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Are you an ENABLER?

Are you an enabler? I was, and still am, in some ways, though I try not to be, and I now usually recognize when I have crossed the line between supporter and enabler. Most parents are enablers to some extent. Mom rushes out to buy poster board at 9 pm when Junior announces he has a science fair project due in the morning, saving his bacon and his grade. It’s hAdmittedly, it's hard, especially as a parent or spouse, to resist the desire to take over for someone we love. We don't want to see them fail. But, making a zero on an important project teaches a life lesson to your child, while running out for that poster board reinforces his irresponsibility.

In the case of addicted loved ones, we would do anything to rescue them from their self-destructive behavior. But when we do so, we are unwittingly reinforcing their addiction. We are keeping them from experiencing the consequences of the poor choices they are making. We are encouraging them to continue to be irresponsible. Dr. Phil says we enable because it makes us feel better ourselves; he sees enabling as our effort to avoid the pain of seeing our beloved suffer. There is some truth in that, I think, but I also know that we want desperately to help and support them toward recovery – to remove their pain. But most of us are going about in in the wrong way. So, what is the difference in supporting and enabling? The following behaviors, as illustrated in the article “What is Enabling?” from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation website, spells out enabling behavior that is counterproductive. When we do these things, instead of helping our loved one recover, we are reinforcing their addictive behavior. I have listed the enabling behaviors, following each item with specific examples of my own actions that have hindered, rather than helped, my daughter to recover.

Enabling behavior:

  • Protects the addict from the natural consequences of his behavior

  • All the time!! I specifically remember the day I found my daughter passed out on the floor with a needle in her arm. We’d done this before, so we knew she’d be ok. Didn’t call an ambulance this time. But, because she was due to arrive at work in an hour to unlock the shop door, I took the keys to the mall and unlocked the doors, then waited for the store employees and told them she was running late. I was trying to protect her from being fired. She got fired anyway.

  • Keeps secrets about the addict's behavior from others in order to keep peace

  • Oh yes! Friends and family who have read my book have expressed shock that they had no idea what our family was going through. My husband’s parents were kept in the dark, as were all my family on the west coast. Our neighbors didn’t know. And of course, the recipients of our holiday newsletters thought everything was peachy keen in our household.

  • Makes excuses for the addict's behavior (with teachers, friends, legal authorities, employers, and other family members)

  • Why was she falling asleep in the bathroom at her job? The baby was sick last night, so she had gotten little sleep. Why was she not showing up at work? She had a virus. Why didn’t she show up for the family’s Christmas morning? She couldn’t get a ride. The excuses were plentiful.

  • Bails the addict out of trouble (pays debts, fixes tickets, hires lawyers, and provides jobs)

  • We did this consistently, but I think my parents might have been worse than us. We paid for rent, for a car for which I had foolishly cosigned, for tickets, for car repairs, to get the car out of impound, for doctor’s visits. But my parents were her backup plan. They always provided her a soft place to fall when we were fed up. My stepdad forced her to cough up the pawn ticket for our jewelry she had hocked and then forked out the cash to buy it back. Of course, she stole it all, and more, and pawned it again. When she got a DUI, he paid her bond and hired a lawyer. When the dealers were chasing her for stealing from them, my parents drove to the bad neighborhood where she was hiding and rescued her, then paid for her emergency room visit to treat a nasty infection. Then they paid thousands for a wacky new-age treatment that had no effect whatsoever. They rescued her from herself till the day they died.

  • Blames others for the addicted person's behaviors (friends, teachers, employers, family, and self)

  • Her boyfriend, who introduced her to heroin. Her junkie friends. They lured her back into the fold immediately when she returned from rehab. And how many times did we ask ourselves, “Where did we fail?”

  • Sees "the problem" as the result of something else (shyness, adolescence, loneliness, broken home, ADHD, or another illness)

  • We questioned the cause so many, many times. Was it a result of her bipolar disorder? Was she even bipolar? What about her friends rejecting her in middle school? Were we too hard on her? Did we expect too much from her? Did we make a huge mistake when we had her hospitalized in eighth grade? Should we have kept a better eye on the people she chose as friends? Was it the stress of being a teen mom? There HAD to be something or someone to blame besides her.

  • Avoids the addict in order to keep peace (out of sight, out of mind)

  • Now this, we were unable to do. Her toddler lived with us when she was on heroin, and we did not have the heart to deny this child seeing her mother, though we always kept an eye on her, and we never let her mother take her in the car if we thought she was high. (We were fools. She was always high. But she was very good at convincing us she was clean.) And I have to admit that forcing her to go to rehab was a breath of fresh air for us. We were free. (For me, witnessing her deterioration was so painful; having her in the house was like sleeping on a bed or nails. What move will I make that will hurt even more – pierce my body and my heart? It doesn't matter how I's gonna hurt.)

  • Gives money that is undeserved or unearned

  • Every day. Not only that, we raised her children, for whom she never offered a penny of support. In fact, she said she’d rot in jail before she ever paid us child support because we “took her children away from her” just because she was poor.

  • Attempts to control that which is not within the enabler's ability to control (plans activities, chooses friends, and gets jobs)

  • We tried…but she usually rejected our efforts. Little did I know, when I got her jobs at our church and in a law firm owned by a friend, she was already addicted. Later, thinking she was clean, I took her to the disability office in an attempt to obtain financing for job training. She actually qualified – but she never went back for her next appointment when the IQ test revealed she had burned out a significant number of brain cells. (Of course, she also knew she wouldn’t pass a drug test.) Years later, her stepdad paid for tattoo school. She never attempted to develop her skill, even though she had talent. I researched the Internet, looked for job opportunities, made suggestions…until I realized she had no intention of going to work. It was…well…work.

  • Makes threats that have no follow-through or consistency

  • I can’t count the number of times I threatened to kick her out, compared to the number of times I really did – and how many times I allowed her to come back home. How many times did I tell her I was calling the police or turning her in to CPS? How many times did she take my car despite my telling her she couldn’t? She, like most addicts, was a master manipulator, and we were putty in her hands.

  • "Care takes" the addicted person by doing what she is expected to do for herself

  • I raised, and am still raising, her kids. That was a necessity. When she lived with us, she never lifted a finger…never cooked, never cleaned, never took her kids to school, or anywhere else for that matter. She was a “boarder” in our home, watching the family from the sidelines, and she was perfectly happy to assume that role, has always done the same thing with anyone who took her in. Even when she lived with my elderly parents, they catered to her, just like I had. We were all angry, but not one of us was strong enough to put her on the street.

Do you recognize yourself and want to truly help your loved one, instead of enabling him/her to continue with his/her

destructive choices? How do you draw the line? How do you recognize what is helping and what is hindering? recommends Al Anon. You can also read books, talk to professionals, research the Internet, join social media groups, join Meetup groups. And remember…you’re not changing your loved one’s behavior, you’re changing your own. And feel free to email me at any time – I don’t have all the answers, by any means, but I’ve been in your shoes, and I care.

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