A Letter to Those Enabling Addiction

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Dear Enabler,

You’ve often given in and helped your loved one struggling with addiction. This temporarily relieves the addict from experiencing the natural consequences related to their drug use. It may temporarily relieve you of your guilt associated with their use.

Enabling communicates, indirectly, to the addict that you feel they are unable to execute independently to manage the ups and downs of their life. It absolves the addict of their responsibility to take care of themselves. If children are involved, and watching, they are learning that you and others will step-in and take care of them when and if they choose to engage in dangerous and destructive endeavors. There may even be those children watching in anger, wishing you would step in, creating consequences for the using parent. Drug use in the home on any level pulls the parent away from the child leaving the child isolated and alone. One cannot be fully present when using. Enabling only continues to further isolate children in the home, cultivating an environment of alienation. And it communicates to the child that there is truly no hope. If you or another adult or family member is enabling a parent’s addiction, please know in doing so that the child becomes invisible and unimportant. The addiction continues and the child is absorbing the toxic environment which is skewing their perceptions. Reality become distorted and you may be serving to silence the concerns of those surrounding the addict without truly realizing you are doing so. Enabling is another form of accepting the addiction. It allows it to continue.

The devastation of enabling doesn’t only impact the individual being enabled or their children. It spreads to other family members who see the problem and decide to intervene in honesty and concern. These people often are met with great resistance from those enabling who will justify the actions of their enabling. This inevitably causes serious conflict and can over time erode what used to be relatively healthy relationships. Enablers are often in denial, not only of the depth of destruction caused by the addiction, but also of the devastating impact their denial and enabling has caused. The addict continues to use, the enabler continues to enable, becoming increasingly defensive. Sadly, relationships are lost to protect the bond between enabler and addict. The addict needs the enabler so that they can continue to use, while the enabler needs to enable to feel needed, to relieve guilt, and to protect the semblance of connection with the addict. The bond between addict and enabler is protected, while the addict’s children (adults or minors) as well as any involved family members are left grappling with the loss of family bonds.

If you are enabling, this is the devastation it can cause for those around you. Protecting someone you love from the natural consequences that addiction creates for them, often increases the duration and severity of the illness. You may be buffering the addict from the unpleasant consequences of their illness which may have otherwise lead them to seek help. If nothing else, your actions communicate to others in the family, especially the children that may be involved, that their safety and emotional well-being is second to the enabling of the addict. This will further alienate the children and more than likely they will feel no other choice than to assimilate and use along with the addict in time. They may not be able to verbalize it, but a part of the child may wonder why they were not valued enough to be protected from the chaotic lifestyle that addiction creates. This may haunt them into adulthood, causing mental health issues of anxiety and depression. There truly are serious and long lasting consequences from the addiction and the enabling. The illness is complex and so very difficult to navigate, so please, seek the help you need.

Most of us do not know how to effectively cope and deal with loving someone who is in the throes of addiction. It’s so very hard. It is a serious and persistent illness. If you or someone you love lives with a serious physical illness, you would stay on them to get the treatment they needed in order to heal. An addiction is a complex illness, involving both the physical and mental. Addicts needs aggressive and intense treatment early on to give them the best chance to recover! You may not be able to convince them to get help, but enabling them often buys them additional time to continue using. These individuals are often so sick they need others to confront the addiction that they hide and lie about that is literally killing them. They have lost connection to themselves and are unaware how badly things have become. Deep down the person knows that the damages are piling up and this causes increased using to numb themselves from the pain & guilt they feel has become unmanageable. The end of your enabling could help them stop so they can heal and recover. You will be helping them return to the self they lost in the cycle of addiction.

The children of addicts often become alienated, depressed, and will sometimes choose the path of addiction. It is a way to bond with the mother/father who has made it known all along that their addiction takes precedence over the relationships in their life. Children will decide to use to gain closer proximity to their addicted parent, longing for some type of bond. Using is a way to assuage the pain and assimilate with the culture of drug use in the home. If you are awake and listening, you will hear the concerns from the children in the home. Sadly, there is usually an enabler that communicates in actions and words that the addict is the most valued of the family unit and the concerns of the children will be silenced. Those enabling will swear up and down they do not display preferential treatment, but their actions and defenses to those who confront in any way the addiction, confirms to others that the addict is most protected and valued. The enabler, often a parent, needs to feel needed and must relieve himself/herself from the guilt associated with the reality that their child’s life is completely out of control. Too many enablers become enmeshed and are unable to separate themselves from the illness and what it has caused. Enabling actually takes an adult who could be effective in helping an addict and instead places them in a position where they are another obstacle to the addict’s sobriety and recovery. This is why it is so important if you are enabling an addiction to get the help you need to deal with the addiction in a healthier way. It’s okay to not know how to deal with the pain and fear of addiction, just please seek help from a trained therapist to help you navigate things more effectively. Losing one child to addiction is a tragedy. Enabling may lead to losing an entire family, the addict and those who confront the addiction.

