October 11, 2017: When Addiction is the Higher Power

~by Louis Templeman


When I visit my mother’s I often wind up sitting with her and my older brother watching a movie he’s shown me at least three times which he has personally watched at least a dozen times. Mom thinks there are fifty or more movies he has saved on her system which he watches over and over.

When she is the first one to arrive in the living room she takes charge of the remote and keeps the TV on Fox News or Trinity Broadcasting Network. They despise each other’s choice of entertainment. As one is amused the other is taken by an entertainment-disorder. I can feel a chronic fog of anxiety brooding in the room like a low-pressure system. It often feels like some eerie storm warnings in the atmosphere of the room; but, so far, no serious ugliness.

They each will catch me alone out of sight of the other to tell me they are going crazy and can’t take much more. My mother loves her oldest son and has resigned herself to the uncomfortable possibility his stay may be a permanent boarder. Even though he kept a good job for forty years, she is persuaded by his lifestyle of the past ten years that he cannot take care of himself. I think she is correct. I watched him slowly lose his possessions, house and vehicle. He’d paid off his first mortgage but the arrears on his large 2nd mortgage took him to foreclosure.

His son hasn’t worked in at least 20 years. He began using pain killers with his son about 5 years before that. They are bound together in a morbid knot of addiction and co-dependency. Each addicted to prescription medicines. And, each fully co-dependent on the other. If my brother lived anywhere else, his son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter would be right on top of him – living off his pension and social security check. He’s living with Mom now because it is the only place he knows where they cannot follow him. Once he had a house full of furniture, shed full of tools and recreational equipment and a man-cave full of musical instruments and equipment, large TV screen and innumerable movies. The pawn shop got them all. He could now put most of his possessions in the trunk and backseat of his 15-year old Ford Focus; which sits idle and broken in the driveway.

Every time my mother feels overwhelmed by his burdensome presence she sees all his loss, his heartbreak, his tragic history with our father, chronic pain from a back injury and, (sometimes, she admits it) his drug addiction. It is breathtaking what love will endure. And, it is just as breathtaking how love will bend to pretzel-like contortions when co-dependency overwhelms it. Co-dependency can lead the caregiver to personality disorders and absurd extremes of self-destruction. My mother knows she needs to set better boundaries. She has set up a degree of self-protection; such as, she will not let her grandson or his wife come to the house, because of the very real chance of theft. However, this is the only one she is consistent with because it is easier to continue in the mindless habits of her co-dependency.

My nephew has lost everything. He cannot even remember self-worth. When left alone with his mother’s laptop he needs no self-worth. Empathy is no obstacle for him. He needs to feel better. His disease is eating him alive. He doesn’t expect to lose the few family and friends he has remaining; but, he is willing to. If the pawn shop will give him $30.00 for his mother’s laptop, which stores her photos, on-line employment work, her personal finance records, and other necessary files, then his misery will be lifted, his pain relieved and he’ll get through until morning; which is about as far as he can think ahead. His disease has ravaged him. His addiction is his higher power. His idol. For it he has sacrificed all. As Moses walked into history in the name of his higher power my nephew will wallow in the gutter of self-loathing and self-destruction chasing his. He has become Gollum. His addiction is his Ring of Power.

My brother will not allow his son to go to jail or suffer the consequences of his actions. He redeemed the laptop. He did not call the police when his array of fishing rods and reels and tackle went missing. My brother’s love is a doormat love. It gives his son a place to walk and, otherwise, live. And, he in his turn uses my mother as a doormat. All this is a Guy Fawkes mask of love. A steady expressionless face that ignores the painful truth. To him, his co-dependency masquerades as love. His addiction prevents him from self-examination and blinds him to the harm and discomfort and disappointment and weariness he causes his mother. My mother.

Co-dependency is not love. Love is not co-dependent. Love is strong, gentle, patient; certainly. St. Paul wrote, “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” I see no rejoicing in my mother, my brother, or my nephew. Co-dependency is false love. There is no truth in it.

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Louis writes from Jacksonville, Florida where he lives with his old friend and wonderful bride, Joy. They transformed their friendship into the sacrament of marriage on August 30, 2012. They share their home with two self-absorbed, playful, twin cats (Flo and Jet) and one very allusive and arrogant cat named D. Louis has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and is fighting the good fight. Much of what he writes these days he is sharing his journey with us. Please keep Louis and his wife Joy in your prayers.

CLICK HERE to visit Louis’ Catholic Journeyman Archive

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