The chemistry between him and me was electric. Sparks flew. Chemistry sizzled. He was the handsomest man I’d ever seen. And he was trying to kiss little ol’ me. I could barely breathe.
I was twenty-four and he was my first (ex) alcoholic love interest. From then on, the pattern repeated itself on auto-pilot. If I had chemistry with a guy…if sparks flew…he was always 1) a current or ex alcoholic, 2) middle-aged and 3) married.
No one could figure out my alcoholic attraction, least of all, me. No one in my immediate family is a drinker. In fact, they’re all very vocal in their disapproval of alcohol in general. Hell! They don’t even cook with wine…more’s the pity IMHO.
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Then in 2003 I stumbled across the books about codependence by Melody Beattie. Boy! Did they open my eyes. This was it! She described my dynamics perfectly.
Here’s just a few of the strongest codependent traits I relate to, with thanks to CODA’s (Codependents Anonymous) website. And yes, I did attend CODA meetings.
Codependents often. . . :
• are extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long.
• compromise their own values and integrity to avoid rejection or anger.
• put aside their own interests in order to do what others want.
• are hypervigilant regarding the feelings of others and take on those feelings.
• are afraid to express their beliefs, opinions, and feelings when they differ from those of others.
• give up their truth to gain the approval of others or to avoid change.
• believe people are incapable of taking care of themselves.
• freely offer advice and direction without being asked.
• have to feel needed in order to have a relationship with others.
Codependents often. . . :
• have difficulty identifying what they are feeling.
• perceive themselves as completely unselfish and dedicated to the well-being of others.
• think they can take care of themselves without any help from others.
• mask pain in various ways such as anger, humor, or isolation.
• have difficulty making decisions.
• judge what they think, say, or do harshly, as never good enough.
• value others’ approval of their thinking, feelings, and behavior over their own.
• do not perceive themselves as lovable or worthwhile persons.
• seek recognition and praise to overcome feeling less than.
• are unable to identify or ask for what they need and want.
have trouble setting healthy priorities and boundaries.
There was only one problem with discovering codependence.
There was no reason for it.
The alcoholics were conspicuous by their absence.
I was puzzled. My family was puzzled. And I remained puzzled for a decade until that blessed day in 2013 when, thank God, I stumbled across the topic of narcissism. Page 1 of my notebook entitled “Narcissism & Other Shit #1 of 7” contains the heading “Co-D.”
It had taken a decade, but I finally had a working hypothesis.
What if the narcissist’s insatiable need for Narcissistic Supply mirrors
an alcoholic’s insatiable need for liquor.
That would explain why codependence was modeled and taught in my family. It would explain why I was a model codependent myself. And it would explain my irresistible attraction for alcoholics, current or reformed.
Oddly enough, I haven’t been around too many situations where alcohol was actually being imbibed. On the few occasions when it did flow, I didn’t realize the alcohol was changing the behavior of those around me. But I’ve read Suzanne Somers’ book about her childhood with an alcoholic father, so I have a few clues about alcoholic dynamics as they parallel narcissistic dynamics.
Alcoholics’ booze vomit comes from their stomachs. Narcissists’ emotional vomit comes from their hearts. In any case, cleaning it up is our problem. We didn’t cause the upset. We didn’t barf up that stinkin’ pile of vitriol. But we’re blamed for it. If we’d only (fill-in-the-blank) , this wouldn’t have happened, they say. It’s our responsibility to clean up their puke.
Ya’ can’t relax around an alcoholic. They may appear expansive and ebullient now…but three swigs later they may come out swingin’. And narcissists are just the same. You live on pins-and-needles because one wrong word, the involuntary flicker of an eyebrow or who-knows-what may set them off at any time. And you’re their punching bag whether you “caused” their upset or not. If they’re feeling cranky, never fear! They’ll find something about you to pin their angst on…even if it’s just the way you walk.
Codependents are always there for their alcoholic. They may have friends, plans and dreams but they abandon them. It’s their “job” to be there for their alcoholic, try to get ’em to pace themselves, hold their head while they vomit and then clean up the mess. And so it is with the victims of narcissists.
We abandon our selves, our lives, our friends, our hopes and dreams to try to hold them together…emotionally speaking. When someone wounds their fragile egos and they go into narcissistic collapse, we fawn, praise and counsel. We listen to their screams of rage, shuddering each time a fist hits the tabletop. We hold their head while they vomit their anger and then clean up the mess while we prop up their fragile egos for the umpteenth time.
Invisible and Invalid
Just as alcoholics are callously oblivious and ungrateful towards their codependent caretaker, so narcissists shove us back into a dark, dusty corner when they recover, with our help, from narcissistic collapse. They sail off into the sunset, head held high and dukes up, while we cry ourselves to sleep…
…that is, if we can cry. For we don’t really know what or if we feel anymore. Life is just a blur of puzzling pain, none of which is valid, we are assured. We have a great life, our narc has told us. We outta’ be grateful! We have everything we need and they’re protecting us from dangerous stuff, like freedom.
Everything we think, want, desire, hope, plan, dream…and especially FEEL…is utterly invalid. We know…because they told us. That’s why we try to be as invisible as possible.
But There’s Much More!
One thousand words later…and I’ve only just scratched the surface. But you get my drift. I’d encourage you to google “narcissism+codependence” to further explore this fascinating topic…especially if your head-over-heels in love with an alcoholic.
I know. I was there.