What is a dependency mindset in addiction recovery?
The big problem that many recovering alcoholics and drug addicts face in their journey is dependency on other people. This is known as codependency.
Often it is a close friend or family member that is enabling the person to continue to abuse their drug of choice. That person may not even realize exactly how they are enabling the addict or alcoholic.
It does not always have to be direct enabling; you do not have to drive the alcoholic to the bar and hand them a fifty dollar bill in order to be an enabler.
Unfortunately it can be far more indirect than that. For example, say that the alcoholic or addict in your life has children, and they obviously need to provide food and shelter for those children.
And say that the addict winds up on your living room couch one day, begging you for money so that they can feed their children.
And let’s say that, instead of handing over cash to the addict, you actually provide them with food. Or you take their family grocery shopping.
Is that still enabling?
It certainly can be, and that is the trap that is all too easy to fall into. As long as you are bailing out the addict and providing for them in any way, they are likely to turn that good will into more drug and alcohol use. Now they don’t have to worry about food, because by bailing them out when their children were hungry, you are teaching that addict that there will always be food eventually, and that they can waste any and all available resources on their drug of choice instead.
So this can be really difficult if you are close to someone who is either the enabler, or who is being enabled. There is an understanding of love, of loyalty, of family bonds, of friendship–and it feels as if turning your back on that person is being cruel to them.
So how do you detach from that person? How do you fix your own codependency and live a healthier life?
We have to consider this question from two separate but equally important perspectives: One, that of the addict who is depending on others for their needs. And two, the enabler, the loved one of the struggling addict or alcoholic.
So let’s say that you are the family, friend, or loved one of the struggling addict. Let’s say that you are needing to find a way to detach from the madness. How do you go about doing so in a healthy way, without beating yourself up over it?
First of all, if you are the friend or family of a struggling addict or alcoholic, your first priority is to take care of yourself. Really it is. That is difficult for a spouse to grasp when their husband is failing, or for a parent to grasp if their child is out of control. All you want to do in those instances is to dedicate your entire life to fixing the problem.
But you can’t, and it won’t help anyway. Just because a loved one is struggling with addiction does not mean that you have the power to intervene and save that person, no matter how badly you may want to.
And so you have to find a way to detach. You have to let go and do what you can, and then leave the results up to your higher power.
So how do you do this?
For starters, you go get support for yourself, first and foremost. Notice that I did not say “you force the addict into rehab” or “you force the alcoholic into AA meetings.”
Instead, you go to Al-anon. Find a support group for yourself, like Al-anon or similar, and reach out to the people there to get some help for yourself.
Once you have done this and opened up to other people you will have the strength and support to be able to set healthy boundaries with the addict in your life.
This is really important because you are going to learn not only where and how to put your foot down when it comes to the addict or alcoholic’s behavior, but you are also going to get the support of other people in helping you to deal with your decisions.
The end result of this is that you will become stronger in your own life, while also pushing the struggling addict–however indirectly–closer and closer to real surrender.
Keep in mind that the struggling alcoholic is not going to surrender until that is really their last option. They have to hit rock bottom, have nothing and no one left, and the party has to be long since over with. If you are still enabling that person in any way then they are not going to choose recovery.
Why not? Because choosing recovery is awful at first. It is an act of complete defeat and total surrender. No one wants to give up that thoroughly in their life and say to the world “I guess I really do not know how to live, and I do not know how to make myself happy. Please show me.”
And that is the level of surrender that is necessary to get clean and sober. So you can play a small part in bringing the person closer to that surrender, and playing your part means that you have to stop enabling them in a very consistent way.
Now if you happen to be the struggling addict or alcoholic yourself, you also need to detach from codependency. However, now we are looking at the other side of the coin, and your method of detachment will be slightly different.
My recommendation is to work through your denial by being honest with yourself. One thing that you can do is to start writing down your feelings every day in a journal. If you do this consistently then it will eventually expose to yourself just how unhappy you are in your addiction.
After you break through your denial you will hopefully hit bottom and reach a point in which you become willing to ask for help. If you ask for help and agree to follow direction then you can go to inpatient treatment and start rebuilding your life.
This is not an easy process to get started because you have to move past a mountain of fear in order to do so. Once you get past the fear and check into an inpatient treatment center you can start to build a new life for yourself that does not have a need for codependency in it. That means you can come to rely on yourself and on your higher power instead of other people. It also means that once you start focusing on self improvement and helping others that you no longer have a need for depending on people to help meet your needs; you will instead be empowered to meet your needs and those of other people as well. In other words, once you start living a better life in recovery you become part of the solution rather than a leech on others.
Of course the key is in asking for help when you reach a point of surrender so that you can get this ball rolling. Picking up the phone and making a call to a rehab center is the one hurdle that can separate you from a successful life of empowered and independent success. All you have to do is put your fear on hold for a brief moment while you reach out for help, then start doing what the professionals suggest that you do. This is how I improved my own life–by asking for help and going to treatment. You can do the same. Good luck!