When Codependency Feels Like a Disease
April 29, 2020 12:59 PM   Subscribe

Nina Renata Aron on Being in Love With an Addict "If there isn’t coffee or milk at home, I simply wait. The day might take on a different shape, a detour to stop at a café or a trip to the market... This isn’t like that. The necessity of getting drugs and the wolfish entitlement to be high arrive anew each morning with the rosy light of daybreak, and he sets about, diversionless, feeding that urge." posted by I_Love_Bananas (47 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
Beautifully written, although it stressed me out more than anything else I’ve read this month, which is saying something.
posted by roger ackroyd at 1:06 PM on April 29, 2020 [4 favorites]


Jezebel has another excerpt.
posted by Uncle at 1:08 PM on April 29, 2020 [2 favorites]


Having loved a junkie years ago, trying to write beautifully about it is a trap. All you do is ennoble the junkie for a hot second. You make it about them, they make it about heroin, no one makes it about you. If you are in a relationship with a junkie, gnaw off your foot to get away. All the other options are worse, and every moment you stay is stupid and sordid. Don’t valorize any of it, not even your intentions.

As a counter, that junkie paid back some money they had borrowed, years after getting clean. It didn’t feel like a victory.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:22 PM on April 29, 2020 [97 favorites]


She says codependency can be a lot of things, but she didn't mention that it can be a death sentence in the worst cases. No one should ever forget that that too, is on the list.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:37 PM on April 29, 2020 [19 favorites]


If you are in a relationship with a junkie, gnaw off your foot to get away.

What if you're both junkies?
posted by atoxyl at 1:44 PM on April 29, 2020 [2 favorites]


I left my junkie. I was tired of being in a relationship with coke. My friends (I can never repay them) and I packed up my shit and in an hour I was out. Gone. Took much longer to get him completely out of my life. You are their lifeline and having alienated everyone else, their last support. They try to cling to you, promising anything and everything. Don't listen it's all lies.
posted by Gwynarra at 1:52 PM on April 29, 2020 [29 favorites]


He presses play on the music on his phone and pulls the hood of his black sweatshirt—the addict’s veil—gruffly up over his headphones.

The "addict's veil"? A black hoodie? Seriously? I'm sitting here (coincidentally in Oakland) wearing a black hoodie because it's a common and comfortable garment.

I've typed and deleted several versions of this comment for being overly unsympathetic. I'm neurodivergent, lived through my parents' divorce, and have struggled with lifelong suicidal depression, so in some ways I feel like I ought to sympathize. But these excerpts make me think she's spending a lot of time and energy on noodling over and lyrically articulating and romanticizing her experience, and very little on understanding and owning her own shit and getting out of this fucked-up relationship.

I wish her the best. I don't think I'll be reading her book.
posted by Lexica at 1:57 PM on April 29, 2020 [67 favorites]


What if you’re both junkies?

Same advice holds.

Chances of getting clean together are slim. Even if you’re one of the very few, it’s extremely difficult to get clean and work on the co-dependent aspects of yourself at the same time. (Note that I intentionally did not say the co-dependent aspects of the relationship. It comes from within.)

You save yourself first. You can figure out what to do about the other once you have your firm foundation.
posted by Silvery Fish at 2:07 PM on April 29, 2020 [2 favorites]


As someone who was with a junkie for six/seven very formative years, I have a definite wavering opinion over narratives like this, because when I was in the relationship I would use them to romanticize my own and his, experience.

There is so much art and music and poetry infused with the tragic romanticism of heroin, and we ate it all up, however dire and horrible the stories were. Reading this excerpt cuts to the bone- it's true, but it's also triggering. I'd read heroin narratives then and think that my experience was one of desperate love and high art, rather than the cold mechanisms of a disease.

