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Addicted to the Addict

When we think about addiction, we may be inclined to view it strictly through the lens of someone who abuses drugs or alcohol. However, if you have ever loved someone with an addiction, then you know that it is not that simple. In fact, those that love someone with an addiction may actually find themselves with an almost “second hand” addiction. I am referring to codependency. Codependency has a diverse spectrum and can be a complex and challenging concept. The form of codependency that will be focused on here is the residual addictive behaviors and emotions that come from loving someone with an addiction – when one becomes addicted to the addict. 

To begin, it can be helpful to view addiction as a series of obsessions and compulsions. While we watch our loved one obsess over their substance of choice and have compulsive risky and unhealthy behaviors required to sustain the addiction, we can very easily be sucked into their “obsessive-compulsive” world. Regardless of the title of the relationship, it is natural to want to spare someone we love from hardships. This becomes especially challenging with someone in active addiction, who we might see all but actively seek out hardships through risky behavior and unhealthy decisions. Due to the nature of addiction, these acts of “kindness” once rooted in love can soon switch to compulsive behavior based on fear, confusion, and general powerlessness. Have you found yourself obsessing over where your loved one is or rethink every interaction with them to see if there are any holes in their story? Or maybe questions such as “are they safe”, “are they using”, “who are they with”, “why are they doing this” flood your mind. These obsessive thoughts can lead to compulsive behavior in an attempt to self soothe the obsession and spare ourselves the guilt, shame, or embarrassment that accompanies them. Some examples might be minimizing behavior, providing money as a bailout to a financial pinch, or becoming a detective and constantly investigating your loved one’s belongings, statements, or behaviors.

Because of the chaotic nature of addiction, our emotions are often experienced in extremes, with stress being arguably the most common. When our body feels stress, the brain begins sending out various signals “sounding the alarm” accompanied by a rush of adrenaline. This feeling might be familiar in the way someone’s heart races when their loved one comes home under the influence, or stomach knots or racing thoughts when searching through their belongings, or the way the body might naturally tense at the thought of the loved one. Chronically being in this state of heightened emotion can lead to constantly expecting that “adrenaline hit,” which in turn feeds that “obsessive-compulsive” hunger. We have a thought, it leads to stress, we get that “hit”, we act out on the thought, we validate our thought, we get another “hit”. Those spikes in adrenaline and state of stress become a new normal for the body, and there becomes a normalization of crisis and expectation of chaos. When the addict’s behavior sets the temperature of our daily experience and we enter into a world of chaos, we can very easily lose sight of ourselves and just how irrational our thinking and behaviors have become. 

When we speak of recovery, we view this as a holistic process in which those directly affected by a loved one’s addiction must enter into their own recovery journey. It is a process of letting go of perceived control and regaining power over what is controllable. By confronting the expectation of crisis and setting firm boundaries over thoughts and behaviors, we can slowly move out of a world consumed by chaos and regain the safety of mind, decision, and sense of self. 

Is Your Recovery a “White Knuckle” Recovery or a Freedom Recovery?

Is Your Recovery a “White Knuckle” Recovery or a Freedom Recovery?

When I was five years old, my parents took our family on a day trip to an amusement park outside of Philadelphia. I begged my parents to ride the wooden roller coaster at the park only to discover that it was a traumatic experience that would linger with me for many years.  The amusement park did not have height restrictions, seat belts or other safety precautions back then. They should have had those safeguards though because my mother fought to keep me from falling out of the ride!  Many years later, I can still remember the trauma of being unable to hold onto the safety bar and bouncing around the car only to feel as if at any second I would fall out.  That experience stayed with me and I was unwilling to try anything adventurous at amusement parks for many years after that.  Finally, a friend convinced me to try the roller coaster again when I was 14 and I discovered I enjoyed the adrenaline rush! After that, I tried anything and everything until I hit the age when motion sickness became the norm.
I share this story as a means of explaining recovery.  Sometimes, you can hold on really tight to recovery and the sheer exhaustion of holding onto recovery causes us to tire and release our grip. Then, we bounce all over the place in times of high stress. I call this kind of recovery “White Knuckle” Recovery.  I am holding on to my recovery so tightly because I have not grown emotionally to the point that I have the strength to hold on the emotional safety bar with ease while I ride the hills and curves of stress.  Many times people are white-knuckling their recovery to please a person who is also riding through life with them. They hold on to the safety bar of recovery so tightly that they eventually lose strength, let go, and give up again.  There is a constant cycle of holding onto the safety bar of recovery only to eventually cycle out of recovery when the going gets rough. It can be a vicious cycle. The person holding on tightly to the safety bar of recovery is emotionally weak because they have not worked to strengthen their emotional muscle energy.  True recovery comes when people do a variety of activities to make sure they can hold on to their recovery. These activities include :
1.  Working on the issues of their childhood that cause them to lose their grip.
2.  Growing in their understanding of the truth about themselves and replacing childhood beliefs with adult beliefs.  Just like we grow physically, people will grow emotionally when they focus on self-growth.
3.  Feeding on a steady diet of emotional and spiritual truth. This is the food that enables a person to have the strength to withstand the speed and stress of the ride of life.

We are not promised a life without struggle. However, we are promised that truth will bring freedom, that love can replace fear, and that letting go of childish ways can enable us to ride through life in a freedom that helps us intuitively know what to do when we encounter difficult stress.  Are you “white knuckling” your recovery or are you taking the steps to enable yourself to make stronger decisions and ride in freedom?  Believe it or not, you can enjoy the ride when you take the steps to no longer ride as a child.

I Corinthians 13: 8-13 ( NIV)
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now, we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.