Saturday, November 21, 2009
Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
This is not the kind of book I would normally read. I have an aversion to psychological analysis, maybe especially self-help, because it tends to focus on the individual, or the family, rather than on the larger socioeconomic picture. This book is limited in scope for these reasons but was conditionally recommended to me by a friend as something that might be helpful for dealing with the impact addiction has had on our lives.
In recent years, starting with Jigsaw #7 (1999), I have written a bit about loss, substance abuse and self-destruction. A lot of friends have died too young and many comrades struggle with varying degrees of addiction and related problems. It got to the point in the past few years where I really couldn't be around it anymore and had to make some changes. This was unfortunately inspired by more self-destructive related tragedies happening to people I loved dearly.
While I have never been someone who enjoys hanging out in bars or getting wasted all the time I did get to that point socially where I would find myself in a bar out of pure boredom on a regular basis. Witnessing the damage this routine has inflicted on people I care about and "the scene" in general, I finally stopped going out just for the sake of seeing people. I made some rules at the beginning of the year and stuck to them. For the most part I avoid bars unless there is a reason to go, i.e. a show or the rare DJ night that can't be missed. If I do go out I will have 1 or 2 drinks max, often none. If the reason for being out is social and not related to music, I'll stay for an hour or two, or just leave as soon as I start to feel bored rather than sit there and order another drink or whatever I used to do.
This has been really productive for me personally. I find I am less depressed and have a lot more time to do things I enjoy doing that are meaningful to me, such as writing, playing guitar and reading books. It has made me more isolated, but I have more energy to spend on things that enrich my quality of life like cooking, going to the Y, listening to records, doing yoga and working on research projects. I find that the internet is a good way to stay connected to people, but I do miss hanging out in real time, which is something I'm going to work on for next year. Really this has been pretty easy because being around drunk people and not drinking is not that fun. People start slurring and repeating themselves and they get too close to you and touch you too much and start pointless arguments and they stop listening to each other. There really isn't much of a point.
Unfortunately, the problem of addiction and its impact on people I care about has not gone away and this still effects me as much as I try to ignore it and detach myself from the culture that surrounds it. This book offers 12-step type advice on how to do that more effectively. After reading it for a few short hours, I found it to be very helpful and jotted down some concrete strategies for dealing with codependency caused by addiction. However, the writer IS religious and talks A LOT about the "higher power", well way too much for my own comfort...to me this is a real, big serious bummer and flaw in the book. I understand that this works for many, many people, but I also know that it is not working for me. I have been an atheist for my entire life and while I have learned to be somewhat tolerant of other beliefs, I really can't take this kind of thinking seriously on a personal level. I can't just skip that part! So that is troubling.
I would also like to see a critique of consumerism included in the analysis of addiction. I am somewhat uncomfortable with the individualism and related assumptions in the book as well. Maybe this is me being "codependent" or "in denial" or something, but some of the behaviors that are identified as problematic and unhealthy in the book don't necessarily seem totally negative to me. I understand it is written for someone who needs to establish healthy boundaries in order to take care of their own needs but personally I'd like to see an approach that values nurturing, care-taking and connectedness as well. I am also interested in reading about harm reduction and more radical anti-capitalist strategies for dealing with addiction. My understanding is that the 12-step program claims addiction is a disease based in the family structure. I am not sure I see it this way, though I understand it can be a useful metaphor for some and I want to respect that this approach does work for many people.
Regardless, this book offers practical advice for someone who has been involved with addicts on how to move forward by taking responsibility for your own life and setting boundaries. I would recommend it to someone interested in examining this stuff, specifically how addiction effects your relationships with people on a psychological level and negatively impacts your daily life. But if you are not a "true believer" it can be a little hard to take at times.