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It’s extremely common for those of us who suffer from anxiety and depression to become over reliant on medication or even alcohol and drugs. Many of us grow up in abusive family environments and learn to cope in different ways. An alcoholic parent can wreak havoc on the psychological development of their children. These families typically are involved in a day to day struggle in coping with the alcoholic and in most cases abusive parent. There is not time or money or even consideration for therapy. In most cases these families are oblivious to their plight, the parents so caught up in their own drama that they are ignorant of the damage being done to their children. These kids will learn their own coping mechanisms and a large number of them will grow up becoming dependent on drugs or alcohol themselves in a misguided attempt at suppressing their own painful emotions. For the lucky few that manage to seek help or find their way to a rehabilitation center, this is only the first step. A rehabilitation center can provide a person with shelter from the harmful environment from which they came, and ensure that they are drug and alcohol free whilst in the center, but once that person leaves, the maintenance of their recovery is in their on hands and they need to rely on the tools they were given whilst being treated for their addiction.
I recently treated a patient who had returned from South Africa where they had spent time in a treatment center for drug addiction and then moved on to stay in a sober living house in Cape Town for a further three months. For the purpose of confidentiality I will merely refer to him as “Ben”. Ben grew up in a a middle class family that appeared to the outside world as a happy one. In reality, this was not the case. Ben’s parents fought continuously and Ben’s father was an undiagnosed alcoholic. He grew up in an environment where he had to walk on egg shells most of the time, and often recalls hiding under his bed or in a cupboard with his siblings whilst his parents screamed and shouted at each other. In some cases the verbal abuse progressed to physical abuse. Ben grew up to become extremely codependent and sought out a partner that he could “look after”. Typical of most codependent relationships, it was a tumultuous one. A continuous push/pull, love/hate cycle of fighting and making up with a gradual build up of resentment.When Ben discovered his girlfriend of five years was cheating on him, he fell back on what he knew best – escape. Ben escaped by quickly developing a drinking habit that was complimented by the use of tranquilizers to “numb the pain”. This went on for two years until eventually Ben’s life was in ruins, fired by his employer for being under the influence, and financially ruined, Ben finally realized he needed help and went to a rehabilitation center in South Africa where he gained great insights into his condition and learned how his childhood had shaped his him, how he suppressed his emotions and self medicated himself. On leaving the rehabilitation center, Ben chose to spend three months at the Scotswood Retreat, a sober living house in Cape Town. Ben explained how it was here that his recovery really began and how he learned to live on his own, manage his feelings responsibly and not act out on old triggers. A sober home or sober living house is essentially a safe environment where people who are in recovery can stay for a period of time until they are ready to go out into the world on their own again. Whilst living at Scotswood, Ben developed strong and healthy relationships with other recovering addicts and managed to find himself part time employment working as a waiter at a nearby local coffee shop. Besides a tranquil sober living environment, Scotswood Retreat offers its guests access to counselling and lifting to nearby 12 Step meetings. Ben believes that without spending the three months at Scotswood before returning home, he most likely would have relapsed on drinking and tranquilizers.
“It was there that I truly learned to stand on my own two feet and utilize the tools I had been given while in rehab. Living in a safe and comfortable environment, shared by like minded people that I could relate to, gave me a firm foundation on which to build and I am truly grateful for having had the opportunity to have spent those three months at the Scotswood sober house in Cape Town.”
Ben is not alone. There are thousand of young adults like Ben, that without the proper counseling and treatment will go on to perpetuate the cycle of abuse that stems from addiction.
Ixande drug rehabilitation centre in Cape Town has recently opened its Sober Living House in Cape Town. A sober house is a safe and secure environment that provides people leaving rehabilitation centres the opportunity to solidify and reinforce the new behaviours they have learned whilst being there. Addictions come in many forms, but all of them are progressive and fueled by compulsive behavior. Every year thousands of people worldwide are admitted in to drug rehabilitation centres, clinics and treatment centres for a variety of addictive behaviors, ranging from sex addiction, drug addiction to online gaming addiction.
So often people leave the safety of the rehab or clinic where they have been, full of optimism and equipped with some new tools for coping with the stressors and factors that led to them become addicts, only to relapse and fall back into their old patterns of addiction shortly after leaving. There are several opinions on why this may happen. Some say that the person had not yet hit their rock bottom and was not serious about abstaining from their drug of choice, or gambling or alcohol, or whatever their problem may have been. There are many however, that feel that the 28-day detox/rehabilitation programme (which is covered by many medical aid plans) offered is simply not enough to change years of learned addictive behavior. For example, if you have been an alcoholic for 15 years and you are admitted willingly into a drug rehabilitation centre like Ixande rehab Cape Town, and you engage to best of your ability and have a strong desire to quit drinking, is 28 days really enough to fortify you and give you the strength to remain abstinent? The problem lies not only in that 28 days is insufficient time to build a strong enough foundation for recovery and get to the bottom of the symptoms of the disease, but also, that whilst in a drug rehabilitation centre or clinic, the environment is extremely safe and controlled. The patients are completely insulated from people, places and things that may remind them of or trigger memories of the blissful euphoric escape experienced through using their drug of choice. During the standard 28-day drug rehabilitation period, patients are virtually completely sheltered from anything that might distract them from the treatment. Mobile phones, laptops, social media etc are all confiscated and in some cases limited usage for 30 minutes weekly is permitted. So, yes, these patients manage to detox, they manage to get some insight into how destructive their behaviours have been and they are given tools on how to manage their addiction. But this is all taking place in the safety of the treatment centre.
