Discover if you are codependent – and what to do about it
Melissa Rice has written a brutally honest memoir detailing her struggle with alcohol addiction. During her recovery, she also discovered she was codependent in her relationships. Here, she shares how she came to this realisation and the personal boundaries she put in place to help change her behaviour
Chronic people-pleasing, perfectionism, caring about what people think, never putting your own needs first – it’s called codependency. And you don’t need to be in a relationship to have codependent traits. I’m not, and I do. I don’t mind saying that alcohol was the symptom and my thinking and – more to the point – a shocking inability to maintain healthy relationships was the problem. There were patterns of repeated behaviour in all of my relationships, and I don’t just mean romantic ones.
When looking at these ‘behaviours’, I took other parties involved in the relationship out of the equation and just looked at me. Because I can only do me. It quickly became as clear as my now booze-free, well-rested complexion that I gave the whole of myself in most relationships: I consistently ignored my own needs for the sake of keeping hold of other people or things.
I kept on hearing the word ‘codependency’ in my alcohol recovery meetings, so I thought I would do a bit of research and read up on the common traits. And let’s just say there are rather a lot of them –
- Low self-esteem
- Not liking or accepting yourself
- Feeling you’re inadequate in some way
- Worrying you are or could be a failure
- Concerned with what other people think about you
- Pleasing others and giving up your self
- Boundaries that are too weak and with not enough separation between you and your partner
- Boundaries that are too rigid and keep you from being close
- Boundaries that flip back and forth between too close and too rigid
- Dysfunctional communication and difficulty expressing thoughts and feelings
- Difficulty saying ‘no’ or stopping abuse
- Abusive language
- Lack of assertiveness about your needs
- Afraid of being alone or out of a relationship
- Feeling trapped in a bad relationship and unable to leave
- Relying too much on others’ opinions
- Intimacy problems and avoidance of closeness
- Losing yourself
- Trying to control or manipulate others
- Denial about a painful reality in your relationship, of your needs and feelings
- Controlling your own feelings, and managing and controlling people in your life
- Obsessions, including addiction to a substance or process
- Painful emotions such as shame, anxiety, fear, guilt, hopelessness, despair and depression
When I read this, I didn’t feel ashamed or panicked – I actually laughed my head off and thought to myself: ‘Great, another bloody thing on my list.’ I felt seen. I felt heard. This was it. Eureka, I’ve found it! I was a co-dependent.
I was an alcoholic but you can have codependency traits without addiction, and vice versa. Codependency is more common than you think and neglecting our own needs for the sake of others leads to resentment.
Recovery is about discovery, and the longer we stick at it and keep learning, the more is revealed about ourselves. And knowledge is power. As Michael Rawlinson, my counsellor during recover told me, ‘Boundaries are crucial for people to feel safe. For all human beings, we need to know where the boundary is.’ Putting in boundaries can feel terrifying, but they protect us, they are our friends.
My personal boundaries
• I have the right to put my recovery first
• I won’t compromise my mental wellness for anyone or anything
• I do not apologise for taking some time for myself
• I am entitled to disagree with someone
• I am OK to cancel plans
• I don’t have to respond straight away.
Boundaries with alcohol
Instilling personal boundaries was more of a challenge when it came to protecting my recovery from alcoholism. But I wasn’t trying to keep drink in my life. This was life and death. I know that may sound a bit melodramatic, but I have relapsed before and I was and still am certain that I don’t have another relapse in me. So, when you have the firm belief that another drink will finish you off (either quickly or slowly), there is no such thing as being over the top with boundaries that protect sobriety.
In the beginning, my boundaries were things like:
• Not going to boozy places
• Asking friends not to talk about ‘funny’ stories from the drinking days
• Not being around people or places that caused me stress
• Not going to house parties
• Speaking to someone in recovery every day
• Not talking to people about my alcoholism
• Not skipping an AA meeting for a social event.
With time, and with recovery more embedded, I was able to ease up on these boundaries. Now, I tailor them to suit where I am at. If I am having a rough patch and I catch myself isolating, telling white lies and other tell-tale signs that I need a meeting, I go back to my original boundaries. They are there for me and not anyone else, and I can do as I please with them. They are there to protect me, and not to appease others.
There are still things in my life that I need more boundaries over: my screen time on my phone is ridiculous, the number of times that Netflix asks ‘Are you still watching?’ is embarrassing, and the way in which I have no control over Asda’s chocolate-chip muffins all point towards a lack of boundaries. But it’s a process, I’m aware of it and I know what actions I have to put into place. I’m outing it with you, which is a bloody good start.
Sobering: Lessons Learnt the Hard Way on Drinking, Thinking and Quitting by Melissa Rice, is out now in paperback, £12.99