Am I In A Codependent Relationship With An Alcoholic?

I recently was talking to a friend who attends an organization called CODA. She was telling me that many codependent people find themselves in relationships with alcoholics. I’d never really given the idea much thought. After researching the disease, I began to see many of the same personality traits within my self. I found the video below to be very helpful in understanding a little about what it means to be codependent.

Video Transcript Starting At 45 Seconds:
What I’m going to do today is literally go across this chart that I’ve got up on the board so that you can begin to gain an understanding of the disease of codependence.

The problem with this disease is that it’s so inherent in this culture that it’s hard to know that how it works is dysfunctional because how it works is normal for this culture.

We normally do the disease which means most of – about everybody does it. So it feels normal but the facts are it’s dysfunctional and I’m here today to talk about how it’s dysfunctional.

What Codepency Looks LikeThe reason why I finally made a chart up, which took me about 10 years, was because I couldn’t keep track of my own disease and I had a hard time tracking my patient’s disease. So I made up this chart so at any moment, I could know as a therapist where my patient was and also I could know at any moment where I was in my disease because you see, I have it too.

I define the disease as being a state of dis-ease and I spread the word out, D-I-S hyphen E-A-S-E and the reason why I do that is because for me I guess I don’t see it as a disease. I don’t see myself as diseased in this disease even though we describe it as a disease so we can get third party payment.

But I really see this disease as an issue of immaturity and I define it as a state of dis-ease caused by child abuse, that renders a person unable to do the five things necessary for themselves in order to be a mature person.

The five things they can’t do are in this third column on the board. A person who is a codependent is unable to experience appropriate levels of self-esteem. That’s this first issue right here, self-esteem issues. (I certainly found this to be true in the relationship I had with the Alcoholic.)

The second thing that they have trouble doing is they have trouble setting functional boundaries with other people. (We find that it is vitally important to set boundaries with an alcoholic, but don’t know how. So we let them plow us over.)

People Tied TogetherThe third thing they have trouble doing is they have difficulty owning their own reality politically. By political, I mean they don’t know when to hold it and they don’t know when to let it out. They let it out when it’s inappropriate to let it out and they hold it in when it’s important to let it out.

What happens in that is they lose their sense of self in the process which is the major complaint most codependents have about themselves. They don’t know who they are and who they are is determined by somebody else, so this is a major issue. (This is why learning detachment from the alcoholic is crucial.)

The fourth thing that codependents are unable to do is they are unable to deal with their adult dependency issues around needing and wanting.

The fifth thing they are unable to do which usually gets them in the most trouble is they’re unable to experience and express their reality in moderation, which involves two issues.

One is that I don’t experience my reality inside myself moderately. I either find myself exploding inside, thinking wild thoughts and oftentimes exploding that out on other people. But I also might be so shut down, I don’t feel myself. So I’m exploding or not feeling inside and then what I do is I explode or hold it so far in that you can’t tell who I am. So on the outside, I’m either shut down or exploding and that’s basically the nature I see of this illness.

It’s a state of dis-ease caused by child abuse (I think we can also say that when we are abused by an alcoholic the same applies) that renders a person unable to experience appropriate levels of self-esteem. They’re either one down or one up around issues of how valuable they are. They see some people as better than and some people as less than they are and that’s why we say appropriate levels of self-esteem. There are two issues involved here.

They are unable to set functional boundaries with others so they can protect themselves and keep themselves from being offenders. They are unable to own their own reality politically so they can know who they are. They are unable to take care of their adult issues around needing and wanting. Needs are what you have to have in order to survive.

Basically there are about six or seven of them that I fool with. One is food. Another is clothing. Another is shelter. Another is physical nurturing. All people need to get physical nurturing from other people and physically nurture their own body through self-care. Emotional nurturing is probably the biggest one of all. We all need time, attention and direction from others forever. It’s how we grow and how we keep ourselves feeling good.

We all need medical attention. We all need dental attention in order to survive. We all have sexual needs that we have to attend to responsibly in order to survive and probably the biggest one of all especially for women that’s totally ignored is that we all are financially needy.

The second issue around wanting is probably the one that I’ve had the most difficulty in my recovery. Wants are what personally bring you joy and only you can determine that.

They literally determine the quality of your life and they’re what usually is ignored in recovery and not handled properly. My wants bring me joy. So is that important in your life? You bet it is.

It’s extremely important because it’s what makes me enjoy my everyday living or not and I divided wants into little wants and big wants. Little wants are the things that bring you joy but aren’t as important as the big wants.

