Helping out those we care about when they’re in a tough spot is just part of who we are as people. Do you know that feeling when you want to be there for your family, friends, or anyone close to you? It’s like an automatic response.
But here’s the twist: sometimes, when someone we love is caught up in the grip of drug or alcohol addiction, that natural instinct to help can backfire. It’s not that we mean any harm – far from it – but trying to fix everything for them can actually make things worse. We call this well-meaning but excessive support ‘enabling.’ It’s like offering too much of a good thing.
Enabling conduct is incredibly prevalent among those who have a loved one grappling with active substance dependency. As they witness the disintegration of this individual’s life and the mounting repercussions linked to their dependency, a deep-rooted desire emerges to help them retrace their steps. While this yearning to provide assistance is noble, it can, in fact, cause more harm than good in the long run.
Detach With Love
Mastering the art of supporting an addict without succumbing to enabling is the cornerstone of being a valuable asset to your loved one, both while they are entrenched in addiction and when they embark on the road to recovery. The challenge lies in relinquishing control and, as much as you might be tempted to dispense counsel, monetary support, guidance, and cover for their actions, instead empowering them to take ownership of their condition and recovery journey.
As demanding as it may be to stand aside and trust that the loved one in recovery will navigate daily life in accordance with what they’ve learned during treatment, resisting the impulse to rescue them proves advantageous for all parties involved.
Al-anon, an auxiliary support group linked with Alcoholics Anonymous, has a motto that provides valuable insight: “Detach with love.” These three succinct words have guided numerous well-meaning individuals in safeguarding their own mental well-being and vitality by relinquishing control. The most invaluable gift you can bestow upon your loved one is the simple assurance of your affection.
Addiction: A Family Malady
When a family member is suffering from drug or alcohol dependency, its reverberations affect every member of the household. The repercussions of addiction seep into the very fabric of the family, generating a destabilising effect that ripples far and wide. Bonds of trust fracture, finances are decimated, and emotions are wounded as deceit and treachery permeate the family structure. Underlying anxiety pervades, anticipating the next disastrous development as the consequences accumulate.
Acknowledging addiction as a familial ailment, it’s imperative to involve the family in the recovery process. A concentrated endeavour to provide emotional support while steering clear of enabling snares is essential. Grasping how to extend support without enabling actions is crucial, enabling the family to fully rally behind their loved one’s personal efforts to instigate fundamental transformations in their life while refraining from shouldering the work on their behalf.
Unmasking Enabling Patterns
On initial observation, enabling behaviours might resemble the conduct of a benevolent figure. It could be a parent who exhausts all efforts to aid their child addicted to substances, exhausting financial resources through repeated home loans to cover DUI fines or rehabilitation expenses. A mother might dedicate her waking hours to scouring job listings for her grown-up child who has lost employment due to dependency. A sibling might cover up for their brother’s absence from work.
In reality, these acts of compassion often lead to the continued perpetuation of the loved one’s addictive behaviours…because they can. They’ve acquired the skill to manipulate the situation. There’s no incentive for them to change their behaviour because well-intentioned yet unaware family or friends shield them from the consequences of their actions.
Enabling has the opposite effect; rather than providing love, encouragement, and assistance, you are, in fact, harming your loved one. You are abetting their addiction. If your loved one is in recovery, it’s paramount to step back and let them engage with the program. Allow them to seize control of their recovery journey. They need to become stakeholders in their recovery and in their survival. For a partner or parent to continue pestering them, questioning their whereabouts, or reminding them about meetings only chips away at their self-worth and self-assurance.
Conquering Enabling Patterns
Once an enabler acknowledges their manipulation or self-imposed victimhood, they might resent their addicted loved one. Oddly enough, anger and resentment can serve as catalysts for essential change. When an enabler finds themselves drained, battle-worn, frazzled, and depleted, it’s time to ask pertinent questions:
- Are others’ actions or reactions causing my suffering?
- Am I allowing myself to be exploited in the interest of someone’s recovery?
- Am I accomplishing tasks for them that they can manage on their own?
