The thing is, folks, I don’t think I believe in codependency anymore. It’s a term whose time has come and gone. It pathologizes those who have experienced trauma (ahem, me) and, in particular, women (also me).
My therapist told me that Melody Beattie, a renowned self-help author and trauma survivor, now regrets developing the term because it’s overused to pathologize women. I haven’t been able to find any evidence to support what she said, but I really, really want it to be true.
Another professional told me Pia Melody (who wrote Facing Codependency) stopped using the term in her family of origin work with recovering addicts. Instead of codependent, Ms. Melody now uses “immaturity.” I mean, I guess that’s better?
I used to buy into codependency completely.
I took part of the blame for marrying a sex addict. My ex’s therapist called me codependent. Don’t even get me started.
As recently as nine years ago, partners of sex addicts (again, mainly women with trauma) were treated as codependent and labeled “co-addicts.” We were seen as enablers and considered to be addicted to the addict in our lives because we seemed incapable of leaving.
When I discovered my ex was a sex addict in 2012, this was the prevailing mode of thinking and treatment. I didn’t realize I had PTSD until 2015. I had no idea my denial, my minimization of his behavior, and desire to control his disease and recovery were all symptoms of TRAUMA – not codependency.
I was willing to admit that what needed to change in this repetitive pattern was me. Even after my divorce was final, I found myself on the verge of attempting to reconcile…. for the third time.
So, I put myself in a “time-out” of sorts.
No dating, no dating sites, no contact with my ex except text messages regarding our son. No exclamation points. No emojis.
I knew there was a connection between my childhood trauma and marrying a sex addict. So, I spent a weekend with Vicky Tidwell Palmer in Houston doing family of origin work and crying my face off until I could understand why.
I attended twelve-step meetings for love addiction, also referred to as untreated codependency. I had a sponsor. I chaired meetings. I conducted a fearless and thorough moral inventory of myself until I clearly saw the patterns of unhealthy choices and behaviors, I’d been making my whole life.
It was helpful. It really, really was. But watching young girls in their 20s and 30s in my twelve-step groups shaming themselves for making bad decisions about men in one sentence and then describing their horrific childhood traumas the next one broke my heart.
Eventually, it stopped being helpful. Eventually, I came to realize the real reason I made unhealthy choices throughout my life.
I was walking around with undiagnosed and unprocessed trauma.
While I am grateful that treatment for partners of sex addicts is now primarily trauma-informed, I believe there are other groups of trauma survivors still being treated as codependent. This ignores the impact of trauma on their lives. Namely, I am thinking of women married to alcoholics and drug addicts. The Al-Anon meetings I attended were mostly full of women.
Maybe codependency and trauma can coexist. Maybe I’m just too close to it…and too recently scapgoated by it as a label. Maybe I’m sick of how quickly we blame the victim for the behavior we don’t understand… or that scares us.
I think that it is easier to blame the victim than to admit how easily it could happen to us.
It was not my fault I married a sex addict. It’s not yours either. You didn’t choose it. You can’t choose without the facts. You never had the facts because you were lied to again and again and again.
Not all partners of sex addicts experience childhood trauma, but research conducted by the Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists (APSATS) shows that most of us do.
So, if you are having trouble leaving your husband or setting boundaries for yourself, please know that doesn’t automatically make you codependent. Like me, you may have some family of origin work to do, but that shouldn’t be used as a weapon against you.
Your time to do that work is likely not right now.
Right now, we need to focus on getting support and treatment for your trauma. We need to create a sense of safety and ensure that you have lots and lots of sisterhood, which is the magic cure for almost all that ails you.
Thanks for listening to my rant on codependency. I appreciate your readership in a very healthy and non-codependent sort of way.