As you can guess from the title, this post on the addiction series will cover a dual aspect of addiction. I'm going to start with the addiction aspect first, because it will make more sense when I talk about co-addiction if it's in this order.
No matter when an addiction is started, it's difficult to stop whether
it's been 10 days or 10 years. The addiction becomes a way of coping
with life and a way to "numb out" and not feel negative emotions such as
hurt, rejection, stress, pain, etc.
"Whatever our motive for starting [our addiction] and our circumstances,
we soon discovered that the addiction relieved more than just physical
pain. It provided stimulation or numbed painful feelings or moods. It
helped us avoid the problems we faced---or so we thought. For a while,
we felt free of fear, worry, loneliness, discouragement, regret, or
boredom. But because life is full of the conditions that prompt these
kinds of feelings, we resorted to our addictions more and more often."
(The 12 step addiction recovery manual states this under step one:)
This avoidance of problems or feelings, can create shame. Guilt is when
we've made a mistake and we feel it was a bad choice. Shame is when we
feel like we've made a bad choice and therefore "I am a bad person. "
This shame creates a tragic cycle called the addiction cycle.
The cycle is set in motion with preoccupation. This is often started,
like said above, to avoid negative feelings. This is where we start
thinking about our addiction "I know there is a plate of cookies on the
counter..." hahaha. :) and really obsessing about it. The difference
between thinking about something and obsessing is that thinking is like a
thought that just passed by. Obsessing is allowing a thought to take
center stage and replaying it or running with it.
The second "step" is rituals. Rituals are usually something we don't
even realize we are doing. Whatever it is that takes us one step closer
to being able to act on our addiction. In the above example, it may be
going into the kitchen. For someone with a gambling problem, it may be
stopping at the bank and withdrawing money. For someone with a
pornography problem, it may simply be booting up the computer or locking
The third "step" is the actual acting on the addiction. The addiction
can be carried out on many levels, which can sometimes be subtle to
recognize in ourselves. It's all different branches of the same tree
and I've learned so much through all of this that I have to examine what
is underneath. It's so easy to be focused on the outward
manifestation, which is the addiction. What is the true intent behind
it? Was I seeking to "numb out" when I ate that pan of brownies?
The final "step," interestingly, like any cycle will propel us back to
the beginning again. It's Pain. We feel guilty for eating the whole
bag of M&M's or spending 2 hours or face book, or committing to
another thing on our calendar...whatever it is. We feel guilty and
maybe even some shame. It "seems" that the only way to deal with these negative feelings is to start thinking about what we know can help numb that pain or hurt.
Behind all of this is the true, root problem. Like I mentioned above in
the acting out step, what is behind the addiction? For most it is
actual a faulty belief system. Focusing on the addiction is like
focusing on the symptoms, which is needing to addressed, but don't
overlook the disease beneath or the symptoms will continue. I feel that
is where Mark's recovery remained incomplete. The addiction was
addressed very well, but the faulty core beliefs have continued,
especially the shame-based beliefs (AKA the cause of the addiction).
Where do your core beliefs come from? Many come from past experiences
or important, defining moments in life. They can also come from the way
you were raised in your home and other important environments like
church or school. You can even develop core beliefs in your adult life.
Core beliefs can be true or untrue, positive or negative. It doesn't
matter how you came to have your core beliefs, what matters is if you
are willing to sort through them with the light of truth and choose to
keep those that are true and discard and replace those that are not
true. I posted more on sorting our beliefs before. It's at the VERY
end of this post.
The addiction cycle and the faulty core beliefs go so nicely hand in
hand together. Throw in some denial there and you have things set in
motion and spiraling downward.
Now switching gears. This was a big pill for me to swallow, but I'm
thankful I have been strengthened to see my part in all of this.
Imagine living with someone who is living their life in the above
situation. Cycling through, faulty core beliefs...and actually as far
as I know, the majority of us do because, again we all are dealing with
our addictions, great or small. :)
When Mark would hit the acting out stage, it would set something off in
me, which literally became my own addiction---my co-addiction. Later, I
had come to recognize the "warning signs" so well, that even the first
or second step would trigger me. I had no idea what was going on, but
as a loved one, I could recognize that he was about to cycle through.
I read a book that was very helpful called, "Co-dependant no more."
It gave me so much insight into this dynamic that was happening with
Mark's addiction and my reaction to it. My addiction became obsessing.
My whole life would come to a complete stand still if I felt like he
needed me. The kids would get shipped off to Grandma's or parked in
front of TV for hours, so I could wait on Mark hand and foot. NOW, I
know that sounds very harsh and that is why I struggled so much. Isn't
that how it's suppose to be? A husband and wife relationship? So I
gave more and more and more and did whatever he asked or said. I
literally lost myself. I feel this was exactly what President Eyring
was talking about last night at the Relief Society Broadcast.
The problem is not in giving. The problem comes when the individual
gives when she herself doesn't have or gives more than she can. You
see, I've been reading my scriptures, and praying, and attending the
temple, but I've felt guilty to do anything for myself or to say no to
anybody, especially my family. More on that in a later post.
