Co-dependency! A word that I wish had never entered my vocabulary – or life. But it did, starting back in 1988, when my youngest son was 17 years old. The malignancy – his addiction and my co-dependency - grew over the next 14 years until his death put an end to his suffering and abruptly halted my co-dependency.
I think most of us who love an addicted person are co-dependent to one extent or another. Also a lot of us are enablers.
I am embarrassed to admit that I was so co-dependent while my son was struggling with his disease, and yes, we did enable him, that I was almost as sick as he was, perhaps more so.
Enablers enable usually out of much love for the addicted person and the belief that they will save the person by enabling, whether this is calling in sick for them at work, or giving them money and paying their bills, or whatever. My co-author in my first book I Am Your Disease is Heiko Ganzer LCSW, CASAC and he offers enormous insight into enabling in this book and also Slaying the Addiction Monster – An All-Inclusive Look at Drug Addiction in America Today.
I only wish I had truly known all about addiction, co-dependency and enabling while my own son was struggling. Could I have saved him? Probably not, but I would have had a better understanding of the torment that he was going through.
While my son was struggling to beat the addiction, we had many fights. Mind you, my son and I had an extremely close bond. He always told people that I was his best friend. But the addiction got in the way of our loving relationship many times. I was devastated by his drug use and lived in constant fear that I would lose him. Frustrated, he would say “Mom this is not about YOU. It’s about ME. I’m a drug addict and will have to fight this for the rest of my life.” I would tell him “No, no Scott. You’re smart and you’re strong, you can beat this. You are not an addict.”
I was in such denial. I just could not accept that my son suffered from something that he could not control. My every waking moment was spent worrying about him, waiting for his phone calls, worrying when the phone would ring, worrying when the phone would not ring. I was Queen of the Co-Dependents. It was my life. It was my sickness. But it was a sickness borne out of love for my son. I could not, and would not, give up on him.
It’s very easy to admonish people not to be co-dependent. Would that it were that easy to stop being co-dependent. Nancy Reagan’s famous mantra to drug and alcohol addicted people, “Just Say No” could just as easily be applied to co-dependents. Sounds simple. Just Say No. Again, would that it were that easy.
As moms we are nurturers. It’s our instinct to do all that we can to save our child. Sometimes in trying to save them, we just add more fuel to the fire. Although we may realize this on some intellectual level, it’s the emotional level that does us in. In our own misguided way we will do whatever we can, whatever it takes to try to save our child.
Ultimately, the only thing that stopped my co-dependency, was the unbearable loss of my son at age 31. His suffering has ended. Ours endures.