This week, I read another article challenging the concept of “codependency.” The author is challenging the necessity and benefit of labeling the codependent, finding that this label can do more harm than good if a person chooses not to be associated as such. Though he maintains that there are no scientific findings affirming that codependency is an actual state of being, he doesn’t dispute that there are times when a family member must detach from a loved one in active addiction.
When I think of codependency, I immediately think of parents, especially mothers. Being a mother myself, turning your back on your sick child is the most ridiculous and impossible task that anyone could ever ask.
But would I do it if I was told it would save my child’s life? This situation is why Alanon/Narcanon groups were created. They give a safe space for struggling family and friends of addicts to come together to find support and learn to “detach with love.” I am neutral on whether codependency should or should not be a label. Every situation is unique, and I do not believe anyone can be put into a single category.
I believe that sometimes detachment may work for that family, what may prompt that addict to finally seek help. But I also believe that what works for that family will completely backfire for another, ending in tragedy. The bottom line is that no one should allow anyone else to dictate what should, or should not, be done for your addicted family member, not even a professional. You must do what you can live with, what feels right to you, what you believe might help your family member. THIS IS NOT A ONE SIZE FITS ALL DISEASE WITH A ONE SIZE FITS ALL SOLUTION!
Let’s be completely candid about “enabling,” “tough love,” or that space between. People in any of these groups have lost someone to addiction and overdose. They have also watched someone recover. There is no magical formula. If there were, every parent or loved one of an addict would use it without question. If we KNEW, without a doubt, that “tough love” guaranteed recovery, everyone would hop aboard the tough love train. But this is not how it works. Many confused parents (or family members) who have never dealt with addiction, have no clue what to do and are screaming for help, will adhere to whatever someone tells them is the “right” thing to do.
So does “codependency” really exist? Can somebody be a “codependent?” Or have the masses just accepted a label applied by someone with the “right” education and experience? For example, a mother who loves her child more than the air she breathes just finds out that child is a heroin addict. When confronted, the child refuses to get help. The rules of “codependency” tell us that we should tell this child to leave our home, cutting them off from food, clothes, shelter, or other essentials needed to survive. We are to “detach with love,” to tell this child we adore — our sick child — to go right now. We are to tell this child that we will be here when they call and are ready to get help.
Now, our child might give up right then and there, concede to your demands and get help. Or (more often) they leave to continue a life of drugs and usually crime. They must support their habit, pay for shelter, food, etc. This would not be your fault, and the criminal activities usually happen regardless of you giving them the boot. But the child’s reality changes the moment you kick them out.
The question becomes: can you live with your decision, no matter what happens to your child? Many parents who tried the “tough love” route found they could not handle it. They regretted their decision the minute they learned their child would never be coming home again. But if you can live with the decision, if you feel you have no other choice, then it should be done.
The whole point of this is that YOU need to decide what is right for you and your family. Do not allow the medical or psychological community, or even another addict’s parent, to dictate your decisions.
I do not believe in labeling people. For me, the word “codependent” rarely holds much water. Granted, you can passively aid an addict in continuing their addiction with your actions. But does that make you a “codependent,” or just somebody who loves this person and is trying your best to navigate your way through this terrifying situation?
If there is one thing I want you to walk away with, PLEASE believe that THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG WHEN IT COMES TO ADDICTION, there is only what feels right or wrong to you! You can ask advice, and listen to those that have an opinion or experience. But you must ultimately do what you can live with and what you feel may work for your family. Just do your best. That’s it, that’s all. Do not try to live up to a manufactured label, or berate yourself for not following the “rules.” Just do your best in this impossible situation. And know that NO MATTER HOW THIS ENDS, it was not your fault. NOTHING you did, or didn’t do, caused the final results.