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Hello, My Name is Judy...
by Judy Shepps Battle, MA

Addiction is a multifaceted disease. It affects not only the person who suffers from this progressive and chronic disorder, but also those individuals (the "co-addicts") who love the addict and are enmeshed in the addict's life. It is a family disease that affects spouse and children as well as generations yet to be born. Ultimately, it affects all of society because the dollars lost due to addiction-related illness and lack of productivity are astronomical. The emotional costs for all concerned are incalculable.

An individual may become addicted to substances (alcohol, tobacco, chemicals in foods, and other drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, or heroin) or activities (gambling, eating or sex). Whatever the drug of choice, the person's health -- physical, mental, and spiritual -- is negatively impacted.

Some suggest that any compulsive activity can be addictive. The words "addiction" and "co-addiction" or "co-dependency" have become part of our everyday vocabulary -- so much so that it is common to refer to a person who works long hours as a "workaholic"; to refer to someone with uncontrolled spending as a "spendaholic"; or even to call a person who loves chocolate a "chocoholic." Centers that treat "Internet addiction" have sprung up around the country and self-help groups exist to deal with an assortment of problematic conditions and situations.

There is no cure for the disease of addiction but there are ways to cope with its symptoms. The use of modern medicine, psychology, and old-fashioned support groups permits periods of remission and fosters the ability of both the addict and co-addict to live happy and productive lives.

The following story from a 12-Step meeting illustrates the many facets and feelings in an addict's life, and how one can move toward recovery:

"Hi, my name is Judy. I am an addict, co-dependent and, by the grace of the Creator, gratefully recovering.

"I was in such a different place 19 years ago. My marriage was falling apart and I was in deep despair. I turned to food and anything else that would drug me. I tried to match my husband drink-for-drink in public, and lived my life in perpetual fear. My voice had become mute and buried. I wanted to kill myself but was afraid to abandon my three very young kids.

"I felt such intense anger toward the person who suggested I go to an Al-Anon meeting. It was a good thing she didn't say OA or ACOA or NA or any of the other 'A's that became part of my life in the next 19 years -- I would have been totally overwhelmed. I knew my life was unmanageable, but I thought it was only because I hadn't found the right solution.

"At first I couldn't stand the people I met at Al-Anon. I took their inventory and found them totally lacking. Especially jarring was the fact that they laughed and hugged each other. Surely they didn't have the same horrible life I had, and I was not going to fake positive feelings when I felt so wretched.

"Still, I went to a few meetings. Even though I tried to remain aloof, I participated by commenting on the readings just to show I could play the 'game' that I thought I saw going on around me. I decided I didn't need the people there or their Program, and I took off on my own for another few weeks.

"My life got worse and my family and friends grew tired of hearing me complain. I felt even more depressed because people kept telling me to 'do something about it.' I just wanted someone to acknowledge the awful things that were happening in my life that I could not control.

"I went back to Al-Anon, to a different meeting, and listened a bit more closely. Eventually, I started going out for coffee with the folks after meetings, and even got friendly enough with someone to ask her to sponsor me. Wonder of all wonders, I even began to sponsor folks myself!

"An Alateen group met at the same time as my Al-Anon meeting, so I took my kids with me, although they thought their experience was 'majorly dumb.' I, however, found respite and hope. Gradually the message that I was to focus on me and not the alcoholic in my life began to sink in. I started to talk about me and learned to care about me. That led me to address my own addictions, as well as my family-of-origin issues. Twelve years later, I added recovery from co-dependency to my Anonymous Tutorial.

"I am still growing and still working on Remedial Surrender. I have discovered a spirituality that makes me smile and brings positive energy into my life. I try to give back in whatever way I can and practice these principles in all my affairs. I do not know if it has helped 'my affairs,' but it certainly has helped me."

U.S. Department of Health, National Institute of Mental Health, "The Impact of Mental Illness on Society,"

"Treatment of the Obsessive Personality," Salzman, Leon, M.D., Jason Aronson, New York 1985.

Copyright 2000 Judy Shepps Battle

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