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Our focus through the years has mostly been on substance addiction. Unless treated, it’s a painful and deadly addiction that in most cases results in untimely death. Addiction is more complicated than just substance addiction. Addiction comes in many forms. With substance addiction it’s very clear in a short space of time that the individual is struggling with addiction. It’s hard to hide a body ravaged from the side effects of drugs. Alcohol can take a little more time to make itself externally seen so it can stay hidden longer that drug addiction. But inevitably, these substances will eventually destroy the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual lives of those who engage in them, and impact those who love them. Substance addiction is clear and easy to spot, but in doing so, have we taken our focus away from the behaviors used to feed that addiction?

We all have needs. We are all internally driven to meet those needs. And where we cannot get what we need or want, how do we behave to get the world around us to respond to our needs? It begins in childhood and in what we needed to do to survive. The individual grows up into adult life and continues to use those behaviours. Some are healthy, some unhealthy. We behave in order to get rewarded. The individual becomes pathologically focused on pursuing reward from engaging in the behavior and/or achieving relief from distress through the behavior. Addiction can develop with any behavior, activity, substance, or object that provides the individual with reward through sensations of pleasure. That addiction can be food, gambling, sex, pornography, technology (internet, television, videogames), shopping, exercise etc. again, not only does it effect the individual, but also those in close contact such as family, spouse, children, friends etc.

We are relational creatures. From the moment we’re born until the moment we die, we will relate to those around us in our world. We need to be interdependent to survive. But what if this inter-dependency is based on co-dependency? On unhealthy patterns fostered in childhood. What if the integral part of our connection with others today in our lives is based on the other meeting our needs instead of us developing healthy ways to responsibly meet our own needs? If we’re engaged in unhealthy patterns of codependency then why/where did we develop these patterns. Should this be where our focus needs to be? Looking at how and where we developed these unhealthy boundaries in how we relate in this world. We only need look at the attention given through our media at the moment on narcissism and narcissistic relationships. Had it not always been this way? People feeding of each other instead of relating in an equal, boundaried, supportive, and loving way. We can remove the unhealthy relationship, just as we can the addiction, but without deeper investigation, awareness, and healing around how we relate in this world, the unhealthy patterns/substance/lifestyle/relationships will re-emerge.

Co-dependency is at the heart of every addiction. It is addictions first cousin. They hang out together. If there’s unhealthy patterns in how we relate in our lives, there’s a very strong chance that we’re codependent and using unhealthy ways of relating with others to meet our needs. There’s an easier way. It’s not straight forward or something we learn overnight, but rather something we grow into and improve as we go along. Coming out of denial is the start of the journey towards reaching the goal of acceptance. With self-acceptance been at the very heart of the journey. If someone around us is struggling with addiction, a good place to start supporting them is to look at our own patterns of addiction. Otherwise, we’re back in the blame merry-go-round game. It makes us dizzy and takes our focus off looking at the only person we can control. Ourselves. Healing codependency is a life long journey of which addiction is a symptom, not the cause.

How are my personal/professional boundaries in my life? It’s a good place to start looking. If we’re content in all of our relationships in our life, then we’ve reached a place where we’re nourishing our own mental health. If not, it’s worth investigating. Until we look deeply at what is unconscious within us, bring it into our conscious being, and begin to heal these patterns, we’ll stay stuck in that addictive cycle. It takes courage to heal, but once your on that journey you’ll see that it’s much easier than the alternative.