QUESTIONS, ANYONE?

There’s an old saying that “there’s no such thing as a stupid question.”  I believed that until someone asked me why it is that we always find what we’re looking for in the last place we look.

No comment.

However, I did receive an intelligent question today, forwarded to me by “Admin.”  One more person wanted to be the exception to the rule that I absolutely do not have the time to reply personally to emails sent to the site.  I just don’t.  I have three sites going, and I reply to all the questions myself (unless it’s a technical one – in which case I forward it to Chip).

Besides, there is magic in a group – even if the group meets online.  Sharing the question and the answer on the forum means others get to learn from the answer too.  It means that the person asking the question will likely learn he or she isn’t as alone with his or her problem as that person thought.  It also opens the question up for other comments, too, bringing us back to the magic of the group.

This post is solely to answer the question:  “Do you have to have alcoholism involved to become codependent?”  Group, what do you think?  No, what do you know?  One issue that surprised me the most after the release of my first book on codependency was the huge number of people who lived in families without any alcoholism or addiction, but codependency had still set in.

This isn’t to “sell books,” (mine are available at libraries for free)  but in one of my more recent releases – The New Codependency – I define codependency more by “which of these issues is causing a problem, and how much does it hurt?”

Let’s look deeper.  Codependency is a normal reaction to abnormal circumstances.  That’s what I wrote way back when.  I still stand behind those words.  Everything written is true.  It works.  But like others, I’ve learned more and seen more with the passing of time. More has been revealed.

Initially I thought that loss comprised about ten percent of codependency.  Now, I’m coming to believe that codependency is often people stuck in one or more stages of grief.  The loss may be living with an ongoing illness for which there isn’t a cure; not receiving something we needed to become full human beings as a child (like love and protection); or losing an important relationship now – as adults.

If you add obsession and guilt to the five stages of grief, as outlined by Elizabeth Kubler Ross – you have what we’ve come to define as codependency.  Denial; anger (lots of that); negotiation (a/k/a manipulation); sadness; and finally acceptance or surrender to what is.

Listen, guys and gals – people young and old – obsessing isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  We need to tell our story, sometimes over and over, to integrate it into our life experiences.  And the guilt we feel?  It’s not authentic (most of the time). It’s a symptom of other losses that have cut into our heart.

Recently the Mayo clinic labeled Broken Heart Syndrome as a true medical condition that occurs when we suffer a deep loss.  A deep loss isn’t limited to having someone we love die.  It could be, say, having our child develop an incurable illness that he or she will live with likely as long as the person is alive.  Control sets in when we do our best to make the problem go away, otherwise known as denial, and sometimes called resistance.

Sometimes natural and normal situations can imitate codependency, such as when we have a newborn baby and we need to center our lives around the child and forgo what we need.  The difference there is that the behaviors that resemble codependency are temporary responses to a temporary situation in our life.  It’s when codependent behaviors become a way of life that it’s likely codependency has set in.

We think who we are isn’t okay.  We don’t trust what we feel.  Usually in homes where codependency has set in, feelings aren’t discussed much or at all.  People dig a rut, move furniture in, and call it home.  They’re miserable but they’re okay with that – at least they know what to expect:  not much at all, and surely not a full life.

While none of us are promised the proverbial bed of roses, some of us get unnecessarily enmeshed in other people’s problems.  Their problems control our lives.  Our emotions control their lives.  It’s an ugly dance of quietly or loudly pulling the other person’s strings.

See – this is the deal.  It’s not what we do that makes it codependent.  It’s how what we do makes us feel.  It’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.  Are we acting out of obligation, fear, and guilt?  Or are our actions motivated by clean choice?  Are we doing what we do because it’s what we choose to do, no matter the outcome?

You can have two people doing exactly the same behaviors and one person is making healthy choices. The other is doing the codependency dysfunctional dance feeling victimized, separate from life, likely unloved and unlovable, and perpetually not good enough.

So many people are suffering from chronic depression.  It takes two weeks of feeling terribly sad to receive this label.  After my son died, I’m certain 99 percent of the doctors around would have labeled me depressed. I wasn’t.  I was going through that heart-healing process called grief.  Feeling extremely sad when a son you love with all your heart dies qualifies as a normal response to an abnormal situation.

We live in a time where more and more people resist feeling uncomfortable.  We expect all problems to be immediately and easily solved.  When that doesn’t occur, we may consider our lives a hopeless waste.

