Supportive. Not an Enabler.

I get many emails from mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, girlfriends and boyfriends of those who have just come into sobriety.  It is to these people, my own loving husband included, that I want to dedicate this blog entry.  Let’s talk about how difficult it is for you to do your part:  You can help. You can encourage.  The most important thing is to not enable the addiction.  Show moral support, faith and love but never enable.

Although this Thanksgiving marks a decade of my own sobriety, I can still remember those early days of recovery clearly.  Specifically, the extreme emotional turmoil I put my husband through.  I remember his frustration, his disgust, his fear, his pity and his worry.  But when I was using, I just didn’t really care about how he felt.  I just collapsed into this self-made prison of isolation, apathy and self-loathing.  Nothing he said to me seemed to sink in. I was deaf and dumb to all of it.  I just wanted to be left alone with my crippling anxiety that I believed I could only relieve my own way, by self-medicating.

At that time I wasn’t working. Holding onto a job would have been impossible for me and besides, my husband was supporting me.  Nevertheless, I had my own money problems.  I had accumulated thousands of dollars in credit card debt due to taking weekly cash advances to support my habit.  When I turned to my husband to pay the bill, he simply said to me, “I am not financing your drug habit.  I will help you find a drug-addiction counselor, I will support you in any way to sobriety, but I will not pay for your habit.  Go flip burgers, do whatever to pay your drug debts but I won’t give you one cent.”

Boy…was I angry with him!  I thought he was being a cruel bastard by not supporting his own wife.   It was only months later, after I achieved some longer-term sobriety that I realized he was doing me a big favor but not enabling me.  Today, he tells me that it was the hardest thing he had to do but he had no choice.  My husband found guidance through Al-Anon.   And it was that confrontation that finally led me to see a counselor who took me to my first meeting.  The rest is history.

For most people, not enabling is the hardest part of their loved-one’s recovery.  They feel like they are abandoning them, especially because not cleaning up the addict’s mess feels like the easy way out. It feels like a convenient cop-out but it is anything but.  Obviously, the addict needs to feel the consequences of their behavior, but a huge part of the message of not helping the addict is: I know you have what it takes to get out of this prison, so just do what it takes! When a child spills a glass of milk, which of these is more likely to help raise a strong, capable individual: chastising her for being sloppy and making work for yourself as you clean it up, or giving her paper towels to fix the problem?

To all of the people who consistently give love, moral support and other little tokens of encouragement that stop short of a bailout, I salute and sincerely thank you. I’ve had a front-row seat, and I must say that you’re the real heroes.

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