Relationships and Addictions
Regardless of our relationship - spouse, parent, sibling, friend, or employee - our mental health is not contingent on the addict or his/her changes.
Nevertheless, as long as we seek serenity from external sources, we will be involved in controlling, manipulating, wishing, suffering, blaming, analysing, and avoiding - behaviours common to people who identify themselves with addicts.
In fact, the illusion that our identities revolve around another person is the heart of the concept of co-dependency - - and our current misunderstanding of addictive family systems.
When we bind our identities and self-worth to our mission to reform the addict, we are seeking happiness through external forces just as surely as the addict is through his addiction.
"If he would change I'd be happy."
"If I could get her to quit drinking, I would have done something worthwhile in life, and then I'd be more worthwhile."
"If my kid would just grow up, I wouldn't have to worry about her all the time."
These thoughts create emotions like resentment, guilt, judgement, superiority, and sadness. They keep us tied to the past and the future and prevent us from living in the precious present, the only place in time where serenity can be experienced.
Family Delusions - A case of Separate Realities
Like addicts, their family members are victims of thought systems that trap them in separate realities of conditioned belief. Until we realise the principle of thought as a voluntary function and the fact of separate realities, we cannot see beyond our delusions.
When we feel insecure - the common feeling in an addictive system - our egos go full steam ahead as we try to think our way out of uncomfortable situations. The more we think, the more we are ensnared in the web of delusions that obscures the truth of our wisdom.
In the process, we sacrifice feelings of self-esteem and serenity as we drift further and further from the Self.
Insecurity is the prevalent feeling in addicted family relationships.
Quite often, addicts blame those around them for their behaviour, creating an atmosphere of mistrust and paranoia.
Rigidity and perfectionism are common.
So are physical and sexual abuse. These patterns all build insecurity, the breeding ground for maladaptive and negative behaviour.
Insecurity is expressed, by both addicts and their intimates, through behaviours ranging from super-achieving to extreme antisocial behaviour, which become a false ego identity that masks feelings of insecurity from others and from ourselves.
Because of the nature of the thought system, however, the thinking patterns we develop to lessen our insecurity actually perpetuate it. When the level of understanding remains the same, the thought system cannot break out of its present frame of reference.
It only deceives us into thinking we have changed when we have simply reshuffled the hand we're already holding.
Consider Tommy, whose father is an alcoholic. Tommy tries to gain his father's approval - and his own security - by succeeding in sports and in school. No matter how well he does on the hockey rink or a math test, however, he always fears he won't be able to keep it up.
This fear fosters more insecurity, so Tommy tires harder. No amount of success in the world can make Tommy feel secure, because you can't earn security - you already have it, unless you believe you don't.
Tommy is like the proverbial donkey with the carrot dangling just out of reach of his head. Tommy's search for approval is also attached to his head - to his thinking - and thus can never be permanently satisfied.
No Escape Through Thinking
Many spouses and children of addicts think they can escape the pain and suffering of living with an addict through divorce or running away. Unfortunately, their thought systems are part of the baggage. Until we regain responsibility for our thinking through understanding we will repeat the same destructive patterns at home and on the job.
Take Mary, for example. Her mom, an alcoholic, had many love affairs which Mary shielded from her father, and enabler who seemed oblivious to the situation.
Mary adopted her dad's pattern and later married an alcoholic. After several years of suffering the consequences of her husband's drinking, she divorced him and immediately fell in love with Phil, who was drug and alcohol dependent.
Although Mary didn't deliberately seek out addicts, she clearly was attracted to them. The relationship with Phil lasted a few years. Then Mary went to Leann and was told that her unhappiness and physical problems stemmed from living with a chemically dependent person.
Although she eventually got Phil into treatment through an intervention, the relationship lost its appeal and within six months she divorced him.
Mary was determined not to marry another chemically dependent person. Then she met Roger. He was different in that he was recovering with ten years of sobriety. She felt she had finally met the man of her dreams. He was very affectionate and was involved in his AA group.
All went smoothly for a couple of years until Mary discovered that Roger was sleeping with his fellow group members and was addicted to sex.
At this point Mary came to counselling and began learning the principles of Psychology of Mind. Gradually, she felt better and discovered that her mental health wasn't dependent on her husband. She came to see that her thinking kept the past alive and that her fears created a self-fulfilling prophecy.
As she began to see her own innocence and that of her husband, her resentments and guilt dissolved. As she started to change, Roger came to counselling and as he developed some understanding, his affairs and desire for other women came to a halt.
Until Mary understood the source of her reality, she was stuck with the product of her thinking. Once she realised the power of her ability to think, she changed her state of mind and her world followed suit.
Mary is typical of so many people who have grown up in a reality where addictive patterns are learned. They search for a way out of the emotional pain through an intellectual path that always leads back to the original pattern of thought, thus averting the possibility of change.
Until a higher level of understanding goes to work on insecurity, no real change will take place.
The Science of Letting Go
Earlier in my life, as a family therapist working with addicted family systems and as a member of Alanon, I often heard and used the term "let go." It was easy enough to say but very difficult to do. When I first attended a seminar on Psychology of Mind, I immediately realised that here was the key to a scientific and practical understanding of how to let go.
Letting go means taking attention and thoughts off a particular person, event, or behaviour. In addiction's language, it usually means to stop controlling the behaviour of others or ourselves. When we can't let go, we can't quit thinking about it.
We don't recognise that we are doing the thinking and believe that others need to change before we can feel better. In fact, it is only when we drop our negative thoughts that we feel better.
Take Peter, for example, who said he wouldn't be happy until his wife Jane quit drinking. Once she did stop he still felt bad because he couldn't trust her abstinence. In both situations, his thinking was producing his unhappiness. The choice is ours; when we choose to let go of our negative thoughts, our natural serenity will surface.
