Codependency is a concept to explain a relationship situation many lovers find ourselves in. Loving men who are addicts–that’s the type of codependency I’m most familiar with, from seeing that in my family of origin and in my own life.
I believe the whole concept of codependency exists to blame the victim, and I’ve seen it hurt people very badly. I don’t care for it and only partly believe in it.
But I’m happy to talk about it. A disabled radical mental health friend asked me if I have any writings about how to heal codependency. I’m not sure it should be healed from exactly, so I’m writing about what I really think.
Thank you for hearing my thoughts in the attitude that they’re offered. Please take what’s helpful for you, and dump the rest into a compost pile in a dream. Maybe it could help you grow a different idea you need later.
My mom owned a copy of the book Codependent No More. I associate it with the “women who love too much” trope. My dad was an alcoholic and drug addict. A lot of what my parents did in relationship was difficult for my development.
- scary arguments almost daily, for some years
- violence in my household
- when my dad went to jail
- his DUI arrests
- dad fired for being drunk on the job
- stuff smashed in my house
- not being able to have friends over…
I was supposed to be doing homework in an environment that was hard for me to even think my own thoughts in, let alone algebra thoughts, history, chemistry. Basics like eating dinner were disrupted by violence.
Stress chemicals flooded my body for years. The noise was overwhelming. And I learned horrible lessons about what family is, what love is, and what women exist for. I’m still unlearning all of that gender stuff and love error today.
I made this zine How Not to Domestic Violence Anyone because I would like to help make a world where more people are safe at home.
Being abused is a lot of work. I saw my mom suffer. She expended so much energy taking care of others and dodging harm. She didn’t have enough energy left over to take care of herself skillfully. A lot fell by the wayside as she used up her energy being abused by my dad. But that was a dynamic she was accustomed to from her own family of origin, and she loved my dad very much.
She took her marriage vows seriously and wanted a happy family. She did what she thought she needed to, for the survival of all of us. There’s a lot to balance in relationship, especially considering the needs of multiple people. She considered so much at once, with no way to predict what the consequences would be later, for what she chose in a moment.
- what family is
- income and housing
- mental health
- physical health
- the judgments and expectations of others
- her own feelings of responsibility
what addiction is
I detested what I saw my parents engage in. I never wanted to be like either of them, so I avoided alcohol and drugs. And I had a policy not to get together with addicts. For most of my life, anyone who did drugs beyond weed was not my people, and I avoided anyone who drank alcohol.
When I was almost 40, that’s when I finally felt safe enough from my family addiction trauma to get close to people who were addicts and drug users. I can’t say it’s gone well. Probably it would be best for me to avoid addicts.
But the problem is–almost everyone is addicted to something. Addiction is a self-harm / self-care process where someone is trying to improve their life with a substance or activity, but things go in an unhappy direction, and using the substance or activity leads to harm.
Many people are addicted to drugs or alcohol, some to work, maybe shopping, power, control. I’ve heard video games–anything that does the reward process in our heads in a way that leads to excess, bad behavior, and pain.
For me, I have done bad behaviors that endangered the life of myself and others because of touch. I have an outlier response to the oxytocin that my body releases from touch. I’ve made poor choices and remained in harmful relationships because touch was an addiction. The reward pathway chemicals were making me value touch over actual well-being of myself and others. I’m working on healing that long term.
what is codependent
What was my mom addicted to? Not sure. She loved sugar to an extreme. I don’t think it’s for me to say, and that’s not the point of this post.
Seeing my mom consider herself codependent was adding insult to injury. She was having her life ruled by my dad’s alcohol and drug use. Reading books that told her she was to blame for enabling him seemed so sad.
What is love? Caring, being there for people, listening, nurturing, second chances, patience, generosity, forgiveness, loyalty, compassion… My mom was doing love. She was being there for my dad and keeping him alive. She had the giving part of love down pat–she just needed to work on the saying no, boundaries, and caring for herself part.
Rather than saying no and nurturing her own well-being, I saw my mom cling to Christianity. In a way doing devotions and praying to Jesus was self-care. But the idea of having her reward in heaven was the opposite of empowering. Prayer would reduce her anger. But I wished she would use her anger for its actual purpose of a force toward freedom.
Codependency as a concept feels like blaming the people who are struggling so hard to do love and family. Rather than expend energy blaming the victim, I’d prefer to build a functional culture where everyone has the support they need and enough resources to be truly free. A life where housing is affordable for all people, and respectful emotional skills are the norm, not the exception.
If love was abundant and people didn’t feel they needed to cling to any one person, we wouldn’t get stuck with people who abuse us. We could find a safer home more easily.
People should be dependent on one another, and do family long term. Being codependent is society! But we can do it in a way that’s happy for all involved. The real issue isn’t codependency–it’s violence, including domestic violence, the violence of capitalism, how men are taught to handle their emotions, how women are taught to give.
When deception is the norm in relationships, that leads to violation because consent can only be given when both people are being truthful. Dysfunction leads to deception, and relationships are mostly ruined by that.
There can be multiple solutions to a problem. We can teach people self-defense to prevent assault, including sexual assault. But I would rather focus on the source of assault and prevent violence in the first place.
Some people want to stop abortion by criminalizing it. But I think if you want to stop abortion, build a culture where abortion isn’t needed. It would be a lot of work, but we’re worth it. Can you imagine a world where people who get pregnant are deeply respected and supported, money isn’t a problem, partners aren’t abusive, and violence isn’t everywhere?
Likewise, I don’t think gun control is the solution to gun violence. I think the solution is to make a functional culture where people don’t want to shoot each other, and everyone knows how to handle their emotions. When I look around, I see that the main ways people handle their emotions are denial, alcohol and drugs, and entertainment.
If we created a functional culture where addiction wasn’t the norm and violence was rare, truth was commonplace, we all had ample emotional skills, and we all were able to afford housing, what we call codependency might evaporate.
Codependency is a way of blaming the victim because it’s taboo to tell the truth about how violent and dysfunctional our culture is. Kind hearted women and nonbinary people are not the problem. We are not weak to love and get treated like doormats. Love is hard work. People who love are brave and strong.
Please don’t blame us for being abused. Create a culture where abuse isn’t everywhere.