- Am I orchestrating situations to coerce the person into behaving as I desire?
- Am I concealing this person’s blunders or misconduct?
- Am I generating crises through my enabling?
- Am I attempting to avert a crisis despite its natural course?
Suppose months or years of covering up for your loved one with dependency issues have left you emotionally and physically drained, with no discernible change in their conduct. In that case, you’ve indeed assumed the role of an enabler. You’ve been extinguishing fires one after the other, thinking you demonstrated love in those moments. In hindsight, it becomes painfully apparent that all you’ve achieved is the erosion of your own spirit.
Now is the time to prioritise your own well-being. Establish firm boundaries, establish an exercise regimen, dine out with friends, adopt a new hobby, and practice self-nurturing. Moreover, seeking psychological assistance through a therapist can provide a safe space to express your anxieties and receive pragmatic advice.
Supporting Responsibly, Without Enabling
So, the question arises: what distinguishes support from enabling for a loved one in recovery? Firstly, it’s imperative to comprehend that your loved one is not as frail and susceptible as you may perceive them to be.
Mothers, in particular, are hardwired to care for their offspring. However, children require that attention. They depend on their parents for everything, at least until they reach a certain level of maturity. Mothers are so accustomed to putting their children first that they can overlook the fact that their child is now a teenager or young adult, equipped to make decisions and take actions independently. They don’t need their mother to do it all for them.
In essence, support entails saying: I understand, I’m here, and I’m ready to listen. Enabling, on the other hand, entails actions like I’ve stocked your fridge (lest you go hungry), I’ve paid your bills (to prevent the lights from being cut off), and I’ll assist you in dodging that minor legal charge in court. Individuals with dependency issues need to experience hunger if they’re unwilling to allocate funds for food. They need to navigate the inconveniences and costs of restoring their electricity. They need to confront the legal predicaments that they themselves have engendered. Essentially, those in recovery must assume the mantle of responsibility for their lives.
Various ways exist for family members to provide support to their recovering loved ones without unwittingly enabling them. These actions convey the message of love and solidarity in their recovery journey:
- Engage in family therapy: Many rehab programmes include opportunities for family-focused events or therapy sessions. These sessions facilitate the healing process for the entire family and provide critical insights.
- Educate yourself about addiction: Understanding the neurological underpinnings of addiction is vital. Family members should educate themselves about how addiction forms and alters the brain.
- Set healthy boundaries: Establish clear rules and boundaries, consistently enforce them, and allow natural consequences to occur when they are breached.
- Foster open communication: Creating a space for honest conversation is essential, especially in early recovery. Be nonjudgmental and guide them toward relapse prevention strategies.
- Create a substance-free environment: Remove sources of temptation in the living space to support their sobriety.
- Share enjoyable sober activities: Assist them in transitioning to a sober lifestyle by partaking in healthy activities together.
Ultimately, mastering the art of supporting without enabling is the cornerstone of altering the dysfunctional dynamics that took root during a loved one’s active addiction. Now, with the backdrop of their recovery, seize the opportunity to begin anew. Understand how to extend invaluable love and support without doing for them what they must accomplish on their own to attain sustainable recovery.
When Your Loved One Remains in Active Addiction
Admittedly, if your loved one is still entrenched in substance abuse, you’re still contending with their distressing behaviours daily and battling against the impulse to enable their self-destructive actions. While it’s arduous to stand by without intervening when they are ensnared in such behaviours, it remains crucial to encourage them to seek treatment.
This is the most impactful action you can take for a loved one grappling with substance use disorder. With time, as they bear the full brunt of the consequences of their addiction, there is a glimmer of hope that they might surprise you by agreeing to seek help.
How We Help at White River Manor
At White River Manor, we offer tailored programmes and individualised care to our guests. Our team of highly qualified therapists, medical professionals, and dependency specialists collaborates with clients to design a programme that reinstates equilibrium and well-being in their lives.
If you’re interested in discussing treatment options and how White River Manor can assist in your recovery, feel free to reach out to our intake team.