Enabling can take many forms. It is not only giving money or financial assistance. Enabling can serve to protect the addict by not addressing their abusive and neglectful behaviors that are eroding the family unit. It can pave the way for the addict to neglect his/her children by being enabled to continue using in the home. When others confront the devastating behaviors of the addict, the enabler will often jump to the defense of the addict. If an addict lies or manipulates to financially exploit or even to isolate others who confront their addiction, the enabler will feel compelled to “jump in” and call you a liar and a manipulator. Enablers are skilled at shutting down the behaviors of those who confront the addict they are protecting, even in some cases the children of the addict. This leads to complete devastation in the family unit. Everyone is isolated, sick, and alone while the bond between addict and enabler is strengthened. Ironically, the person who should be isolated and confronted, the addict, becomes supported while all other members are devalued and isolated. The addict is happy knowing he/she has an ally in their enabler and the rest of the family is left completely eroded, annihilated. This is exactly what the addict has longed for: to continue using without being confronted.

When families are fractured by the addiction and the enabler remains defensive and in denial, the addict is in an even more dangerous place to use without interruption. The children of the addict feel hopeless as their voices have been drowned out and silenced. It’s acknowledged by the family unit that it is the addict who is valued, believed, and validated. Why bother, the child will say.

It seems like such a simple act, to help someone. But, enabling goes further by not only affirming the lifestyle choice in action, but defending the addict when others point out the damaging behaviors exhibited by the addict. The enabler will never admit to affirming addiction, but what they fail to acknowledge is that the addict is clouded by a chemical substance and the bond developed between the two is fabricated, not one of integrity. What an addict wants is to use and what an enabler allows is a way to continue using. I am not implying in any way that enabling causes the addiction. It’s a way to allow the addiction to continue with less consequences and it can create problems in familial relationships as the unhealthy bond between enabler and addict is strengthened, leaving others isolated and feeling hopeless.

Enablers are often in denial that the addict is voraciously lying and manipulating to cover up the devastation of their use in order to gain access to their drug. In active addiction, the true person is blunted and caught up in a cycle of using and withdrawing and will justify saying anything to gain access to the drug they seek. It is not personal and they will lie and manipulate to anyone able and willing to give them what is needed to access the drug. So, yes, the addict will lie and manipulate and an enabler will become defensive and point fingers back at those confronting the drug use. They will defend and shut down communication, using any type of tactic from shift-blaming to gaslighting to ensure the confronter knows it is pointless to even approach the subject with them again. Their goal is to protect their need to feel needed by the addict, to absolve themselves of guilt, and to strengthen the bond. The madness is that years will pass by and nothing will change and they will still sit, not only defending the addict, but silencing those who wish to confront. Addiction is a mean illness, no doubt. And it may seem by not enabling that you are denying a sick person help. Again, a trained counselor can give you ideas to help your loved one get the help they need.

Enabling is extremely damaging to the family unit and to the addict, as well. No one gets well and it becomes a hopeless situation, that often is left to it’s own demise.

I wrote this as a result of being involved with an addict and an enabler of whom I still love very much. The situation erupted, eroded, and deteriorated. I’m dealing with the aftermath and repairing the relationship with the individual who enabled. I’m uncertain if the addiction is still an active one and am taking the space and time to heal from the strain and stress that it all caused in my life. I am learning to develop stronger boundaries while working on accepting “what is” to avoid the devastating consequences of having unrealistic demands for both the addict and enabler.

If you are affected by addiction in your family or are currently enabling an addict, stay strong, and get the help you need. It is a true illness.  The addiction usually cannot be beat without significant help. Take care of yourself first.

I hold hope in my heart. I know my family has struggled as much as I have. And I feel that the person who was using and her children could benefit from counseling. But, it’s no longer my job or place. I have disengaged and am sharing from a place of love. Addiction is a very harsh illness. I hope the future brings so much hope for those struggling with addiction and their families!

In strength & love,

Amy

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