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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.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Co-dependent -- a dirty word?

In my opinion, marriage is a co-dependent relationship. That’s the way it should be. The couple depends on each other as a unit in order for tasks to be completed or simply to make life easier for each other. Co-dependency works for marriages. Co-dependency is not a dirty word.

I read somewhere (I can’t remember where) that anyone who is involved with an alcoholic is most likely co-dependent. Well, that’s kinda like saying most skinny people do not like chocolate. I know lots of skinny people who absolutely adore chocolate just like I know spouses, parents, siblings, and friends of alcoholics who are not dependent on keeping the alcoholic drunk.

The word co-dependent seems to have been tossed around so much that we could just do away with “wife”, “brother”, “father” and any other relationship status titles. Kleenex is a tissue, but instead of
saying “we need a box of tissue,” we often say “we need a box of Kleenex.” The name Kleenex has become the household word for tissue. The title co-dependent has become the household word for anyone related to an alcoholic.

What does it mean to be co-dependent anyway? Wikipedia defines co-dependent relationships as a “type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s addiction.”

OK. I agree with the definition. I agree that there are people who depend on the drunkenness of their mate in order to get what they need. It may be that the way to get grocery money is to wait for the alcoholic to pass out and they take the alcoholic’s wallet. It may be that the alcoholic is more agreeable to suggestions of the spouse if he/she is snockered. It could even be that the only way the spouse feels like a part of a couple is for the alcoholic to NEED him or her – to drive them home or clean up their messes – which makes them a team and it could be the only way for one of the team to feel needed. I agree this is not healthy, but it could that to survive one must make the other believe they are truly needed.
I don’t agree that the title of co-dependent should be a blanket description for all people involved with an alcoholic. I believe there are far more people who trying to survive the outfall of the alcoholic behavior by any means possible. Most people do not depend on the lack of sobriety of their spouse, but they do have to find ways to work around it.

Personally the word “co-dependent” feels like an accusation. It is as though I have poured the bottle down Riley’s throat in order to keep him drunk. It feels that I am somehow to blame for his demise. I can tell you that alcoholics do not need help getting drunk, they can manage that all on their own. So let’s stop blaming the people around the alcoholic and place it back on the shoulders of the person who is really to blame for their situation – the alcoholic.
It also occurs to me that the ones calling the sober partners “co-dependent” are often the alcoholics whether they are in recovery or not. It’s a scapegoat for them. “I can’t recover because my wife is co-dependent and wants me to keep drinking.” Hogwash.
I have never heard from any of my readers that they have a need for the alcoholic to continue drinking. It has always been the opposite. My readers want the alcoholic in their life to stop drinking and return to a healthy lifestyle. No one is ever happy about someone they love vomiting all over the sofa, or, smelling like a garbage can. No one ever tells themselves in the morning that “It’s going to be a wonderful day because my wife will probably put dish soap on the pancakes.”
Everything changes when the alcoholic reaches end-stage. Rules and blanket descriptions just do not fit. By this time, it’s simply a matter of keeping your head above water in whatever manner necessary. It doesn’t matter what labels or titles other people may assign to you. I’m sure they mean well, but it doesn’t mean they are right. You are the only one who has to live with yourself when this phase finally reaches its end.  If you need help, seek advice from someone who has walked in your footprints. If you have not lived life with an end-stage alcoholic, you have no idea what you’re talking about.
Let me perfectly clearn – I absolutely do believe that co-dependency in alcoholic relationships actual does exist. I do not believe every relationship with an alcoholic is co-dependent. I believe it’s not the place of one person to label another.

11 comments:

Bev said...

Great post Linda and your last sentence says it all. We shouldn't label each other. I have tried and tried to make sense of the word co-dependent and just can't. True there are some people who enable the alcoholic in their life but they are probably natural enablers - it's in their personality to do so - they probably 'enable' everyone they meet. You said it all at the end of your post - we just shouldn't label each other.

Teresa said...

This is so true! I am thankful you put this into words for others to read. I have been labeled a co dependent of my husband, but I am responsible for his actions if he gets in my vehicle and hurts himself or someone else just because I wouldn't get his beer for the night.I feel it is better safe than sorry, he is going to drink if I want him to or not!

Anonymous said...

Great post. My husband and I took very good care of each other before he retired and spiraled downward. We depended on each other and I believe that is healthy and normal. Having no experience with such a situation, I believed that it was just a matter of will power, not realizing the physical dependency that develops with alchohol nor the psychological and physical damage it causes. Reading about alcholism, I was struck by the fact that we spouses are damned if we do and damned it we don{t. As the wife of an alcholic who subsequently died by going cold turkey, I spent my days in fear and pure survival mode. Knowing our lives no longer had any future, like a bad Groundhog Day. It was paralizing. When we are young, we naively think every problem has a solution. As adults, we realize that this is sadly and painfully not true.

