Author: Sonja Meyrer MAT, Recovery Advocate
There is a popular song by an artist named Gotye called “Somebody That I Used to Know”. It is a catchy, slightly angry goodbye song from a man to the woman who appears to have broken his heart.
“You didn’t have to cut me off… … you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough…”, the singer laments.
Having heard the song many times over the years, I relate quite well to the feelings of sadness and desperation that accompany losing someone we love.
And recently it got me thinking about a different kind of personal loss. Have you ever asked yourself the question, "Am I just somebody I used to know”? Is it possible we can become a stranger even to ourselves in the wake of difficult circumstances, under the weight of someone else's tragedy or in the face of a never-ending struggle? If so, can we ever get ourselves back?
“Loss of self” is loosely translated in the counseling and recovery communities as “codependency” -- something of a buzzword in recent years. Codependency may be framed in many ways but a good definition is an individual’s unhealthy obsession with someone else’s behaviors and choices. It is sometimes called “relationship addiction” and is also characterized as “entanglement” or “enmeshment”. Simply put, when someone we love is engaged in behaviors that are harmful to themselves or others, we may become:
- Hyper focused on getting them to change
- Spend a great deal of emotional energy (if not all) figuring out how to solve their problems for them
- Expend much effort “helping” them to realize a problem they have is theirs.
This type of codependent behavior is almost inevitable when our loved one struggles with an addiction but can also occur when mental illness is present like depression or anxiety.
No doubt, those who struggle with substance abuse and mental illness are often in a great deal of pain and worthy of an empathetic response. But those of us who struggle alongside our loved ones are apt to face considerable pain and loss as well. Some of the things we lose are material. For example, if an addicted spouse loses their job or gambles away the savings, we might lose our homes and other possessions. If our child is diagnosed with an addiction, we may feel ashamed and find it difficult to socialize, losing relationships and becoming increasingly isolated. Oftentimes our obsessive thoughts take a toll on our health as we eat poorly, ignore our own health issues and lose sleep.
Other parts of us get lost as well. Our desires and opinions, our needs and wants, can literally vanish. Obsessed with the task of managing someone else’s out-of-control life, we find no pleasure in caring for ourselves. Instead we focus on finding that one secret word, orchestrating that one perfect moment that will finally land our loved one on the path to sobriety or improved mental health. We become “somebody that we used to know”.
There is hope!
By courageously examining our motivations and fears, by learning to set healthy boundaries and detach with love we CAN find a way back to ourselves; back to serenity and peace. Regardless of the choices of the people around us.
Join us, this June, for a life changing, interactive 6-week group workshop: The Journey Back from Codependency.