My junkie put the song "Heroin" by Lou Reed on the mixtape he made for me when I was 15, and he was 17, and we had our whole glorious lives stretching before us. It's the ultimate irony that Lou lived longer than he did.
posted by evelvenin at 2:41 PM on April 29, 2020 [29 favorites]


Counterpoint: I was in love with an addict for seven years. After two years together, they got clean, and stayed clean. Went to university. Got a degree. All on their own initiative. It works if you work it.
posted by jordantwodelta at 2:45 PM on April 29, 2020 [16 favorites]


>noodling over and lyrically articulating and romanticizing her experience, and very little on understanding and owning her own shit and getting out of this fucked-up relationship.

She opens by saying this guy is robbing people. "But I love hiiim" is not an adequate response. Quite agree that this reads like a bizarre exercise in self-justification posing as self-awareness.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 2:50 PM on April 29, 2020 [14 favorites]


Chances of getting clean together are slim.

We actually did but honestly I wasn't really going anywhere in particular with that comment. There's something about the original excerpt that lands close to home - probably that it literally, geographically is - and yet some of it is so far away. And then all of the cliched-but-probably-generically-good advice about addiction and relationships. I'm actually interested in reading Aron's story. There are more different junkie stories than you might think, though.
posted by atoxyl at 2:51 PM on April 29, 2020 [8 favorites]


Honesty is supposed to be the hallmark of a loving relationship, but I’m expert at swallowing my next thought just as it’s about to make its way out of my mouth. I say nothing. I don’t know if I even think anything.

The whole thing hit hard, but especially this. Codependency has a way of shrinking and erasing the parts of you that aren't actively involved in caring for or worrying about the other person, or doing all the work just to keep things from collapsing day-to-day. Maintaining excuses for the other person, keeping up appearances, etc. Everything else, your own needs, wants, dreams, goals, thoughts and feelings are pushed off to the side and wither and die. It's so gradual that you don't notice it's happening, and getting to know yourself again is an interesting experience. I lost years of my life in a codependent marriage to an addict, and while I've moved on, there's still some grief there for lost time.
posted by Sparky Buttons at 3:00 PM on April 29, 2020 [36 favorites]


From the outside, it's kind of hard to tell the difference between the way a junkie in search of a fix acts, and the behavior of people we label 'psychopaths' and 'sociopaths'.

And since we know that opiate addiction tends to depress and suppress the endogenous opioid system, it's tempting to wonder whether psychopaths and sociopaths might have defects in their endogenous opioid systems, whether from psychological trauma, brain damage or disease (including tumors), environmental exposures, heredity, or even variations in microbiomes, for a few examples.
posted by jamjam at 3:08 PM on April 29, 2020 [4 favorites]


It's always a fun time when people conflate dependence, addiction, being shitty at relationships, and criminal activity.
posted by wierdo at 3:25 PM on April 29, 2020 [21 favorites]


Chances of getting clean together are slim. Even if you’re one of the very few, it’s extremely difficult to get clean and work on the co-dependent aspects of yourself at the same time. (Note that I intentionally did not say the co-dependent aspects of the relationship. It comes from within.)

You save yourself first. You can figure out what to do about the other once you have your firm foundation.


I had an aunt and uncle who drank together for years. He got sober, but she couldn't. It was heartbreaking, but they were both better off apart in the end.

I hope the author finds something like Al-Anon or other support group, or therapy, or whatever she needs to get herself where she can get her own oxygen mask on. Maybe writing this was a necessary first step.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:04 PM on April 29, 2020 [7 favorites]


From the outside, it's kind of hard to tell the difference between the way a junkie in search of a fix acts, and the behavior of people we label 'psychopaths' and 'sociopaths'.
Haha, I'm here to tell you it's hard to tell the difference from the inside too!

