Land of 10,000 Co-Dependos

WHEN POLITICIANS speak of Minnesota as a forerunner in healthcare delivery services, I gotta tell you there’s a dark side. What we really have a national reputation for is being a state filled with co-dependents.

If you do not immediately recognize this term, go move to Wisconsin. I mean it. Outta here.

Oh, okay: Loved ones of a substance abuser often develop a characteristic set of behaviors and feelings, called co-dependency. Co-dependents say “I’m sorry” a lot. They believe if they can just change enough about themselves, they can alter the actions of others. They get used to chaos, can organize the heck out of anything, and can put your kitchen junk drawer back into apple-pie order in no time.

Minnesota hosts more than its share of substance abuse treatment centers. People come here from all over the country to dry out, sober up, get straight, and often, move in. Add to them the number of Minnesota natives who have twelve-stepped their way through these programs, figure in the staff and counselors involved in treating all these people, and the situation becomes clear—we’re surrounded by co-dependos.

Now, don’t write me letters. I know substance abuse is a significant and serious health concern; it has touched my own life. The people who battle this disease—and the people who love them—have my support and respect.

But let’s evaluate the consequences of living in an enlightened state where most of us believe co-dependency to be an exclusively negative thing that must be obliterated. First, this eliminates almost everyone as a romantic prospect if we believe we are all filled with attitudes so unhealthy we should never be left alone together. If there are two people remaining in the state who aren’t dysfunctional in some human way, I say we name them “Adam” and “Eve” and start the whole darn thing all over again. Second, being thoughtful, considerate, or just generally agreeable (pretty typical Norwegian traits) come under significant suspicion as being sneaky little tendrils of co-dependency that must be nipped in the bud. If we do this, I believe we stand a good change of becoming New York City—in attitude, anyway.

In the total scheme of things, being co-dependent isn’t the worst of sins. At its essence, co-dependency means thinking of others more than yourself, which is, after all, the basis of many major religions. Sure, it can be taken to extremes, but living through and for others has its positive and overlooked virtues. Modest little diversions such as television, movies, theater, and literature are built on this desire to experience things vicariously—why not let the co-dependos have their fun?

There is a bright side to living in a state filled with the children and spouses of dysfunction:

  • I like a good co-dependent relationship now and then. A guy who cares more about my feelings than his own can be useful when debating who scrubs the solidified Jell-O out of the fridge.
  • A co-dependent employee is a good employee. Doing everyone else’s job, feeling responsible for every project—hire these people!
  • There’s an untapped bumper sticker market here: “Everything that’s happened since 1943 is my fault.” “If you’re having a bad day, blame me.”

Statewide, we ought to exercise caution before support-grouping ourselves out of a terrific natural resource. Rid us of our statewide co-dependency and you just might rid us of ourselves. Where do you think Minnesota’s reputation for nice comes from?

This was published in Minnesota Monthly magazine, December 1993.





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