Have you ever done and done for others who you love in hopes that they would stop their destructive behavior? I have. I did a lot of doing over the years, but it was seldom about doing for myself. It was all about doing something for someone that they could be doing for themselves. And that in recovery talk is called enabling. In the long run, the things that I did made it easier for the alcoholic to continue in the progression of the disease.
many cases, enabling means that you cover for the person who is drunk
by making up excuses or fixing things when they make a mess. I didn't do that, although I offered up a lot of apologies for the messes that she would make.
qualifier has always had a great job and has been functional. There
wasn't any long-term binges or staying out all night. But there would be free for all's at social events or sipping away at home. I would start to get anxious about going to parties where I would have no "control" over the other person. What if she gets drunk? What if she makes a scene? What will the people think? I would work myself up ahead of time, yet I would still go to the party. I had no back up plan. I would count drinks. I would whisper, "Don't you think you've had enough?"
None of this did a bit of good. She did what she was going to do, and I pretended that all was okay. When things weren't okay, I would make apologies and try to get her to leave. Scenes from "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf" come to mind. Not pretty.
probably did many other things to enable the alcoholic, over and over
again. I stuck around for years of unacceptable behavior. And I hear in meetings and on blogs the pain of those who are doing all they can to "help" their loved ones who are deep in their disease. But is it really helping?
Helping means to me that I am doing something for someone that they are not capable of doing by themselves. I helped an Al-Anon friend with some online computer forms the other week because he is not knowledgeable about computer forms. He was happy, and I was happy.
Enabling though is a different thing from helping. Enabling prevents others from having consequences for their actions. And the more I enable, the more I am expected to keep enabling. At meetings, people share about how they feel guilty because they might not be doing enough to stop the drinking or using. They have spent all their money on rehabs, bailed loved ones out of jail, hired attorneys, and still there must be something else that they could do to stop the disease. And the loved one doesn't seem to appreciate any of it. Instead, they lie, coax, wheedle, deceive, beg, and ask for more. We then cave in, give more, and then get asked for still more. The cycle continues. We are in the dance.
But what are the consequences of all of this? I now believe that enabling in the name of being good spouses, good parents, good friends is actually hurting and feeding the disease. The disease of alcoholism is cunning, baffling and
powerful. And it is a disease that affects everyone around the alcoholic.
Sadly, it can take years, as it did in my case, to realize that I was not helping anyone and was doing great harm to myself and the alcoholic. Enabling allows the alcoholic to avoid the the
consequences of their actions. Someone is there to bail them out, put them into rehab, give them another chance, so why should they stop?
It really took a major shake up in our marriage for both of us to take notice
and get some help. I no longer try to rescue my wife nor do I feel
stifled in doing the things that I like to do. What I
now realize is that until the alcoholic's drinking, thinking and
behavior becomes painful enough they will not reach out for help. If I
try to help diminish their pain then I am really preventing them from
feeling that "pain" that would be a natural result of their own actions.
I am effectively cushioning their downward spiral and if I make things
cushy enough then they won't even know that they fell. If they never
face the pain their drinking causes, why should they ever quit?
Some people will say, "Yes, but this is my child. You don't understand." No one wants their child to fail, be ill, or be hurt. But isn't that how we learned when we were kids? My father taught me to ride a bicycle. I had training wheels and then one day, he took them off and let me ride with a push. I learned to ride in spite of falling a few times. But he knew that I had to learn to keep my balance. If he had held onto me or kept the training wheels on, I would not have found my balance or ridden.
I am still striving for balance today. But at least I know that I can fall and get back up on my own.