By the time I sought help, I'd basically become a mechanical device for seeking alcohol. I totally think of myself as having been a sociopath while I was using, in the sense of the word that means lack of empathy and awareness as a consequence of environmental rather than hereditary reasons.
She opens by saying this guy is robbing people. "But I love hiiim" is not an adequate response. Quite agree that this reads like a bizarre exercise in self-justification posing as self-awareness.
Al-Anons sometimes describe codependency as being addicted to a person instead of a substance, and in that light, the romanticizing and the rationalizing, the selfishness and the imperviousness to consequences all seem very familiar.
posted by Horkus at 4:12 PM on April 29, 2020 [28 favorites]


Oh, yeah, the Jezebel excerpt is very revealing.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:14 PM on April 29, 2020 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised that people think she's not taking ownership and/or romanticizing the poisonous relationship. This is an excerpt from a whole book, which means there's a whole book's worth of struggling and breaking through slowly, step by step, from the fog of it. The excerpt is obviously from early on in the story when she's still stuck blind in the thick of it, not moving because she can't get over the fact that she can't see. I'm pretty sure there's a narrative arc.
posted by MiraK at 4:29 PM on April 29, 2020 [24 favorites]


Echoing MiraK, this is part of an entire book, and the entire description includes:

She shifts between visceral, ferocious accounts of her affair with K and introspective analyses of the part she plays in his addictions, as well as defining moments in the history of codependency, from the temperance movement to the formation of Al-Anon to more recent research in the psychology of addiction. Good Morning, Destroyer of Men’s Souls is a blazing, bighearted book that illuminates and adds nuance to the messy tethers between femininity, enabling, and love.

I don't have personal experience with exactly what the author describes, but I can relate to being in an unhealthy relationship, and the writing was beautiful and moving enough to make me request it from my library... I look forward to reading it whenever the library opens its doors again.
posted by rogerroger at 4:40 PM on April 29, 2020 [7 favorites]


"But I love hiiim" is not an adequate response.

she never says that, at least in this article - it's an interesting omission

she needs to ask herself what's in it for her - or rather, what lies she's telling herself about what's in it for her

i've been there and even though you might resist, even though you're as little helpful as you can possibly be, you're still going to end up telling lies to yourself about it, you're still going to get involved more than it is healthy to be
posted by pyramid termite at 4:42 PM on April 29, 2020


Sitting in the car at the BART station seems to call forth the worst of my rage—why are these transitional spaces, these thresholds, the moments before separation, so ideal for quick, machine-gun bursts of fighting?

But not this morning. To comment is to risk lighting up the entire, intricate network of resentments that lay like a power grid beneath our relationship. Today the surface is fragile enough. I can tell he doesn’t feel well.


Yeah, I know this part of the story well, at least. It feels like I light up the whole grid all the time these days, every time my partner goes to leave. Codependency, man.
posted by limeonaire at 5:20 PM on April 29, 2020 [3 favorites]


By the time I sought help, I'd basically become a mechanical device for seeking alcohol. I totally think of myself as having been a sociopath while I was using, in the sense of the word that means lack of empathy and awareness as a consequence of environmental rather than hereditary reasons.

See this is the part I don't really identity with, like - man, I put a whooole lot of work into looking out for another person (i.e. making sure we both had drugs every day) while I was addicted to drugs. Not that there was nothing fraught in our relationship. I just always find the idea that an addict can never care about anything besides getting drugs to be - well, not true, from personal experience (and thus a little offensive though I understand that you, specifically, are also speaking from personal experience).
posted by atoxyl at 5:59 PM on April 29, 2020 [8 favorites]


So she’s literally feeding the addiction of the person she claims to love and standing by while he threatens and robs people. Meanwhile he ignores her and uses her for money. What a love story. Without the love. Writing it in romantic terms doesn’t make it romantic.

And if I sound unsympathetic, it’s because I’ve been robbed by addicts before. Multiple times! No amount of girlfriends standing by and claiming to be codependent while making excuses for the junkie, really make up for never being comfortable in your own home again, you know?

I hope she makes zero sales from this book. Zero. No sales, no money for them and one less needle that will go into his arm.
posted by Jubey at 6:00 PM on April 29, 2020 [3 favorites]


It's 2020 and we can stop calling people struggling with very real mental illness "junkies".
posted by colorblock sock at 6:08 PM on April 29, 2020 [33 favorites]


The lack of empathy in this thread is depressing as hell.

