We often say, “No one chooses addiction – no one decides to become addicted to drugs or alcohol.” And that’s true. But what about when we talk about enabling? Is that a choice? After all, we are just trying to do the right thing, to love the person struggling with addiction. Is enabling an active choice that someone makes? From someone who has been addicted and subsequently enabled, I can tell you: No. No one wants to become a drug addiction enabler.
Not one mother wakes up in the morning and decides when her little boy gets older, she wants to give him rent money that will be used to purchase heroin – heroin that might result in his overdose. No husband chooses on his wedding day that he will one day make excuses like, “She’s under a lot of stress right now,” for his wife’s slurred words and third DUI charge.
Just like addiction, enabling doesn’t happen overnight. It happens over a series of manipulations, tears and hugs, fights and make-ups, even life and death situations. Enablers are not born, enablers are created. They are built from the emotional rollercoaster that addicted family members put them on.
I know this firsthand. When I was drinking, I made my family into enablers.
I didn’t do it intentionally. I love my family more than anything in this world. I never wanted to hurt them. But when I was drinking, I reasoned with myself, which turned into reasoning with them.
The following are some of the excuses I used to create my enablers.
“It’s not my fault.”
When I was drinking, this was my go-to response. It’s an excuse that I repeated over and over to the people I love. Whatever the indiscretion was, I could always find a way to blame someone or something else. The consequences for my actions were too difficult to comprehend, but if I made an excuse for it, I didn’t have to blame myself.
Think for example, when I got a speeding ticket. I would say, “It’s not my fault, I didn’t know that the was cop there.” It may be true that the cop was hiding in a way that I couldn’t see his car.. However, I was the one who ignored the speed limit sign. I made the conscious decision to drive above the speed limit. But by putting the blame on the police officer, I didn’t have to accept responsibility. I pointed the finger at someone else.
How It Made My Family Feel:This excuse gave my family a distraction from what was really going on; my addiction. If it’s not my fault, it’s easier for me to forgive myself and easier for my family to forgive me.
How it Created Enablers: My mother needed to believe that it was someone else’s fault. If the blame lied within the hands of a third party she could breathe easy knowing that I didn’t have an addiction. It needed to be someone else’s fault. If it was, she didn’t have to look at the mess that my life had become..
I can tell you from the bottom of my heart that when I said this to my mother, I really believed it. And I know that when my mother heard it, she really wanted to believe it, too.
Addiction – 1, Rebecca – 0.
“Why don’t you trust me?”
In the storm of my alcoholism, I was a master at manipulation and shouldn’t have been trusted. Did I intentionally lie to hurt someone? Was I a malicious person who wanted to cause my loved ones to cry?
My lies consisted of half truths. I omitted important information about circumstances that my family really needed to know. I knew deep down that it wasn’t the full truth, but as long as it was partially true, it wasn’t difficult to use this excuse.
Have you ever heard your loved one say, “I’ve only had two beers,” or “I’m perfectly fine to drive”?
You know that they’ve have had more to drink than they’re admitting. The physical evidence is as follows; their speech is slurred, their legs are wobbly, they are overly affectionate or extremely defensive. You can clearly see that they’re intoxicated… if they weren’t, you wouldn’t ask them how much they’ve had to drink. They are telling you a lie that is sprinkled with the truth. Yes, they’ve had two beers, after that, they’ve also had beers three, four, and five.
When they ask, “why don’t you trust me?” – it’s meant to make you look the other way and focus on something other than the addiction.
How It Made My Family Feel: This excuse made my family feel guilty for suspecting that I wasn’t telling the truth. They wanted to believe that I was honest.
How it Created Enablers: I played on their emotions and they gave me the benefit of the doubt. My confrontational statement about trust gave them a reason to look the other way. In the beginning of addiction, this is easier to do because the problem hasn’t gotten quite so bad. Enablers get into the habit of wearing blinders so that by the time they finally take them off, it’s usually because something pretty bad has happened.
The Result: This excuse kept me and my family in denial about my addiction. And I kept drinking. Two beers was just a snack for me and my problem only got worse.
Addiction – 2, Rebecca – 0.
“You can monitor my drinking.”
In all reality, this may seem like a feasible solution to my drinking problem. You and I can go out, have a good time, once you think I’ve had enough to drink, just tell me to stop and I will.
How It Made My Family/Friends Feel: By making my friends or family think they are in control of my drinking, they’re more prone to accept it. This excuse gave my friends and family a false sense of control that they could cut me off. Plus, they trusted me. See Excuse #2.
How It Created Enablers: The amount of alcohol that you think is enough and the amount of alcohol that makes me feel good are two different amounts. Once I have the first drink I’m not going to want to stop. I will have a shot or two while you’re in the bathroom, or I will disappear for a little while.
That way I’m getting what I want. I got to drink as much as I felt like drinking – while my friends thought they were in control. Obviously, this didn’t work for long because I would get completely drunk.
Inevitably, my addiction would monopolize a fun night because of the monitoring of my alcoholic drinking, and a nasty fight when I was cut off.
The Result: I got to keep drinking WITH my friends and family by giving them a false sense of control. Plus if I got too drunk – they were too blame. See Excuse #1. And I kept drinking.
Addiction – 3, Rebecca – 0.
“I will stop drinking for you.”
I really meant this one when I said it because I love my family. I didn’t want them to be angry with me all of the time. Even though I didn’t think I had a problem, I swore up and down to them that I would quit. No more drunken nights, no more DUI’s, no more fighting. For them, I would quit. And I sincerely believed that this time, I would.
How It Made My Family Feel: This excuse filled my enablers with a sense of love. Trust. And control. Sounds familiar?
How It Creates Enablers: This promise only lasted so long for me. After I pulled a few days or weeks together without drinking, I proved to myself that I was not an alcoholic. An alcoholic wouldn’t be able to put that much time together, and I did. I deserved a pat on the back.
More than that, I deserved a beer… I mean beer isn’t hard liquor. Alcoholics drink hard liquor out of a paper bag and live under a bridge, right? That wasn’t me, I had a job, a car, a place to live.
Hearing those words, “I love you, and I will stop using drugs for you,” are powerful. You believe that they love you, so why wouldn’t they stop using for you? The truth was – without real help – I couldn’t.
The Result: I do love my family and I did want to quit drinking for them. But it wasn’t about love, it was about the disease I was battling. They believed me – at first. And I would try different family members out and tell them THEY were the ones that could help me stop drinking.
Each person believed me when I said THEY were the one I was really going to quit drinking for. And so I kept drinking.
Addiction – 4, Rebecca – 0.
When my excuses stopped.
So I admit it. I built my enablers. I have lied to others and to myself. I gave them excuses for me to thrive on – and for them to expand upon. My addiction used their trust in me against them.
It left them with one very difficult choice. To stop.
Because you see, I couldn’t stop drinking. But they could stop enabling.
The day Mom locked me out of the house, stopped giving me money and stopped believing my manipulative words was the day I finally found myself alone, scared and sicker than I’d ever been. By giving up their enabling excuses I forced to truly face the natural consequences of my actions.
Know of someone who’s struggling with addiction? You may have been turned into an enabler too. Want to save them? Remember they can’t stop.
But you can.
My enablers provided emotional support for me, and I knew they were always there to accept my consequences for me. Their enabling was borne out of good intentions, love and care. But those feelings were misguided.
Don’t ignore that nagging feeling inside that something is wrong. Deep down, you know the truth. Stop making excuses for your loved one, and they’ll stop making excuses for themselves.
Your loved one – 1 Addiction – 0