The misery I found within me was continuous and unbearable; a never ending cycle of looking for pleasure outside of myself to fill the emotional hole in me – that void where something always felt missing. The need for female validation; the substance abuse; the chronic over-spending or impulsive buying, the over-eating, the obsessive quick fix-juice diet to drop weight; I could go on and on with the list of “if I get this, then I’ll be happy.” scenarios, but I never really achieved that happiness I was searching for no matter what I accomplished. All these things would create a temporary relief, yet never solved the bigger problem at hand and I would soon be searching for relief again, right back to where I started or most likely, worse. All these behaviors, it turns out, were the solution to a co-dependency issue. On the surface, I thought all I was dealing with was a drinking problem and I had lived in the problem for so long that it’s what my normal had become. It then became imperative that I pick myself up to start finding and living in the solution.
Recently, in a group therapy session, I heard something so simple, yet so truthful. A friend and fellow addict stated, “We used and abused our substances to escape our lives – what we need to do is build a life we don’t want to escape.” – (Dillon Garcia) There it was; plain and simple and making complete sense, thus the puzzle pieces started fitting into place and I could see the patterns of my life unfolding before my very eyes.
So what is this co-dependency problem that I have and why am I just putting two and two together at this stage of my life? I was under the impression that all this time I only had a drinking problem, when in reality – it’s much more than that. Drinking was my solution; It was all I knew that worked, quieting my mind, easing my anxiety and making life go numb. Under the surface though, these are some of the things I was really dealing with or had experienced:
- Not feeling happy, content, or peaceful with myself.
- Letting the feelings and actions of others affect me to the point that I felt like I had lost control of my life.
- Feeling trapped in relationships, but would endure the abuse or dysfunction to keep someone validating me.
- Enabling – exhibited by a significant other, family member or friend to ease relationship tension caused by my problematic or addictive behavior.
- Looking to relationships or other outside things to provide all my happiness and good feelings.
- Feeling threatened by the potential loss of people or things that provide me happiness.
From the start of my relational life, co-dependency had always been a factor; I just wasn’t aware of it, nor did I know what co-dependency was for that matter. But now understanding what it is and looking back, I can see it clear as day
In 2004, I graduated from high school and was moving quickly into adulthood and all the responsibilities that go with it. Almost immediately I was offered a job working for the local power company as a meter reader and I jumped at the opportunity in lieu of going off to college. My girlfriend’s father was a supervisor for the company so I was basically a shoe in. Right off the bat, I was making decent money which led to my girlfriend, (who I’ll call Sophia for the sake of this story), and I renting an apartment together. At first things were okay; we had been through our struggles in the past, but with high school behind us, we thought we were ready to move on and tackle the world together. As nineteen or twenty year olds, fresh out of high school, and already having a shaky relationship at best, this was quite egotistical, naïve thinking. The fairy tale quickly turned into a nightmare and things were escalating rapidly – specifically my drinking and Sophia’s constant paranoia and need for attention. It wasn’t long before neighbors were disturbed by the yelling, fighting, and sound of objects being heaved back and forth into the walls of our residence on a seemingly nightly basis. It was chaotic and extremely dysfunctional, but we had both become so desensitized and used to that way of life that we sustained it way longer than we should have.
Trust was non-existent for Sophia. I was constantly accused of being unfaithful to her, which I never was, unless you consider cheating to be plastered at the pool hall every night or opting to spend more and more time with my buddies. Nevertheless, I put up with the madness because I liked the power she gave me over her. Sophia was a child of divorce and the product of a fairly dysfunctional childhood. Her father spent most nights at the bar, while she was stuck at home looking after and caring for her two younger sisters. Major emotional and psychological issues were obvious and present because of this and I knowingly took advantage of them – using her for what I wanted and ignoring everything else as best I could. She provided me with the female validation I craved and I could do whatever I wanted knowing she would never leave me. Her fear of being alone far outweighed putting up with me or what I was doing, and she was more than willing to endure the insanity if it meant she would receive my affection from time to time. Essentially, she was the perfect enabler and, at the time, that’s all I wanted – someone to co-sign my bullshit.
This toxic relationship of fighting, police visits, breaking up and making up lasted for seven years of my life. From age fifteen to twenty-two I lived in this vicious reality and when I finally took the initiative to break away for good in hopes that my life would get better, I plummeted further down the rabbit hole into darkness and depression. What tiny sliver of accountability I had was now gone and I was left completely to my own vices – a recipe for disaster to the alcoholic in full blown, active addiction.
My co-dependency shifted entirely from dysfunctional relationship to drowning myself in the bottom of bottle after bottle of Jack Daniel’s. I looked to it for providing me happiness and I couldn’t imagine a life without it by my side. Going a day without was unfathomable and I submitted to the probability that this was what my life was going to be like until I was six feet under. It was a hopeless and helpless cycle of drinking to cope, drinking to stop shaking and even drinking to numb out or forget what I did or said when I was drinking. That’s the true insanity of the disease in full control.
This pattern has played out in virtually all aspects of my life and relationships to date; maybe not to the extreme of that particular example, but some variation of co-dependent dysfunction always seemed to show up – whether it was a romantic relationship, relationships with family members, or relationships with friends. I’ve always looked to something or somebody else to make me feel good, because I could not seem to do it for myself.
So rather than continuing to live in the problem, my solution has been daily awareness of the patterns in my life and conscious recognition of when I may be falling back into old ways and habits. I need to stop and check myself; check my motives – why am I doing this? Is this behavior conducive to the life I want to live as a recovering alcoholic? Is this moving me forward or pulling me back? I have discovered ways to be comfortable in my own skin and provide happiness for myself, whether it be through having a healthy connection with other people, finding new hobbies, reading a book or just taking a meditation break to re-ground myself. The point is – I can sit in a room by myself without the need to abuse some mind-altering substance or constantly look at my phone or television, or listen to music, or be entertained by something, someway. I can just sit in peace because I know that I’m doing the best I can and attempting the next right thing; that everything is going to work out the way it’s supposed to – that everything is going to be okay. Life is a continual learning experience which, in my opinion, needs to be examined thoroughly – not just on the surface; for me what lies underneath is the most effective place to start exploring the improvements and adjustments needed for a happy, purposeful, and fulfilling life.