Roots of PTSD, Codependency, and Addiction

3291628045_03efb76f53_zMy 33rd year of recovery from alcohol addiction began Nov. 24, 2009. Needless to say to anyone living a spiritual quest, many emotions are stirred up during an anniversary.

In taking another 5th step, I realized that I had recreated the home of my childhood.  I had the good mommy role and my husband was the bad daddy. As I have stated here, he acted out his misery by having an affair and leaving me.

This experience has led me on the path of healing my childhood wounds. I was the oldest child–or rather–I was the youngest parent in that home. I took my duties so seriously that I taught myself to deny myself anything that would challenge my mother. In return, the power connected to this role of being the boss was my first addiction. One that I am only now giving up. That is why I call codependency the addiction of power. And I believe all addicts must go through this 2nd recovery–the recovery of codependency. I will always be codependent. It is about loving too much. But I know my pattern now and know when I need to redefine my boundaries.

What is PTSD? HelpGuide. org defines it:

“Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop following a event that threatens—or appears to threaten—your safety. Most people associate PTSD with rape and battle-scarred soldiers—and military combat is the most common cause in men—but any event (or series of events) that overwhelms you with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness can trigger PTSD, especially if the event feels unpredictable and uncontrollable.”

“PTSD can affect people who personally experience a threatening event, those who witness the event, or those who pick up the pieces afterwards, such as emergency workers. PTSD can also result from surgery performed on children so young they don’t understand what’s happening to them, or any event that leaves you emotionally shattered.”

In reading about Iraq veterans and PTSD, I identified immediately with the social isolation. I have done this all my life. Although I am a loner and am suspicious of anyone not content being alone, extreme isolation leads me to paranoia and discontent. I am learning a balance finally because I have now freed myself to talk about these feelings.

I have also identified the brain chemistry associated with my codependency. I have a separate blog about Codependency Recovery. Codependency recovery basics are: having healthy boundaries, learning assertiveness, identifying your core issue, finding out what hooks you, knowing that caregiving is a control issue, developing compassionate detachment, adding self nurturing activities, using relaxation techniques, developing mindfulness techniques to live in the moment, and identifying your triggers.

So I have begun learning how to reparent myself. I have created a separate blog about reparenting: The Free Road: Reparenting Ourselves.

I was thrilled to find Dennis Thombs’s book, Introduction to Addictive Behaviors. What I identified with was his belief that we used our addictions to combat feelings of anxiety (fear) that we never learned to process.

I will continue researching PTSD, codependency and addiction as I know that my addiction began when as a child. I didn’t l know how to deal with anxiety and fear. Instead I used feelings of power over people to feel better myself. Therefore, I believe codependency to be the addiction of power. By feeling control over others’ lives, I felt better able to control my own.

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Codependency is the Breeding Ground For Addiction

“The psyche cannot tolerate a vacuum of love. In the severely abused or deprived child, pain, dis-ease, and violance rush in to fill the void. In the average person in our culture, who has been only “normally” deprived of touch, anxiety and an insatiable hunger for posessions replace the missing eros. The child lacking a sense of welcome, joyous belonging, gratuitous security, will learn to hoard the limited supply of affection. According to the law of psychic compensation, not being held leads to holding on, grasping, addiction, posessiveness. Gradually, things replace people as a source of pleasure and security. When the gift of belonging with is denied, the child learns that love means belongin to. To the degree we are arrested at this stage of development, the needy child will dominate our motivations. Other people and things (and there is fundamentally no difference) will be seen as existing solely for the purpose of “my” survival and satisfaction. “Mine” will become the most important word.”
Sam Keen, The Passionate Life: Stages of Loving

Because I believe that codependency is the breeding ground for addiction, I would like for everyone interested in helping addicts to be aware of the characteristics of children growing up in families with addiction. I also believe that that applies to most of us. Understanding that addiction can be about money, power (which is what codependency is about), religion, sex, etc. as well as substance abuse (food, legal drugs, illegal drugs, alcohol, etc.) shows how wide-spread addiction is.

