Codependent Some More

Annie with purple hairMy daughter, Annie, recently shared my manuscript with her good friend, Megan. Megan is “her person,” that special woman with whom she shares most everything in life. I first learned of the friendship when Annie chose to dress up like Megan one year for Halloween. She donned a bobbed purple wig, and drew a floral “sleeve” tattoo on her right arm with felt tip markers. The costume was completed by smuggling a periwinkle dress out of Megan’s closet.

Megan is a lovely, bright young woman from the recovery community and she emailed me a long letter after completing the read. Since she is Annie’s “person,” I was relieved by her favorable response. Megan also shared with me her favorite quote from the book.

“I don’t have to change anyone. Letting people be who they are frees us all, and my only job is to become the person I wish others to be.”  

It stopped me cold.

Reading what I’d written the year before gave me a rush of the guilts, not because I don’t believe it, but because it challenged me. Have I really been living those words?

When Annie was in active addiction, and then in early recovery, I found health and spiritual fitness through my support groups and in working my own program. I also read everything I could get my hands on about loving and parenting an addict. One word in particular popped up repeatedly and I well remember the day I Googled “codependency”… and then laughed out loud. How had I made it to middle age without knowing this about myself?

In her landmark book, Codependent No More, Melody Beattie defined a codependent as someone “who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior. We believe that we’d be happy if the other person would just change.”

I admit that was me for a time. The benefit of gaining that clarity, and taking the focus off of Annie and placing it on myself, extended far beyond my concerns about her.  All of my relationships improved.  My sense of peace, and ability to feel joy, also grew. Yet with the crisis now well behind me, and Annie now a fully functioning adult, it occurs to me that I’ve allowed myself to become somewhat spiritually flabby again. I’ve allowed myself to become complacent about my own issues.

Distant seem the days when I did such a good job of minding my own business, and extended oodles of grace to others for their own “stuff.”  I’ve lately found myself annoyed by the shortcomings of others, and quick to judge their behavior and choices.  Also quick to react and obsess over perceived slights, I’ve been sighted with my head spinning in an uncontrollable bout of insanity (think Linda Blair in The Exorcist).  Those of us in the throes of codependency can indeed look demon possessed.

Just as a recovering addict needs vigilance to stay the course, and can relapse at any time, I guess those of us “addicted” to the lives and behaviors of others, whether they’re addicts or not, can do so as well.

Seems I’m codependent some more.  Gotta remember that we can’t change others…we can only change ourselves.

Please share how you’ve learned to deal with codependence.  If you wish, you can enter “anonymous” as your name.  Your email address will not show on the post.

(Megan’s real name, and Annie’s photo, used with permission.)

Author: Barbara Stoefen

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9 Comments

  1. Hello Barbara,

    First, let me say that I find your post extremely encouraging and filled with hope and love. Thank you for writing it.

    I come from a long line of codependency. Many years ago we took my younger sister in to live with us while she sobered up from a meth addiction. In hindsight, I see that my hopes and dreams were that I could FIX her — make her life all better and cure her addiction. It was disastrous. And since then, she’s gone back to her addiction and is slowing undoing herself. A tragedy.

    During that time I also had a couple of (extremely) unhealthy friendships when an older woman who is a mentor in my life gave me the book, “Please Don’t Say You Need Me.” It changed everything. Since then, I am able to see the red flags and (usually) avert those codependent tendencies in myself.

    But, I have a question… I’ve reached the “sandwich season” of my life in which I still have four children living at home, (they’re all teenagers), and parents who need care. It is our hearts to honor our parents… but exactly what does that look like? I watched my parents give up everything — hopes and dreams, time, resources, even their attention to parenting us in order to be there to support their parents when it was time. And they told us that they were hoping to set an example so that we would know what it looked like to honor them when it came time for us to care for them. Honor is a high value in our family… how do we honor those we love without accidentally falling into codependency?

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  2. Hi Barbara,

    I am so glad I discovered your website. Co-dependency is such a tough issue for parents of addicts. There are some great resources to help people disentangle from their loved ones and create healthy boundaries at http://www.parentpathway.com. The Seeking Serenity blog can be searched by topic (e.g. co-dependency), and there are powerful Meetings in a Box that can guide healing self-study and discussion. ParentPathway even offers experts who can answer specific questions submitted by readers.

    Keep up your good work!

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    • Thank you, Eliza. And I am so glad to have discovered your website at parentpathway.com. I’ve added it to my Help for Families page under Information. I’m very impressed with your site!

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  3. Barb, I’m so grateful for you, my “person” Anna, and the way that your family keeps making the world better with your authenticity. I laughed at “codependent some more.” I know I’m probably in for a lifelong process myself. Right now I’m working the Codependents Anonymous (CoDA) steps with a sponsor, and attending a weekly CoDA meeting here in Bend. I also practice yoga, which helps me with mindfulness of the present moment, letting go of resistance, reactivity, and ego, and being aware of the “storylines” in my head.

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    • I loved your book. I have been in a codependent relationship with my son for 20 years. I am so much better but if I don’t work my program I get so sick. I think I have PTSD. Certain things can trigger a panic in my heart. Life goes on. I have a wonderful life but always will be sad that it didn’t turn out the way I planned

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      • Thank you for your post, Sharon. The PTSD we moms experience is real! We remain on alert for a long time after the crisis subsides… and never know when we’ll need to jump into action again. Please take good care of yourself. And yeah… life is rarely what we plan. But there sure are gifts along the way!

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  4. Hey there, I just saw this blog post and was intrigued because I had been going through some codependency issues– or so I thought.

    I have a “favorite person” as well, most people call them best friends. People had called our relationship codependent because we would spend all of our time together and even though we’ve been living in different cities at some points, we would make every effort to go see each other.

    We never tried to change each other, we just wanted to spend all our time together. People thought it was bad, though. But they still called it codependency. I don’t know if it’s true or not but it’s been causing problems now. We still love each other very much but have now taken a time of separation and it’s hard because we so want to still talk, even though it might be better. Do you know anything that would help?

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    • Hi Elaine. Thank you so much for your comment. First, let me say it was not my intention to draw a codependent connection between my daughter and her friend. That may have been a “whoops” on my part. I was mostly having fun with their great friendship, and merely using the Halloween story to introduce Megan, and her feedback about my book.

      I am by no means an expert, but my understanding of codependence is, in effect, needing to change or fix another person’s life, or control and manipulate their actions and behaviors…maybe even thoughts and beliefs…so we can be okay with ourselves. It’s an over-attachment; an unhealthy one, where the other person may feel suffocated by our attention. And since it’s really impossible to change another person, some of us literally get sick trying.

      A sign of health is when we learn to keep clear boundaries and mind our own business.

      If you suspect codependence in your relationship with your friend, I suggest the Melody Beatty book mentioned in this blog post. I believe she also has daily readers and workbooks. If what she talks about resonates, it may be life changing for you.

      There is also a 12-Step program called Codependent’s Anonymous. You may want to Google it and see if there’s a meeting in your area. Nothin’ lost to check it out!

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