Enabling Can Cost Loved Ones Their Lives

Enabling and addiction go hand-in-hand. Usually right up the aisle in one of two ceremonies: marriage or a funeral.

Enabling goes all wrong when it helps your addict/alcoholic stay stuck using by rescuing him or her from the awful consequences using produces. These consequences are often the only clue any alcoholic/addict has that his or her life is spiraling out of control. Facing the consequences motivates change. Enabling never does.

Enablers close to an addict/alcoholic are likely doing the best they can under horrendous circumstances. It’s not easy living with someone who’s deep in an addiction. And where does one ever run across “stop that enabling 101” in their studies?

Joey, a made up name, is an enabler. He thinks he’s helping, not hurting the family by enabling his alcoholic wife. He trudges back up the stairs Monday morning shouting, hopefully, “Honey, wake up. You’re going to be late for work again.” She drank the weekend away. He has little hope of her making it out of bed, much less to work.

“Please call in for me. Just this one last time. I feel terrible. The flu maybe,” she mumbles. A quart a day maybe, Joey thinks. This is the third Monday in a row he’s called for her. Is her boss really that stupid?

Joey is not up to an angry argument. Easier to call in. But, this time he makes two calls. A call he’s been considering for some time. One for help. For himself.

He sits in the therapist’s office alone. Mrs. Joey refuses to even consider she has a problem with alcohol. “We need her income. If I don’t call, she’ll get fired, and hate me. What do I do?” he pleads.

Therapists understand the confusion and the fears loved ones feel. They are trained to help families in crises such as this one. They encourage positive guilt. The kind Joey may feel when he stands up for himself and says, “No, I won’t call for you today.”

Joey is focused on the money, the embarrassment, the arguments and anger, the lies and fears. But, these can all be dealt with, because he’s acknowledging a serious problem and is willing to do something about it. It’s a good start. A great one for both of them, in fact.

While he knows firsthand how alcoholics in active addiction manipulate, lie and con, he doesn’t know just how to stop it. The counselor, on the other hand, does and also knows that unless Mrs. Joey gets help, she has a good chance of killing someone or herself in an accident, getting a divorce, ending up homeless or dying from her disease.

Compare Joey’s life-threatening enabling to a mom or dad giving their teen a second wake-up call in the morning. It could be considered enabling, but also just kindness. One thing’s for sure: It isn’t going to kill the teenager.

How interventions are done can’t be explained in an 800-word column, but they’re done daily all over the country. There is help out there. Joey looked in the Yellow Pages online under “addiction treatment,” called a couple agencies and found one he felt comfortable with. He reads posts regularly on al-anon.org and has started going to Al-Anon meetings.

His counselor’s plan is to educate Joey about the disease of addiction and how to cope with Mrs. Joey, whether she decides to get help or not. Usually, as folks like Joey change, their addict/alcoholic begins to change also, and will seek help. Happens all the time.

A final word? We don’t buy cigarettes for smokers, cakes for diabetics, oxycodone for addicts or beer for alcoholics. Neither do we make excuses for them so they can continue on their merry way to the grave. Not if we love them bunches and bunches.

Liz Barnes has been a credentialed alcoholism and substance abuse counselor for more than 25 years, and lives with her family in Cayuga County. This column is not meant as medical advice. See your health professional for that.

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