I know codependency. My dad was a smoker, an alcoholic, and a compulsive gambler. I spent decades of my life using data, logic, and emotion in a smorgasbord of thoughtfully and lovingly conceived schemes to convince him to quit. He never did. His death was an avoidable and foreseeable end result of his drinking and gambling.
At times, I’ve seen parallels between those efforts with my dad and my efforts to convince others to believe that COVID exists, to use masks, to get vaccinated, and to take the disease seriously. At other times, I think that COVID doesn’t really fit the model of codependency, because with COVID, the behavior of others – even strangers – impacts my life and the lives of people I love in significant ways. Regardless of whether I detach from the no-vaxxers, their collective actions will result in more mask mandates, possible lockdowns, and a more rapid decline in the current vaccine’s effectiveness.
Last night, my son told me that he had just read a news story about a new variant that may be vaccine-resistant. He asked if I really thought that he would be able to go back to school in person in September – he misses learning in a classroom with his friends. I had to tell him that I didn’t know, that my guess was that school would be in-person for at least a month or two – probably longer – before a vaccine-resistant COVID variant emerges and causes a change in policy. He expressed frustration that people who refuse to get vaccinated are making such a variant more likely. I told him that I agreed with his statement, but wanted to know his reasoning behind it. He said that the more people who don’t get the vaccine, the more of the virus that is out reproducing in the community, and the more chances that it has to produce a mutation that the vaccine can’t stop. Basic statistical math. He’s 14. He gets it.
The enraging and crazy-making irony, of course, is that the people whining the loudest about measures needed to stop COVID are the same ones prolonging COVID and making more of those measures necessary. In the US, we have a widely available, free, effective vaccine. 99.5% of those dying in American hospitals now are the unvaccinated. We even have the absurdity of $100 gift cards as incentives to get vaccinated. If embraced by the entire population, the vaccine could have gotten us to herd immunity. Instead, new COVID cases are spiking in nearly every state, with Louisiana now having almost as many hospitalizations as its deadliest spike in the dark days of mid-April 2020. It’s enough to make one want to shake some people by the collar and ask what the hell is wrong with them.
And it’s especially hard to simply detach, knowing that people will die as a result of those who choose not to get vaccinated. But an impact on others is not inconsistent with other forms of codependency. My dad’s drinking could have killed others (or me) when he drove drunk. His gambling had a huge impact on us when our house was lost to foreclosure. And I still don’t know if I’ll see the impact on my own pulmonary health from 18 years of inhaling second-hand smoke.
Still, rather than living with an alcoholic, the current situation seems more like trying to get to a hospital to treat a health emergency but being stuck in traffic on the freeway. Is it codependent to be pissed at the people who are slowing down to gawk at a stalled car by the side of the highway, or is it reasonable frustration with stupid behavior that is threatening your life?
In the end, I have to separate my own COVIDpendency into two pieces. The first is the real and clearly foreseeable threat that the actions of others pose to my physical wellbeing and that of people I love. The behavior of a percentage of the population, if unchanged, will very possibly result in my son having to learn from home again rather than at school. It will result in the need for more vaccinations as the current one is eventually rendered ineffective by a new variant. It will result in needless deaths – some possibly being people I care about. It will result in people I know and many more that I don’t know losing loved ones, and people being stuck with massive medical bills that didn’t have to happen. It will likely result in another period of my having to limit my trips outside the home. It will likely result in struggling businesses having to shut down for good, rather than being able to get back on their feet, due to a needless next surge of a deadly pandemic. These are all things that I have little to no control over. After a year and a half in a world shaped by COVID and a political climate shaped by Trump, I have to admit that I am powerless to change the behavior of those who could get us to herd immunity. They are going to do what they are going to do.
The other piece of my COVIDpendency, however, is one that I do have control over: the effect of all this on my own mental wellbeing. I can choose to stop wasting energy trying to change minds that will not be changed, and instead work on changing myself. I can choose to distance myself from the COVID deniers, no-vaxxers, and conspiracy theorists in my life, because my love for them as individuals also causes me stress and frustration. Contrary to what my ego has been telling me, my presence in their lives is also not something that will eventually cause them to rethink anything. As a friend once said in a different situation, stop trying to teach a pig to play the violin: it wastes your time and annoys the pig. Sad as it makes me, I can and will choose to let go of them with love. I can save that energy, and in the process have more of myself to give to those who are not causing me stress and frustration. I can help people who are behaving responsibly to better navigate the real world consequences left for us by those whom I am letting go. Not the most inspiring message, but I think it’s a pragmatic one under the circumstances.
– rob rünt