Janet said...

I just found your website last night. I googled end stage alcoholism. My dad is the alcoholic, he's 86, and I am his only surviving family (with exception of grandkids). He lives alone and my husband and I travel 90 minutes every other weekend (usually, sometimes a lot more) to help him care for his acre of land and his home.

I have been to alanon meetings which have helped but I also have heard the term co dependent and I wondered about it. I am not dependent on him in any way. I do buy his alcohol when I am there simply because I don't want to fight and I don't want him on the road any more than he is.

I don't know where to get answers. Maybe there aren't any. He needs help but he won't hire any. He is the stubborn kind. I just turned 59. I have RA and can't do the physical work that I used to. Plus I am just tired. We have been going to his house for 18 years (since mom died) and helping. Now we can't/don't want to because we are tired and don't want to use up our health helping him. He needs someone to yard work, house work, some cooking and he has the money to pay for it but he won't do it. It's depressing to go there. The house smells and the yards are unkept and he hoards stuff (outside mostly: tools, lawn mowers, just junk). He is having weird symptoms too. He's losing touch with reality (thinks my dead brother is there and he walked around looking for him; he thought my mom should have been in the house, he thought my husband and I were there and were looking for us. He confuses me with my niece; mid conversation.
I don't want to move in with him but what else can be done if he won't allow help?
Janet

Janet said...

I agree. I just found your website last night after leaving my dad's and googling "end stage alcoholism". I do not think of myself as co dependent but I have heard that term at al anon when I went. I'm not dependent on him but he is dependent on me in some ways.

Anyway, thanks for making me see that not all children of alcoholics are co dependent. My dad's REAL drinking started slowly after mom died 18 years ago although it reared its ugly head during mom and dad's marriage a few times. Then in Jan. 2011 his last sister died, then in Oct. 2011 my youngest brother died from the varices (I guess, he had schizophrenia and self medicated he was 49). In June 2012 my older brother died from diabetes complications but he drank beer for years too). So, he's depressed but he isn't one to go to the doctor so his drinking has continued to get worse and worse. Now his memory is shot, he is gaining belly weight and looks like he's losing muscle. He is getting a bulbous nose and is having slips in reality. I don't know how long this can go on but I'm not sure I can allow myself to be dragged into it by moving in with him to be his caregiver.
Thanks for "listening". He has all his necessary papers done and I am POA. But I know if I try to do anything he will fight me on it.

Anonymous said...

Does Riley have Medicare? Is there a Hospice center he could reside in, beyond mere respite? Medicare may cover the cost of something like that. You could visit him daily, or not, and still know his care needs are being met.

I think co-dependency includes the feeling of needing to be needed and Riley, even in his dementia, can expertly manipulate that need in you (and not so much in the case of a professional nurse). It only sounds like a dirty word because it insinuates there is something perverse about enjoying aspects of being needed. But it is a very human thing to feel purpose and meaning as a caregiver.

I understand why you would push back on labeling. There is nothing wrong with being a caregiver, it is a gift to your children and to society that you have done this for so long but if you have pneumonia maybe it is time to gently set this burden down. If only because we are not immortal, and there may be other, more joyful and rewarding tasks you could perform if only you had the time, energy and adequate sleep.

Gracen Jennings said...

The label co-d isn't supposed to make you feel attacked. I am an adult child of an end-stage alcoholic, and I read melody beattie's "co-dependent no more" about 6 years ago. It saved my life. I was able to free myself from the burden of always being the one in control of everything and everyone. What a blessing to be reminded that we are only in control of ourselves! We cannot help those who do not help themselves. So try not to think of the term co-d as an insult. Use it to remind yourself that you can be free of everyone else's issues. Afterall, it's not your problem!

Home Detox South Africa said...

Very interesting post. Co-dependency is often looked at as a negative thing when in reality everyone must be slightly co-dependent unless in complete isolation. Thanks for the post.

Gabriele Goldstone said...
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Teresa said...

Did one of the hardest things today for my husband, I called to get Hospice care started. No he isn't on his deathbed but I see the progression daily! He is still able to work which surprised the nurse. I never dreamt I would be doing that for my 47 year old husband. He drinks daily and the high ammonia levels are really having a effect on memory. I can only give his insulin in the stomach as he has so much muscle wasting People don't understand 😞