Anyone who has worked in a workplace with a “good daddy/mommy” or a “bad daddy/mommy” knows this experience also. I have trouble with rage addicts because I grew up with a father addicted to rage–he was a rageaholic. So I have to keep a close check on my codependency around them as I have a basic desire to kick them in the behind–in a ladylike way, of course. But judgment hurts me as well as the other so I try to remember to pray for tolerance when in the company of someone who wants to control me with his/her anger.

The following sites have good references to the ACA/ACOA characteristics. Don’t be surprised if you identify with a few of them.

(1)  My favorite ACA site is the home site for Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization. On this site, a reder can find a meeting, buy the ACA literature, learn more about ACA, and read daily meditations strengthening recovery. From the introduction to ACA: ”

“Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) is a Twelve Step, Twelve Tradition program of men and women who grew up in alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional homes. The ACA program was founded on the belief that family dysfunction is a disease that effected us as children and affects us as adults. Our membership also includes adults from homes where alcohol or drugs were not present; however, abuse, neglect or unhealthy behavior was.”

“We meet to share our experience and recovery in an atmosphere of mutual respect. We discover how alcoholism and other family dysfunction affected us in the past and how it influences us in the present. We begin to see the unhealthy elements of our childhood. By practicing the Twelve Steps, focusing on the ACA Solution, and accepting a loving Higher Power of our own understanding, we find freedom.”

(2) Codependents Anonymous is the CODA site. This site includes a great list of characteristics centering around denial (“perceive myself as being completely unselfish and dedicated to the well being of others”), low self esteem pattern (“I do not ask others to meet my needs or desires”), compliance (“I am extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long) and control (“I have to be “needed” in order to have a relationship with others.

(3) The Dr. Janet Woititz site has resources including a video for ACOA. The site refers visitors to AA Family Meetings. The 13 characteristics are listed on Dr. Jan’s site.

(4) A current blog post about why some ACOA’s thrive in the addiction and the characteristics they learned from being in the addiction.  Great article and I recognized why creativity has been my salvation.

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ACA Blogs Help Us to Accept Our Childhood

“It requires a tremendous leap of faith to imagine that your own childhood—punctuated with pain, loss, and hurt-­-may, in fact, be a gift. Certainly the unhappiness you felt was not, in itself, a blessing; but in response to that pain, you learned to cultivate a powerful intuition, a heightened sensitivity, and a passionate devotion to healing and love that burns deep within you—and there are gifts that may be recognized, honored, and cultivated. You are not broken; childhood suffering is not a mortal wound.”

Wayne Muller

Alcoholics Anonymous started in 1935 and has spawned over 200 different types of twelve step meetings. One of the first to deal with feelings was ACOA-Adult Children of Alcoholics. It was a formula designed to touch on a lot of emotion–adult, children and alcoholic. Our reality is in our feelings. Our emotional patterns are established in our childhood. I believe that addiction starts from these patterns begun in childhood.

Codependency means being part or dependent on someone else for our emotional completion. Being reared in a home with frequent emotional strife means being reared with emotional healing issues.

At some level we have each experienced feelings of abandonment, difficulty trusting others, having boundaries, trouble standing up for ourselves or feeling shameful because of others’ actions. We may have learned these emotional choices in our family of origin.

I have included an excerpt from some of the ACA blogs that I enjoy:

1.  Adult Children of Alcoholics/ACAs ACOAs Blog:”Digging Deeper- The Child Within”

“Have you ever experienced intense feelings yet could not identify their source? Many Adult Children of Alcoholics have trouble knowing not only what they feel but WHY they feel certain emotions.”

“The answer may lie in your past. A current situation that triggers a powerful reaction most likely is tied to an old feeling. This feeling may have become almost like an instinct. It has become ingrained, like a reaction that happens without much thought.”

