By: Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC
I remember the ice hitting the glass.
After working all day and sitting down in the living room, I would hear the noise of the ice from ice maker entering the glass. The hair on the back of my neck stood straight up. My mind raced to what may or may not happen. Would I have to cancel the evening plans? How were the boys? I wonder if anyone noticed we have been missing at meetings? When was the last time my then-wife did not get into an argument, prompting the boys to ask if everything was all right?
I had known for some time that I needed help dealing with my wife’s drinking. I had been trying to control it and always labeled it under the heading “what was best for the kids.” What I was forgetting in all this was the toll the drinking was having on me personally. I was depressed, feeling alone, and just plain tired of it all.
Life changed dramatically when my wife took a second-shift job. Night brought a quietness and peace I had not felt for some time. I had previously tried to control the use of alcohol by screaming, pleading and trying to ignore the triggers. None of it worked. Once my wife went to evening shift, the drinking took place in the early morning hours, when the rest of us were sleeping. I realized the difference was not allowing the drinking to dominate my waking hours. I needed to take this one step further. After many years of threatening, I finally attended an Al-anon meeting.
Powerless against it
Strength, not weakness. Allowing the controlling aspect of alcohol to dissipate was beginning to slowly enter my mind as I listened at my first Al-anon meeting. Powerless? You mean I did not have the duty to control, enable and cover up any more? I did not have to carry the burden of the disease? I could think about myself?
I could begin to see what alcohol was doing to me. I was dealing with the same urges as the drinker, but didn’t have the release of alcohol to numb my pain. I was in many ways the dry drunk in the family. My reaction to the situation was affecting my 8- and 14-year-old sons more than the actual drinking. I thought I was protecting my boys, but actually I was adding fuel to the fire by creating the environment to drink.
Those at the meeting shared their stories of their first time in attendance. They spoke of being scared; of being too good for this silly program; and that they were not the one with the problem. Each person expressed that control was not an option. The act of controlling was destroying more than the drinking. I was not leading a healthy lifestyle. For once it was all right to think about myself and review my own feelings.
In a codependent relationship, feelings are often painful. You may have cut off the following feelings:
- Anger. Are you having one crisis after another? Do you feel you’re doing all the work in the relationship? Are you angry you’re covering up for your partner?
- Isolation. Do you stay home because you’re not sure whom you can trust? Do you feel you have to hide your feelings because things will never change?
- Guilt. Do you feel no matter how hard you try it’s never good enough? Do you think that if you were a better partner things would be better?
- Fear. Do you fear confronting your partner because they may abandon you? Do you fear physical or sexual abuse? Do you fear the loss of your home and security?
- Embarrassment. Do you avoid bringing people into your home because your partner’s drinking is unpredictable? Do you avoid social gatherings where drinking may occur?
- Despair. Do you feel helpless and trapped at times? Do you feel it will never change so why bother to confront? Do you spend most of your energy worrying about his or her drinking?
The more that was shared, the more it felt I was beginning to break up that wall in my heart. It was all right to take care of myself; it was all right to focus on me for a change.
How to take care of yourself
It is natural to want to protect the people you care about. But in a codependent relationship, how do you begin to take care of yourself?
- Recognize you have a problem.
- Start to focus on your needs.
- Begin to educate yourself on codependency.
- Start setting limits.
- Start trusting and get supports.
- Understand recovery and the process for everyone.
I felt a bit lighter when I left the meeting. I had shared my thoughts with others and I was able to speak freely about control. I was beginning to make a crack in the wall. I was actually telling someone else that we had a pink elephant in the room that in itself was a huge step forward. I was beginning to understand to cover up pain and shame in the family dysfunction. I needed to learn to respond to an outer reality instead of my own inner reality.
Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC is a counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He specializes in helping families dealing with complex family situations, addictions, and transitions. Steve is also helping clients through the Intensive Recover Program, which helps with recovery treatment, alcohol treatment, and other addictions treatment. Contact Steve at 231-714-0282 Ext. 701