One of the biggest discussions on blogs and forums about addiction is the subject of enabling. No other topic can be more emotional than that of enabling. Last week I talked to a mother about her son. Her son had a ten year battle with opiates, and he eventually died from an overdose.
The mother recounted all the years of trying to help her son with his addiction. In the beginning, she was in denial and thought this was just a phase in his life and that he would snap out of it. She went on to say that, after his first stay in rehab, she thought he was cured and would be okay. The years and relapses kept coming and still no progress. Her son would get sober for six months and start to get his life on track, and, again, here would come another relapse.
After each relapse, she would take him back to her home and pay his bills to get him on his feet again, only to be disappointed with yet another relapse. Over time, her son had become unemployable because of his addiction. In the last years of his life, he lived mostly with his mother unless he was living in a Sober Living Home. The mother refused to give up on her son and would spend any amount of money to keep him from being homeless.
In the final years of her child’s life, she had to sell her house and move to an apartment, so she could afford to pay for her son’s treatment and housing. Eventually, he was living with her full-time. He would lay around the house all day and watch TV. When she would ask him if he was looking for work, he would lie to her. He stole money from her purse, and she would write it off as, “maybe he needed money for food or some other non-drug related need.”
Exasperated and tired, she gave her son money to go on a vacation with trusted friends of the family. Her son never came home from the camping trip and died from an opiate overdose.
Later, she second-guessed herself about her choices in deciding to give her son so many chances and never letting him hit his bottom. She said she knew all about enabling but couldn’t relate it to her situation with her son. She confided in me, “if I had known my continual helping would be a factor in my son’s death, I would have done things differently.” When I asked her what she would have done differently, she said, “I don’t know. I just couldn’t stop helping him. I loved him.”
Love Isn’t Enough
Of course, she loved him; she loved him dearly. Loving an addict is not like living a healthy person who can reciprocate that love. Addicts are driven by a force that overrides anything else in their life, including your love. Deep down it means so much to them that you love them, and they will tell you that, but if they had to choose you over their drug of choice, they aren’t choosing you. The truth is they can’t. An addict’s emotions have been hijacked. Their morals have been shelved, and their primary focus in life is to get to that place only drugs can bring them. The sad reality is if you are in their orbit, and you can help sustain their lifestyle of substance abuse, they will take advantage of you no matter how much you love them.
Ways You Can be an Enabler
Addicts can’t be reasoned with. Addicts by most definitions are temporarily insane. What this means is, if you give a user money to buy groceries or gas and you are disappointed to find out they spent it on drugs, who is at fault? You, of course! You should have taken them to the store, had them pick out what they needed, and paid for it yourself.
Another scenario of enabling would be to give them money for their allegedly broken car. What would be the likelihood, three day’s later, that their vehicle is broken again and they need more money? Very likely would be the right answer. Your thinking is, they need to get to work, and if I don’t help with the car, they might get fired. Yep, that might happen. Look, if you want to help, make sure you pay the repair shop directly.
Addicts are smart; they have learned how to manipulate anyone. Humans are very adaptable.This ability to adapt is omnipresent in addicts who become desperate. Addicts’ brains will eventually help them become cunning, focused liars. So, when they come to you with a story of a lost phone or stolen computer that is vitally necessary to all of us, check the story out before you offer to buy a new one. The truth is they most likely sold it for money, and they will try that trick again until you say no.
Another way you can enable is to take them to the doctor for sudden problems they are experiencing. They may claim they are anxious and need immediate help or they will relapse again. Here is what you need to know about this: their addict mind will go straight to the doctor and ask for the best street drug he can prescribe. You think you are helping abate another relapse. They believe that they can sell their newly prescribed drugs tomorrow for big bucks. You are unaware of this subterfuge, and when they tell you they were stolen out of their backpack, you take them back to the doctor.
Many times parents and loved ones are afraid to confront an addict about suspicious behavior, like doctor shopping for feel well-prescribed meds. Why? Because they become angry. Of course, they become angry! Their addict mind doesn’t like to be told no. They will pull at your heart strings with; I need you to help me now; I am trying to stay sober for you, too. You have to be strong and remember who you are dealing with. You are communicating with a hyper-focused, devious addicted mind that has long ago taken over the person standing in front of you. This means you can no longer talk with this person as you used to. You have to adopt a strict, yet respectful, demeanor at all times.
I mention these stories because they are real scams that addicts I know have pulled on their parents and loved ones. Believe me; this short list is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many variations of these examples.
Lastly, and this is a big one, never let an addict live with you while they are still using. I say this because, if they are using, they won’t be able to quit on their own. This means, sooner or later, you will catch them nodding off or worse. Secondly, they will only be using your home as a crash pad. They will show up looking like hell, wanting a shower, and then leaving when you aren’t looking. Do you need that stress in your life? Should you continue to let them stay, you may find some of your belongings missing. Yes! Your child or loved one may steal from you. I have heard too many stories of this happening. Of course, they are ashamed and feel guilty, but they may do it anyway. Think about it, if an addict has a fifty to hundred dollar a day habit, where do you think they get the money?
There are ways to help and not become an enabler. Handing out cash to an addict is not smart and can be harmful. I know people want to respect their loved ones, even if they are an addict. Helping in a responsible way is always the best, no matter how much flack you get for it. If you are a parent or loved one of an addict, you had better develop thick skin right away.
Right now you are probably thinking, geez, this guy is going to be hated by the addicts that read this! Not true! Addicts are not bad people, and they understand every truth I am saying. Once addicts become sober, they can be the most strict with other addicts. You will never see a former addict enabling another addict.
Dealing with an addict can be incredibly challenging and overwhelming. Being an addict is overwhelming. Hard truths are what is needed, and that is not easy to do. Love is a strong emotion, maybe the strongest on earth. To be told to make decisions that go against everything we have been taught about love is not an easy thing to do. Telling a loved one to go away is a horrible decision to make, but it may be the decision that saves their life. Addicts will only change if they find themselves cornered with no way out. Simply put, this is where an addict/alcoholic finds the will to live. If you give them any chance to get out of this corner, it had better be to a rehab, and a long-term stays at a Sober Living Home.
I realize many will find this harsh, and I am aware of that. I am not trying to be inflammatory or grandiose with what I have said here; it’s meant to shock people out of their conventional thinking because addiction is VERY unconventional.
You can walk with them in their addiction, or you can stop and tell them, “I will be here for you if you decide to come back.”