Sometimes they seem as important but part of recovery is learning that there’s a vast difference in doing the little wants and the big wants and the more important wants are the big wants.

But the little wants are things like how I actually want to dress, what jewelry I might pick out for myself, what kind of car I’m going to buy, how I’m going to wear my hair, things like that, where I’m going to go on vacation. You know, doing the things that I like to do or having the things that I like to have in order to feel happy, just to give you an idea of how that kind of works.

I always thought I wanted a Cadillac. That brought instant conflict in my marriage with Pat because he doesn’t particularly like them and he likes old Mercedes. And I don’t like old Mercedes because old Mercedes jiggle and are hard to steer and I feel really worn out by the time I’ve sat in one for about an hour.

They also smell and I think they’re ugly and I don’t like them. I wanted a Cadillac. Not a new one actually, an older one. I had a heck of a time telling him that I wanted that because I had a lot of shame around my wanting and I actually didn’t know if I really wanted it or not because the issue around wanting is, “If you get it, is it going to make you happy?”

You see I said to myself in order to do that, that it has got to make me happy. Otherwise, I’ve made a mistake instead of understanding that how you find out what you want is you get it and try it out and if it isn’t what works, then you change your mind and go do something else.

But a lot of codependents can’t do that. It has got to be perfectly what I want. I’ve got to know that in advance and that’s what I did. Actually I did finally tell him I wanted that. I went into a shame attack that lasted two weeks. I mean a continual shame attack where I felt as though I was walking around about a foot off the ground. It was just a terrible experience.

But anyway I got it and I love it. I still have it. I’m probably going to have it for a long time. When it fails, I will probably get another one because I know I like Cadillacs. I found that out by getting it and it’s just wonderful. It brings me joy all the time every time I get in it. (This is why we encourage our readers to make a list of the things they enjoy in life and start doing them without the alcoholic. It breaks the enmeshment of codependency. You and I deserve to have a happy life while being with an alcoholic. The only way to do that is to create the happiness for ourselves.

And I drive it purposely because I do a lot of flying and I have to drive almost an hour and a half to two hours to the airport. So when I’m really taking good care of myself, I drive it down, I drive it back, because when I get off the road, I’m exhausted. But if I drive that Cadillac on my way home, it’s soothes me. I put music in the radio and I come home. By the time I get home, I’m OK. I don’t fall asleep on the road. So I use my Cadillac for many things and it’s just wonderful but it’s a little want.

The big wants are the things like who I’m going to marry, who I’m going to be in relationship with, what kind of work I’m going to do in my life, where I’m going to live, homes I’m going to buy, children I’m going to have, those sorts of things.

What do I want? Those are extremely important and give your life decided direction. Most codependents in recovery ignore this issue.

The last thing they have trouble doing is expressing their reality moderately both to themselves and to other people. So it’s a phenomenal disease.

Should I Stay With The Alcoholic?
Uncertain About Dating An Alcoholic

13 comments to Am I In A Codependent Relationship With An Alcoholic?

  • Gabby

    I have a major disagreement with this posted article.

    I believe I was an enabler with my former alcoholic but not a co-dependent. I had trouble setting boundaries at first because of Love not because I was abused as a child–which I was not.

    Sometimes, especially for women, we care too much and hang in there longer than we should–I don’t believe that abuse as a child makes us all be that way. It believe it is the way we are “wired”.

    After I set my boundaries, even though I wasn’t sure what I was dealing wiht: alcohol, sex addiction or just plain abusive; my alcoholic left so no more co-dependent. But would I try in my next relationship to make it work, Yes but that does not make me co-dependent. . .just a Christian who shows love until the boundary is crossed.

  • Bill

    I think people make negative associations with the word codependent. All of us have some of the dominant traits of a codependent personality in us. I was never abused as a child either, but I can see why the video was posted, to educate about what the personality looks like. I can see how many of the authors points apply to me…

    1-Low self-esteem
    2-Difficulty setting functional boundaries
    3-I often define who I am in relation to the person I’m intimately involved with. I seem to conform to things they enjoy doing more that defining who I am.

    I’ve always been the type of person who just kinda gets along well with people because I don’t make waves. In other words, I just go along with the crowd instead of going against the crowd.

