A mother wrote to me: My son is using heroin. I tried to help him, but also know I enabled him more than helped. I recently told him he had to leave my home after money went missing again. I questioned myself – was I wrong or right? He said he wasn’t using again, but then I found proof that he was. It is the constant questioning of myself and my feelings that is breaking me. I want so badly to believe him, to believe he is telling me the truth, but it’s hard especially when time after time I find out that I have been fooled.
My personal reaction: I enabled and many of us do. Dr. MacAfee writes, “Libby both helped and enabled her son. This is oftentimes a normal response. The mother-son bond is natural and deep, and her attempts to help by bailing him out were acts of love. She wanted to trust her son; however, she didn’t see the level of duplicity and deception that he was living. Not initially and not for many years.”
Today’s Promise to Consider: Enabling or not enabling – it can be confusing. I will forgive myself for all the mistakes I made and for all the times I didn’t have the answers. I’ll forgive my loved one, too. Today, I’ll find strength in forgiveness.926
I have never met a parent who entered this world of addiction who did not enable their child. It is just a fact that you will enable, regardless of the parents’ education and experience; even after you find your own recovery, read every book on addiction, attend Al-Anon, & work with a counselor you will, on occasion, still enable your child.
The point being, there is no blame or shame, you do the best you can and continue to reach out to your child with love and encouragement.
Forgiveness of our loved one is the first step toward our own healing, our personal recovery but I am wondering if I truly need to “focus” on forgiving myself for enabling my child. I did what every parent would do, has done and will continue to do, as they enter this insane world of addiction. Prayers for all our children
Libby and Pat I cannot agree more. Ditto to everything said.
So very well stated Pat! I too have been & occassionally still enable before I actually “think”!! Sometimes its so very hard because as the mother stated above I want so very much “TO BELIEVE”! One day at a time….
I like what Pat said “forgiveness of our loved one is a step toward OUR own healing”. It was only after I forgave myself, that I was able to move on. It was for my own healing.
There is no handbook on parenting that’s right or wrong. We all just do the best we can with what’s in front of us at any given time. And none of it is easy.
With love and respect,
Pat’s words, “Forgiveness of our loved one is a step toward our own healing,” are true for me, too. Jeff once told me, “Time heals all wounds, but time takes time.”
Barbara, you are correct that as parents we try to do the best we can do. I’ve had to forgive myself for the many mistakes I’ve made. Maybe this is particular to me, I don’t know. I always tried my best, but I wish I had gotten out of addiction’s way a lot sooner than I did. Jeff was lost in his addiction and I fought. It should have been the other way around. When I finally got out of the way, Jeff picked up his our cross and carried it.
My love to you all,
Parenting is difficult enough,and when the child has an addiction it becomes even more complicated. This post has been very helpful to me. Thanks!
This is an important topic and one that parent wrestle with constantly when their children are addicted. I know I also helped and enabled. We hang on to that dream that is never going to be and hope that the one thing we do or say will make the difference. It’s nice for parents to know that others have the same challenges.
My son, whom I thought was clean for 10 years, admitted to me that it was a hoax. At first, I felt so deceived, but then realized deception is a given for the addict. I have accepted that fact. We start again one day at a time praying that he will have the strength to succeed and continue to love him and stay close. Thanks, Libby.
Carol, I’m so very sorry. I am reminded of the AA saying, “How do you know an addict is lying?” Answer, “His lips are moving.”
Jeff convinced me over and over again that he was clean and sober while all the while he was lying or as you say, “It was a hoax.” Jeff was a master at deception. Even though I knew about addiction’s power over him, every relapse punctured my heart and spirit.
Stay strong. I’ll join you in prayer.
With love and respect,
It’s important to understand enabling -specifically what it is and what it is not ‘as applied to our own, individual circumstances’.
Even more critical is that we avoid falling into the trap of fixating about it to the detriment of increasing our momentum in the journey toward increased self-efficacy -that of a balanced, recovery-purposed perspective. We can continue to up our own self-awareness in order to avoid this common, energy-zapping pitfall so that we don’t spiral into full-on ruminating as we make our way. We deserve this…our addiction-challenged family member deserves it as much as we do.
So much of the momentum in recovery –that of our family member with a substance use disorder, as well as our own-depends upon our perspective/what we individually hold as the truth about our own and our addicted family members innate ability to make our way to increased well being, toward an ever-increasing skill set in building and applying genuine hope about the potential for healthy change –ours, our addicted loved one.
