Codependency: Giving 'Til It Hurts
Frederick A. Levy LCSW

Glenda gave until it hurt, and her suffering never stopped. Friends and family could always count on her in a crisis, but Glenda rarely felt that she counted with anyone when she needed support. She knew she couldn't take many more demands from her loved ones, but couldn't imagine how they would function without her help. Glenda felt used, abused, and confused. She wondered when it would ever be her turn, but at the same time would feel selfish for even asking. She sat alone in her tear stained silence, trying to figure a way out. Her family had raised her to believe that love never gives up, but nobody had ever told her what to do when the giver gives out.

If you are an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACA), you may not know where the giving stops and the hurting begins. The message your family gave you about loving may not have included sufficient ways of loving yourself. In short, you may have been raised to be codependent, which is the process of losing yourself in another person's problems. Glenda, like many ACoAs, had already spent years losing her life by inches.

Glenda had struggled to survive her alcoholic family. She had spent her entire childhood helping her mother fix her alcoholic dad's disasters. With crises coming every day, she had learned that becoming a separate person was selfish; focusing away from the family's pain unthinkable. Caretaking loved ones became a substitute for taking care of herself. It seemed that loving others meant losing the right to her own desires, feelings, and needs.

In order for Glenda's family to contain her dad's destructiveness, they had always attempted to control his drinking and behavior. As a result, Glenda had learned to be a master manipulator. In time, she married a man much like her father who required someone to manage his life. The Adult Child had married into a career; always standing vigil over her perpetual child to insure, one way or another, that he stay out of trouble.

Such a job has no vacation and less time off. Anger follows hurt, resentment succeeds rage, and total emotional exhaustion results in burnout. Even the idea of fun seems infuriating. Sometimes when Glenda met someone whose life was working, she would feel self-righteously indignant, resenting others who had it easier. Certainly, nobody appreciated what she was going through; secretly, she even felt a bit morally superior to those lessor souls who, she assumed, were less devoted to their families than she.

To make matters worse, Glenda also had a full time job, the kind that demanded long hours, low pay, and high energy from the time she walked through the door until she dragged herself home. Her supervisors felt she was a near model worker. Not only was she magnificent in her job, but she always seemed to find time to help others, answer questions, fill in, even cover for co-workers when it appeared necessary. Yet, she felt like a fraud, always the new kid on the block, craving acceptance and needing to prove her competence.

Glenda was becoming bitter. She was loyally following the plan her family had provided her to feel worth, yet heaven didn't seem to be getting any closer. In short, Glenda was rapidly on the road to becoming a martyr.

Fortunately, Glenda discovered that this highway has alternate routes. Recognizing her own needs was her first recovery signpost. She stopped believing that the "golden rule" meant being better to her neighbor than herself.

The second was realizing that having limits is a universal human need, not failing. She discovered that "saying no" could be a life preserving act of love, both for herself and those whom she valued. She could rest, while others learned responsibility.

Mostly, she relished the freedom that came with knowing that asking for help was not weakness, but a powerful connection to the kind of caring that now she felt she deserved. Her healing had begun with hearing an inner voice, which softly whispered that she was not alone.

Copyright Fred Levy, LCSW all rights reserved