“I love you just because you are you.” Unconditional love is something that can be difficult to explain to those who have never experienced it; but for those who have – mothers, fathers, grandparents, sons or daughters, even siblings and spouses – you love without restrictions or conditions. Loving someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol without restrictions or conditions can be, without question, heartbreaking. Life becomes a battle between the head vs heart: a head that knows something has to change, and a heart that wants to keep the addicted person safe and wrapped in love.
Enabling by Way of Love
Because love is perhaps the strongest emotion a person can feel, it is the very act of loving unconditionally – with our entire hearts and souls – that makes it so easy to cross over the line to enabling. Because our hearts are so full of love, it is hard to bear seeing our addicted child, parent or spouse suffer. It is our natural instinct to wrap them in love, give them what they need to survive and sacrifice all that we have – financially and emotionally – alleviate their pain. Whether they ask for a few dollars, a place to stay, or a bill paid – we gladly hand it over to them; not in support of their drug or alcohol use – but to ease the pain we feel they are feeling. Regardless of any logic or nagging feeling deep within – that they will be using that money or support for drugs or alcohol.
The Telltale Signs
Somehow love gets tangled up in supporting their addiction, and we take it upon ourselves to “save” them from their pain, their suffering, and their addiction. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you make excuses for your loved one’s behavior or drug and alcohol use?
- Do you “cover” for them to make sure it stays hidden?
- Do you handle your loved one’s responsibilities?
- Have you ever paid your loved one’s bills, knowing they likely have used income on drugs and alcohol?
- Do you believe your loved one’s drug or alcohol use will eventually go away or resolve itself without help?
- Have you given second, third, fourth – and so on – chances?
- Have you ever bailed your loved one out of jail?
By answering yes to any of these questions, it may be a sign that you are enabling your loved one’s drug addiction. Despite your best intentions and a heart full of love and concern, you may be prolonging your loved one’s addiction – or perhaps allowing it to grow worse.
Ending Enabling, Continuing To Love
Stopping enabling behavior can be one of the most difficult, yet most important steps in helping your loved one get treatment for their addiction. While your loved one is sure to suffer consequences of your changing behavior – you are, too; you will receive push back and retaliation. You will experience fear and uncertainty of what will happen to your loved one if you’re not there to help or cover for them. However, You Can Still Love – Without Enabling – By Setting Boundaries. When it comes to speaking with an addicted loved one, conversations are difficult. However, setting boundaries and ending enabling behaviors will be much easier if you speak to your loved one before you take action. By establishing clear boundaries in your relationship, let your loved one know that you still love them – but you will be saying ‘no’ to all of their requests. Be assertive and let them know that you refuse to:
- Give them money – no matter the circumstance
- Lie or “cover” for them
- Handle their responsibilities
Emphasize that you will, however, support them in going to treatment. Your loved one is likely to become emotional – even angry with you – during this conversation, or when you deny their requests. You may experience manipulation or threats – don’t give in; know that you are doing the best thing for them.
Turning to Real Help
Although you’ve decided not to enable your loved one’s drug or alcohol addiction anymore, doesn’t mean that you can’t still love them and you can’t still help them. While their true desire to receive help and ultimately change their own patterns, behavior, and addiction must come from within – your encouragement will play a crucial role in their decision and their recovery. Support your addicted loved one in their decision to seek treatment at an addiction treatment center. Unconditional love doesn’t mean that you need to enable and support their addiction. What unconditional love does mean is that you will continue to love them, and do everything in your own power to assist them in the healing process. Unconditional love in the truest sense your willingness to endure all, so that your loved one can become whole, once again.