“So much of what I call my codependency is fear and panic because I spent so much of my life being abused, trapped, and not knowing how to take care of myself in relationships.” Anonymous
Codependency is a powerful, insidious “dis-ease.” It is very difficult to face and enter recovery for many reasons. Let’s look at four today: 1) Usually, where there is a codependent there is an alcoholic or addict – and the codependent gets to hide behind his or her stance of: “I am taking care of things and picking up the pieces” armor. As “the responsible one” (doing way more than your fair share) and the one worrying (and isn’t fear at the base of worry), and the one figuring out in their head how to make things better, you get to pretend you are the one more together….it is denial at work to your own detriment.
2) You become your own worst enemy, because you lead yourself away from reality and health and willingly go to a panicky, fearful place based on your own fantasies you call reality, where your very survival or someone else’s very survival depends on (Fill in the blank___________________ with something you believe to be true but the other person may not) and you MUST show them the way. It is a desperate state of being that clouds your sense of reality and judgment.
3) How about when you grow up in a home, where, for whatever reasons you are gripped by fear, anxiety, to the point of survival terror being a place you go automatically, and then feel your very existence depends on you knowing, “THE RIGHT thing to do AND it is an emergency AND it must be done right away OR horrible things ARE going to happen!!!” That way of thinking puts you in a REACTIVE STATE. When you are in “REACTIVE STATE” you cannot be in a, “reasonable state” at the same time; they are housed in incompatible parts of the brain. It is one or the other – and when survival fear, panic, terror emotions are triggered – you are in REACTIVE STATE; you are literally stuck in there. Even if a tiny voice is saying – “Do not do this – wait” – your anxiety or terror level is so high you cannot respond to the voice, and you are trapped in REACTIVITY. I think of it as a land of denial, justification, blindness, and distortion where thoughtful responses are not possible only frantic attempts to survive.
4) Another key perspective is – most codependents act when they think they are doing/saying something that will really be in someone else’s best interests. You truly believe or tell yourself you are doing ____________________ in order to help someone else because it will be good for them. What if you entertain the possibility that often, what is really happening is: you are operating from a place of being in fear, panic, desperation and what you are doing is actually trying to relieve your own discomfort and you translate that concept in real time into thinking/believing you are doing this for someone else’s good…..? Try, next time you are doing something in a somewhat desperate way….try asking yourself: “Is this about you (and alleviating your own discomfort) or about their welfare?
Does any of that sound familiar? If so, what are some of your alternatives? How do you get out? What would recovery look like, feel like, sound like, and be like?
Back in 1981, I was Co-Clinical Director at the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic. After the first few months of listening to peoples’ stories, I had a conversation with Dr. David Smith – founder and medical director of the clinic. I was telling him that every person who came to the clinic, who was addicted to heroin, had so much trauma in their personal backgrounds that we had to start working with their trauma if we ever expected them to get and stay clean – they needed to hurt less, because they were using the heroin to numb their feelings, and without a reduction in their emotional pain, they could not believe they could live without the one drug that allowed them to live and numb their intrusive thoughts and feelings. They had no other way of coping with their internal pain.
Fast forward to the last 15 years or so and we find major research efforts and brain science research tools repeatedly finding that “trauma” is a key cause of many emotional issues, mental illness, addiction and many medical illness processes. I am not surprised.
Back in the early 80s, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as experienced by Vietnam Vets was making the news. The best treatment we could offer Vietnam Vets suffering from PTSD was support groups where they shared their experiences over and over again until they might finally experience a reduction in their flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, and emotional reactivity – MIGHT is a key word here. What we later learned was our best efforts were also causing some of the Vets to be re-traumatized by their re-telling and re-feeling everything over and over again. Our first therapeutic breakthrough was Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR.) That was the most effective option we had for many years. The draw back was that you had to assess a person for their ability to handle EMDR, it could be discombobulating to a person and make things worse, it was not and is not for everyone…Now we have a variety of options for treating trauma including Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing, David Grand’s Brainspotting, Lisa Schwarz’s Comprehensive Resource Model, Callahan’s Thought Field Therapy, and a variety of others I have not been trained in. These recent developments afford therapists and clients exciting possibilities.
In addition, we now know that what we used to think of as “Trauma” or “Trauamtic” was what we now refer to as Big T Trauma –war, natural disasters, murder, suicide, big calamitous events often by Mother Nature – is only part of the picture. There is something very powerful called “little t trauma” – that is often experienced in childhood – in the form of emotional neglect, emotional abandonment, physical abandonment, parentification of the child, verbal and emotional abuse….It is clear that an accumulation of “little t trauma” has serous, long term effects on one’s emotional development, self-esteem, coping abilities,and confidence. An accumulation of little t traumas result in the same kinds of emotional wounds for people as big T trauma. That means more people have been negatively impacted and continue to be plagued by traumas they may not always consciously remember or be aware of. You can’t work on what you don’t know exists.
When trauma is unresolved, the “protective defenses” you have been building for years become your way of being, and when your old trauma get triggered by something in the here and now, your reactions are not what you have learned as an adult, you are immediately back into your Survival Terror you’re your only options being: Fight, Flight, or Freeze. You can watch yourself regress, powerless in the moment, and then later wonder “What is wrong with me? – I know better than that.” When the survival terror reaction subsides, you can begin to judge yourself, you come up short, feeling more inadequate, and dump more layers of shame onto yourself for not handling “it” better. “It” becomes a vicious cycle. Your fighting, fleeing, or freezing reactions are not very effective, or functional, but you continue to repeat them in an emotionally reactive way, you have no thoughtful choices. You feel stuck and displeased with yourself. Your vicious cycle goes deeper …
If this sounds familiar to you – and you find yourself repeating old patterns that would fit into the “Fight, Flight or Freeze survival terror paradigm, there is a way out. Utilizing these newer mind body techniques as well as traditional talk therapy for trauma treatment assists people in resolving trauma, trauma triggers, and trauma reactions so a person can RESPOND with mindful, rational responses rather than being caught in the Fight, Flight, or Freeze Reactivity process. When you experience a degree of freedom from trauma ruling you on an unconscious, reactive level it is a very freeing experience. From there, you can begin to make choices, which allows a person to be who they want to be more of the time and how they want to be more of the time. It is exciting work. I invite you to try it out.
