It really and truly can. We tend to think that if we continue on in our own sick, co-dependent behaviour we may get somewhat physically ill or become depressed. But what we never think about is that our co-dependency can cut our life short.
I have just seen this first hand. And it makes me so sad. My ex-mother in law and I had been doing a lot of talking the last month of her life. I was trying to help her get past her denial and move on to acceptance and letting go. Trying to help her understand that enabling doesn’t help anyone, not the addict and not yourself. That guilt does nothing but destroy. And it seemed like she was getting it, at least a little.
I guess a little background is in order. H’s father B started drinking at age 10. His parents divorced when he was 12. His father retained custody. His father (an alcoholic) immediately remarried a domineering woman, who was also an alcoholic. By the time B was 14 years old he was in full blown alcohol and drug addiction. For the remainder of her life, his mother, who felt guilty about not having fought for custody, enabled him at every turn. She bailed him out of jail, put up with his abuse, sent him money when he asked and did everything she could to try and “help” him. And it wore her down. Bit by bit, little by little, even as she tried to stay strong and say no. The stress of his addiction and her co-dependency ate at her.
When my daughter’s addiction manifested itself it seemed as though she felt she had to the same thing. She couldn’t see that her enabling hadn’t helped her son. Or maybe she just couldn’t admit it to herself. So she tried to “help” my daughter. I put my foot down countless times. When I did she would be good for awhile, then H would say or do something that would tug her heartstrings and she would give her money. She wanted so much to believe that H and her dad were telling the truth, that they would be okay and could beat this. But she was always disappointed. As most of us are, time and time again. I would tell her that just because they were doing well today didn’t mean that they would be okay tomorrow. That she had to discern whether what she was doing was truly helpful or not.
Three weeks before she died she called me in distress because her son kept calling saying that he needed money. He is doing weekends in jail for assault and had missed the bus to the town where he’s working during the week. He said he didn’t have anywhere to go and she sounded just so tired of it all. I told her not to send him anything. She was worried that he would be out on the streets all night. I told her that he was 46 years old and could take care of himself, that he knew people there and would find somewhere to stay and if nothing else he could sit at a 24 hour Tim Horton’s and drink coffee until the bus came in the morning.
When my ex called my daughter drunk the next day I knew that she had sent him the money. I called her to warn her not to take his calls as he was drinking and I knew how belligerent and upsetting he could be. She said “It’s my fault. I sent him the money.” It was the first time in 23 years that she admitted to enabling him. I told her that it was not her fault, it was his choice. He manipulated her and she wanted so much to believe him. She said she was finished, she couldn’t take anymore.
HSW died from an accidental overdose. She had been taking ativan for years to help her sleep and cope with the constant anxiety. On the Saturday before her death she went to the emergency department for an absessed tooth. They prescribed antibiotics and oxycontin for the pain. It’s believed that she had taken the oxy and ativan during the day and again at bedtime. That she woke up in pain during the night and took another oxy much to soon after the last dose. She got up to the bathroom and was found on the bathroom floor at 1:30 in the morning by her husband, who had fallen asleep on the chair downstairs.
I truly believe that the stress of her co-dependency had weakened her body to the point where this was inevitable. She hadn’t been well over the past couple of years. The cortisol and adrenaline that our bodies produce when we are stressed can make us ill and weaken us.
When we tell each other to take care of ourselves I don’t think we really get it. I know I didn’t. Not until now. Because it’s not only addiction that kills. So does co-dependency.
p.s. We were blessed with an answer to prayer when my daughter was here for the funeral. She is NOT pregnant. Thank you God.