Center for Lay Ministries

Food Pantry/Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Services


Enabling; the Unsuspected Helper to the Addict

Posted on June 30, 2015 at 8:00 PM

MISSION POSSIBLE: Enabling; the Unsuspected Helper to the Addict

Column #8

By Julie Schwerer, Bliss House Director

It’s 10:00 a.m. and the phone rings at Bliss House. The family member is calling about one of the most important people in their lives who is in desperate need of some help to overcome an addiction; calling with the hope that their loved one would one day be themselves once again.

There is no need to speak the words that describe the nightmare their lives have become. The details are the same - the nights of lost sleep waiting and wondering if the person they love is okay. The lies that their loved one feels compelled to formulate to protect their own pride and reputation. There are the daily prayers, the begging, and then the arguments - the battles that have been fought, all the while trying to figure out what they have personally done wrong to cause their loved one to be living such a desperate life. More important, the callers ask themselves and anyone who will listen…what is still to be done to stop the madness that has corrupted their lives.

They hold onto the oath they have heard repeated over and over again—I will never to do it again. There is no need to mention how many times they have heard the words, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what happened.” They also need not tell us how many times they believed it was over until, in a matter of days, weeks, or months, the attempt turned into failure. They skip over the embarrassment of the last family party, having to explain to their grandchildren that they are loved and that their mother didn’t mean to do the things that she did. The unshakable truth is that the addiction has taken a toll on every aspect of their lives and has impacted every person involved in their lives.

The caller suffers from financial insecurity; the bills collectors start calling, the court hearings become routine calendar dates, the police visit their home often enough that they recognize the address, and strange people begin to show up as guests. Without a doubt, the family of the addict often begins to question their own sanity.

Enabling is a term that refers to the behavior of a loved one in a relationship with an addict. It is the actions taken to remove the consequences of the addict’s behavior. The well intentioned enabler tries to do the impossible which is to solve the addict’s problems for them.

Examples of enabling are: giving money, paying bills or debts, purchasing personal items, repairing property broken by the addict, lying to employers, taking on their personal commitments for the addict, making excuses, screening phone calls, and bonding them out of jail. All of these behaviors change the dynamics of the whole family so the act of attempting to help actually becomes the way in which the addict is loved to death.

The first step to changing from enabling to empowerment is not easy, however, the decision to do nothing leaves the enabler with the question, “If only I had done things differently…” The fears and excuses are varied and can include such comments as, “If she loses this job, the children will suffer,” “she is suffering in jail and needs me,” or “she can’t drive without insurance and without being able to drive, she can’t work,” etc. The truth is, it doesn’t matter how many times the family steps in and enables the addict, they are powerless over that person and her welfare.

Women (and men also) in recovery often say, "If my wife, husband, mother, or father had continued to rescue me, I may not be alive today." A long road of recovery begins with a bottom; the point at which the addict becomes sick and tired of being sick and tired. They are tired of being broke, alone, and that person experiences enough incomprehensible demoralization that the desire comes from within, not from without, and not because the enabler needs them to change.

The phone calls always end with me saying, “I need to speak directly to your loved one because it’s them who needs to take the first step and call for help.” If you find yourself thinking these words sound familiar, don’t be afraid to put a stop to your enabling behavior because it may make the difference between life and death.

Note: This column refers predominately to women, since the Bliss House is a recovery program for women.

Julie Schwerer is the CLM Bliss House Director.


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