Confronting Codependency

Drowning in a sea of codependency? Consider detaching.

Posted Sep 16, 2020

Codependent. I dislike that word. It’s difficult to define and has leeched into our collective vocabulary, like its cousin “dysfunctional." However, most everyone I’ve encountered in my recovery group struggles to overcome controlling and trying to manage an addict’s life. It simply cannot be done, yet that doesn’t stop us from trying.

We need to get the hell out of the way. To keep our forks in our own plates. To walk on our side of the street. To mind our own business. This overwhelming desire to fix my adult son through trying to control his bad choices, when I know better, is one form of codependency.

The need to relinquish control is stated in the Serenity Prayer. “God grant me the courage to accept the things I cannot change…” It’s the first of the Twelve Steps, “We admitted we were powerless…that our lives had become unmanageable."

One of my favorite stories, which always gets a knowing laugh at recovery meetings for loved ones, is about pigeons. A man sat under a tree full of pigeons. The pigeons did what they do best. The man shouted at them and thundered away. But then he realized that the pigeons were doing what they do because they were pigeons and not because he happened to be under the tree at the time. Those who abuse alcohol and substances will do what they do best: drink and drug. And, those of us who loved them, like the man under the tree, will shout, nag, and berate them instead of letting go and getting out of their way.

After many years of trying, I have learned that I can’t cure my adult son of his addiction. But, I’ve also learned how to take care of myself. I’ve learned that I have choices. I can continue to venture into the riptide of obsession, shame, guilt, fear, self-pity, self-righteousness, resentment, denial, and anger. Or I can swim toward safer waters.

For me, that has involved limiting my contact with my adult son to short “checking in, how are you and love, Mom” texts. (We haven’t talked on the phone in over a month.) That choice has helped me refrain from asking questions, offering advice, or making suggestions about what my son should and shouldn’t do.

It hasn’t been easy and I still worry. (Where’s he living? Who’s he with? Is he taking his meds? Is he attending recovery meetings, etc.?) Trying my best to stay present and take one day at a time. My happiness cannot be tied to my adult son’s behaviors.   

Some may need to wade into safer waters slowly. Others may need to jump in, as I did after my son's recent relapse (one of many). Either decision might help save us from drowning in codependency.