“Take anger for example. There are certain times when it is appropriate but often it is used as a defense. It is a SECONDARY emotion that is protecting something else. Many people get stuck in angry reactions because they are unable to identify the primary feeling- hurt, shame, fear, etc., that underlies the anger. So the the angry person continues being reactively angry and the true issue never gets resolved.”

2.  Love Over Fear: “Simple Definition of Community”:

When I sought out to find an Adult Children of Alcoholics group, I knew what I needed. I logged on the the ACA world site and searched for groups within my home state. My then-fiance drive me all over our state so I could experience different groups. Turned out the one I felt most at home with was the one nearest to my home—that was helpful! I was ready to travel over an hour to find the group I felt was right for me.

But,  just like  a church community, even though we would like things to stay the same, the people that we’ve come to know and trust eventually leave. And, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Coming to recovery means you are supposed to be a part, take part in the studies, do your own work, share that work with the community, and grow up, and eventually away from the group. We are  supposed to outgrow the group when we feel we don’t need it anymore.

An occasional check-in is fine.

I checked in almost three years after I had left. The group met now in a different room in the church. The table was a different height. The coffee didn’t taste the same. I didn’t expect to see anyone I knew, but I did.  I instantly recognized three or four people, and they recognized me.

Here I was, back for  a refresher. But I couldn’t help but wonder, had these people never left? Why?

Does a part of our recovery have to be stunted? Or, perhaps we find such a home coming and the group replaces, in a way,  their real family—the family that brought them to seek out ACA recover in the first place. I don’t know. But, I do know after my few years of faithful attendance I was better off heading out into the world, armed with the knowledge and wisdom my ACA family brought me, and feeling I would be welcomed back to that home base, anytime for any reason, no matter what.

Have you ever attended an ACA support group? If so, what was your experience like?


3.  Child Abuse Survivor:  “The Problem with Heroes“:

Abuse survivors know this all too well. Society likes to imagine that we know evil when we see it. That there are “good guys” and “bad guys”, just like in the movies. The good guys always do the right thing, and the bad guys are always out to hurt everyone else. Real life simply doesn’t work that way. The person who volunteers at the hospital, or works with a youth sports league, can be the same person who goes home after having a few and beats their kids. The teacher being fired for molesting a young child can be the same woman who has spent her free time and dedicated herself to educating those same children.

On the other hand, many survivors so want to cling to that belief that their abusers were totally and completely evil, that they create heroes of people who have done good things for them. Suddenly authors, or famous figures who fight against abuse, become their heroes, the people the model their lives after, because those are the “good” people. Eventually though, those heroes prove to be unable to live up to these unrealistic expectations, and disappointment ensues.

The truth is, there isn’t another human alive who is perfectly evil, and there isn’t one who is perfectly good. There are a great many people who have done things that we can admire. We should attempt to emulate those behaviors, and we should allow them the grace to have faults as well. At the end of the day, Joe Paterno was a great coach, and a great teacher to a large number of people. He was also someone who did not live up to his responsibility to the children who looked up to him within the State College community. He, like all of us, was a great number of other things as well, some good, some not so much. His good deeds were admirable, his faults came with consequences, end of story. He wasn’t a hero, nor was he a monster.

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ACA, Codependency, and My Inner Child

4244896858_85b07caa7d_z“Our society considers hard work, intense recreation, vigorous exercise, rushing through the day, excessive eating, frequent anger, occasional deep depression, and sex without love as “normal”, and we have become addicted to the brain chemicals that accompany these so-called normal behavior.
Paul Pearsall

Addiction is not difficult to understand. Accepting we or a loved one is an addict is difficult. The only reason that people use a substance or a position (power) or food is to change their feelings.

Often the addict has a large reserve of hurt moments or experiences which s/he uses to prove why her/his life is so tragic.

