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Posted by on in Co-dependency

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Preface: I write this article from a purely opinion based standpoint. The only knowledge I have on co-dependency is personal experience of being an addict in a family made co-dependent by my behaviors. The information and ideas contained in this post were mainly gathered from pre-existing sources and addiction therapy literature. This post is by no means indicative of every family struggling with addiction, but instead is a common theme in such families.

The term ‘co-dependency’ is popular in addiction treatment and among therapists, but what does it mean exactly? Mental Health America defines co-dependency as follows, “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.” In fact, the term was first created as a result of a study focused on the family structure of alcoholics. A co-dependent relationship takes away the serenity, energy, and well-being of at least one person involved. Often times a person in a co-dependent relationship will begin to place their whole identity on the other person, at the expense of their own health and sanity. In families dealing with addiction, the parents, spouse, or siblings of the addict can become a victim of a co-dependent relationship.


The ‘Survival Roles’

For families dealing with an addict, there is a pattern of roles that family members take on in order to preserve the integrity and safety of the family. Often they take on these roles unconsciously and researchers have come up with 5 standard roles that seem to occur in co-dependent families. They are as follows:

  1. Enabler: The enabler’s efforts are well-meaning, but are often counterproductive. They aim to help the addict but their actions allow the addict to continue his addictive behaviors. They may fund the addict, make excuses for them, or take over the addict’s responsibilities. The enabler seeks to protect the addict and does not want to confront the reality of the addiction. As a result, the enabler is often left hurt, exhausted, and angry. The addict is no closer to getting better, because they learn to think that the enabler will always be there to save them.
  2. Hero: The hero role of the family is played by the member who seeks to over-achieve or be extra responsible in order to make up for the behavior of the addict. To overcome the guilt and shame that addiction brings to a family, they seek success, money, and approval. The cost of being the hero of the family is that they rarely feel satisfied with themselves and sacrifice their emotional lives and energy into trying to maintain the family.
  3. Scapegoat: This role is most often played by a sibling of the addict or one of the parents. Their bad behavior is different than that of the addicts. The family will often take out their anger and frustration towards the addict on the scapegoat, because they are an easier target.
  4. Lost Child: The lost child is a sibling of the addict who either keeps a low profile or is neglected by the family. The addict can take up all the attention and effort of the family, leaving the lost child without much care or recognition. The family is so busy and stressed looking after or cleaning up after the addict, that the other siblings can get ignored. They can go unnoticed and disappear easily. As a result, they can feel unimportant or unloved.
  5. Mascot: The mascot is a contrast to the lost child. This is often a younger sibling who comes along in a family system made extremely dysfunctional by addiction. The parents react by coddling and protecting this child. They give all their support and approval to this child, seeing him as the ‘saving grace’ of the family. The family may withhold information about the addict from the mascot and downplay the dysfunctional status of the family. Eventually the mascot will discover the truth about their family dynamic and can feel pressured or betrayed by the family.
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Posted by on in Co-dependency

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I began the practice of hot yoga six months prior to my mom's lung cancer diagnosis.  It may sound odd to some, but I did this at the instruction of Angel Healing cards my aunt sent me which kept suggesting I do more yoga and meditation.  The deck of cards has over 60 cards and no matter how many times I shuffled them, the same two cards appeared about yoga and meditation.  In hindsight, I can clearly see that I was being guided to a practice that would help we weather some of life's roughest seas. 

I remember sitting bedside to my mother in the emergency room after she was rushed to the hospital post chemotherapy for her cancer.  She developed a rare condition called Rhabdomyolysis which is a breakdown of muscle tissue releasing damaging protein in the blood.  She could barely speak and I could see the fear and confusion in her eyes.  My mother is a very strong woman and seeing this in her brought me to my knees.

If it wasn’t for the yoga, I think I might just collapse right now.  My core was already strengthened from daily participation in my recovery program and now, the yoga strengthened me further.  Some might look at hot yoga merely as a form of great exercise.  For me, it is a teacher given to me at exactly the right time to teach me how to suit up and show up when I would normally collapse and fall down.  The messages of yoga, spoken by my teacher in class, are always exactly what I need to hear and remember.


Posted by on in Co-dependency

The irony of having a loved on in addiction, is that their addiction can become yours. Their highest become your highs, and their lows become your lows. During the calm before the inevitable storm, you enter in to the never-ended game of self-rationalization. You remind yourself of the bright spots in the storm of addiction: "They said they are back to focusing on their studies." "They haven't haven't called me with any crises in a month. And they are talking about how excited they are to be going back to school."

