Why is it so important to stop helping a substance abuser? I fear that if I don’t help the alcoholic that they may follow through with threats of killing themselves. I suppose that if I cut them off that I might lose them completely. The fear of lose seems to be the root of my problem or perhaps it is just fear that is the very heart of the issue.
A good friend of mine who has been helping people just like you and me for over thirty years told me that if I continued to enable the alcoholic, I was just helping them to their grave.
That’s a tough one to swallow.
It was through interacting with her that I was able to glean from her vast wisdom on this subject of being an enabler.
What are some of the ways that we enable?
- Covering bad checks, paying rent, loaning money or allowing them to free-load. Any amount of help we provide in the arena of finances could possibly be considered enabling.
- Calling in sick for them because they are too inebriated or hungover to do so themselves. I suppose this could be categorized as telling lies for the alcoholic.
- Carting them around town to various appoints or work because their driver’s license was suspended.
- Baby sitting for their children while they are out partying. This is a classic case of trying to protect the children from the effects of alcoholism in the family and at the same time enabling an alcoholic to not take responsibility for their role as a mother or father.
- Taking control of trying to fix what the alcoholic has messed up. This means we do things like bail them out of jail, hire attorneys for them with our money or pay for their car insurance premiums. We basically have a tendency to try to rescue them from harm’s way. We have a strong compulsion to fix what they have messed up.
There are probably a million reasons why we are compelled to do these various acts of kindness.
How can you know if a particular action could be considered enabling ?
While this can be a bit clouded at times, I find it helps to take a moment and inspect my motives.
(Questions From: The Courage To Change-Alanon literature, pg, 5)
Am I trying to interfere with the natural consequences of a loved one’s choices?
Am I trying to do for someone what they could do for themselves?
Am I doing what I think is best for me?
Do I resent what I am doing? If so, is it really a choice?
I suppose one of the best things I could do is to let an alcoholic take full responsibility for their own behaviors. Perhaps this is the most compassionate thing to do, let them suffer the consequence of their poor choices and actions.
When we decide to stop being enablers our choices have nothing to do with how they will affect the alcoholic. They have everything to do with our emotional well-being. Making a decision to do things differently can be very empowering for us. The reason is because we are doing what we know is best for us, the next right thing. When we do make changes, it’s very possible that the alcoholic will drink even more to try to relieve the additional load they are carrying now.
We must let the alcoholics in our lives experience the consequences of their poor choices. When we allow things to happen naturally, perhaps, they may reach their bottom sooner than later.
Taking care of ourselves instead of the alcoholic, takes a little getting used to. It’s in our very nature to want to care of people and fix their problems. In alcoholism support groups we are referred to as care-takers. We are good at fixing everything and everybody that is broken.
The one tip I can give you that is very powerful is that the word “NO” is a complete sentence. To take it a step further, you do not have to explain why you said; “no” to the alcoholic in your life. In actual fact, when they ask you why, you can say something like: “because that’s my answer” and leave it at that.
Now, you better believe that you will be faced with an angry alcoholic. You can also count on the problem drinker trying to make you feel guilty. The alcoholic will try to blame you for all of their problems as well. That’s going to be OK because you are going to learn more about how to cope with an alcoholic in order to be equipped to handle the resistance.
When we stop enabling the entire world around us has to change. The alcoholic may not quit drinking, but we will feel a whole lot better about ourselves for doing the right thing.
Maybe our friend, spouse, co-worker or loved one will make a decision to quit drinking as a result of the changes we have made. It is something to hope for, but not something to expect.