From Anonymous: I heard you say in your TEDx talk that we may be “loving our addicts to death.” That scared me – how do I know if I’m doing that with my addict?
Hi Anonymous, this has to do with the crucial difference between enabling and helping – and I’m so glad you asked about this.
When we enable someone, we are basically doing for them what they can – and should – be doing for themselves. When we do this with the addicts we love, over an extended period of time, we are actually taking away their sense of healthy pride in themselves for being resilient and learning that they are capable of more than they thought they could do. We deprive them of their pat-on-the-back moments.
For example, if we continually do their laundry for them, why should they learn how to do it for themselves? Why not just keep wearing their dirty clothes until someone else puts them in the washing machine and pushes the button to turn it on?
Without that amazing feeling of self-respect, addicts generally stay stuck in their addictions, rather than venturing out past their ‘comfort zones’ and trying new ways to deal with life. When we choose to do everything for the addict, the bar we’ve set for them is so low that it might as well be under the ground – and most addicts will simply decide to stay stuck in the laziness they’ve grown accustomed to. The bar is set too low for them and they come to believe that they can’t raise it themselves.
Helping is the opposite of enabling. We can help by raising that bar and showing the addicts we love HOW to do their own laundry – how much soap to use, how to choose the correct cycle, how to push that Start button – while also setting a loving boundary telling them that we won’t be doing their laundry for them anymore. We can even explain that we’re doing this because we love them so much and we want them to feel the pride of wearing the clean clothes that they themselves have laundered.
This is only one example – but the dynamic relates to many other enabling behaviours. And while it’s true that doing someone’s laundry for them won’t ‘love them to death,’ if we keep doing for addicts what they can and should be doing for themselves, how will they grow to be accountable for themselves rather than choose to remain lazy with most things?
When an addict is allowed to remain stuck in addiction, that is not a loving act on the part of the enabler. We may feel like we’re doing something kind for the addict – but if this kind of action on your part is continuous and more damaging, then their addiction is going to be even more consuming for them. Some of these more detrimental enabling behaviours include:
- Giving the addict money even though you know where that money will go
- Paying an addict’s rent and/or buying their food
- Allowing the addict to live in your family home without contributing at all
- Letting the addict get away with using all night and sleeping all day
- Putting up with obnoxious and even violent behaviour toward other family members
- Setting the bar so low for them that they are not required to either work, go to school, or be in some form of active recovery
Addiction is progressive – it does not usually stop on its own, and as we enable them, the worse it gets. An enabled addict doesn’t recover because – really, why should they? This is how we love our addicts TO DEATH.
We need to raise the bar for the addicts we love – even if that’s uncomfortable for us to do. We all know that addicts continue to die – whether by their own hand (suicide) because they hate the lives they’re living, or by accidental overdose. This is not news to any of us. By NOT giving an addict money, especially when we know where that money is going to go, we are doing the most loving thing we can do for them. By not contributing to an addict’s addiction in any way, and instead by using whatever healthy leverage we have in order to support them (and our family members, by extension) to get the help they need, we are loving them TO LIFE.
Thank you again for asking this question!
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