Sobriety illuminated my deep-rooted codependency with a flashlight. Over the last five years, I’ve learned how to unpick it and work on my emotional development — a fundamental aspect of recovery.
When I finally got sober in 2012, I was left with a body ravaged by substance use disorder, and my emotional age was severely stunted. I thought I just had a problem with drugs. I didn’t expect to reveal a whole host of other issues.
One of the first things we learn in sobriety is that the substances were never the issue — it was us. The problem is rooted in both thought processes and the brain —not the action itself.
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I remember when someone handed me a Melody Beattie’s book — a leading author on codependency — I had no idea back then what codependency was, how it presented, and just how deep-rooted in my thinking it was.
Codependency is defined as “a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to another. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive. The disorder was first identified about ten years ago as the result of years of studying interpersonal relationships in families of those struggling with alcohol addiction. Codependent behavior is learned by watching and imitating other family members who display this type of behavior.” In short, codependency affects your relationship with others — intimate or otherwise.
Melody Beattie says this in her book “Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself“:
“Ever since people first existed, they have been doing all the things we label ‘codependent.’ They have worried themselves sick about other people. They have tried to help in ways that didn’t help. They have said yes when they meant no. They have tried to make other people see things their way. They have bent over backwards avoiding hurting people’s feelings and, in so doing, have hurt themselves. They have been afraid to trust their feelings. They have believed lies and then felt betrayed. They have wanted to get even and punish others. They have felt so angry they wanted to kill. They have struggled for their rights while other people said they didn’t have any. They have worn sackcloth because they didn’t believe they deserved silk.”
Reading more of her books, and through therapy, I discovered codependency has various aspects to it, which include caretaking, poor communication, weak boundaries and low self-esteem.
I used to care for people by assuming they needed my help (often without them asking). I would fix their problems and assume responsibility for their wellbeing. Sometimes, my happiness reflected theirs. I have frequently rescued people from their responsibilities because I observed either how overwhelmed they were, or how much they procrastinated about something. I thought that the people in my life “needed” my help, but, as Melody explains, it was me who was the dependent one because I felt a level of validation by my assuming they needed my help.
Perhaps most prevalent in my codependency was an inability to uphold boundaries. For example, if I found a particular behavior unacceptable—like a friend repeatedly canceling plans (even though I’d expressed my boundary), I’d still allow them to keep canceling.
My low self-worth became codependent by my seeking validation in women who I subconsciously thought of as motherly figures. Lack of self-worth also presented by my assuming responsibility for awkward situations — often assuming that if someone was mad, it was my fault.
Last, I struggled to assert my needs and would often let other people’s needs overtake mine. I’d abandon my needs in favor of helping others.
During my recovery, I’ve worked tirelessly to unpick these behaviors. I now wait for others to ask for my help, I realized I am only responsible for myself. I stopped seeking validation, and I learned how to effectively communicate and express healthy boundaries. This has been a huge part of my emotional recovery.
If you’re on a journey toward sobriety and need help with the emotional side of things, consider seeking treatment at a place like The Recovery Village. With facilities located in several states throughout the country, The Recovery Villages addresses substance use disorder and co-occurring disorders to unlock the emotional, physical and psychological trials of addiction. Call today to learn more about personalized programs.