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What if my family won’t listen to what I am learning in the BALM?

BALM | September 15, 2018

This note came in from a family member trying to communicate with her spouse about her daughter’s use disorder.

Dear Bev,

I’m about to write a BALM script to my husband about not feeling heard in general and about my thoughts on our daughter’s problems. The challenge is my husband never listens to me and so I am not very hopeful about getting through to him. This is a problem about our marriage in general. But, Bev, my daughter’s situation requires that we stop enabling her or we could actually contribute to her death from the opioid epidemic. What do you recommend?


Mom in Distress


Dear Mom,

You are not alone. Many BALM parents/spouses/family members come into the program and learn about the tremendous potential their behavior can have on their loved one’s chances of getting into and staying in recovery. Understandably, they try to share that new understanding with other family members. Sometimes, they find support and allies in the life and death battle of helping to save their child, spouse, or other loved one. Other times, not so much.

Often, in a family, there is one person who is the enabler, always willing to give more and more, regardless of consequence and one who is the stricter one, somehow knowing that all of that giving can’t be good…

When the stricter one  doesn’t give because they are burnt out on giving or because have their own plans for their savings that does not involve the using person, the problem can occur when there is a need for treatment or other help, and they can, but will not, help.

Ideally, in a family, all members learn about the difference between enabling and helping as we define them in the BALM:

Enabling = helping the person kill themselves by giving them money for drugs, doing what they tell you to do (such as getting them out of treatment early, not requiring aftercare when the treatment professionals recommend it, etc.) or mindlessly paying their expenses so they can use their own money for their drug of choice

Helping = helping the person move toward recovery in a planful way, whether by helping them get into treatment, providing them with harm reduction opportunities while helping them move them forward through BALMing and professional help, funding recovery-oriented and life supporting activities when they are clearly in recovery,  etc. (Your BALM coach and/or the many informational recordings on the BALM Comprehensive can help you assess how to do this)

When an enabler or an overly strict family member comes into the BALM and realizes their actions are harming their loved one, they will  learn as much as they can and get all the help they can (often getting a BALM coach to help them get on track). You have done that and continue to work with your daughter to help her move forward.

But what if, as in your case, you are the only one who understands this difference and you are desperately trying to get your family member to start helping and stop enabling but they seem to be ignoring all of your efforts?

The value of having BALM conversations cannot be overemphasized of course. Simply sharing the facts in a loving, non-nagging, matter of fact, brief way, time and again as needed (your BALM coach and 7 steps classes will help you become an expert at this) is a powerful way to drip, drip, drip the facts into your family member or loved one’s mind and heart.

Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, BALM conversations do engage a deeper part of their being over time. We have seen it happen again and again that someone who appears to not even be listening or who gets very upset even vitriolic when you are sharing the facts over time is moved by your ongoing calm, loving engagement. When you cannot be moved to become vitriolic with them, they often, eventually will wake up to the truth that facts bring to a situation.

So, my answer is to not worry about the immediate reaction, but continue to work steps one, two and three: Be the peace, objectively observe, be aware of your own inner emotional landscape without judgment, so that you can share what you document and script in a loving way (steps 4-6).

In my next column, I will talk about what to do if the BALM conversations are not enough or if your situation requires quicker action than the drip drip drip of the BALM conversation can provide.

Until then Mom, keep BALMing, keep growing, and keep learning.

Much love,


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

If you would like a complementary coaching session contact Tracy at tward@familyrecoveryresources.com or call 1-888-998-BALM (2256) option 2.