Enabling Vs. “Helping”


Memoir Excerpt:

“Years later in one of my support groups in New Mexico, a friend shared how she had to lock everything up in her house. She’d lock the jewelry here, the silver there. She had a different key for every place, and one time she was so flummoxed by her son that she lost all the keys! We laughed together at that one, grateful that we still could laugh. This is what it comes to for many of us parents. We erect walls to protect ourselves, keeping the addicts out. And then, of course, we feel guilty about doing that.

Angie was stealing valuables from my home again, just as she had been two years before, in order to sell them for drug money. It was safer, she thought, to steal from me than from a store. She already knew what an enabler I was; but she was still a thief. And even though her addiction pushed her onto the wrong path, she still should have paid the consequences if she was going to learn and mature.

They will work us, manipulate us, and use every tool in their arsenal to get what they want if they’re still using. Parents are so vulnerable, and they’re walking a fine line between helping their child recover, and enabling them to continue using. We learn eventually to sit frozen in inaction, to do nothing.  We learn to let our addicts be accountable for their own actions, and hopefully learn from the consequences (eviction, jail, death). But it’s that last consequence that holds us hostage, keeps us doing for our addict all that he should be doing for himself. We say to ourselves, ‘As long as he’s alive, he can recover.’  True, but when will we ever get rid of our God-like parental power, thinking that his recovery is all up to us?”

2 thoughts on “Enabling Vs. “Helping”

  1. I have been called the classic enabler both for my daughter with her addiction 5 yrs. ago. and now with my partner of 22 yrs. who has started her alcohol and heroin addiction within the past 2 years. she lost her job and is on disability. she has had 2 motor vehicle accidents, spends 2000$ a month on her habit. we separated a month ago. she still comes to y house asking for food, a shower, maybe to sleep on the couch but I have said no. now she’s back in the hospital again and its taking everything I have not to run there and fix it. she knows how to get sober but choses not to so why am I the one not sleeping

    1. Lisa, my heart goes out to you. But please don’t be too hard on yourself because, from what you have written, you’re trying very hard NOT to enable your daughter. The experts tell us that we must stop cushioning their falls, to let them feel the painful consequences of their drug use—whether it’s jail because they stole to get drugs, or the hospital because they compromised their health. So I know how counterintuitive it is to just leave her in the hospital. We’re the parents; we’re supposed to fix things. But remember: addiction is a brain disease, not a moral failing. When our children get sick with cancer or diabetes, they know they need treatment to stay alive. Is it our responsibility to follow through with that with an adult child? So, too, with drug addiction. Our daughters both know what they need to do, but they choose not to. This is where my spiritual recovery steps in to rescue me from the powerlessness and despair I feel. I would be lost without the tools I learned in both Al-Anon and Nar-Anon. Among many other things, I’ve learned to let go of things I cannot change, things I have no power to influence. The Serenity Prayer is my mantra. I’ve learned to detach with love (not anger) from my daughter. I’ve learned the power of prayer and the power of faith. Most of all I’ve learned to be grateful for all the blessings in my life and stop obsessing about what I’ve lost. I’ve learned to take care of myself not only for my other loved ones but even for my addict. I’ll need to be strong to deal with her if she comes back to her family. But whether she survives this or not, I’m determined to. I’ve also learned in my recovery program to let go of my guilt and live as best I can, that I deserve to live well. I want that for you too. One last thing: it’s one thing to enable our own child out of a misplaced sense of guilt. But how are you dealing with your partner of 22 years?

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