then you find yourself cooking four-course meals every single night to keep him with you at dinnertime because it’s the only way he will talk to you. Maybe that’s not a good analogy, but it’s the best I can do at the moment.

I know that there are people who have a need to fix others. For them it may be an addiction all by itself. I believe these fixers need to focus on other people’s lives because it is too painful to focus on their own. I understand that. But, I have never ever heard a woman say “I’m going to a bar and pick up a drunk to sleep with tonight because I just love cleaning up vomit first thing in the morning.” And I’m never heard a man say, “I love having sex with a drunk because they pass out in the middle of the act.” Or how about, “I want a full house for my birthday so I’m going to invite a bunch of drunks because I know they will come if there is free booze.”

Over the years I’ve been around a lot of drunks and a lot of people married to drunks. Not even once did I ever hear anyone say that they wanted to marry a drunk. Not once did I ever hear anyone say they wouldn’t change a thing because being with a drunk is a good life. No, instead what happens is we marry the love of our life and gradually it becomes frog soup with a side of vodka. The lucky ones realize it and jump out of the pot. Others are already cooked before they even know they are in a pot.

As long as I’m on the subject, how can a person try to get a person into recovery and at the same time let the alcoholic hit bottom? Those are two opposing goals. Maybe to stop being co-dependent means walking away. I can whole heartedly support that theory. The co-dependent walks away and lets the alcoholic hit bottom.

So let’s go back to the issue of chronic neglect of self. I raise my hand high because I am totally, absolutely, with a doubt, guilty of this. I often neglect my own needs while in the process of caretaking Riley. I do it with my kids as well, but Riley is my main catalyst. Lately, it seems, I’m far deeper into the self neglect thing than I have been in a long time. I didn’t realize how bad I had gotten until I started thinking about that line in the Intervention program.

Riley’s demands have become more demanding and his insane ideas have become even more insane. I try to reason with a person who can’t be reasoned with because there is no longer a sense of logic in the alcohol infused brain. I let down my boundaries to keep peace in the house. I tolerate behavior that I would never tolerate in myself. I don’t do it because I like it. I do it because it is easier than fighting it.

The farther we go into the progression towards the end of his days, the more I seem to forget that I have a person that needs me more than Riley. I need me. In fact, I need me more than he needs me.

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions. I know it’s almost February, but I’m making a resolution – we can call it a New Month resolution. I resolve to take better care of me. I resolve to find my humor again. I resolve to not let Riley destroy my sanity with his insanity.

The process of my own recovery has already begun. I’ve e-mailed the AA center to try to get some members out to spend some time with Riley. (Thanks to Syd for the suggestion.) I am having my own sessions with Gill, the addition counselor. I have started a new food program and have ordered an elliptical machine. I am going back to squeezing in some time for my sewing and design projects. I am finding myself again.

Make no mistake. Finding oneself is not as easy as it sounds. But, I didn’t feel like a co-dependent before I started this re-direction and I don’t feel like one now. I DO think I was neglecting myself, but I’m not sure if it was chronic. I think maybe it was a temporary detour in the highway of my life.


Colleen said...

Alcoholism is a disease. I can't say I agree 100% that codependency is a disease.
I do agree that just as a recovering alcoholic has to be vigilant to maintain recovery, so do we need to be vigilant in maintaining our emotional and physical health.

Gerry said...

I think you are presenting a lot of good insights in this entry, and co-dependency is something I have thought about a lot, especially since in my senior years I became caretaker to a man who was not only an alocholic but a heavy smoker. He was inclined to overdo everything. Even gambling, but he was a very charming attractive likable man. Two years into our relationship he developed lung cancer but avoided doctors who might have diagnosed it for a year. He only lived a month after that. He had told me many times before that if he ever developed a terminal disease he would stay drunk until he died, so he attempted to keep this promise to himself. And said if I would not push him in his wheel chair to the store to buy booze he would crawl! Well, since he was dying, I wheeled him there and put up with two days of drunkeness while attempting to try to give him his morphine as scheduled. His ex wife even called me and said she saw no reason he should not drink, knowing very well that he would get very drunk. I finally told him that was going to have to opt out of being his caretaker because his drunkenness was too stressful for me. I did not live with him and was used to going to my own apartment and avoiding him when he was drinking. He was signed up for hospice which was providing him with morphine so they told him he would have to go into their hospital unit if he did not have a caretaker. He didn't want to go there I am convinced because he culd not smoke inside, so he promised to give up booze in order to keep cigarettes handy to which he was highly addicted. My present companion does not smoke, but he is an alcoholic who starts at 5 am and sips until he goes to bed at night. He is a brilliant talented entertaining guy, but alcohol is taking its toll of him and of me. I stay with him because he is actually the most amusing brilliant guy I have ever met, which makes his addiction to alcohol even more troubling. To be so gifted and to allow himself to become so addicted, that boggles my mind. He could have done anything with his gifts. Been a great entertainer, actor. He played jazz all the time, even to buying a concert grand piano for his home. I would say many women were charmed by him in his prime. For he was tall and good looking, too. So ask not why we are lured into a relationship with an alcoholic. He is bound to have his charms.

