Before and beyond substance abuse are many underlying issues that contribute to drug, alcohol, or even behavioral addiction, which further supports the view of addiction as a mental illness. These dysfunctional patterns are powerlessness, enabling, and co-dependency. These might be patterns that you grew up with. They might even be patterns that feel comfortable to you. However, they are those can contribute the cycles of addiction.
The following will address and define these patterns to provide you with a means to rise above them. Knowing about the patterns you keep can facilitate freeing yourself from them and creating relationships that are healthy, including the one with yourself.
To begin, it’s important to know that all addiction is rooted in powerlessness. Ultimately, the addict hands over his or her power to the substance or behavior he or she is addicted to. Powerlessness is a feeling, often an unconscious one, that leads to believing that power is outside of one’s control. In other words, if you did poorly on your chemistry exam and you can admit that you did not study all the concepts covered in class or that you were distracted during your studying, you are exhibiting a sense of personal power and taking responsibility for your grade. However, if you feel that your low grade is because the teacher does not like you or because the concepts are too hard or because you had an argument the morning of the exam, you are handing over a sense of power to external sources.
This is having what is sometimes called an external locus of control. To explain this further, psychologist Julian Rotter introduced and coined the term, locus of control, in the 1950’s. To put it more simply, your locus of control is what you deem to have power over the successes and failures in your life.
Codependent relationships often include those who experience some form of powerlessness. In relationships, that powerlessness and locus of control often get played out. The belief in being powerless in life leads to a dysfunctional relying on the other person for things that one can and should do on their own, such as being financially stable. This underlying belief in being powerless seems to attract an enabler who in turn believes that no one else can perform a task as well as they can. Enablers tend to take control of a situation thinking that they are being helpful without seeing that it would be more healthy to allow the other person to do that task on his or her own.
To enable means to assist, facilitate, or make possible. However, the pattern of enabling in families with an addict can be indirectly harmful and unhealthy. Instead of helping the one who has a substance abuse problem, a spouse or sibling might do things for the addict that he could be and should be doing for himself. To help someone is to assist in a task that he or she cannot do alone, such as calling the pharmacy when your spouse has lost his voice from strep throat. Enabling is completing a task that he can do on his own, such as paying the bills for an addict who hasn’t or can’t work because of his addiction. Although enabling is common among families with addictions, it is a dysfunctional pattern that can occur in any family or relationship.
Along these lines, relationships will usually have a pull between separateness and togetherness. Each person in the relationship will try to find a balance, albeit unconsciously, between wanting to separate and be an individual and wanting to relate more deeply with their partner. However, in co-dependent relationships there is frequently a need to merge to feel a sense of completeness and power through the other person.
Rising above these patterns is actually a path towards love. If you are in fact addicted to drugs or alcohol, the process of healing and recovery is a process toward a love that exists inside. Instead of seeking for love in others, in drinking or in using, the only place where love can be found – within – is reclaimed. That one place within that needed and continues to need love, although forgotten up until now, eventually becomes an abundant source of love, laughter, and joy.