  • Pez

    Yea, I agree with Abby. I was not abused as a child either and I don’t believe everyone involved with an addict is a co-dependant. Maybe nieve to the disease at first and we fell in love! And Women, most of us, are nurturers and love to please our mates and them us. I just loved my A when he was not drunk. A very good match and a lot in common–you see what it could be, and that hope keeps you there until you see the debth of A. Then your like, oh Shit, this is more than I thought it was, “I quit partying at 24 no problem”. You see how deep addiction can be. It sucks, your like “Why the He double toothpick would anyone want to live that life. And then the massive reseach on the subject! And now you know what your dealing with. Reallity sets in. I never let my A destroy my self worth–I knew who I was and how not to be treated But, then again I am 50. A 20 year old may not have been so established in themselves. I held my ground, moved out, did not enable him in any way when he was hitting bottom –just was there to be a friend. He is now seeking help from the doctor and other sourses. Hope he makes it, he is a good guy with out A. If so, we may still have a chance.

  • Debbi

    You are very wise and realise it’s not over and you still may have a chance and I agree with you that we’re not always co-dependants just loving people. My self-worth was destroyed and I am not 20–I am over 50 and still he destroyed my self worth and I’m still trying to restore it. It is a very hard road.

  • Bill

    Debbie, after being with someone for such a long time it must feel like a large part of who you are is missing. I don’t necessarily think something like that would constitute being a co-dependent person, just grieving the loss of someone you love.

  • Bill

    Pez, I love your attitude. If I ever broke things off due to an extreme escalation in alcohol consumption and major attitude change with my alcoholic, I’d have a long trial period, if the decided to get sober, before I let them be close to me again.

    Relationships that get ripped apart by alcoholism leave deep scars on out hearts. I think we should be very guarded once our lives have been torn apart and healing has begun in us as an individual.

  • Debbi

    Bill and Everyone:
    Thank you Bill for helping me see I was not a codependent and I try to think of myself as a survivor when I hear such kind words from you and everyone here.

    To Everyone:
    One year ago was when my marriage fell apart & my ex chose to stay in the house and turn to porn (escorts & other women along with drinking much more) as I headed off to a hospital. This hospital was one of only 4 in the country that had a treatment for the type of tumor I have. My first checkup last September was sketchy but Doctors are hoping for a better one-year checkup. This past year although staying in the house as much as possible with his verbal abuse I spent alot of time sitting in parks or staying at a “safe house”.

    Well, tomorrow is the day & I am scared to death. It is my one-year checkup. And yet again I have to go alone–husband left me in the middle of this and no family or friends to help. If it does not turn out good I’m not sure I have any options left but one–which is full blown surgery that will run over $400,000 and I no longer have insurance and this will put me out of work for up to 2 years.

    I just hope whoever reads this will keep me in their prayers tonight that tomorrow I get the “thumbs up”, everything good & I can start to return to some normal activities and start my emotional healing process from this “year of hell” I have been living.

    Wish me the best!

  • Debbi,

    I will pray for you. I hope and pray with all my heart that you get the news you want and need. Then you start living you’re life no more living in the past, take each day at a time and enjoy it. God Bless You xxx

  • JC

    Debbie, I’m a believer, standing in faith for a good report.

    Thanks for your continued participation here. Keep us informed.


  • Pez

    Hi Debbie & Bill, Thanx for your comments. I want to assure you leaveing my A was EXTREMELY PAINFUL! I had to get books from the libray on emotional healing and such. It’s HARD when you love some one sooo much and see what that person could be without the addiction. It’s sad, tragic, etc… It’s still hard to let go of the hope that may never come. Bless you Debbie will say a prayer and God be with you in spirit.

  • JC

    Pez, I know that feeling all too well of loving someone so much, hoping and having faith that the loving, caring, fun to be with person will return.

  • Elisabeth

    Debi – will be thinking of and praying for you tonight!! Please keep us posted.

  • Debbi

    Thank you to all of you for your prayers–YOUR PRAYERS WORKED WONDERS!!

    On my way up yesterday to the hospital a 5 car accident happened right in front of me and a pickup truck rolled over missing the front of my car by inches! Needless to say I was late & thinking I just had a bad omen!

    But no, thanks to all your prayers surgeon said I should not need any more treatments to this tumor it has shrunk by 15% and he thinks will continue to do so. I asked him about the effects of alcohol on the A and on the familiy members. He said “even one-two drinks per day after 5 years he can see damage to the person’s brain on an MRI” and depression such as mine is definitely caused by their behavior on us. I learned alot during my day at this hospital.

    I just have one more lump in breast for a followup in 2 weeks but it seems some of my bad luck is dissipating & maybe things will finally start to turn around.

    I can’t thank all of you enough for all your encouragement & I am now your biggest cheerleader & always here to help you all for all the help you guys gave me!

Leave a Reply