Time to Stop Enabling
Why should family and friends stop old behaviors that contributed to their loved one's addiction?
Of course you remember the old routine the addict in your life used to perform when they needed your help getting them out of tough situations, or the times when you gave them your approval to party. You now realize that these circumstances were created by their addiction to alcohol or drugs.
Mom, I feel terrible. I’m too sick to even talk on the phone. Could you please call my boss and tell him I’m sick with a fever and will not be in today… OK?
Jonathan, I do not understand how you could have spent your entire paycheck on donating money to Ronald McDonald… Yes, I will pay your car loan and your rent again.
I do not want to drink and smoke crack with you, Tom. The kids are asleep in the next room. No, do not go check into that sleazy hotel; if you stay home, I will do a little with you.
I found your pot and pills stash, Ashley. If you do not get rid of that stuff today, I am leaving you. And this time, I mean it.
The fact is that you were not helping your loved one at all. You were actually enabling them to continue using and abusing their drug of choice. In actuality, you were making it easy for them to dodge the undesirable and negative consequences that go along with the mid-to-late stages of alcoholism and drug addiction. You were robbing them of their consequences. The more times you gave the addict what they wanted and rescued them, the more they expected you to continue this role.
Now, your loved one has returned home clean and sober. Your loved one is ready to live life on life’s terms. One of the best ways you can help your loved one in recovery is to not help them. Do not engage in the kind of unhealthy emotional and financial assistance you provided in their addiction. “A very common response to living with a person in recovery is for family members to attempt to rescue or protect their loved one from normal problems,” says Watershed Addiction Treatment Programs psychotherapist, Jackie Glass.
Friends and family members of addicts in recovery usually try to provide help when it is not really necessary, or they may attempt to control their loved one’s program of recovery. Although you have good intention, these behaviors are counterproductive. Family members should allow their loved one the dignity and respect to face and work through the consequences of their actions. Naturally, you want to celebrate and reward the recovering alcoholic/addicts choice to become clean and sober. If that person is struggling to find a job, trying to catch up on outstanding bills or in need of new clothes because they either lost or gained weight while in drug rehab, you may likely want to make things easier for them.
What is the difference between healthy and harmful help? Find assistance and support from groups like Al-Anon/Alateen, Naranon and Coda. These 12-step fellowships are resources for people whose lives have been affected by the disease of addiction. Just like Alcoholics, Narcotics or Cocaine Anonymous, these family support fellowships provide forums where members share their own experience, strength and hope in order to solve their common problems.
Remember, you are not the cause of their addiction. You could not have controlled their addiction, nor could you have cured their addiction. Therefore, you have no real power over their recovery. The decision to become and remain sober is ultimately in the hands of the recovering alcoholic/addict.
Jackie suggests the following simple things family and friends can do to help without enabling:
Get educated about chemical dependency, co-occurring disorders, relapse prevention, and recovery. Know that chemical dependency is a mental health issue. Get involved with Alanon, Naranon or Alateen and remember the above paragraph.
Participate in the Family Weekend Program at The Watershed. Expect ups and downs, and highs and lows. Sobriety is a process. Keep the home free of alcohol and addictive drugs. Attend and participate in open AA or NA meetings. Provide support through love, compassion and listening. Never feel threatened by the recovering involvement or time spent working on their 12 step program. Accept the fact that the addict may have to detach from the family or family functions in order to achieve and maintain sobriety. Understand that your loved one’s recovery is their responsibility. Their recovery is never contingent on the actions and attitudes of the family.
Play a large role in your own recovery as an active enabler. Taking care of yourself is the most beneficial support you can provide. When you stop overly financing and facilitating the addict’s life in sobriety, they will instinctively know that you would not likely provide backup should they decide to return to using alcohol or drugs. You cannot give them a better gift then that.