I can see arguments againsy romanticizing things, but the author's life and struggles with codependency are her own and she's allowed to write about them.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 6:17 PM on April 29, 2020 [29 favorites]


Colour block, I have my own mental illness from that. It’s probably what stops me being able to write in politically correct terms about the person that gave it to me, you know?
posted by Jubey at 6:21 PM on April 29, 2020 [4 favorites]


So she’s literally feeding the addiction of the person she claims to love and standing by while he threatens and robs people. Meanwhile he ignores her and uses her for money. What a love story. Without the love. Writing it in romantic terms doesn’t make it romantic.

In retrospect it's a little weird that the publisher let her call it "my totally normal and cool and good relationship: a memoir."

No sales, no money for them and one less needle that will go into his arm.

You... you know that when a book is written in the present tense that doesn't mean the event depicted are necessarily occurring in realtime and on an ongoing basis?

(Seriously, am I missing something that implies that this is not a recollection of a past relationship?)
posted by atoxyl at 6:37 PM on April 29, 2020 [22 favorites]


It's definitely not supposed to be a romantic story. Some people in the thread have suggested that this kind of story inevitably romanticizes the situation, but that's a specific argument whereas your response feels pretty over the top and poorly targeted relative to what Aaron actually wrote.

(And yeah, I've been known to make occasional value-neutral use of "junkie" because I've got some insider experience but before you go off about junkie scum please do consider that there are in fact people here who have been hard drug users!)
posted by atoxyl at 6:50 PM on April 29, 2020 [21 favorites]


seconded -- the lack of empathy in this thread is, indeed, depressing as hell.
posted by capnsue at 7:35 PM on April 29, 2020 [14 favorites]


The excerpt briefly mentions child support, and I'd love to hear from the child whose mother spent a thousand a month on her new boyfriend's heroin.
posted by jeather at 8:11 PM on April 29, 2020 [6 favorites]


It takes most people in abusive relationships 7 or more tries before they leave for good. Way more, in some cultures and in underserved areas. Most cigarette smokers quit over and over before they finally quit. Blaming, shaming and generally being smug about how you know better and they should just quit - the drugs, the man, the drinks, the damn whatever - is unproductive at best, actively harmful at worst. Thank the gods for your privilege and luck that you have never handed an addict you loved your last $40.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:50 PM on April 29, 2020 [29 favorites]


Sure, this is probably just the beginning of her book and hopefully she gets out of the relationship and goes on to get a better perspective and so forth, but maybe some of the people counseling empathy in this thread could have a little for the people in this thread who have been through that hell--especially the double winners, like me, who have been both the addict and the codependent--and get this sort of reaction when we see someone else doing the same damn thing that we went through.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:59 PM on April 29, 2020 [5 favorites]


If the collective we of society started treating heroin addicts as suffering from a disease, and accorded them the sympathy and dignity they deserve, instead of dirtbag criminals who need tough love, there would be a lot fewer people whom they would sink their dependent claws into just because they were the first person to come along and show them some basic human kindness.

I know literally hundreds of junkies and every last one of them has suffered early emotional trauma that I can barely fathom. Probably just a coincidence I suppose.

It’s true that no one person can save any of them, but we could all save all of them if we chose.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:10 PM on April 29, 2020 [47 favorites]


"All the other options are worse, and every moment you stay is stupid and sordid. Don’t valorize any of it, not even your intentions."

Being married to a heroin addict, who is in methodone treatment, and having talked extensively about our personal and societal experiences with drugs and drug culture, and having gone out with him and on my own to buy heroin (as a street buyer newbie) when the methadone randomly didn't work and he was in incredible physical and withdrawal agony, I'm just going to say it's a bit more nuanced than this description. Addicts are people, not junkie automatons.
posted by Evilspork at 2:18 AM on April 30, 2020 [25 favorites]


Empathy isn't something to valorize? Wow.
posted by Evilspork at 2:20 AM on April 30, 2020 [4 favorites]


She's a hell of a writer. This bit stood out to me:

Addiction is biological, of course, but that isn’t all. It’s emotional and psychological. Often, the addict retrofits an entire philosophy of life in order to justify his behavior.