If we tend toward seeing ourselves/describing ourselves as parents who have ‘mostly’ failed our kid, via “enabling”, or through other means in the relational dynamic, it’s gonna up our anxiety… which will initiate coping via fear, anger, resentment. Fear + anger+resentment = hopeless. Not to mention, these toxic feelings, unresolved, render us ‘not nearly as likely’ to be as consistently effective as we could be at achieving sustainable peace and healthy change than if we operated in better balance of perspective.
That’s because anxiety/“catastrophic thinking” (which is often passed down in families-much like brown eyes/ blue eyes) causes us to direct the lions share of our energies inward, obsessively. So remember to remind yourself of the incredible strength, perseverance and love you demonstrate throughout this journey that has continued to serve your and your son/daughters healthy change process.
Think of it in terms of simple math for a moment: We only have so much mental and physical energy to apply to problem-solving/dealing with challenge in our lives. When we repeat a pattern of anxiety-based thinking/coping we are, in effect, unconsciously engaging and feeding a kind of “learned helplessness”. (Google this term…as well as “catastrophic thinking”. Some really good insights can be gained in learning about this and how it impacts/influences addiction). And, not surprising, we inadvertently influence this kind of ‘negative coping style’ in others in our sphere of influence. “What can go wrong will most surely go wrong… because after all it ALWAYS does”.
Folks who are vulnerable (and most of us parents with drug-dependent kids are) to this sort of coping style stand to lose so much of our energy that could otherwise be applied in a better productive way. As we interact and communicate about the negatives we perceive that we are to blame for to the exclusion of, or to an imbalance of our recognizing and sharing about those things we have done, and will continue to do, that will contribute to our experiencing better and better momentum in recovery/change…we increase the likelihood that we will experience disappointment adn frustration.
In addition, if we espouse that ‘everything’ out of the mouth of our addiction-challenged son/daughter is bound to be equivalent to hoax or lie…then we will miss critical opportunity after critical opportunity to improve communications/ the relational dynamic with our kid. Honestly, and meaning no disrespect, I cringe every time I hear someone use the old cliche, “if his lips are moving he’s lying” in association with addiction. This commonly held perspective and commonly spoken cliche’ (intended to serve as the stuff that healthy boundaries are formed from, as well as protection ‘from the addict-’ neither which it accomplishes) is way more likely to unintentionally equate to a kind of negative assessment/character judgment. This is not the direction we want or need to go. We need to be careful that we don’t unintentionally impose an added burden on those struggling with addiction that evidences little reason, much less faith, that they can rely on us as open, fair-minded listeners. We should all think about retiring that phrase…or at a minimum re-tool it to reflect the reality.
Ourrelational dynamic is the foundation of momentum/change… and often a critical source of the lack of change. This is due to the reality that the whole relational dynamic…not just actions, but what is established as a pattern that occurs in terms of verbal communication in the relationship, as well as what is not communicated, but is still held as belief,is the fuel for change. That established dynamic, better or worse impacts outcome for better or worse. It impacts our sense of empowerment over powerlessness/hope over hopelessness and ‘can’ over can’ts, didn’ts , shoulda woulda coulda’s AKA: ability to change our circumstances. As importantly, this dynamic influences the way our loved one perceives their own ability to facilitate change and advocate on their own behalf toward improved health. That is the goal…their self-efficacy + our self-efficacy = collective health in the family system.
Keep on keepin’ on! And keep refining your understanding of what enabling is and is not as it applies to your circumstances.Increasing your momentum requires learning, from multiple sources – science-based,peer support based etc.
The only direct advisement I would ever attempt to offer to someone else is “never provide cash or credit card to someone with an active addiction”. If you decide to support in such a way that would require financial help (which is your decision and not subject to stamp of approval by others) then go to source to implement that help. Ex: If your loved one needs food and you decided that you will help with that…accompany your family member to the source of the food and pay for it. Beyond that, it’s critical for families to figure out what best serves their own and their loved ones recovery/change process. Addiction is the journey. Recovery is the destination.
Thanks for your thoughtful response. You’ve touched on many points and I thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights. During Jeff’s active addiction, I struggled with the line between enabling and loving. I wanted to fix everything for Jeff. In fact, I once gave him a job while he was using (I thought he was ‘clean’ because he told me he was clean.) After he quit, he said, “You thought you were doing such a good thing giving me a job. All you did was give me money for drugs.”
I offer this example as a way of saying that for me nothing is easy with addiction. Each addict is different, yet there are some universals that hold us together. Dr. MacAfee, Jeff’s addiction therapist with over 40 years in this business, helped me with Jeff by teaching me many things especially, “With Jeff, a candle works better than a sledge hammer.” Jeff needed to choose, he needed to decide to change his life. I live in a space of gratitude.
Thanks for reaching out a hand to help us. With love and respect,