The second problem with what I was doing was trying to save Mark. I
felt like if I put more effort into my appearance or if I was more
interesting or if I had the house spotless and dinner ready and the kids
quiet when he came home he wouldn't be in a sour mood. If I just
checked his e-mail more and his phone more and if I just knew where he
was and what he was doing all of the time, then it would be okay. That
was part of the cracking and shattering that I mentioned in the first
post on addiction. I realized I was completely powerless. Until I grew
my faith, I was terrified and felt as if the jaws of hell were right
there to swallow my family in one gulp. More on that in a minute. :)
The third problem with my co-addiction has been boundaries. That will
be a post in and of itself, but just an overview. I felt responsible
for Mark, as mentioned above. I felt like his addiction was my fault
and that my efforts would fix it. Often, my co-addiction, padded the
consequences for him. Just like a mother of a sick child, you ache and
don't want them to go through hard things, so you try to make it better
for him. Those consequences were not mine to carry. Similarly, I was
so focused on him and what was in his stewardship, I neglected what was
in mine. I was taking care of Mark, but nobody was taking care of me.
As I have learned, obsessing and trying to control does not change the
addiction or the loved one. That was God's work to do and healing and
recovery can only come in and through Jesus Christ, not me.
With the path of destruction of his addiction and now mine too, I cannot
tell you how my emotions all spilled out when I attended my first 12
step meeting. My page has tear stains and I sobbed when I read the
following because that was exactly how I felt or had felt...
"As we tried in vain to deal with the challenges of our
addicted loved ones, we found ourselves periodically feeling controlled
by one or more of the following fears:
*Fear that our addicted loved one would never get better and fear
of the real possibility that he or she may even die physically as well
*Helpless to prevent the harm our addicted loved one might do to others around them, especially children.
*Bitterness, resentment, and alarm over financial
challenges as we dealt with excessive spending, treatment programs,
legal expenses, fines, and destruction of property.
*Physical weariness as sleeplessness, stress, and anxiety took a toll on our health.
*Confusion as to why our loved ones were behaving so irrationally and why nothing we said or did seemed to make any difference.
*Shame, isolation, and hopelessness as we took responsibility for our loved ones' choices and tried to protect others from knowing what was happening.
*Sorrow that baptism and temple covenants may be irreparably broken and eternal family ties severed.
*Anxiety that our loved ones' continued addiction somehow reflected our inability to access God's help in their behalf.
*Exhaustion at constantly reacting to the emotional upheaval in our family."
(Note: At the time there was an additional manual for loved ones and this is where the above comes from.)
A big part in my co-addiction has come with confusion on boundaries.
Like I said, that's an entire post in and of itself, but I did want to
talk about feelings and boundaries. I somehow felt responsible for how
Mark felt and reacted, and I also was neglecting the way I was feeling
or reacting. I felt so guilty to be angry or hurt or any of the
negative emotions that I literally stopped feeling. It was so much
easier to "numb out" and suppress negative emotions than to deal with
them (or so I thought). The tricky part about that is that you cannot
select which emotions to "turn off." Although I wasn't feeling the pain
or the anger, I also wasn't feeling the joy and love. I somehow felt
that it wasn't Christian to feel those negative emotions. The
interesting part is that you can never completely bury feelings. They
will eventually come to the surface whether in the form of erupting like
a volcano for no apparent reason or even physical symptoms, our
feelings will always catch up to us. Our feelings, our thoughts, our
beliefs...these are all OURS to own and nobody else is responsible for
them. The biggest help I have found in dealing with negative emotions
is to recognize how I feel and give myself 3 seconds to feel that. Any
longer than that and you begin obsessing. It's like you pull out the
"file" labeled whatever emotion and you replay any wrong or hurt
associated with that and every bad thing that has ever happened that
"made you" feel that way. You can't do that and expect to be able to
stay in a good place emotionally. It's important to feel it and release
it in a positive way whether a walk, a bubble bath, music, etc.
Negative feelings are there to alert us that something is wrong.
Usually if we feel angry, our boundaries have been violated, etc.
Feelings aren't bad and it's not "bad" to feel how we feel, as long as
we do so appropriately.
As a couple, we go through the 9 core emotions every night. The rules
are that you allow each other to just talk, without interrupting or
interjecting or discussing (unless welcomed afterward by that spouse).
They are: Fear, Anger, Pain, Shame, Guilt, Loneliness, Joy, Passion,
Love. This has been a wonderful opportunity to get out some of those
negative emotions. Iv'e learned with keeping in mind that my feelings
are mine, it's best to say, "I feel____ when this happens/you do this"
instead of "You make me feel ___." See the difference?
The first step to recovery is looking at your life with honesty. For
the addict, that means recognizing the reality of where you are and the
reality that this is bigger than you. You must recognize that you
cannot control your addiction. For the loved one, it is similar.
Recognizing where you are and that this is beyond anything you can fix.
You must recognize that you did not cause this, you cannot control
your loved one's addictions, nor can he/she. You need help, whether
that comes in the form of the Lord, ecclesiastical leaders partnering
with the Lord, or the previous coupled with professional help, it's
beyond you. That help cannot come until you recognize your need for it
and go down in the depths of humility to see that need and ask for that
Once you are honest with yourself and Heavenly Father, you can work in
moving forward. If you don't make efforts to move onto step 2, you may
begin to feel stuck or even depressed. It's a big deal to realize that
you are where you are because of your choices and that you cannot fix
your life alone. For me, it was the first time I truly realized that I,
as in ME, am a fallen being and have natural man tendencies I am
powerless to fix. The second step is Hope. Specifically in Jesus
Christ. One of my favorite scripture passages comes in the chapter
after the very familiar sermon on faith and planting the seed of faith
in Alma 32. Chapter 33: