This word is thrown around a lot in addiction recovery circles. What does it really mean, and most importantly, does it describe you?
Websters definition of enable is: To give someone the ability or means to do something. To make something possible, or easy.
This is pretty neutral. It could be positive or negative. Unfortunately, there is a type of enabling behavior common to addiction. It involves a relationship between the person in active addiction and his or her co-dependent counterparts. This type of enabling can be destructive and actually prolong the addiction process when it removes the natural consequences which would result from substance abuse. In simpler terms, the addict never needs to change their ways because they always have that one person (or several) who solve their problems and shield them from dealing with the results of their choices.
Before I say anything else, let’s be clear about one thing. The person stuck in enabling behavior is usually trying to help. Enablers aren’t bad people and they definitely aren’t trying to keep an addict locked in the bondage of addiction, but sometimes, that’s exactly what happens.
What Does an Enabler / Addict Relationship Look Like?
It is very common for an addict’s parent, significant other, or sibling to be the enabler in their life, as their intentions are to encourage their loved one’s well being. An enabler will try to correct many of the problems in the addict’s life, often by partially or completely financially supporting them, lying for them, covering for their responsibilities, and even bailing them out of jail.
As the enabler’s life becomes overwhelmingly stressful, the addict is able to continue in addiction.
Signs of Enabling
Have your actions evolved from support, to enabling? Here’s a way to check yourself.
Some of the most commons forms of enabling are:
Ignoring the obvious – Being completely aware of the substance abuse, but choosing not to mention it. This allows the addict to continue engaging in dangerous activities stress-free, knowing there is no pressure to explain themselves or change.
Withholding feelings – A reluctance to express your true feelings is commonly indicative of enabling. Perhaps you can’t find the right way to express yourself to the addict in your life or you ‘re concerned about the possibility of a negative reaction. Either way, the inability to vocalize your feelings, or worse, acting as if their substance abuse is okay, is extremely unhealthy, both for you and the person in active addiction.
Unhealthy prioritizing – Do you find yourself making the addict top priority in your life? Do you rush to meet all of their needs and solve their problems, while neglecting your own obligations? As you prioritize their life over yours, you will begin to suffer the consequences of their actions, while they are able to carry on in addiction. Even something as simple as waking them up in the morning so they won’t miss work can become enabling
Cleaning up the mess – Do you find yourself rescuing your addicted loved one out of situations again and again? Have you covered bounced checks, bought items out of pawn, paid tickets, bonded them out of jail, reactivated their phone, repaired vehicles after crashes, etc? This is all enabling behavior. Sure, it seems like helping, but it’s not. Helping and supporting someone in addiction can involve paying for food, helping them find treatment, driving them to detox or a recovery meeting. Helping and enabling are very different.
Lying on their behalf – Have you covered for a loved one while they were on a binge? Maybe you lied about the reason they missed work. Maybe you lied to their spouse about the extent of their condition the night before. Some enablers have even lied under oath to protect their loved one. Again, all this does is makes room for the addict to continue with substance abuse, as they feel no repercussions from their actions.
Faulting people or situations: Blaming people, situations or environments for the behavior of the addict and allowing them to disconnect from their addiction is generally a sign that the enabler has been playing this game for a while. The minute you catch yourself thinking things like, “I wish his employer wouldn’t have embarrassed him in front of his co-workers. He just drove him right into a binge.” or “Why do people have to push his buttons like that. Now he’s angry and he’s just going to get drunk.” Do you see how thinking this way puts both you and the addict on the same team, blaming others for choices the addict makes?
Resentment toward the addict: As you spend all of your time and effort carrying the weight of the addict’s responsibilities along with your own, a resentment begins to build. You’ll find yourself feeling upset and hurt by their actions, but will often continue to enable them. If this is occurring in your life, it is evident that enabling has become a problem in your life. You probably need help.
Al-Anon, Nar-Anon and Celebrate Recovery are options for individuals who find themselves stuck in the pattern of enabling, co-dependent behavior. You can also reach out for help by contacting your local church or seeking out the help of a therapist. The most important thing to remember is that YOUR life is valuable and your job is not to FIX someone else’s. Once you get help for yourself, you’ll be more helpful to those around you, especially your loved ones struggling with addiction.
The mission of an enabler is never to keep their friend or loved one in addiction. It is simply to help. Instead of helping by carrying all of their responsibilities, why not show them how to turn their life around? The Shores Treatment and Recovery has helped hundreds of men and women learn how to maintain a sober lifestyle in a healthy way. If you have questions or concerns about how to get your friend to accept help, we would love to answer them for you. We are here, waiting for your call, twenty-four hours a day. Get help now – 772 800 3990