People sitting in a circle counseling

When I talk to someone whose life revolves around an addict, their lives feel familiar to me.

We are beholden to someone else’s moods.

We tiptoe around, catering to someone else’s whims, so as to not upset them and deal with the repercussions.

We beg and cajole and nag someone to do things for themself. And when they don’t, we pick up the slack.

We alone carry a burden we once agreed to carry together.

Melody Beattie holds that the rules around codependence are all greyed out if the person you’re controlling is ill and cannot be expected to take care of themselves. I wonder if that’s true. Does illness somehow make this toxic dynamic healthy?

How many of us care for someone who demands we keep the extent of their illness, or its very existence, a secret? So many of us. When they say they are not feeling well, we rearrange our lives. We make up excuses for them and lie about why we are absent. How is this different than lying to keep the secrets of an addict?

I wonder when she’s really feeling sick and when she simply does not want to do something. There is a suspicious correlation between things she does not want to do and the days she is too ill to go out. There is a similar correlation between when she is feeling very well and able to go out and plans she is excited about. I understand every illness has an element of psychosomatic pain and symptoms to it, but forgive me if I feel manipulated.

A diagnosis or a list of mysterious symptoms so quickly becomes a pass for being a shitty partner. They become like a child in terms of how much responsibility they are expected to bear. They remain an adult in having a full vote as a partner in terms of all the important things. It is the well spouse alone who carries the burdens. The rewards are shared.

It feels disingenuous to go to Al-Anon. I am not married to an addict, there is no alcohol or drug abuse in this. I’m not worried about how much she’s drinking. I am not trying to control that.

But let’s do down the list. I am lying for her. I am cancelling plans. I am worrying about her taking medications as prescribed, doing PT. I wish I could force her to act as a true partner, to really do her best. I wonder what she’s hiding from me, when her symptoms are exaggerated as an excuse to avoid responsibility. I worry that my upsetting her will have a negative impact on her health. I am hurt, I am embarrassed, our holidays are in her control. I feel like a failure for my inability to cure her or take away her pain or even make her comfortable. I feel angry, confused, and depressed. Sometimes I imagine if she were healthy our problems would be solved.

When do we form Caregivers Anonymous? Because I know plenty of people out there understand.


Written by Guest Author
The Caregiver Space accepts contributions from experts for The Caregiver's Toolbox and provides a platform for all caregivers in Caregiver Stories. Please read our author guidelines for more information and use our contact form to submit guest articles.

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1 Comment

  1. No need for Caregivers Anonymous. There already exists a 12 step program for those of us who feel this way. It’s called Co-dependents Anonymous. The CoDA program serves those seeking healthy, loving relationships with themselves and others whether or not addictions exist in their lives. I was a caregiver for my husband who was chronically ill. I learned the behaviors from my parents. So many people in our meeting rooms have been in this situation. In CoDA, I have learned the difference between caring and caretaking. I have learned to set and hold boundaries for me. I know that self-care is not selfish and that like on an airplane, if I don’t put the mask on myself first, I can’t help anyone else.


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