Once we recognise that we are thinking, we are free to choose whether to be happy or to be right - right about worrying, being angry, hurt, or any other negative emotion.
Being right isn't winning when it diminishes the love and respect in our relationships. When we stop trying to analyse, manipulate, or fix the addict, we see that he is responsible for his own change. When we stop trying to find our salvation in others, we perceive that it is within us.
When we realise the principle of thought as a voluntary function, we see that our thought system doesn't have to control us as we once believed. Once we see through the "grand illusion" - that trying to control others can cure them of their addiction - we see that happiness can only come from within us. We also understand that other people who are acting insecure are doing so innocently and need compassion and understanding, not judgement.
The cornerstone of recovery is to realise that we are responsible for our happiness, free to create whatever life we choose. If we truly want to be happy, we must be willing to let go of guilt, resentment, and other negative thoughts associated with the past.
The past is over. It is an illusion. Accordingly, we must drop our identities as victims of past relationships and let common sense guide us toward an intimacy with others that is not based on insecurity or need, but rather on love and understanding.
The Impact of Serenity on Relationships
As we come to understand the principles of psychological functioning, our relationships take on a whole new form. When we feel secure, we can better distinguish who is responsible for what in a relationship. For example, we stop feeling guilty for others' shortcomings or behaviour even if they tell us we are responsible.
When we stop playing games, so must they - or they must find other playmates. Its takes two to tango.
When we feel serene and secure we are naturally more open, respectful, and loving toward others. There is no need for defensiveness or blame because we are at peace with ourselves and the ego is not trying to protect its image. We are able to appreciate others' positive characteristics and feel compassionate when they are insecure and behaving negatively.
We are patient with others' changes and let go of our need to control them so we can feel good. Although we want to help others realise their own serenity, we know we can't do it for them. Above all, we see beyond others' insecure habits to their inner goodness. As we recognise it, they are encouraged to recognise it too.
Changing the World
One common characteristic of so-called co-dependent people is the desire to change the world. It is not a bad idea, but they go about it backward. The way to change the world is to find peace of mind for ourselves. My friend, Dr. Keith Blevens of Baylor University, wrote a story regarding one of his clients who was married to an alcoholic. I will relay the story in its entirely because it so clearly illustrates the point:
I was reminded of a women who entered psychotherapy very depressed. Her marriage of fifteen years was in shambles. She was married to an alcoholic. After a few visits, however, she entered the office one day and announced, "I've realised something! Something I had never known, really, until now. When I change, the world changes!"
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"I mean I have been going to various meetings for over twelve years trying to get help for my husband, Taylor, and myself - but I had completely missed the simple truth of change until now.
"Last Saturday afternoon I was cooking macaroni," she related. "It started to get late, and Taylor wasn't home yet. I knew he was drinking again because every other time he has been late, he has been drinking, and I though, this won't be different.
"I started remembering the past and the burden it had been being married to Taylor, how he had abused himself and me. The more I thought about it, the more depressed and angry I got.
"I thought about all the complaining, threats, arguments, and fights we had been through. I felt overwhelmed; I began to cry. My tears dripped into the macaroni.
"Suddenly, it hit me - this has nothing to do with Taylor. These feelings have to do with me and my own thinking. What was I doing?
"Standing alone in my kitchen, I had succeeded in making myself perfectly miserable. And the best part is I actually realised - I understood - that I had been creating this kind of turmoil within myself all my life. Over and over again, in countless ways, I have turned my own thoughts and feelings against myself.
"You know, I have worked so hard for so long for change, but I have been going about it backwards. I have been focusing my thoughts on my problems, so that I could find an answer and then change them.
"Well, for twelve years I have been thinking about my problems, and I have been missing all the fun and joy of life. I have been as addicted to focusing on my problems as Taylor has been to alcohol.
"I see clearly now that what I think about creates my feelings - and that I can change my mind and thought to create a better world for myself. I realised Taylor was not the problem and I didn't have to wait for him to change for me to feel better."
She felt so good after these insights that she was quite happy when Taylor arrived, even though he had been drinking. "For once," she said, "that didn't stop me." It mattered little in the face of her new-found insight and understanding. At first, Taylor was taken aback by the strength of her happiness. She had to chuckle to herself, noticing his initial suspicion of her good feelings.
As they talked and began to interact, he became endearing to her in new ways. She felt a deep sense of love for him and for his being there she say beyond his insecurities, even beyond his alcoholism, and her own judgements, fear, and anger. She enjoyed talking to him as never before in their marriage.
That evening after dinner, they sat at the kitchen table for hours, talking, crying, and laughing together. Neither of them had ever experienced such beautiful heart-to-heart communication.
After her insight, this client and her relationship with her loved one changed completely. Once she understood how her mind worked via thought to create reality, she knew how change could happen.
After this, her anger and despondency subsided. She found she no longer wanted or needed to give herself such negative feelings. She developed a sense of self-respect for the value of her own positive feelings and thoughts.
Taylor also changed. He began to like being home again; he, too, began to feel happier, better. He started to enjoy his life and family. His alcohol abuse first slowed, then stopped completely.
That was nearly three years ago. Most important, these have been years of happiness for them both.
This example shows the power of a true insight into how thought creates reality. When we realise the power of thought, we quite trying to change the world in a backwards fashion. Rather, we understand how to "let go with love" and thus get off the merry-go-round of painful relationships with addicts.
The Recovery Network, www.trntv.co.uk "helping to support those affected by addiction"
Photo: Huston Clemons and his daughter - from article Researchers attribute many factors to sobriety.