I’m a football fan. I grew up in a home where the television sounds of a packed stadium and commentators filled the house on Sunday afternoons. My precious Pittsburgh Steelers “Terrible Towel” is dear to my heart. I’m a University of Miami Hurricane, and hang onto hope that one day, we’ll return to our glory days. My husband coaches high school football – and Friday Night Lights is a way of life. Being a football fan means loving to hate (and hating to love) the teams and players that are better than yours. A few years ago, I hated to love watching Texas A&M’s quarterback, Johnny Manziel. Johnny, nicknamed “Johnny Football” – broke numerous NCAA and SEC records. He became the first freshman to win the coveted Heisman Trophy. In fear of boring you with all of his outstanding statistics: He was good. However, things have spiraled downhill for Johnny the past few years. There have been numerous reports of his heavy partying, fighting, and reckless behavior. He’s recently accused of assaulting his ex-girlfriend. The Cleveland Brown’s quarterback has faced multiple fines from the NFL for obscene gestures and actions. Johnny’s father recently told press he feared his son wouldn’t live to see his 24th birthday next January. It is clear that his reckless pattern of behavior is destroying Johnny’s career – and his life. Now, a new report alleges that Johnny Manziel arrived at a Cleveland Browns practice drunk at the end of the season – and the Browns failed to report the incident, instead insisting he had a concussion. If true, and the Cleveland Browns lied to try to protect Johnny – they aren’t doing anything to actually help him: Their lies are only enabling him. Like most families, the National Football League isn’t equipped to deal with addiction. By lying about Johnny’s condition, the team may have felt they were doing him a favor. They may have felt it would save him embarrassment. They may have felt that Johnny keeping his job is good for his health. They may have hoped he learned his lesson. They may have hoped it’d be a wakeup call. If you have a son or daughter, grandchild, parent, sibling or spouse who is addicted to drugs or alcohol – you’ll do anything you can to help them, even if it means doing things you normally would never do. You don’t lie for them because you’re a bad person. You don’t call in sick for them because you have no moral values. You don’t pick them up after a bender or allow them to stay with you because you want them to remain sick. You do those things because you love them and you’re truly at a loss for what to do to help. Enabling, ultimately, is misplaced help.
The Risk of Enabling.
Protecting a person struggling with addiction from the consequences of his or her behavior is dangerous. When you protect someone from natural consequences, it reduces his or her motivation to change. If Johnny Manziel keeps his position as a starting NFL quarterback, making millions of dollars a year – he has very little incentive to change his behavior and seek help. If you continually bail a loved one out of jail, pick her up from the bar every night, or call in sick for him when he’s hungover on Oxycontin – it’s unlikely that your loved one will want to change. After all, things are working out for them with very little work. Besides removing any motivation for him or her to change, enabling an addicted person is also harmful for the person who is doing it. Enabling can reflect a collapse in boundaries – and a complete loss of focus on you. It often leads to anxiety and anger.
Breaking the Pattern of Enabling.
Enabling addiction is a cyclical pattern that’s hard to break. The first step, however, is to establish boundaries about what you will and will not do for your loved one. For example:
- “I will not give you money for food, but I will meet you at Panera for lunch and treat you to a sandwich.”
- “I will not call in sick for you, but I will call to get information from some drug addiction treatment centers about getting you help.”
- “I will not bail you out of jail, but I will ask the judge to get you into an addiction treatment program.”
It’s also important to establish the boundaries of what you will and will not tolerate.
- “I will not tolerate drugs or drug use in my home, but I will tolerate a phone call.”
- “I will not tolerate disrespect, but I will tolerate sincerity and honesty.”
It’s crucial that you distinguish between helping and enabling. While helping an addicted person is getting him or her into an addiction rehab program and giving her the recovery support he or she needs — enabling only involves trying to mend the immediate crisis. The best message to give your loved one is: The best I can do to help you, is help you find treatment.
Stop Problem Solving.
Rather than trying to solve all of the problems that your loved one creates, allow your him or her to find motivation to change. By refusing to bail him or her out financially, legally, or professionally by cleaning up the mess, lying, or covering for your loved one – you force him or her to deal with the messy and harsh consequences. Doing so may provide just the incentive he or she needs to ask for or seek professional help at an addiction treatment center. We hope that the Cleveland Browns and the National Football League make the right decision to stop enabling Johnny Manziel, and that he is able to get the help that he needs. Although I’ve cheered against the star quarterback for many years – I’m now in his corner, hoping he’ll find healing and recovery.