The Codependent Trap

August 10, 2020 - Mary Fran Bontempo

Codependent? Me? No way.

To me, being codependent meant supporting someone else’s unhealthy habits and lifestyle—almost encouraging them. And I would never do that. Who would?

Turns out, I would. I did it all, particularly during my son’s early addiction. Here’s the definition of codependent: characterized by excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one who requires support on account of an illness or addiction.

But how could I be reliant on my son’s situation? All I wanted was to be rid of that scourge, to have it disappear from our lives. Unfortunately, codependence is a devious trickster. It leads you to think you’re “helping,” when you may actually be enabling the addiction.

We found ourselves immersed in the world of substance abuse long before David’s heroin addiction was given a name. He struggled with alcohol abuse for many years and was, in fact, an alcoholic, but we couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see that. We made excuses—he was going through a tough time, he made some bad decisions, he would grow out of it. Each excuse gave him our unspoken permission to go farther down the black hole of his illness.

Our world came to revolve around him, what he was doing, his decisions, his state of mind. We tailored our actions to his behaviors—something I couldn’t see at the time, but which is crystal clear to me now. We spent hours talking to him, trying to reason him out of his self-destruction, and being pulled back into the deceit every time he would cry and tell us he would get stop and do better. We lived like that for years.

We were codependent.

It wasn’t until an overdose of a pain killer almost killed our son that I snapped out of it. And I was one of the lucky ones. We still had time—to get him help and to begin to recover our own lives and untangle them from his.

I write this not to cast blame on anyone. I believe codependency usually begins from a genuine desire to help another. But remember this: you will never cure another’s addiction. Never. And intertwining your life with an addict’s never helps.

There are excellent resources available to begin to see how your “support” may actually be fueling your loved one’s addiction. If at all possible, seek out a qualified therapist, but you can begin by reading. A classic on codependency is Melody Beattie’s Codependent No More, available on Amazon.

Remember, you didn’t cause addiction, you can’t control it, and you won’t cure it. Just be sure you aren’t fueling it as well as losing yourself in it by being codependent. You and your loved on both deserve better.

Mary Fran Bontempo is a 2x TEDx speaker, author and humorist. Visit her at Her latest book, “The 15 Minute Master—How to Make Everything Better 15 Minutes at a Time,” can be found on Amazon.

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