Not so.  We’ve been dealt a challenging hand.  How we’re going to play that hand is up to us.  Recovery isn’t about rules (except for two).  It’s about tools – accessing them, using them, and freely making our choices.  The only rules I have are don’t hurt yourself (which includes don’t let anyone else physically hurt you.)  And don’t hurt (physically) anyone else.

It’s not unhealthy to love people, to care about them, and sometimes to sacrifice for them.  That’s what can bond us to others and create that feeling called “love.”  Again, it all goes back to our motivation.

I cannot judge another’s heart.  Can there be codependency without alcoholism?  Can there be loss without alcoholism?  I’m coming to believe that many if not most cases of chemical dependency began as a survival behavior to self-medicate emotional pain that became too much – more than we could handle without support.  Then the “cure” became an illness of its own.

Something else not publicly discussed much are the benefits from growing up in a dysfunctional home.  Studies quoted in an article in the New York Times show that in later life situation, such as at work, people who survived heavy dysfunction and then learned to administer self-care and began to thrive make the best employees – and not because they’re codependent and never say, “No.”  It’s because they can withstand stress, chaos, problems, and situations that others find overwhelming.

They know how to deal with less than ideal situations in life and they don’t need to live in a bubble to survive.  (I’m not doing footnotes in my blogs but if you want more info on this see The New Codependency.)

I now believe that too much loss and grief can cause the beginning of alcoholism and chemical dependency in a family.  It can also create codependent responses – responses made out of obligation, guilt, and fear whether alcoholism and addiction are present or not.

The reason we call recovery “an inside job” is because it’s true. We don’t change the circumstances around us to feel better.  We deal with what’s inside us, usually the things we most don’t want to look at, expose to the light, or feel. People don’t like to feel pain.  They don’t like confusion, not being able to make sense of life, or feeling like life is random — a disorderly, chaotic thing.

We also don’t like it when we realize how vulnerable we really are to all the problems, pain, and situations we used to believe we had immunity from.

While Life is chaotic and often makes no sense at all, many of us have experienced Dnana – a word that means learning or knowing that’s inseparable from an experience.  We aren’t what we eat but we are what we’ve been through.  We aren’t our problems, but our problems are ours to solve, live with, let go of, or endure.

Underneath the chaos an underlying order exists.  The world we live in?  A vital universe.  One that’s truly alive and will guide us to what we need, if we listen to that still, small voice within.

Another statement in Codependent No More I stand behind one hundred percent:  There is no situation that can’t be made worse by severe self-neglect, and it’s opposite, “Self-love and self-care will benefit any situation we need to get through, go around, or endure.”

Self-love isn’t narcissism, over-indulgence, or extreme pampering.  In his book, The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle defines love for others (paraphrased) as not being something we get and need desperately to fill up the big empty hole within.  Loving someone means being present for and aware of another in each moment.  To that I add that love means giving what we want to give, and what the other person wants to receive.

That would mean, if accepted as truth, that self-love means being present for and aware of ourselves.  Living a “Day at a Time” doesn’t mean waiting to get through today so tomorrow can come.  It means, being present for and aware of who we are, how we feel, and what’s taking place within and around us right now.

I hope my reactions to and thoughts about your question help.  But remember – I’m a writer not an expert, guru, psychiatrist or spiritual adviser.  I’m stumbling my way through life too, just like anyone else. But if I shared all the stories with you (the person who asked the question about codependency) about family situations where codependency ruled but no alcohol or drugs caused the pain, it would take about five more books to write about them all.

To engage in codependent behaviors isn’t a bad thing. In most cases, it means we really care but aren’t sure what to do.  Somewhere along the line, we forgot we could trust ourselves.

“Don’t force it,” my friend said, when I tried to open a container.  “You’ll break it.”  He summed up the effects of control.  The other behaviors – taking care of others and neglecting ourselves, repressing and denying important feelings, resisting reality, feeling separate from people and things in the world we live in – and many other traits connected with codependency – are on a continuum.  They’re normal reactions that anyone would do, given a similar situation.

Codependency occurs when we cross a line. We’re stuck.  We can’t stop doing what we’re doing, even though what we’re doing hurts the other person and us.  So now I have a question for you:  How much do you hurt?  How much does what you do hurt?  Or have you become so numb you’re not sure how you really feel?

Not to worry.  Most of us step across that line at times.  You don’t need to have hope for a better tomorrow.  Instead, trust where you are today because that’s what true faith is.

While I’m at it, I’ll answer another question I’m often asked too.  “Can you become codependent on another codependent?”  Answer:  Yes.

It’s the worst.

