I don’t hear the word detachment used very often anymore in addictions treatment or when talking with those in recovery. Detachment  was a term taught to me in the late 1960s, and it is a concept, like many from that era, that can and need to be applied still today.

To me, detachment means a healthy distancing from something that can be harmful to you if you stay attached. Sounds simple, but it is not. It is the practice of loving a person from a safe distance and giving yourself space to heal and to focus on your own well-being. It is, for me, the antithesis if co-dependency.

Co-dependency is another one of those old terms; originally it meant being addicted to an addict or alcoholic; it has since come to mean being dependent on the approval of others or making something better for someone else in order to bolster your own self-worth. For example, in my past marriage I focused most of my attention on making sure my husband’s precarious self-worth was intact by  conscientiously trying not to criticize him or disagree with him in public, or at home for that matter. Doing so meant I had his approval, was a good wife, and was fulfilling my wedding vows. It also kept me safe from his anger. What it did to me, however,  was almost kill me. I became depressed, I gained over a hundred pounds, I became a Type II diabetic, and I was admitted to the hospital for what they thought was congestive heart failure. And still, I continued to focus my life on supporting him rather than myself until the day he left the state with another woman.

Had I been able to practice detachment, I would have been more able to view his behavior objectively, to apply tough love, and to start being aware of  and trying to meet my own needs. I could  have started lifting the veil of denial  and seeing the reality of our relationship for what it was rather than having it ripped away after many years of self-denial and consequent self-harm.

How do you practice detachment? You have to realize you can love a person and not their behavior. You have to realize that you are responsible for only yourself and your own actions. You need to “walk in your own shoes.” You have to learn to like yourself enough to realize you don’t need the approval of others to give you superficial self-worth.

Co-dependency (a character defect) can rear up and “bite us in the ass”  of those of us who work in the field of addictions whenever we least expect it. Yes, we are professionals and we should know better than to feel responsible when a friend, loved one, or co-worker succumbs to the disease of addiction——but we are also human. We would not be in the profession we are in unless we felt responsible to some extent for those we serve. However, there is a crucial difference between wanting someone to get better and feeling responsible for whether they do or not. Our self-worth and our self-image of ourselves as addictions professionals should not be based on how well those we care about recover or how badly they relapse. In  both co-dependency and healthy detachment we have to let those we care about be responsible for their own success and failure.

Using healthy detachment and making progress on letting go of my co-dependency tendencies have been a direct result of working a recovery  program. I had to realize that particular part of my life was unmanageable, and I had to let God restore me to sanity one day at a time. In other words, I had to use spiritual tools to give myself the tools I need to live my life and not that of another.  I learned to be dependent on God and the “God within”—-I traded co-dependency for a healthy dependency that gives me the gift of walking in my own shoes one day at a time.

I seem to be rambling this morning. Please comment on your ideas regarding healthy detachment and co-dependency and the part they play in recovery and or spirituality. May God bless and keep you.