jo said...

good blog post. wish i could see it as i reply.

this has been my goal for several yrs. tend to myself. detach. when you are with a addict, it is a fine line to let them hit bottom and not drag us with them. i try to balance it every day.

it becomes hard if we let our guard down..because we are taught to tend to others from our births. or so i found out...it becomes very hard and others dont get it at all. they either are of the "leave em" camp, or "how can you be so cruel" camp. i find little support from outsiders.

really good post,linda.

Karen E. said...

My husband and I work out to the point of exhaustion. We lift weights, do crossfit, he rows on an indoor ergomoeter and I run and do yoga once a week. Some of our friends that are our age (50's) think we are crazy and sick. BUT if we did not do this we would go insane and not beable to handle the stress. When my husnabd had cancer 6 yrs ago..I was running our business, taking care of him and did not work out..I was put on anti anxiety meds..which helped. I say that IF we ever go thru somehting like that again I will do my best to continue to work out.. Your mental and physical health MUST MUST come first. You are on the right track!.. My A may still make me crazy..probaby will need a counselor when all this EVER ends!

Syd said...

It sounds good to me, Linda. I am glad that you are taking care of yourself and resolving to do more of that. Having been through some traumatic times with my in-laws, I know that burn out is real and frustration can get the best of care givers.

jo said...

karen E. exercise is a wonderful antidote for stress, anxiety and nervous tension. i applaud you.

just dont get addicted. lol.

i always feel better once i do something that makes me sweat.

i have decided i prob will never get to the point of completely coping. its just too foreign to me, their insanity. i just do the best i can and go to bed when im out of options on that day. (like yesterday)

Kibble said...

The heart of my codependency with my addicted family member was my attempts to focus on her behavior: understanding it, controlling it, protecting everyone from the consequences of her choices, etc. In my case, it wasn't so much neglect of self as in not taking care of me, but neglecting to look at myself and the role I played in the craziness.

From that standpoint, I absolutely needed something to focus my fixing and controlling on, which is by no means the same as needing her in particular to stay addicted. My reward was the lovely high I felt when effecting some rescue or plan. And I think I truly was addicted to the excitement and self image support that all the rescuing did, which certainly required a victim to rescue. But that's just my version of codependency.

As to your "as long as we're on the subject" question, for me moving away from codependency meant not either walking away or letting her hit bottom or getting her into rehab. It meant accepting that whether and when she hit bottom was not in my control, and accepting that I needed to walk away based on what I needed, not the effect it would have on her. It meant accepting that she knew where to find rehab just as surely as she knew how to find what she needed to get high - I didn't need to "get her" to go to rehab or anywhere else.

Too many counselors label everyone in a relationship with an addict a codependent, and one size doesn't fit all. I think most end stage alcoholics need caretaking. I wholeheartedly believe that a person can make a non-codependent decision to be that caretaker, and get lost and overwhelmed in that role either temporarily or permanently and still not be codependent. But when the caretaking becomes a substitute for self focus and self care, when the caretaking fills a void that healthy respect for the essential self, to me that's when the codependency starts.

If I do something truly out of love, it's usually not a bad thing. If I do something so everyone can see how great I am, or so I feel needed, or because I like pulling the strings, or because I think I know better than someone else what's good for them, that's when I head toward codependency, not a good place for me.

Jenna's Anxiety said...

When you care for someone deeply enough to stand by them and look after them you can easily let the entire focus of your life be about them.
Very slowly, without even realizing it we can lose touch with our own wants, needs and sense of self. Our whole lives become wrapped up in them - in helping them and doing what is best. Fixing things, putting up with mistreatment, allowing ourselves to be hurt or unappreciated, dealing with each new drama or medical problem or threat. We become exhausted and so enwrapped in them and their problems that we have no other life.
I think this is the risk all caregivers have - and I believe that is is from this sense of deep caring that sometimes we can end up harming ourselves - and can sometimes even become co-dependant without ever even intending to or realizing it. Not because we wish the person harm or want them to stay sick - but because we care so much.
Its a real tricky balance.