Good luck,
Melody Beattie

66 comments

    • Melody

      Thank you, Anastasia. Things are going well. I’ve moved from being angry, to being grateful — although this is a huge burden for my daughter to bear the rest of her life. She has surprised me with her courage and strength — she is incredibly braver than I thought and I love her deeply. Melody

  1. Pauline Victoria Thomas

    I was married to an Drinking person 30 years ago we were married for 13 years and we had quite alot in common when we first met he hardly drank and one he reached 21 he drank for England, I stayed 13 years trying to put it together with no luck he finally had an afaair with someone he said ” he did not admire” my cousin so that split my family good and proper. it was so painful, but I now look back and would this person now put up with it NO SHE WOULD NOT, I have found joy in a new marriage and love – my codepandancy was I thought this is all that I can have, but I did follow the next step and got out – and we had a meeting in a famous store and I ask him and my cousin to go out of my life – I told him I am letting you both go. and too this day I have never seen him. and then the rebuilding of me took place, do I have problems yes I do – but I know that this too shall past.

    • Melody Beattie

      Thank you for sharing. You are so right — this too shall pass. May you find the Peace that Passes all Understanding along the way. Best, Melody Beattie. I’m sorry you had to go through your pain, by the way. You might find comfort in the site at http://www.MelodyBeattie.net. It’s completely free, and there is good support, understanding, and freedom to express yourself exactly the way you are there.

  2. Sue

    Oh wow, I’ll have to look in re-sale shops to see if I can find a copy then. If I find an extra, I can most certainly send it your way. I will let you know.

  3. Darlene A Steinemann

    Melody/Chip, How does one go about contacting you in regards to the possibility of you speaking on a teleconference call about your story. The \Parking Lot\ as it is known operates from 1 AM – 6:30 AM EDT and is a discussion group for all 12 step groups to help get them throuh the nights. There are numerous topics shared on or read from 12 step literature. The standard topics are Higher Power, gratitude and one that is escaping me at the moment. The members of the group sugest up to 3 topics and your books are read from every night. The teleconference number is 712-432-3900 ID 6508933# and this is not toll free but if you have unlimited long distance it is free. The moderator is Irene and she does a terrific job. There is also a line that has recorded speakers, workshops and other readings. Normally, the 2nd Sunday of the month at 2 PM there is a speaker which is recorded. The number for the recorded lines is 712-432-3903 ID#6508933#. It would be wonderful if you could call in and share – all of you actually if you are up during the night or ifnyou couldbe one of the guest speakers Melody. I am unsure about how to contact you by mail so will trust that if it is in the stars or the cards that I will receive some information. Cordially, Darlene

  4. Samantha Heng

    Hi Melody, Someone I know has mentioned one of your books ‘Codependent No More’ to me recently. I was at a bookstore earlier today and found some other books of yours and one of them is ‘Codependents’ Guide to 12 Steps’. I want to know what ‘codependent’ means as I have never heard of that term before. What are the differences between these two books? If I only want to get one of them, which one would you suggest (doesn’t have to be limited to these two)? Thank you, Samantha

    • Melody

      Hi Samantha. I’d love to answer your question about what codependency is succintly, but I can’t. The definition they put on the cover of Codependent No More isn’t entirely correct, nor is it up to date. I take an entire chapter in the book and devote it to answering that question. The difficulty with answering the question is this: codependent behaviors are usally normal behaviors that everyone does. It’s when we cross a line that the behaviors bcome dysfunctionl and cause prolems in our lives. Also, codependency is something called “an inside job” — meaning that two people can do the exact same behavior and in one, it’s a healthy, normal act. In the other, it’s a dysfunctional behavior that’s guaranteed to cause suffering and pain. It’s not WHAT we do as much as WHY we’re doing what we do — our motives and intentions. Most of us make a decision to identify (or no) as codependents from hearing other people’s stories — how they felt, why they did the things they did. Essentially, codependent behaviors are what we call “survival behaviors” — things we do to protect ourselves when we don’t know we have other choices about what to do to take care of ourselves, and learning to “take care of ourselves” is the key. I don’t know how much you know about recovery, how much exposure you’ve had. It’s hard for me to say which book you need, but off the top of my head I would recommend Codependent No More. The New Coependency is out in soft cover. That’s a recent book that breaks the problem (I personally don’t call codependency an illness) down into singular behaviors. Plus it has a lot of tests — but because denial is often a part of codependency, we can take the tests and decide “we’re fine” — or worse yet, take the test for someone else. (If you do that, for sure you’re codependent.) I hesitate to judge or lael anyone; it’s a decision each person needs to make for themselves. So — I hope that helps. Maybe some other people on the forum will have feedback and personal experiences that might also help you too. If you have more questions, please feel free to ask. Best, Melody Beattie