-Joanne Baum, PhD, LCSW, CAC III
In short, I don’t think it’s such a good idea to legalize marijuana. I know it brings big tax dollars to the state, but what are its hidden costs to the state and its residents?
If the research on marijuana and mind body reaction time slowing is true, the state’s automobile accident rates will increase from more people driving stoned.
That means more fatal and debilitating accidents and more hardship for people who are victims of “high drivers.”
Higher accident rates will contribute to higher health care costs, which in turn will lead to higher insurance costs, which will trickle down to affecting people’s pocketbooks so they have less to spend in the marketplace. Less sales tax to the state?
How many overdoses are we going to see in young children who think “pot edibles” are candy they can sneak and eat?
How many people over 40 will have heart attacks from the tachycardia that can be triggered after smoking pot?
How many teens will get triggered into schizophrenia or panic disorders that otherwise may have laid dormant?
How many more ski accidents for skiers skiing high and not being able to turn quickly enough?
How many people will be self-medicating emotional pain instead of resolving it and growing in emotional maturity?
How many parents will be psychologically absent at home when they are physically present and high, contributing to their children’s little t trauma accumulating (from emotional abandonment) and affecting their emotional development?
How many people will develop health problems because there is no quality control in the industry?
If what they say about marijuana negatively affecting the “executive functioning in a brain” is true, how many businesses, schools, places of work, and homes will be affected by someone not functioning well? And how will that in turn affect others? What are those hidden emotional and financial costs?
So our jails may be less crowded, our courts may be less crowded, our pot sales tax will increase, more people will get high and think they are having a grand old time because pot triggers the pleasure center of the brain sending out messages that sound and look a lot like, “I am feeling real gooooooood.” But are they really feeling soooooo gooood or will their mind be tricking them? And will they then be going after that soooo gooood feeling they experienced on pot instead of climbing a 14er, solving a problem, having an intimate conversation, connecting with someone else on a meaningful level…..
It will be a great business boon for treatment centers in the state. They will see more people coming in for marijuana addiction. Yes there is marijuana addiction and it is alive, well, and growing….
Is it right, as a society, to legalize something we know is harmful to people’s health and well being…? That is a question for you to personally decide.
I recently heard about a youngster who asked his mom, “How come I’m the only one in my class who has a family with these kinds of problems (referring to alcoholism/addiction.) I don’t like being the only one.” He was feeling like there was something wrong with his family (and maybe with himself.) In reality, his family is getting into recovery and he himself was able to go to the Betty Ford Children’s Program where he learned it’s “okay” to ask these kinds of questions. So his family is “ahead of the game” in that respect. His family does have a disease, which they share with about 20% of the population, probably more if you add in process addictions like co-dependency, gambling, sex, love and relationship, shopping, pornography, etc. But one of the reasons he felt so “different” is how families with addictions operate.
The three rules of: “Don’t talk,” “Don’t trust” and “Don’t feel” permeate every aspect of family life and communications inside and outside the home. Nobody on his Lacrosse team is going to tell him about his own mom or dad’s drinking, that would be breaking the cardinal rule of, “Don’t talk” – so he indeed feels alone, like the only one, even though he isn’t
Telling him, “You’re not alone,” right off the bat won’t be as helpful to him as first empathizing with how that feels to him, getting more information, empathizing again, and then offering more of an explanation. I think, in our own discomfort we often go immediately into “fix it “ mode, we want to take away their pain before we share their pain, stand in their pain, or acknowledge and accept their pain as real. We want it to go away because we are uncomfortable when our children are uncomfortable and if we don’t have boundaries around that pain, we will want to take it away, not just so our child feels better but so we feel better too.
It is surprising how far a statement or two, said from your heart like, “So you’re feel like you’re the only one experiencing this, huh?” or “It sounds like that’s hard for you” will go. When your child responds to that kind of empathetic statement, you can ask something that will help your child bring out more of his feelings or reality, and allow you to more fully explore and understand his perspective before you respond with information or your perspective. You can say something like, I’m not sure what feeling that brings up for you, can you tell me? And when he shares, you can follow up with something like, “I can understand you feeling that way. It makes sense. Yeah, that must be tough to feel that way.” All of those empathetic responses coupled with soliciting more information will help your child feel “heard,” less alone, and he will have “unburdened” himself from some of his own pain by sharing it with you, you hearing it, and you validating it. When a child feels heard, he or she is more likely to “hear you” when you start sharing or helping him/her deal with what is bothering him.
We don’t need to jump into “fix it” mode so quickly. All we have to do is feel comfortable with our child’s discomfort , which is real for him, and be with him in his discomfort, be empathetic, pause, and then offer perspectives which may relieve some more of his/her pain and discomfort. Sometimes it is appropriate to feel uncomfortable or in pain about something for a while. Discomfort does not kill us. When we self-medicate discomfort or pretend it is not there, then we may get out of touch with reality or even overdose on whatever we are using to numb ourselves. That’s the danger, not sitting in it for a while, but making it go away too quickly. Of course we can err in the direction of creating high drama when it isn’t necessary, but that’s a topic for another blog….
Joanne Baum, PhD., LCSW, CAC III
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