Codependency can be deadly, no one is “fixable,” and the only person you control is yourself.
As an ambitious man, it’s easy to think you can fix anything. Get a checklist, some time, and nothing is unfixable. From tangled fishing lines to broken tents, everything is just a “fix” away. Many boys are labeled as ADD early in life when they “hyper focus” on a project. This is just their instinct to fix things latching on and not letting go. In many ways, this is a great trait. But when it comes to relationships, especially with addicts, this codependency can destroy even the strongest of men. People are not things, and many are not fixable.
This story is being lived out by many men who can’t let go. I know a guy, we’ll call him “Rodger.” He’s a smart guy, with everything going for him. He is good-looking, ambitious, and well educated. He is also codependent.
Rodger struggled to the point of depression and anxiety trying to save his wife. His story starts when his second wife went into rehab for prescription drug abuse, although the signs of codependency were there when he married her 15 years earlier.
Most guys who get a girl pregnant after a few weeks of dating are terrified. Rodger was relieved. He knew that this was his opportunity to shine. He could “step up to the plate” and “do what was right”. It didn’t matter that he barely knew her and they had nothing in common. He spent the next 12 years trying to mold her into a person she wasn’t destined to become. It was never a fit. They divorced a few months before their eleventh anniversary. It was only after an affair, meth abuse, and a letter that looked suspiciously like a brewing conspiracy to “get rid of him,” that he even considered divorce. It took five months and about $30,000 for him to get full custody of their three children.
When he met his current wife a few years later, he was in love immediately. From the unprotected sex they had in the restaurant bathroom on their first date, to approximately 10 break ups (she did all the breaking up), he knew she was the one. He never doubted. When she told him she was pregnant after five months, he was excited. Yes, you read that correctly. This was another chance to “turn around” a situation and “step up to the plate.”
His life revolved around his new pregnant girlfriend. His friends disappeared and he barely paid attention to his kids.
Fast-forward a year and a half; he gets a call from the front seat of a smashed in Honda Pilot. She had a few red-bull vodkas and a cocktail of prescription medications. She also had two of their kids in the car. Thankfully, the kids were unharmed. But the testimony stating that she was driving on the wrong side of the road for well over two miles until she hit another car still terrifies him. He spent the next three days unquestioningly liquidating everything he had, including his retirement to hire a lawyer and pay the bail to “rescue” his maiden. A DUI arrest is extremely detrimental to a family’s financial status.
As he spent the first night alone, barely able to sleep, he was horrified at the thought of his wife in jail. He felt her emotions. The sadness, emptiness, hopelessness, anxiety, and utter depression anyone in jail could feel. As for her, it turns out she slept most of the time. She was worried, but Rodger did the bulk of the heavy lifting.
Thankfully he was able to convince her to go into rehab. He wondered what most guys in his shoes think when they send their wife into rehab. As for Rodger, he was worried she would come out 30 days later and not love him anymore.
As a few days became a week, he began to suspect that she wasn’t getting the care she needed. He felt he knew exactly what her problem was, and the facility was not providing her appropriate care. He yelled at her and her counselors to get it right. Soon, he made the call to have her moved to another facility. Then he made a last minute decision to leave her there, not because he thought it was best, but because he thought the new facility didn’t look as nice; after all, she deserved a nice place to sleep.
So there they were, a few months later and a second 30-day rehab stay under her belt, and another attempt to move her after two weeks. This time she was in for binge alcohol drinking. She drank a bottle of Jack Daniels while driving a mountain road on their family vacation. Culminating in the near destruction of that vacation.
Can you imagine the constant feeling of waiting for your spouse to die? Rodger was convinced that she would be dead within a few months. Here was this smart woman with everything to live for who could not stop drinking and getting behind the wheel. It was like she stepped out of her body and into some video game with a junky playing Grand Theft Auto and her driving the car. Every time the phone rang, he was sure it was the police asking him to ID her body. Every time she called and it was her voice, he was waiting for her to tell him an unbelievable story that he would undoubtedly believe and come to her rescue. Rodger didn’t care about anything except her. He knew that HE could protect her, fix her, and make her into the person he always knew she wanted to be.
Fast forward to today:
No one knows if she will fall off the wagon. The statistics aren’t encouraging. Rodger can’t control that. As for him, things have changed. He recognizes that he will not become the man he is destined to become if he doesn’t change. This mindset doesn’t happen overnight, and it isn’t completely ingrained in him, yet. He doesn’t know if he will stay off the path of codependent self-destruction.
Today, however, he knows that he is the only person he can fix, so he figures he’s got better odds working on himself. Rodger spent his entire adult life trying to fix women, all the while not working on himself. He is a smart guy with a lot of talent. It turns out that even with all this mess, he is still pretty successful. Imagine what he could have been if he’d spent his 20s and 30s like the rest of society rather than trying to fix the unfixable.
Today, Rodger loves his wife and is walking a journey with her. He is, however, walking his own journey that stands independently of her. For so long, he identified himself with her and the other women in his life. It always seemed easier to be the hero in a tough situation rather than just be a regular “Joe.” While busy fixing others, we don’t have to take the responsibility of working on the only person we are truly accountable for; ourselves. Do you know anyone like Rodger?
Would you like to help us shatter stereotypes about men?
Receive stories from The Good Men Project, delivered to your inbox daily or weekly.
Photo: Getty Images