  5. Roxanne Luane

    Hi Samantha….for me, my ‘co-dependency’ (and I really dislike the word…I’d love something simpler!) has come to mean this: whenever someone else’s welfare (real or imagined) becomes so important that I sacrifice my well being, becomes MORE important than my welfare or becomes how I measure my happiness, I’m living in “co-dependency” and it’s going to hurt. Not only me but whomever I’m sacrificing myself for…whomever it is that I think I’m “helping.” As a child, it was necessary survival behavior for me – I grew up in an abusive home – and I learned nothing about living any other way. As an adult, it never, ever is, in the normal course of life. There are those in my life (my children, for example) whose welfare is AS important as mine but never more important….unless we’re in a truly life threatening situation where I have to die in order for them to live. That almost never happens in real life…even the stewardess on the airplane will tell you to put your oxygen mask on first or you will be unable to assist anyone. Recovery is my Oxygen Mask for life.

  6. Joey Shyloski

    Have any of your wonderful books been translated into Japanese? I think my dear Japanese daughter-in-law would greatly benefit from them. Thank you so much.

    • Melody

      Hi Joey. Yes — and your question comes at a great time, as I’ve been invited to come to Japan and “spread the message” around the country. We’re planning a trip for early next year (2013). The country lacks enough treatment, espcially for women. Even treatment for men is new and the Japanese are opening their arms and hearts to help. So answering your question, Hazelden licensed foreign rights to Codependent NO More and Language of Letting Go to a Japanese publisher, but I believe this happened prior to the first treatment center in Japan being built. The books didn’t take off. However, since the first treatment centers were built (about five to seven years ago) for mean only (until now), recovery books, including mine, are catching on. The New Codependency by Simon and Schuster and Codepndent’s Guide to the Twelve Steps are two that are seling in Japan. It’s my hope that by the time I visit the country, we’ll have more than that available in the language (which by the way, I’ve begun learning). Thank you for asking. Melody Beattie

  7. Melody

    Hi Scott. Congratulations on how hard you’re working on yourself. I wish I had specific leads for you — but I don’t. Maybe some other forum guests might. Or, another thought is call 211. It was a free resource (with every single kind of resource information) for every state. I don’t know if they still have their funding through United Way or not. If you don’t get any results, I suggest going to http://melodybeattie.net — it’s my “Grief Club” site for people going through all kinds of losses, including codependency. You could post your question in the forum there, and you might want to check out the twelve-step online group in addition to one you find in your area. I know this — if you keep looking, you’ll find the right group for you. The key is working the Steps, and you may want to read the online posts on the steps for inspiration. There’s a good group of people online. Best — and please let me know how you’re doing. Melody

  8. Marjorie

    Hi Melody, Your books are amazing. I went to a bookstore yesterday and i’m thankful i found your book, Codependent No More and The Language of Letting Go. The first time i browse pages of your books, i fall in love with them right away. I’m not involve with an alcoholic but still i can relate so much about this Codependency problem. I realize that codependency can happen to anyone in different situations and experiences in life. Thank you for opening my eyes that i’m one of those codependent people and i will never ever be ashamed of admitting it. Thank you for showing me that i’m ok and everything will be alright. Thank you for showing me that i need to love myself first and i am important too. Thank you so much Melody, you touch my soul big time <3 More power to you and hope you can touch more souls :)

    • Melody

      I appreciate your kind comments, but you’re the one who did the work of reading, relating, and letting go of resistane — and I know from experience that isn’t easy. Best wishes and let us know how you’re doing. Melody Beattie Also — to all guests on this site: I just spent five days organizing and automating my emails as I was responding to between 500 and 1,000 a day. The author site alone gets 1,000 new visitors every day. Don’t get me wrong — I love connecting with my readers this way, but I had to pare down the inbox and organize it — should have done it a long time ago. Meanwhile, I’m starting a writing project and I wanted to let you know that I’ll only be responding to comments and messages once or twice a week — at most – to give me time to do my other work. I ask you for your understanding. Best, Melody

  9. teena

    For years i didnt know what was happening to me or what i was doing in this life.. i must admit that it took me a long to come to decide whether i will buy ur book which was advertised on google while i was doing self help research. it took me three months of struggle to reach to that book codependent no more-…i finall y found that book in the store in london when i was on vacations last month as i live in saudi arabia////// i dnt knw how to thank you enough….for awakening me…..least after reading i realized that i am not crazy….this book was the first step… congratulations….there are many things which bothers me still..i am hoping to write more later…

