During the process of recovery, it clearly comes to light that people always seek the familiar. There is comfort in the familiar. The familiar appears to be a safe place because it is predictable. Unfortunately, just because something is familiar does not mean it is safe.
People in recovery will often place themselves in the middle of situations similar to those they experienced as a child. Only this time, they feel that they are in control and are going to change the outcome and get what they want and need. This can be a big mistake with bad consequences. The addict may marry or “join up” with a partner that puts them right back into that childhood nightmare. That “nightmare” partner is known as a co-alcoholic or co-dependent.
Co-dependents were usually victims at some point in their lives. They may have experienced some form of child abuse from addicted parents. They might have had a weird uncle that was a little too friendly. But, whatever the cause, they now have an over-powering need to be “right.” They will do whatever it takes to be right and get the acknowledgment and recognition they yearn for. The lengths they will go to in order to prove they are right can destroy their judgment. Instead, they will blindly forge forward, ready to prove their point, armed with displaced anger and toxic shame. This combustible combination is the precursor for rage. The inevitable outburst of violence will have devastating effects on themselves, their families, and their children.
Many people in 12 step program recovery will speak about their trouble with the law because of acts of domestic violence they perpetrated on their spouses. It seems they were always working on their anger problem. They often brought up the fact that, through therapy, they became aware that they were also victims of domestic violence. They spoke of instances where they ignored the signals that they were involved with a psychological and emotional perpetrator of abuse. With no apparent provocation, their partner would make belittling, demeaning, condescending jabs at them. They would try to mask many of these jabs under the guise of well-intended motivational exercises because, after all, they are only trying to help you. They will make statements like, “I’m only saying these things because I love you and want you to be the person I know you can be.”
As time goes on and the dysfunction accelerated, they found that attempting to avoid or detach from the agitator only made them angrier and more aggressive. When backed into a corner from the full raging onslaught of mental and emotional abuse perpetrated by the co-dependent, they strike back. With no healthy coping skills to begin with, the alcoholic will lash out and become violent. And once again the co-dependent/co-alcoholic gets to relish in their false martyrdom. They are the helpless victim. Whatever they do is justified. They are good and the physically violent spouse is bad. Most people have heard the saying, “Beat me beat me it feels so good when you stop.” And the dance continues.
When in this blinding, self-centered and self-serving state of aggression, the martyrs have little thought of the consequences to the real innocent victims, the children. The traumatizing effects brought on by the stress, violence and unpredictability can have lasting effects. It is quite common for children who have lived in these environments to develop more anger and resentment with the co-alcoholic/co-dependent for needlessly provoking the alcoholic. The children are being set up to recreate these experiences as adults. The cycle continues, and another generation of abusers is created.
We have laws in our society to protect people from physical domestic violence, and we should. What many people are not aware of is that we have laws to protect us against mental and emotional abuse as well. These laws for domestic violence fall under the category of Disturbing the Peace. Unfortunately, many people are unable to identify domestic violence because it is the norm in their household and quite often the homes of their extended families.
Sometimes life hurts...we don't need to keep proving it to ourselves!
By Cynthia Peterson