All it takes is for somebody who has just recently left treatment, to return to a toxic relationship, have an argument and without giving it any thought, is triggered to pick up a drink, use their drug of choice or gamble, or succumb to whatever addictive behaviour it was that they were trying to manage. The concept of the sober living house was conceived of when people began to realize the need for a sober and transitional space that allows for a person to bridge the gap between the complete safety and insulation of primary care in a drug rehabilitation centre and the life they lead prior to being admitted for treatment. In most cases, sober houses provide a communal living environment for like-minded people who are committed to maintaining their sobriety. Ixande’s sober living house in situated nearby the vibrant Muizenberg beachfront. The sober house can accommodate a maximum of twelve people and comes with free Wi-Fi, DsTV, a live in house manager, comfortably furnished rooms and 24hr video surveillance. Research has proven that time spent living in a peer based sober house maximizes the chances of an addict’s recovery. Additional therapy support is provided by Ixande in Kenilworth in the form of two aftercare sessions per week. These sessions are held on a Tuesday and a Thursday and are each 3 hours long. In addition to this there are several 12 Step meeting in the area in close proximity to the sober house. For meetings that are not within easy access, lifting arrangements can be made.
Codependency is a feeling of unrest and disquiet of the spirit which can range from an underlying sense of not wanting to go on to just feeling out of place in your world. This article will speak to the very basics of the condition with the hope that it will ring a bell for the reader and urge you to get help which is so readily available today. I hope that you end up with a definition of this condition and how best to treat it. Treatment centers have month long programs to deal with it. I believe it can be dealt with by a combination of coaching and counseling with a high rate of success as long as you are dedicated to treating this seriously and consistently.
Codependency is a condition brought on by growing up in a dysfunctional family and promoted by our culture. When your parents are unable to be fully present to you because they are unable to be fully present to themselves and each other, you can be deeply affected. You grow up without being shown how to love with openness and spontaneity, as well as discipline. You gradually turn off your ability to be fully alive. You learn distorted ways to protect your self from abuse (i.e., core beliefs and coping patterns) that interfere with intimacy.
This process can take place subtly, much like water eroding a rock little by little. Eventually you adapt by burying your heart and personality, and denying that you need your parents’ love in the way you really do.
Here are some doubts and concerns of clients which reflect the harm that codependency can cause in one’s life:
-Did my parents really love me? Really care for me? If they really loved me, why didn’t they treat me with more dignity and caring? Why were they so distant, so self-absorbed and sometimes even abusive and violent?
-I got burned growing up. My family hurt me so much, why should I give anyone else a chance to hurt me again?
-I feel drained and my helping others is never enough. I can’t fix the problem and people just get mad at me for interfering.
-Is being intimate something I can learn or am I doomed to feel alone even when I am with others?
-Is it possible to have a good relationship? Sometimes I feel I give my heart but they want my soul. Recognize energy drainers.
These statements may sound familiar to you. You may have heard them said, or said them yourself. They reflect what I call the “Dilemma of Love”.
The AMA has recognized codependency as a disease, meaning it has an onset, a progression, and a finality. When you try to take care of unhealthy parents and protect your family system, you have no time to be a child or are never taught, in age appropriate ways, how to be an adult. You are not allowed to have feelings and needs because they are too threatening. Your emotional growth becomes stunted. This is all very subtle. You learn to play your role, follow the rules and do what is expected of you. You feel you have to act this way to help your parents and family. Usually on an unconscious level you believe that if you truly love your family, your will keep trying to save it. As you continue to abandon yourself, your fall prey to the disease of codependency. Breaking this cycle and facing the issues might require help.
In her book, “Choicemaking”, Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse calls codependency. . .
“. . .a specific condition characterized by preoccupation and extreme dependence (emotionally, socially and sometimes physically) on a person or object. Eventually this dependence on another person becomes a pathological condition that affects the codependent in all other relationships.” Anne Wilson Schaef has identified this same pathological condition in our society as a whole. She looks at how a society can operate as a dysfunctional system just as a family can.
Codependency now refers to people who are afflicted by their own addictive process. They may come from families in which there were no noticeable addictions. Everything may have looked fine on the surface, but the parents were emotionally unavailable to the children and to each other. Because addiction is built into our society most people, regardless of their family background, need to recover from some form of addictiveness.