    • Melody

      Hi. I’m glad that you’ve begun this journey — it takes courage to change and it’s much easier to stay the same (even if we don’t like the way our life is). If you have the courage and strength to begin, you have the courage and strength to follow through. Let us know how you’re doing. Best, Melody Beattie

  10. Michael

    Melody, God has truly blessed my life, and your book presented itself to me at just the time that I needed it. I was in severe depression and anxiety when my wife told me that she had enough, and was leaving. I immediately went to my Police Psychologist for help as the panic attacks were getting unbearable… more than anything I had ever experienced. I have never had an issue with my line of work, but relationships, and the thought of losing my wife and child (in my mind) was enough for me to feel like my world was collapsing in on me. I have been trying to figure out what was wrong with me for years, and went to a psychologist after my first wife left me. The therapist performed a series of treatments of E.M.D.R. (Eye movement desensitization reprogramming). That was a critical turning point that allowed for me to recover from my past traumas much quicker. When I was able to release the pain from the trauma event, I felt much better, but still had anxiety and felt I was going crazy. Your book, Codependent No More, absolutely changed my life! I didn’t put the book down for two days! At the end of the book my life made sense, and all of the therapy and hypnotherapy began to “process” through. It was an absolute enlightening experience as I felt peace for the first time in my life. It felt like I was in God’s hands and felt the warmth of his presence. I had always heard of that kind of peace… but to feel it was incredible. I wrote my wife a long letter of my experiences, and how I have treated her, and she broke down crying and embraced me. We have started over with a clean slate and it feels like we are falling in love for the first time! Everyday I feel better and better, and want to reach out to others that have suffered like me. Thank you for guiding down that journey! My therapist, my wife, and most importantly myself, cannot imagine the transformation within me in such a short period of time. I am inspired to continue my growth and read your other books. Thank you and God bless you. You have truly changed my life forever and I feel so blessed. -Mike

    • Melody

      Hi Michael. What a beautiful, thoughtful thank-you note, and an even more beautiful story. I’d like to be able to take credit that you so lovingly gave me, but YOU are the one who became open to, and did, all the work. It truly takes an open, willing, and “beginner’s mind” to embrace a new way of looking at relationships and love — and ourselves. It’s not easy, at first, and then it becomes so much easier than the other way we lived. I did sessions of EMDR therapy too, after my son’s sudden and traumatic death. That therapy helped me enormously, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has been traumatized. I believe (but I could be wrong) that when a large tragedy occurs, they send out teams of EMDR therapists to the site, to help people deal with the initial shock and PTDS (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). It sounds like you may be exposed to a lot of it in your chosen field of work. Thanks again, for writing, for your kind words, and for sharing a story that will surely inspire others to take that first step towards healing their hearts and lives. Best, Melody Beattie (BTW, we’d love to hear from you again so you can keep us updated on how you’re doing. A kind community exists here of people who unintrusively give and receive support from each other as we each go through te experiences in our lives. Also, it’s good to hear a story about a marriage healing, where people didn’t need to leave each other to achieve healing in their lives.)

  11. Sandra

    Hello Melody, Thank you for being such an inspiration in my recovery (15 years). I would be honnored to be added as your friend in facebook. Sandra C.

    • Melody

      Hi Sandra. Facebook won’t let me add any more friends. In all honesty, It became impossible to keep up with all the correspondence there, plus put thought and time into the correspondence on my three web sites. Ultimately, I opted to do my best on my sites instead of spreading myself too thin. So know that if I could, I would add you on Facebook, but you stand a much better chance of actually connecting with me on any of my three sites — the Grief Club (for going through any of life’s losses) at MelodyBeattie.net; Making Miracles at MelodyBeattie.org; and the main author site (with meditations posted daily from my books in the meditation room plus my blog) at MelodyBeattie.com. Copies of all posts come directly to my personal email, and I’m the one (not an assistant) who replies to every post. Thanks for reaching out and I hope to hear from you again, soon. Best, Melody

  12. Kaya

    Hi so I have been suffering with codependency for many years.. i could not even leave my house… or get a job and basically go about my life… it was very hard. Thank G-d is all i could say for where i am today.. though i am still suffering from a really big problem.. obstacle… I have this blockage in my brain… i cannot think clearly its like i don’t know brain fog… its like my brain cannot just process information.. or thoughts… now being that our brains is who we are… and our thoughts define us… i am having a hard time.. having any really deep conversations.. and connecting to people..! Please any advise would be a real help! Thanks soo much for all the info and books you have its amazing! Really you are so amazing! Kaya

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