When a loved one is hurting, in danger, or in trouble – your initial, gut reaction is likely to lend a hand; to drop everything to comfort them; to help them.
But what if those reactions and steps you were taking to help your friend or family member in their problem or crisis – were the very things that were hurting them the most? And going one step further – what if those same steps and the effects of those steps didn’t just harm your loved one, but also caused pain and destruction into your own life?
While this scenario might seem backward – after all, you were only intending to help – this in fact, can be all too true in the world of addiction. When dealing with addiction and the relationships between those in active addiction and their loved ones, things can get complicated.
Because enabling is extremely complicated, it can come in numerous forms. Whether enabling is extreme – such as financing a loved one’s addiction by giving him or her money for heroin or pills, or it is vague – such ignoring the addiction and hoping it simply goes away, enabling someone in active addiction can have dramatic consequences. For this reason, it is important to distinguish between truth and fiction when it comes to enabling addiction.
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Myth #1: “I can keep my loved one from using drugs or alcohol.”
Truth: If your loved one is inactive drug or alcohol addiction – your loved one is sick. He has a disease. And by thinking you can control your loved one’s actions or behaviors, and enabling him or her – you’re also sick with co-dependency. Addiction is a family disease, and you’ve become a part of the denial system. You are in no position to “cure” your loved one.
When it comes to addiction, none of the “normal” things work: you support, encourage, get tough, beg, plead, threaten, reason – and start all over again. You can’t control your loved one’s addiction; all you can do is control yourself.
Myth #2: “If I can’t get him or her to stop using, there must be something wrong with me.”
Truth: Perhaps you feel you’re not as good of a parent as you should have been, you’re not as attractive or as successful of a spouse as your loved one wants, or you’re not as interesting as you should be. The truth is, people often pass judgment on themselves for their “failure” as a parent/spouse/friend when a loved one is struggling with addiction. Often times, they feel that their loved one is a reflection of themselves. The addiction is not the family’s fault. The addiction is not the individual’s fault. Addiction is a disease.
Myth #3: “If the addicted family member gets treatment, everything will be solved.”
Truth: Addiction is a family disease. Treatment must include a family solution. When your loved one goes to an addiction treatment rehab, he or she is spending 30, 60, 90 days or more working on him or herself. During that time, your loved one is learning, growing, changing and healing. What will you be doing? If you think that the problem only revolved around your loved one, the chances are – you may not be doing any learning, growing, changing or healing of your own — and if that’s the case, when your loved one comes home, there’s bound the be more issues. Getting help for addiction means getting help for yourself, as well. Learn how to talk to, trust, and live with your loved one again – and learn how to change enabling behaviors.
Your addicted loved one will need to get treatment, and you will too: separately and also together. And then you’ll need to work on the relationship. Your relationship can only stand if there is a solid foundation.
Myth #4: “I can tough this out by myself.”
Truth: You’ve been the caretaker in your family for a long time. This is one thing that you cannot do on your own: you can’t cure your loved one on your own. Just like you wouldn’t try to diagnose or treat your loved one on your own for cancer, diabetes, or heart disease – you shouldn’t try to treat addiction by yourself either. Treating addiction is a job for experts. Living with a loved one who is addicted to drugs or alcohol has caused you to be sick, too: codependency is a disease that can tear you apart.
The best steps you can take are to encourage your addicted family member to get professional addiction treatment, to learn about the disease, and to surround yourself with support and other people who know what you’re feeling.
Ultimately, your loved one’s desire to change must come from within – but ending enabling and forcing them to face the harsh realities of substance addiction and its consequences might just be the incentive he or she needs to seek professional help. After all, addiction is a progressive disease that will only worsen the longer treatment is put off. The road to recovery won’t be easy – and the journey will likely be a long one, but the help and support found at rehab may be exactly what your loved one needs to begin his or her path to long term recovery.