I know this because during my addiction to alcohol I had saved up every hurt feeling or experience and I remember consciously choosing which feelings to use where. This all gets tremendously labor-intensive if the same people are seen very often as new abuses have to be “used”. So the ever resourceful addict creates sad, bad, horrible experiences that never happened. I think this behavior could safely be called “crazy”.

This behavior is what mental health professionals use to “prove” the mental illness. The problem is no one has been able to prove the medical model of the disease theory. So, as far as I am concerned, the disease theory is a theory.

Instead, I believe, that when we are under the control of an addiction, we make increasingly bad and hurtful choices. Remember, the addict is living in his/her head in a world of their own creation. Pile those crazy choices on top of the fantasy in one’s head and the addict is miserable. The misery is self-inflicted and he/she is the only one who can choose to leave that miserable state.

I believe mental health to be fluid and we are each in and out of it several times a day. I know I am healthy when I know I am crazy because I didn’t used to know the difference. Today, I have the choice to abandon my crazy behavior.

Addiction is very prevalent in our world. Changemaker defines addiction as any behavior that is chosen to enable a person to live a fantasy. Addicts don’t live in reality. They live in a mental world of their own creation. What an addict uses to control his/her feelings and thoughts is not important. Rather it be alcohol, food, religion, other drugs, power, money, etc., the addict is using the addiction for only one reason–to change how they feel. It is said that there are a million excuses for using the addiction but only one reason. And that reason is to change how he/she feels. When someone is living in his/her head, reality rears its ugly head in feelings. So those feelings have to go away—this is what the addiction provides. It takes the feelings away.

We believe that many of us use something from time to time to change how we feel. The addict is the person who uses the addiction on a regular basis to avoid the reality of life around them. For example, alcoholics may be daily drinkers (3-4 days weekly) or weekend alcoholics (mainly drink on the weekends), or periodic alcoholics (drink for 2-3 days in a row but do the drinking at different periods of time–also may go long periods of time (even years)–without alcohol.).

Substance addicts are easy to spot. But many more people are addicted to power (codependency), money, material possessions (living in homes/having automobiles they can barely afford), work (they will say that they have to work because they need the money–often married to poor money managers), sex, etc.

Many people are addicted to feeling bad (the victim role). Remember how we feel is our choice. It is very hard for the martyr to give up that “poor me” behavior but until both people in a relationship are free to give and receive without guilt trips, the relationship is not a positive experience for either.

The disease model of addiction has helped add to the confusion about addiction. Addicts live in a self-induced delusion. The delusion is that the world revolves around them. In reality, the world doesn’t revolve around any individual.

As John Powell has written, we each need a Copernican moment when we realize the world doesn’t revolve around us. Remember Copernius went against all other thinkers to say that the Sun didn’t revolve around Earth, but that Earth revolved around the Sun.

In other words, some of the main issues in addiction treatment are maturity issues. The age at which a person started drinking, using, eating, buying, being overpowering to others, using sex, etc. is the emotional age he/she still is. If he/she started at age 15, which is pretty normal, then he/she is age 14 emotionally.

So recovery is generally about growing up. Another main issue of why people are addictive is to continue to live life in their head or in their imagination. No one knows reality–we only have a perception of reality. But living in our head is not being free and open to life.

As the hero in 10 Million Ways to Die says, “I never knew that I lived in a world that I hadn’t created.”  That is why the addict experiences such anger at having to give up the addiction. It seems to the addict that his/her use can only be pertaining to him/her. In reality, the addiction is affecting everyone in the addict’s life.

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Specific Steps to Overcoming Your Codependent Habits

613445810_2249c2d193_zCompassion is the basic learning needed to help others. When you can see and feel the pain others are feeling, you can begin to build a bridge of understanding.

1. What specifically can you do to be free from your codependency? from

Hello! A while ago I got a question from a blog-reader on what specifically to do to be free from the codependency. Good question! There is no straight answer. But I’m going to go on and type out some tips here:

Getting rid of your codependency is a process. It is personal development. That’s why it can take time. You can fall back into old behaviors sometimes, and you have to start over again. It can come back slowly or unexpectedly, and then you have to deal with it all over again.

