A few mornings back, I came upon an excerpt from a book my sister sent me a couple years ago, along with a note that said: “This is me! This is me!”
Here’s what she sent:
“I have been learning that the life of a caretaker is as addictive as the life of an alcoholic. Here the intoxication is the emotional relief that temporarily comes when answering a loved one’s need…
While much good can come from this, especially for those the caretaker attends, our care itself becomes a drink by which we briefly numb a worthlessness that won’t go away unless constantly doused by another shot of self-sacrifice…
At the heart of this is the ever-present worry that unless we are doing something for another, there is no possibility of being loved. So the needs of others stand behind a bar that, try as he or she will, the caretaker cannot resist…” –From The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo.
I think sending this was my sister’s way of saying, See Heather, I have compulsions, too! We’re not so unalike. I understand you and your alcoholism, but do you really understand me? I need to be needed because that’s what feels like love to me.
Something clicked. I understood for the first time ever that I’m not the only one whose compulsions have cost me. My sister has paid a high price for her addiction to self-sacrifice: As long as she kept impulsively giving, she couldn’t grasp that she’d still be loved even if she gave nothing.
During my active alcoholism, not surprisingly, I took my sister’s care-taking nature for granted. Since she liked to be selfless without expecting much in return, I thought I was doing her a favor by cooperating.
When on occasion she complained that she was more invested in our relationship than I was, I blew her off as being too needy and over-sensitive. So what if we don’t talk unless she calls me? So what if I forgot the plans we made? Why did she have to take things so personally?
Thankfully, I’ve changed a lot, and my sister has, too. But both of us had to hit “bottoms” around our compulsions and seek outside help to discover a healthier relationship.
Still, escaping old patterns has been difficult. It’s just so tempting to go into default mode and play a childhood role. Katherine is the dutiful, good girl who takes care of everybody. Heather is the snotty brat who manages to get away with murder.
These roles have been so engrained in us since childhood that trying to change them has at times felt like trying to knock a marble out of a deep groove by simply blowing on it.
Still, more and more, we are learning to love each other with conscious intention. She keeps healthy boundaries and doesn’t take my occasional thoughtlessness so personally. I affirm her importance to me and do my part to tend our relationship.
It’s not perfect, but it’s a beautiful process.
We all know addiction and co-dependency tend to run in families. But guess what? Recovery does too.
I’d love to hear from you today. Are you a caretaker type of person, or do you attract them?