It seems to me this obviously applies to her as much as it does to her deadbeat lover, and I think the lyrical noodling (to borrow a phrase) serves to demonstrate or underscore that point. Underneath the telling there's a showing, even showmanship, of the exasperating flights of fancy, the Potemkin village of self-awareness where addiction dwells.
posted by dmh at 2:31 AM on April 30, 2020 [10 favorites]


Couldn't read past the line about child support. I don't know if she successfully is able to write about heroin without romanticizing it in this book but I think it's almost impossible to do so, and this excerpt falls into a familiar track in that regard, as lovely as her prose is. So it's not for me.

I will say, those of us who aren't as closely or recently touched by addiction, are also only human. So what I chose to take from this is a reminder about how I too can deceive myself, hurt myself, and hurt my loved ones when deeply buried in my own narrow perspective.
posted by latkes at 5:35 AM on April 30, 2020 [11 favorites]


Couldn't read past the line about child support.

This was the first line that really challenged me, because it was a reminder that the addict/enabler dyad often affect so many people outside their little dynamic. In another essay she's written about parenthood, Aron makes it clear that she chafes against "conventional" parenting expectations in her social cohort (academics in Berkeley, California) and she wishes society positioned the ongoing labor of parenting as cooler, less fraught with the cultural and economic stresses of life in 21st century America. I found myself re-reading that essay and the excerpt and wondering if Aron thinks that raising her kids to see the daily mechanics of addiction and codependence is doing them a favor. I wonder how her kids feel. I wonder how her co-parent feels about the whole situation.

In another piece, Aron levels a potent media critique -- "The proliferation of a kind of heroin porn may be normalizing the epidemic, but it is failing to humanize it" -- and another review on a memoir from an addict's sister brings a clear-eyed, big-picture verve to the thorny issues of addiction and codependency versus love and support. Maybe that's the advance of essays over memoirs; in an essay, you get to the point faster and in a memoir, you can walk people through every step of your own journey, including the dead ends and switchbacks.

For a different take on what it means to love and support an addict, I recommend Kate O'Neill's multi-part reportage on her sister's death from opioid addiction and the larger societal issues that make being an addict, being in recovery, or trying to support an addict is another approach to the same topic. I hope O'Neill's turning her work into a book; it would go well with Sam Quinones Dreamland, Beth Macy's Dopesick and Nick Reding's Methland.
posted by sobell at 9:32 AM on April 30, 2020 [8 favorites]


I finished the whole book between yesterday and today. I have too many thoughts to summarize in this comment and will likely come back to post again later, but for now...

I read the Jezebel excerpt yesterday and was intrigued but unsure if it would be a typical romanticizing addiction story and if it would talk about codependency in the victim blaming way I’m allergic to. I looked up some reviews and saw that she’s coming from a feminist perspective on recovery and addiction narratives and decided to download it.

To briefly respond to some of the concerns in this thread:

She uses the romanticizing language self consciously and later goes on to deconstruct how the language and narratives we use about addiction impact how those involved (family, partners, the public) experience it and public health outcomes.

She is coming from a perspective of deconstructing gender norms in the heterosexual couple, myths of love and romance and individualism in the West, and gendered constructs about addiction and codependency in Western psychological literature.

There’s a lot more in the book than it seems from the excerpts.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 1:48 PM on April 30, 2020 [15 favorites]


Hey, can we please go easy with the word “junkie”? I work in peer support for people with addiction issues, and we consider it to be almost a slur. I’m not excusing the behaviour- believe me, I have both been the problem and been the support for other people with the problem.. and it’s just not on. Find another way to express the sentiment maybe without using that particular word.
posted by Philby at 3:17 PM on April 30, 2020 [13 favorites]


So many of the comments in this thread hurt my heart - even as I always appreciate the reminder of how much devastation some people in the thick of addiction can cause to the people who love them. I mean, I will be reading this book.

