This post was originally written in response to a WordPress Daily Prompt that asked the question: Have you ever been addicted to anything, or worried that you were? Have you ever spent too much time and effort on something that was a distraction from your real goals? Tell us about it.
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I wanted to write something cute and clever. Something amusing with perhaps a hint of a darker edge. Or maybe an innocuous anecdote about how I weaned myself off caffeine by cutting my morning coffee with gradually increased portions of decaf. I wanted to write something entertaining.
But I have lived too close to real, life-destroying addiction to be able to equate the term with something benign or amusing. As soon as I saw today’s daily prompt, all I could think about was the moment when everything changed– the moment when I suddenly understood that it was possible to be addicted to someone else’s addiction.
The counsellor from the Employee Assistance Program was a quiet, gentle woman with the patience of Job. She listened to my whining for weeks. If only this was different. If only that person would do this. If only that person would behave differently. If only…
She just listened. Once in a while she would inject a quiet question. “What could you do?”
And I would rant on. I felt trapped. I felt caged. I felt like I was going crazy.
I don’t know how many sessions we had like this. And she listened. And quietly jotted down her mysterious notes.
And then one day, just before our hour was up, she tore a corner off her notepad and wrote on it the words Codependent No More. “I’d like to recommend that that you read this book, Anna. Perhaps when you’ve had a chance to read it we can talk about it.”
That was all.
I stopped at the bookstore on the way home, but I waited until the rest of the household was asleep before I pulled the book out to start reading. As I read far into the night, my jaw began to drop with the astonishing sense of recognition. How did the writer know? How was she able to put into words the insanity that dogged me daily? How did she read my mind? And then the creeping realization that my particular form of insanity was not unique. It was a recognizable pattern. It had a name. Others have found themselves in the same cage. And, most importantly, there was a way out.
But the penny really dropped when the author detailed a long list of “If—then” statements to help the reader see him or herself in relation to the pattern of codependence. I came to the statement (paraphrased) “If you are reading this book because you want to fix someone else’s behaviour, then you are codependent.”
That book taught me to own my own behaviour. And it showed me that, to a very great extent, the cage I felt trapped in was of my own construction.
And, before many more weeks had passed, it gave me the clarity to walk out of the cage.