Co-addiction And Responding To Our Times #1

I’m starting a series of blog posts discussing my perspectives on finding peace and power while faced with my responses to the new governmental administration and other environmental and humanitarian issues. I have found it difficult, as I know others have, to find appropriate external, and internal, responses to actions which I see as destructive by the government, corporations, and fellow citizens. I have also felt pain, sadness,and helplessness regarding my personal inability to maintain control of my inner peace while faced with my responses to these events. 

My posts here are largely informed by my personal experiences in recovering from family addiction. This post, and following posts, are partially autobiographical and I lean on these experiences as mirrors to current challenges. I have also come to use the “disease model” of addiction and dysfunction to explain and respond to many of the circumstances that arise. 

I would like to mention that my angst existed prior to current events, but this is where I’ll start:

Before the election I found myself posting daily about the danger of a Trump administration and dedicating much of my emotional energy toward preventing its possible occurrence. Hearing support for him or seeing his campaign signs increased my heart rate and put me in a state of anger. He was a blatant personification of greed, self-centeredness, and exploitation of all that I saw as important. I found it incomprehensible how so many could have support for such a selfish destruction that I felt was so blatant. I was angry at him for being such a selfish and insensitive fool, and I was angry at his followers for standing behind him in such a blind and selfish way. It was eating at me constantly, and the day after the election it peaked. I was devestated and wanted to run around and shake people for being such idiots, as I saw them. I was split in two, half carried away with thoughts of vengeance and revenge, while the other part of me wanted to collapse and cry under the weight of powerlessness.

It was at this point I had a realization. It wasn’t an intellectual realization, but a gut level realization that I was in a place where I had been before. Many of my newer friends may not know this about me, but I grew up in a household of addiction. Both my father and my mother were alcoholics who blacked out at the dinner table almost each and every night. My father showed up stumbling drunk to our school functions, or my mom would disappear in the evenings to be found passed out on the front lawn. The fear was almost constant of what may go wrong. Nearly every day of my life I spent attempting to control the situation. There were times I yelled and screamed at them in attempt to shake them out of their insanity. I would push them and yell as they insisted on going down to the neighbors house, drunk, to resolve a dispute. I would pour out their bottles, write notes, hide their keys, or make suggestions that they don’t drink that night. For  nearly 15 years, every night, I held hope that tonight would be different, that if I just said the right thing, that if I played the cards just right, they wouldn’t drink.

The reason I share these things is to draw the parallel between growing up in an addictive home and living in a society which is at odds with what one feels is personally acceptable. One’s life can become consumed by responding to the seemingly unacceptable situations. 

What I didn’t realize though is that I was not dealing with a rational situation. I was dealing with a disease. I would also learn, years later, that through my engagement with it, I too had caught this disease. It turns out that the disease of alcoholism also has a mirror disease which effects those closest to the addict. Just as an addict’s life is largely consumed by his or her addiction, a co-addict’s life becomes nearly fully consumed by attempts to control the disease and consequences of addiction in another. The co-addict’s responses and behaviors actually become part of the problem and perpetuate the disease. So too can our own responses to the dysfunctional forces of our society perpetuate the dysfunction. As is stated in co-addiction recovery groups, the best thing we can do for the addict in our life is to focus on our own recovery. 

The day after the election I found myself at a bottom of powerlessness that felt nearly identical to what I felt in those moments before seeking help for family addiction.

In my family addiction situation, much like societal situations, one of the most difficult parts was that their actions were not only affecting me but were harming someone I cared about very deeply. My parents had recently adopted my young cousin who’s mom had recently died. This young person, who I saw as a little brother, after a very difficult life, was telling me stories that were beyond that which even I had experienced in the house. I was devastated and infuriated. My young and grieving brother was all alone while in a house with two adults. My dad, passed out at the table after shooting up pain pills, my mom equally as inebriated, and my cousin made to clean up the mess each morning. The injustice was intolerable. 

I responded just like many of us are compelled to respond toward the injustices against our environment and the vulnerable among us. I sought to use anything in my power to fix the situation. I told them how selfish they were. I held my love for ransom and said that I no longer viewed them as my parents. I even, myself being only 18, researched how I could take custody of my young cousin. I also stoked my anger constantly, for this was necessary to maintain the fight. 

It was also, luckily, at this time, that I sought help. I went to a support group that I thought would help me change the behaviors of the alcoholics. This, in fact, was not what I found. What I learned was that my responses were not only compromising any hopes for personal peace, but were actually working against resolution of the problem. I also came to see clearly that I was dealing with a disease, a disease which I co-created when I engaged with it, and the solution was not in fighting it, but addressing the disease which now lived in me. This became one of the largest gifts I ever could have received. 

Please subscribe or revisit my blog over the following months if you would like to hear more. I plan to regularly post about the tools and experiences I found over five years of recovering from family addiction and speak on, how I believe, they can be used to find peace and power in our current times. 

Matt Hunter

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