One of my main duties while working as a mental health clinician in a regional jail was monitoring suicide watch. This was back in the day when all the inmate was given to wear was a paper, hospital gown in order to prevent hanging. This was particularly unpleasant since the material was flimsy and the inmate would invariably end up naked in a short time. I would have to check suicide watch daily in order to ensure that inmates who were not suicidal would be released quickly. Although they were constantly monitored by jail personnel, the experience could be brutal, especially over the weekend.
On one particular occasion, I received a request to see an inmate who had scratched his wrist in order to be seen by the clinician. When I arrived, he assured me that he was not suicidal but that he was in need of assistance. “I need you to call my father,” he said. The request took me aback at first and I asked him why he was not able to do this himself. He related that he had lied to, cheated, stolen from and betrayed his father’s trust and that now, he would not take his collect calls from jail. Thinking that the inmate was remorseful and wanting to make amends, I asked him what he wanted me to say to his father. “I need him to bail me out,” he stated without emotion or hesitation.
Appalled at his brashness and manipulative behavior, I decided to let his actions have their intended effect. I assured him that I would take care of his problem and I knew just what he needed. It was Friday and I simply walked off without taking any further action. On Monday when I returned, the inmate had spent the entire weekend on suicide watch and was not at all happy to see me. I told him that part of his problem was that someone had always bailed him out. I admonished him to remember this weekend, naked in a jail cell, and to promise himself that he would never allow his addiction to put him in that position again. Bail outs prevent one from experiencing the consequences of diseased thinking and behavior, and delay the necessary pain that motivates one to change.
No doubt, his father had bailed him out many times, probably in more ways than one. While his father may have felt that he was showing love in protecting his son from the consequences of his actions, he was actually giving his progeny a free pass to over indulge and become further entangled in addiction. An addict needs a co-dependent in order to continue feeding his addiction. Co-dependents need the addict to feel needed, to rescue, to care for and to get validation. Although their actions are destined to fail, co-dependents believe they are showing love by being martyrs and sacrificing for the addict. This is a pattern that was established early in childhood and it is tied to a belief system which presupposes that one’s worth and value comes from performance and service to others.
Addiction and Co-dependency go hand in hand. The solution is not simply to take responsibility for their actions or just be more firm. They both need to address irrational belief systems of the Ego and deal with underlying trauma. Their Egos have become entangled with addiction which has infected them to their core. In order to be released, much Acceptance and Surrender work needs to be done. Both will have to come to the conclusion that they are worthy apart from their behavior and learn to love themselves without the need for substitutes and coping mechanisms. It isn’t so much an issue of being “responsible” as it is becoming liberated to truly be one’s Self.