The prefix “co” in the term codependency means “in relation to” an addictive process. It reflects the reality, recognized by clinicians, that a family of addictive disorders exists that includes alcoholism, drug / chemical addiction, gambling, sex addiction, and compulsive spending as well as compulsive deprivations such as anorexia nervosa, sexual anorexia, compulsive saving and hoarding, and some phobic responses. Causes are plentiful. The most important new insight of all is that the compulsive deprivation of one substance or behavior is frequently used to balance off the excess of another—in the same person.
You can become addicted to substances, people, ideas, activities, behaviors or anything that takes away the pain of reality and gives you a sense of personal identity. The addictive process is the same regardless of the addiction. Therefore, to free your heart and become fully alive it is necessary to heal on two levels: to arrest your addictions, as well as to heal your underlying disease of codependency.
As with any other disease, if you do not seek help or therapy your codependency will progress. As you fall prey to addictive traits and continually live from a false self, you will eventually break down under the strain. Untreated codependency invariably leads to stress-related complications, physical illness, depression. Anxiety, and eventually death. Fortunately, although it is a chronic and fatal disease, it is also treatable.
It is especially challenging to treat because it can be subtle and insidious. You may have a successful career and look all together on the outside, but feel tense and uneasy on the inside. This can make it difficult for you to seek support. You may not be able to make sense of the way you feel and you may not see a cause for your pain. Codependents often say, “Everything’s fine in my life. I’m married, I’ve got a family and great kids. I should be happy, but I feel so empty.”
It is important for you to understand that you are not at fault for having this illness. It was passed on to you through the generations whether you wanted it or not.
It is possible to suffer from this even if your parents were not emotionally unavailable. This is called “late onset codependency”. If you come from a relatively healthy family but you stay with an untreated partner, possibly with some personality disorder or syndrome, you can get caught in the abuse cycle of a dysfunctional relationship. This means your partner lives by dysfunctional rules and you can develop interdependent or codependent symptoms as an adult. You can still be affected by the addictive messages in our media and in society at large. This leaves you vulnerable to developing some degree of co-dependence. It is not a black or white situation, and it helps to know the signs. It is on a continuum.
As with any issues, your responsibility begins once you are aware you may have this illness and begin to research what can be done to treat your problems. At this point you can begin to recover your personal power and choose the kind of life you want. There is so much hope today and as I have said working with a really knowledgeable licensed coach/counselor can bring you the freedom to be who you want to be and help your marriage. I hope this article has given you an idea of the scope of what you are up against and the hope of overcoming the issues and recovering fully and to maintain that recovery for the rest of your life.
There is no more suitable place for advice, beside calling me, than visiting my online blog for more information about co-dependency issues. Group sessions can be done by phone from anywhere in the country. Christian and Spiritual beliefs are considered in all therapy and when choosing groups. Learn to overcome codependence without narcissism.
Choosing the right counsellor or psychologist to help you or your loved one navigate the path through life’s difficulties can be a difficult decision. Anita Prag, southern suburbs psychologist in Bergvliet, Cape Town, South Africa, has established herself as an excellent psychologist and counsellor. Not everyone is actually cut out to be a psychologist, however there’s nothing stopping a person from studying and qualifying as one, provided they get the grades and receive the necessary qualification. Unfortunately there are some psychologists out there that have brilliant credentials and may have passed their graduation examinations with flying colours, however they lack certain qualities that make a really good psychologist.
A psychologist needs to be more than intelligent enough to complete the many years of university studies. A good psychologist needs to have feel for their clients’ needs and difficulties. I know this may sound a little esoteric, but it true. Certain people are by nature more intuitive and empathetic than others. It’s happened to all of us at some time or other. Something is troubling us deeply that we are keeping to ourselves. We manage to get by without most people picking up on it, even our spouses or close friends. And then you run into an acquaintance that doesn’t necessarily know you all that well, and the first thing they ask is “What’s wrong, you seem troubled?”. This is the kind of intuition I am talking about. It is not something that can be taught or learned from a book, but rather a God given talent.It would be wonderful if there was some way that we could ensure that these kind of people found their way into the counselling and psychology professions, but unfortunately many of them never do. I suppose the career choices we make are not always the right ones and there are many factors that influence which path we take. often pressures from parents or family force us into career choices that aren’t suited to us. Maybe there is the expectation to take over the family business, or perhaps there just isn’t any financial means available to study.
To understand why Anita has established herself as the leading southern suburbs psychologist, click here to visit her website and get a better understanding of her values, methodology and commitment to her patients. Working from her practice on Main Road Bergvliet, Anita consults with patients that are dealing with a variety of life difficulties. Anita Prag is particularly skilled in dealing with these areas:
- Bereavement Counselling – coping with the loss of a loved one
- Couples Therapy – guiding couples through difficult times and helping them mend their relationships
- Child Psychology – focusing on children that are struggling with emotional problems through play therapy
- Scholastic Assessments – dealing with concentration and attention difficulties
I mentioned earlier that some people are just natural born carers, counsellors or are meant to become psychologists to allow them to share their gift and ability to help people. Anita Prag is one of these psychologists. If you are lucky enough to live in the Cape Town southern suburbs and need a psychologist, do yourself a favor and make an appointment.