By Melody Beattie
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The codependents in my life didn’t understand me, and the misunderstanding was mutual. I didn’t understand me, and I didn’t understand them. My first professional encounter with codependents occurred years later, in 1976. At that time in Minnesota, addicts and alcoholics had become chemically dependent, their families and friends had become significant others, and I had become a recovering addict and alcoholic. By then, I also worked as a counselor in the chemical dependency field, that vast network of institutions, programs, and agencies that helps chemically dependent people get well.
I even saw one woman give and suffer so much that she died of “old age” and natural causes at age 33. She was the mother of five children and the wife of an alcoholic who had been sent to prison for the third time. I worked with women who were experts at taking care of everyone around them, yet these women doubted their ability to take care of themselves. I saw mere shells of people, racing mindlessly from one activity to another. I saw people-pleasers, martyrs, stoics, tyrants, withering vines, clinging vines, and, borrowing from H.
She refused, she said, to be tricked and deceived again. Gradually, she alienated herself from her friends and activities. She was too worried to work; she was too ashamed to talk to her friends. Her husband had several more affairs; her friends were frustrated with her for staying with him and constantly whining about how terrible it was to be his wife. “I couldn’t stand the sight of my husband. I had nothing but contempt for him. Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to leave him,” Sheryl reported later.