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Enabling vs. Helping

BALM | March 23, 2018

By Jackie Stein, BALM® Family Recovery Life Coach

Am I enabling or helping and what is the difference?  This is a question I have been asked by clients many times.  It is also a question I have asked myself.  We can all think of fact patterns that we would consider enabling.   However, sometimes the answer is not so clear.  Sometimes the answer is, “It depends.”  On what does it depend?  Usually on a wider set of facts than the specific action we might take.

Your daughter is sleeping off a busy party night.  If you want to wake her in the morning before school so she makes the choice to go or not to go, is that enabling or helping?  What if you go so far as to drive her to school so she won’t be late?  Is that enabling her or helping her?  What if she has her own apartment and you call her every morning to make sure she is getting up to go to school?  Is that enabling or helping?  What if you paid for school and will be reimbursed the tuition if she keeps a passing grade but if she fails it will cause you a significant hardship?  There is no right or wrong answer here. The answer will be different depending upon your own frame of reference.  But it IS worth talking about.

Your husband passed out on the  couch last night.  This is not the first time this has happened.  He needs to “come to” or he will not get to work and may get fired.  Do you wake him to get to work?  Can the family afford that consequence?  Does it matter if he is the sole breadwinner in the house?  What if you are the primary breadwinner?  If he gets fired, how will that affect the family’s monthly bills?  In this case, who will ultimately suffer the consequences — your husband or the whole family?  Is that enabling or helping?

Your son is waiting to get a detox bed, and is starting to go into withdrawal.  He is in severe pain and there is no bed available today. Do you drive him to the dope man to cop?  Do you pay for the dope?  Does it matter if he is withdrawing from benzos or opiates?  Does it matter if there is a hospital bed available?

Your wife has been in recovery from pain pills and has a relapse.  Do you give her another chance to start again?  Is this the first time she has relapsed?  Does it matter if she has relapsed twice in the last 12 months?  Does it matter if she has been clean for 5 years?  20 years?

Any one of the above situations could be considered enabling.  And any one of the above situations could be considered helping.  Let’s remember that every situation is our own and while others can make suggestions to us, they cannot tell us what to do — nor should they.  The most important focus for us is the 7C’s of the Be A Loving Mirror® (BALM®)program:

  • You did not cause your loved one’s Substance Use Disorder.
  • You cannot control your loved one’s Substance Use Disorder.
  • You cannot cure your loved  one’s Substance Use Disorder.
  • You CAN contribute to their recovery.
  • You are connected to your loved one on a level that transcends their Substance Use Disorder.
  • You CAN learn to communicate more effectively with your loved one.
  • You are ALWAYS at choice!

If you would like to hire Jackie as your BALM® Coach please email info@familyrecoveryresources.com or call 1-888-998-BALM (2256) ext. 2.

If you would like to learn more about the BALM® Family Recovery Education Program CLICK HERE.