When someone you love continues in a vicious cycle of drug or alcohol addiction, the pain seems endless. Watching them struggle over and over again with drugs like heroin, cocaine, or hydrocodone feels the hardest thing you’ll ever do. But understanding where to draw the line and when to let go can be unbearably confusing and agonizing.
Maybe it’s your sister. Your blood ties you together. Every time she calls, she’s asking for money; money to pay her rent so she doesn’t go homeless; money to feed her son because she ran out of food and doesn’t get paid until next week; money for car repairs because hers broke down she can’t get to work without her vehicle.
But every time she calls, her words are slurred and her stories don’t add up. You know in your heart something is wrong, but you can’t bare to see her struggle. You make yourself trust her. She used to be trustworthy. So you give her money.
Maybe it’s your son. He’s your little boy. You birthed him, raised him, love him. He’s gotten into trouble with the law on and off over the years – selling marijuana, DUI’s, theft. But he can still be sweet to you. He just needs a place to stay for a little while, to get back on his feet. He just needs some money to fill up his gas tank so he can go out and try to get a job.
But every time he stays with you, money turns up missing. Your jewelry box is emptied. You know you’re giving him too much leeway, but it’s better than seeing him out on the streets or hanging out with a bad crowd. At least he’s home. So you let him stay with you.
For one of our Vertava Health Facebook friends, Angela* (*names have been changed to protect identities), it was her husband.
We recently spoke with Angela after reaching out to her on social media. Her story is one of love, misguided love, enabling, and continued heartbreak. Angela admits to enabling her husband’s crack addiction for over 15 years, only recently stopping within the last few months. Her story is one that is all too common in enabling.
When Angela met her husband, Tony*, 17 years ago, she had no idea that he had any problems with substance abuse. In fact, she once had addiction issues of her own and was so happy to find a man that loved her, regardless of previous struggles.
“I loved him. I saw him for the man he was,” Angela told us.
It didn’t take long for Angela to fall head-over-heals for Tony. She fell in love and they got married.
But just as quickly, she started to notice a change. Tony wasn’t home as often.
“He would tell me he was going to play golf and come back 12 hours later,” Angela said. “Sometimes he wouldn’t come home for days, leaving me stranded without a car… but there was always an excuse. He had an excuse for everything. Even though it didn’t seem quite right, I’m an honest person. I never lied to him. Why would he lie to me?”
After about a month into their marriage, Angela finally caught on.
“He was addicted to crack.”
As the years went by, Angela found Tony wrapped up in more and more lies.
“He’d lie about anything. Even things he didn’t need to lie about – things that weren’t important, he’d lie about it. He just couldn’t tell the truth.”
That’s when she found herself lying for him.
“I knew he was out getting high,” Angela told us. “He would miss work or miss flights and I was always there to clean up the mess. I’d call his boss and say he was really sick and couldn’t make it to work. I’d call the airlines and make up an emergency that he wasn’t going to make his flight.”
“He never asked me to make excuses for him, but I did because I loved him so much. I wanted to see him succeed. I didn’t want him to fail because I knew the man he was without the drugs. And he was a good man without them.”
Tony faced few consequences in his crack addiction. He kept his job – sometimes working two or three jobs at a time. He paid his bills. Angela stayed with him, made excuses for him, lied and gave him money to support his habit.
“I protected him like I would protect my child.”
But the relationship was what she called, “draining and dysfunctional”: Tony took money and jewelry from Angela and their kids. Angela covered for him. Tony went on benders that lasted days, without coming home. Angela kept a clean, comfortable home to try to keep him from going out.
“I would beg him to stay. I’d tell him I wouldn’t pry into what he was doing. I just wanted him to stay home.”
Eventually, Tony got caught in lies and legal problems. He faced the choice between jail and addiction treatment.
“He chose treatment,” Angela said. “Not because he really wanted to quit smoking crack. He chose rehab because he didn’t want to go to jail.”
Tony spent a year in an addiction treatment program, and afterward, he stayed sober – for a while.
“He was sober for about 6 months after that. And that’s when I saw the man I was in love with. Those few months, I saw the good man I had married. It just didn’t last.”
Angela says in the following years, the cycle continued. “I knew I was enabling him. I knew it for a long time, but I just couldn’t act on it. I couldn’t stop. I loved him.”
Angela admits she knew she wasn’t doing the right thing by enabling Tony’s crack addiction. But the only other alternative was to leave him – and that seemed just as painful.
The final blow came when Angela and Tony got into an argument, which led to insults and name-calling. That’s when Tony slapped Angela across the face.
“He didn’t hit me hard, but it didn’t matter.”
“I had been in an abusive relationship before, and I knew that slap turned the page on our marriage. He didn’t hit me hard, but it didn’t matter. He was comfortable enough to put his hand on me. That’s where I drew the line.”
Angela has since kicked Tony out of her home. While they are still legally married, she says he’s living in a “living in rooming house” – a room in a large industrial building with other tenants. She maintains that Tony does have a job and is working, providing for himself – although he may be hustling. While they still talk, she says she no longer supports him financially.
“Even now that he’s out of the house, I still have to restrain myself from offering help. I have to stop.”
When we asked Angela what she thought would happen to Tony, she told us she didn’t think he’d ever stop smoking crack. “He will probably die with a crack pipe in his mouth.”
“I won’t take him back.”
I can’t. I used to love him, but those feelings are gone. I gave this everything I could and I lost myself. Even if he was sober, I just don’t think I could ever take him back.”
Angela isn’t alone in her story of enabling. In fact, enabling is the number one cause of death in addiction.
The disease of addiction is more than just the individual suffering. It affects the entire family. And just like addiction,enabling is hard to stop – but it can mean the difference between life and death of your loved one.
If you’d like more information on how to love instead of enable, download this free infographic.