My job for the past decade has been to provide harm reduction services to people who use drugs - in the hopes of keeping them alive and as healthy as possible. I love my clients so very, very much. And I am vividly aware, at the same time, of the trail of destruction that so many people in active addiction leave behind them. That destruction is an intense source of pain for my clients - usually smothered by more drug use - and I am always in literal awe of anyone who manages to take any steps towards any sort of recovery with all of that weight on their shoulders/soul. (I mean, I did some vaguely shitty things 30 years ago that no one else remembers and memories of that can sometimes stop me in my tracks with shame.) Watching people try to dig their way out of years of awfulness is excruciating and I am always so grateful that my colleagues and I can be a source of gentle acceptance and kindness and softness in that process.

It's easy to romanticize drug use - addiction - for a short period of time. I appreciate that she apparently started with that as she wrote, because I think that's where a lot of people get trapped. To be clear, I would never, ever, suggest that anyone stay in any relationship with someone who is destroying them - including family members. But I understand why people do. The families I know are caught between "you should run like hell and let them hit rock bottom" and "how could you abandon your child in their time of need?" You're an idiot for allowing them to be in your life vs you should be fixing them. And god help you if your loved one dies as a result of their addiction.

I read the comments here and the excerpt from the book and just became really overwhelmingly grateful for all the people I work with - the peer workers, the social workers, the nurses and physicians, and everyone else who can still see people with addictions as human beings and who value them. Who are aware of the awfulness but have the emotional/professional distance to still show up every day to try to help - knowing that family and friends have long-since tapped out, in most cases. Every single one of us has an appreciation on some level for what our clients' family/friends have endured - but we tuck it aside in order to be able to show up and support those clients. Even with solid professional boundaries, it's hard, hard work emotionally. Families and loved ones don't have that luxury.

Oof, I have feelings.
posted by VioletU at 3:56 PM on April 30, 2020 [23 favorites]


Seriously, in my professional circles it’s referred to as “the j word” and throwing it around is a seriously problematic issue that we’ve had to fight to remove from our lexicon. Please reconsider your language choices. You can talk about a difficult, often heartbreaking and horrifying issue without having to default to hateful language. Please reconsider it.
posted by Philby at 5:07 PM on April 30, 2020 [4 favorites]


Now you got me thinking Philby, is it the same people in these addiction threads that are coming in and using the J-word to be intentionally insulting or is it just newbs who don't know any better?
posted by some loser at 6:20 AM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]


I hate the words news junkie as much as I hate the “holic” suffix (chocoholic, fabriholic) Addiction is infinitely cruel and deadly and still too misunderstood to be treated as if it were a mere self-indulgence or hobby.

I can’t bear to read more than a few sentences of either of the excerpts both because they make me so angry and cut so close to the bone. As the well-educated and dramatic addict daughter of two well-educated and dramatic parents, I recognize instantly the place this is coming from.
posted by jfwlucy at 8:45 AM on May 1, 2020 [2 favorites]


I'm honestly appalled at the stigmatizing language being thrown around in this thread. I really thought better of you, Metafilter. Especially those of you saying you are working with people who use drugs but still tossing out "junkie" and "addict". What the fuck, people? Do I need to make a MeTa about this? Words matter.

The attitudes towards people who use drugs are pretty shitty, too, but I'm reading them as coming from trauma responses. All of them just make my job harder. And I bet many of you understand how shame and stigma doesn't work for things like weight and body image, or sexuality, but you have no problem thinking it will somehow magically work for substance use.

I'm tired, and angry, and think I need to stay off Metafilter for a while.
posted by gingerbeer at 1:57 PM on May 1, 2020 [17 favorites]


The attitudes - or the use of the language in a way that clearly expresses contempt - bother me more personally than just seeing the language, but it is probably best to leave the language to people who have been part of that drug culture.
posted by atoxyl at 2:21 PM on May 2, 2020


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