By virtue of necessity, the addict gets really, really good at doing one thing: manipulating. When someone descends into the throes of addiction, the social etiquette and decorum that we expect from family members and friends disappears. The unspoken laws that we all live by disappear.

We go through live expecting that most people aren't liars, and if they are, they are guilty of an occasional white lie. We don't expect deception. We don't expect theft.

BUT, when you are living with an addict, all of these rules get thrown out the window. And why wouldn't they? The path to the addict's next hit is sitting right there in your purse. All they need to do is reach in and pull out the cash. The path to their next hit is on the shelves of target. Why wouldn't they "boost" a cheap consumer good out the front door when it means that that they can sell it and dose immediately afterwards? Why wouldn't they drive through town pulling copper wiring from buildings that they can later resell? Why wouldn't they steal your catalytic converter? For those hard up enough for cash, the truth is that they'd be crazy NOT to do these things. But you don't expect it, because you are a law-abiding member society who plays by a set of rules that they don't.

The addict lives in a state of insanity, but the key is to not let their insanity become yours. This is the tough love approach that has saved many lives in the long-run.


Posted by on in Co-dependency

As time goes by and my life experience increases and deepens, I realize more what it means to let go and let God.  Before now, I was unaware of all the silent demands I placed on people, places and things to behave and exist in a way I deemed acceptable.  Discomfort and pain are my signals today that something is misaligned in my thinking, rather than in my life.  I understand that rather than expecting outside conditions to change, I just might need to adjust my attitude and expectations.

It is a blessing to have that understanding.  This understanding enables me to loosen my grip on what I prefer things to be and, instead, embrace what my Higher Power offers me. When I want others to act a way that will provide me more comfort, delight, security, etc -and they can't or won't act that way- I now accept things as they are, trust there is an opportunity to grow and look to adjust my perspective of God's goodness in my life.  I ask myself questions like "How might this person, place or thing be a teacher for me? What lessons can I learn from this experience? What is this person, place or thing forcing me to address that I hoped to ignore or avoid?"

Recovery has taught me that when I am placing demands I am acting like a toddler having a tantrum.  More than likely, God knows exactly what I need and when I stop pounding my closed fists on the table, he can gently place his goodness in my lap.



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Posted by on in Co-dependency


Psychotherapy is a biological treatment, a brain therapy. It produces lasting, detectable physical changes in our brain, much as learning does.” –Dr.  Eric Kandel (Professor Columbia University and recipient, 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine)

This is the third in a series of articles about children of alcoholics who remain trapped in an alcoholic lifestyle as adults. Parts 1 and 2 explained that children who grow up in addicted families are likely to reproduce harmful features of their families of origin in their adult lives. When they involve themselves with destructive partners and activities that evoke feelings and patterns of behavior similar to those they witnessed and experienced as children, their lives become unmanageable. I examined the neurological and psychological underpinnings   of this painful “infinite loop” of chaos and disappointment that captures and captivates many adult children. In brief, neurological changes caused by traumatic experiences in childhood remodel the brain, producing chronic states of emotional distress that are difficult to soothe.  Moreover, parental neglect and abuse depress self-esteem and leave children feeling valueless, mistrustful and confused about how to construct rewarding relationships.

This week I’ll begin a discussion of ”exit strategies” that adult children from addicted families can employ to escape the infinite loop. These strategies hinge on exciting research aboutneuroplasticity that are a result of  advances in the field of   functional neuroimaging, including single photon emission CT (SPECT), positron emission tomography (PET), and functional MRI. Mental health theorists and clinicians once believed that changes in the brain occur only   during early childhood. Now that we can obtain actual pictures of the structure and activity of the brain, we understand that it continues to respond, throughout life, to events and interactions with others, by creating new neural pathways and altering existing ones.  So, while adverse events in childhood severely roil emotions and disrupt perception and behavior by changing the brain, we know now that there are activities people can undertake, even in adulthood, to normalize the brain. (Please continue reading)

It is very important for adults who were highly stressed and traumatized in addicted families to identify activities and experiences that facilitate neural growth and positive brain change, because, as last week’s post highlighted, anxiety and depression that stem from childhood trauma cause ongoing damage to brain circuitry. That is, there is the potential for “negative plasticity” in adult life, as well as positive brain change. And, as Dr. Robert Sapolsky, a neurobiologist at Stanford pointed out, “Early-life stress and the scar tissue that it leaves, with every passing bit of aging, gets harder and harder to reverse. You’re never out of luck in terms of interventions, but the longer you wait, the more work you’ve got on your hands.”


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