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“Codependency” and Recovery.

1 November 2016

An article came out in which the author argues that “codependency” – as understood in programs like Al-Anon – doesn’t exist, and “treating” it harms addicts rather than helping them. Far from helping addicts reach a “rock bottom”, she argues, we should be treating addiction with compassion and evidence-based practices. There’s a lot to unpack about how she’s wrong, but I’m not actually going to dispute her point about helping or harming addicts.

Because, and I mean this sincerely, fuck the addict. We addicts will recover or not, and you can’t control it. We will “hit bottom” or not, and you can’t control it. Examining codependency as it relates to the recovery of the addict is, itself, a symptom of codependency. Al-Anon (and I am not a member) is not focused on helping addicts. It is not about the addict. At all.

The author makes a good point that codependency is hard to define. Especially from a scientific or medical point of view. So let’s back up and use simple words that ought to make sense to everyone. The term “codependency” as it is relevant to the discussion here, can be replaced with “having your life wrapped up and intertwined with the life of an addict”. That’s all. That’s the whole deal.

Now, sometimes this means that people, because they love the addicted person, or feel responsible for them, persist in relationships that harm them. Not that harm the addict (maybe that too, but so what). That harm themselves. They might be legitimately unable to extricate themselves from this relationship – for example being the parent of an addicted minor dependent.

The purpose of treating “codependency” is not to make the addict recover. We addicts like to make everything about ourselves. The purpose of treating “codependency” is to provide support to the people whose lives are wrapped up in and intertwined with the life of the addict. It is to provide support that hopefully mitigates the harm we addicts do in the lives of those around us.

So the article is wrong, because it’s focused on the wrong subject. The author argues against people getting support for themselves, because it might not help the addict the way she imagines they must want to. I say again: fuck the addict. The goal of treating “codependency” is to help YOU. Not to help the addict in your life. It’s to help people whose perspectives on healthy relationships have been twisted by an addict’s gaslighting, lies, broken promises, irresponsibility, and unfaithfulness.

The concept of “helping us to the bottom” is sometimes advocated in Al-Anon, but that is not the point. When the non-addicts in our lives try to get help to get us sober, they’re still acting out of a misplaced investment in the behavior of the addict. We cannot be controlled in that way. The only way to control a drunk is jail, institution, or death.

So, yes, codependency is a weird, loaded, unscientific, and often unhelpful term; about that she’s quite right. But what we call “treating codependency” is really simply “helping people harmed by addicts”. Not helping the addict. The addict is beside the point. If you have an active addict in your life, you have the right to get help that is entirely for, and about, you. And has nothing to do whatsoever with them.

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