“Enabling: Removing the natural consequences of someone’s behavior.” Codependency Recovery
I was having breakfast the other day with a couple and we were talking about addiction. They asked me a question that has been on my mind since our meeting. At what point, did I stop enabling my drug addicted son? According to them, that is what families of addicts need to know. During my reflection, I took it a step further. Why did I start, and why did I continue? This is emotionally hard to face, as we are constantly told that enabling is bad and can make it harder for our loved one’s recovery, yet we all do it in some form and at some time.
Per Karen Khalegihi, PhD (psychology.com), “…enabling offers help that perpetuates rather than solves a problem.” I fell into the enabling cycle, because I wanted to deny something that scared me to the core and it was the easiest way to go. If you looked up enabling in the dictionary, you would see my picture. I was the poster child and demonstrated almost all of the enabling behaviors. This is not something I am proud of, but it gave me a false sense of control over a situation that was spiraling out of control. In hindsight, I basically, gave my son permission to ditch any responsibility for his actions allowing his black hole to only get bigger.
If you look up enabling on the internet, you will find behaviors that are described as “enabling behaviors” and most of the list agree.
- I ignored the problems and his unacceptable behavior over and over. I lived in a happy place called denial to protect myself and because I did not want to believe it was happening. This happened to other families…not mine. It also kept the illusion that everything was normal. Maybe, it would just go away!
- I accepted his rationalizations, lies, and excuses. I was worried if I ever called him on it, there would be an argument/blow-up, he might be violent, or he would run away. If he ran away, I would not know where he was and I would be responsible for whatever he did. Avoiding all of this, was my skewed way of controlling the situation. I just wanted to keep the peace so I walked on egg shells.
- No matter what help I offered, it was never enough. There was always something else, but no appreciation. If I gave a little, he came back for more and it became an ongoing cycle. If I refused help, he would become angry and threatening or hysterical until I gave in. “You teach people how to treat you by what you allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce,” Tony Gaskins.
- I lied to others about what was going on with my son. I was embarrassed and felt like a failure as a parent, so I was not always completely honest with others. I hid my emotions and tried to keep a smile on my face so everything seemed “normal”. Sometimes, it was easier to isolate myself from people because keeping up the perfect front was exhausting.
- I did not blame others for my son’s situation, but I would not say anything when he did (and this was constantly). I just listened and would offer a sympathetic ear. All this did, was condone and reinforce his rationalizations allowing him to avoid responsibility. I took away all of my son’s motivation to act in a responsible way, as his flawed thinking was never challenged.
- I repeatedly gave him “one more chance.” All it took, were some tears and the right sob story and he had me. He manipulated me like a pro!
- I did everything to try to fix and control him. I had not yet learned that I can only change myself. That was a tough one because I truly believed I could fix him.
- Philip Yancey wrote, “…resentment clings to the past, relives it over and over, picks each fresh scab so that the wound never heals.” I resented my son, but I continued to ALLOW this to happen. He hurt me, he pissed me off, and he was the cause of all my stress, but I was playing my role as the enabler very well. He would never acknowledge the pain he was causing and so the resentment grew.
The final straw came when I was working at a high school. As I stood in the crowded hall during a class change, I saw my son coming towards me. He had graduated and had no reason to be there. I could tell by the way he was walking something was not right. Everything seemed reduced to slow motion and I realized why I was so alarmed. My worst nightmare was actually coming true and he was extremely high. After he reached me, he began saying random bizarre things. He appeared to be having some kind of psychotic break with reality and I had no idea if he would physically hurt someone. All I could think about was getting him away from the kids. I succeeded, but that was my breaking point.
He came to our house later that evening. I told him he would have to leave and that if he ever showed up like that again, I would call the police myself. He said that I would never see him again, and I said so be it. He walked out. I closed the door behind him and my heart broke. My youngest son was there and he said that he never thought he would be comforting his mom for what his brother did. I had to learn to set strong boundaries to protect myself and my youngest son and that was when the enabling stopped.
I will be honest, it never got any easier, but it did allow me to take a breath. I know it will be a lifelong fight because he will always be an addict, but I love him enough that I will not be his enabler.
“Once the enabling stops, the recovery is given opportunity to start.” Addiction Helper