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When is Enabling Just Helping

Addiction Recovery for Families, Family Recovery | February 15, 2014

Enabling is not a black and white activity. There are shades of gray.

Take Cathy. She lives with Gary, who sleeps in due to his drinking. If she doesn’t wake him, he will miss work. If Cathy is his mother, and he is living in her house where she does not depend on his income to support her and the family, then yes, waking him up would be enabling him. She would in effect be disallowing him from experiencing the consequences of his drinking.

But, if Cathy is his wife and Gary is the primary breadwinner in the home, she may decide to put the immediate well-being of her family before his immediate enlightenment. In other words, when she wakes him up to get to work it is not to cover his tracks or protect HIM, but rather, to get him going so he can continue to support his family.

This behavior could be referred to as enabling his drinking or as helping him continue to take personal responsibility for supporting his family.

Could it contribute to his continued drinking? Yes.
Is Cathy at fault for doing it. You decide.

As we say in the 7 C’s of BALM®:
Number 7: You are always at choice.

Cathy gets to set her boundaries; to pick what is most important in her family. And you and I don’t get to judge.(Of course, we could always CHOOSE to judge, but what a waste of energy that would be! LOL)

Let’s take another example:
Annie’s husband is on a wait list to get into a detox. The people at the detox have told her not to bug her husband about drinking until he gets in.
Maybe that one is too obvious.

How about this one:
Heather’s son is in jail. She can work with a lawyer to create a ‘treatment or prison’ offer to the judge or just let things take their course which, where they live would mean jail.
What should she do?

She could say, I mustn’t interfere with his consequences at all.” Or, “I will do everything to encourage his getting help, but will not try to get him out of having some sort of consequence at all.”

The longer you are in family recovery, the more you may hear others providing their take on what you are or are not doing and the more you will understand that almost nothing is black or white.

Families impact a loved one’s addiction and the research shows that when families get help, the user has a greater chance of getting and staying sober. But each situation is unique and each family’s choices may different than the next family’s decisions.

Decisions arise from intention. Trying to protect a loved one from the consequences of their behavior can The intention to allow a loved one to ‘have their way’ (get out of jail, get waited on by you, get money from you) so they will not be mad at you, sounds like it comes from an unhealthy place in the family member. Your job is not to please your using loved one or make it easier for them to get their drug. On the other hand, the intention to help a loved one get help or take responsibility (through advocating for them to go to treatment rather than simply go to prison, or helping set up a long term recovery care management plan – with people in place to continue working with them should they experience re-occurrence of their disease or through getting them up early so they can earn money to support the family)

This is not something everyone is willing to sit with. But it’s true.

Let’s start with some definitions.

Allow yourself to sit in the gap between your situation and what you are going to do about it. The identical activity can be enabling in one case and helping in another. How you think about your situation is more important than what you do. To help you determine which it is, re-read the tips included in this blog post.