Firstly, what codependent behaviors have you developed? In this post is a long list of symptoms. Read it through and think about what you recognize in yourself and how those behaviors are manifested i your life and relationships to other people.*

If there are several behaviors that you want to change, a good thing to have in mind is to not try and change all of them at the same time, but one at a time and really focus on them.* If you are having trouble seeing what codependent behaviors you have and how they are manifested, read the list out to a friend (or many friends) and ask them to tell you what they have noticed you might be doing.

Another exercise that you can do is to write diary whenever you fall into codependent behaviors during the day, to be more aware of when they happen. You can also write how you would like to act if a similar situation occurred again.* Make a list for each time you managed to avoid stepping into a codependent behavior and handled the situation in another way. See your accomplishments!

There are self-help groups where you can seek support from others. Clearify also to yourself what benefits are to gain from making a change! What do you gain from working with your codependent behaviors and what do you lose if you don’t and instead keep going like you do now? Those were hopefully some specific things to start out with!

2. From Waking Up: ‘Boundaries‘:

This last week has not been an easy week. I had to set a boundary with a person who was jeopardizing my sobriety. I had to limit contact with this person and limit this person’s contact with my family as well. My husband and daughters are all in recovery as well. We are living life one day at a time and on life’s terms. My sponsor told me I didn’t not need to give reasons for setting boundaries because that would be taking someone else’s inventory and then I would owe an amends. Yet this person took my inventory. This person never thought I was an alcoholic to begin with. I am hurt and saddened by so many of the misunderstandings and lies that were told to me. It gave me a lot of pain. I am so grateful that I was able to process so much of this in my AA meetings, my IOP group, with my therapist and at my Ala-non meeting.

I didn’t have to drink over the grief and loss of this relationship and could instead feel the grief, loss and betrayal and the waves of sadness that are necessary to heal.I am reminded of a scene from the TV show Desperate Housewives where Bree who is a newly recovering alcoholic in this scene has had about as much as she can take from her rebellious teen-aged son. She takes him to a gas station along a remote highway and drops him off with his belongings and some money to get him through until he can find a job and tells him ” I am not strong enough and can no longer have you in my life.”

When that show first aired, I was in the early stages of my alcoholism and thought what Bree had done was horrifying. Now I understand what she meant by not being strong enough to have her son in life. She had to put her sobriety first and her son jeopardized that sobriety. I also have to put my sobriety first and the recovery of my family first and I cannot allow anyone to jeopardize our recovery. Boundaries are necessary in order to heal and move forward. Letting go is necessary to recover from codependency that prevents us from our serenity.

3.  From Terry Gaspard: “Overcoming Codependency: Reclaiming Relationships“:

•Visualize yourself in a loving relationship that meets your needs. If your current relationship is destructive, look at ways you self-sabotage and examine your own behaviors.
•Challenge your beliefs and self-defeating thoughts about your self-worth. You don’t need to prove anything to another person about your worth.
•Notice your negative self-judgments. Be kind and compassionate toward yourself.
•Remind yourself daily that it’s healthy to accept help from others and a sign of strength rather than weakness. Counseling, friendships, and online resources can be tremendously helpful to supporting you in your journey of finding a happy relationship.
•Don’t let your fear of rejection stop you from achieving loving, intimate relationships. Surrender your shield and let others in.

Take a moment to consider that you might be hooked on the feeling that being in love brings pain. If so, you might be self-sabotaging your chances of having a healthy relationship where you can get your needs met. Your fear of being alone or taking a risk, for instance, might be preventing you from finding the love and happiness you deserve. You may be freezing out the opportunity to love someone who can meet you half way. Author Karen McMahon writes, “By focusing on your healing and personal growth you will energetically transform your life and begin to attract others (friends, bosses, companions) who are your emotional equals.

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