When you are the parent of an addict there are so many 3:00 am phone calls. “Mom, I’ve been arrested for disturbing the peace – I’m in jail in Conway, South Carolina.” “Mom, I need you to wire me money right away – some guys are coming to kill me because I owe them.” “Mom, I’m on the street in Deerfield Beach, Florida, and I’m hungry and have no place to sleep.” “Mom, I’m really sick and in the ER and I can’t pay the co-pay.” “Mom, I’m going to kill myself right now if you don’t send me money, bail me out of jail, find me a place to sleep, help me (etc.)”
My Son Sam
My son Sam, now age 25, called me with all those pleas and demands and more, and I excused him, rescued him, and fixed things for him, way too many times. I was the classic enabler, and over time I became sicker and sicker, just like my beloved addict son.
Its completely natural – we as parents love our children. We love them passionately, beyond reason, from their very first breath. No matter their age, we look at their beautiful faces and envision the day they were born, their first words, their first day of kindergarten when they cried, their first date, every school graduation, and all the poignant little moments in between.
And with our love comes an overpowering, all-consuming drive to protect, to save, to do whatever it takes to keep them safe, and happy, and healthy. But when you are the parent of an addicted child, that same love, and that same drive, can literally kill your son or daughter. You really can love them to death.
What Is Enabling?
So what does it mean to enable an addict? As I began this article I looked all over the Internet, and a concise definition was hard to find. In summary, what I found is this: an enabler is someone who, in the case of an addict, does for the addict what the addict can and should be doing for himself/herself, and in the process prevents the addict from suffering the consequences of his (or her) own behavior. Over time the enabler often becomes more and more fearful, more and more “addicted to the addict,” trying anything and everything to save, to rescue, to control, to stop the addict from using drugs or other self-destructive behavior.
Of course, in reality enabling results in the complete opposite of its intended outcome, and in fact allows the addict to continue hurting themselves and/or others.
In my case, I made excuses, sent him money (lots of money), bailed him out of jail, found him lawyers, brought him to doctor to therapist to psychiatrist, pled with him, yelled at him, became completely obsessed with “saving” him, to the progressive exclusion of my other beautiful non-addict son, my patient husband, my job, my dear friends, my hobbies, etc.
Over time I became just as sick, and needed just as much help, as my addicted child.
Where Can Enablers Go For Help?
So what can we enablers do to break this cycle? Most of us, and other family members of addicts, need some kind of professional guidance to learn how to deal with the addict in a healthy way and to get our own lives back on track.
I know I couldn’t possibly have recognized or dealt with my own enabling behavior without assistance. I needed several different professionals and groups to guide me, and sometimes still do. This is by no means an exhaustive list of the many tremendous resources out there, but here are a few that helped me:
- Support Groups – Right after we discovered Sam’s drug addiction I began attending Nar-anon and Al-anon meetings. I encountered at these meetings many wonderful parents and family members, all of whom were dealing with situations similar to mine, and who understood all too well the compulsion to “save” their addicted children, or spouses, or friends.Hearing their stories, some way worse than mine, helped me to put things in perspective. In addition the Nar-anon literature helped me to educate myself about the dynamics within families dealing with addiction. There are also many helpful support groups online; I recently started one, and we welcome you if you are interested in joining us: the Amethyst Recovery Moms’ Corner, which you can find on Facebook.
- Trained Rehab Facility Personnel – The professional counselors and staff at a reputable rehab facility, such as Amethyst, are experienced at dealing with enabling family members, and usually have support groups and therapists who can help you understand and deal with your own enabling behavior. During the course of his recovery Sam attended two separate inpatient rehabs in Florida, along with two separate IOPs (intensive outpatient programs) and two sober living facilities.Some of the better-qualified counselors and staff were very helpful. Sam’s father and I attended support sessions with parents of other addicts at these facilities, and rehab counselors also met with us individually to guide us away from “helping” our addict son in unhealthy ways.
- Individual Therapy – I also decided to find my own individual therapist near my home in Maryland, and I found our sessions very useful. She allowed me to express my fear, and anger, and ongoing anxiety, and over time to figure out some healthy ways to separate myself from my addict son and focus on my own recovery.
A Final Note
I can very gratefully conclude by saying that Sam just celebrated four years of being drug free this past April. As I have mentioned in my other articles, I am incredibly, ridiculously proud of my son, for his courage, his strength, his efforts to maintain his own sobriety, and his tireless drive to help others with the same disease through sponsorship and by helping to establish a new drug recovery center.
Just like Sam, I too have to work at my own recovery, and just like for Sam, some days are still harder than others. Like most parents of addicts in recovery, I am still afraid he might relapse.
Even now, four years later, every time he calls me, even with good news, I still for a second go back to all those 3:00 am phone calls, and wonder: Is he stressed? Might he be using again? How can I make things right for him? I suspect that most parents of addicts, in recovery or not, experience at least some of those same reactions, and I doubt these thoughts and worries will ever go away entirely; after all, I am the mom of an addict in recovery.
This reminds me of a cute story about my sweet son. Sam once said to me when he was a little boy: “I don’t ever want to be a mommy when I grow up.” I laughed, and said I didn’t think that would be a problem, but asked him why, and he answered: “Because mommies have to worry too much.”
My best wishes and prayers go out to every addict, every parent and every family member who is dealing with the horrific disease of addiction. I wish each one of you success and peace as you navigate this life-long journey of recovery, both from addiction, and from enabling our beloved children.
My eldest daughter sent me this link to your website. She has seen me struggle with my other 2 daughter’s addictions. After reading this I quickly started to cry..identifying so clearly with the pain and frustration you have felt. I feel like a football that just keeps being tossed around getting caught in the crossfire of their addictions. I have 4 daughters. The eldest one is a successful professional with 2 children. A god send. The second one died 16 years ago from leukemia at the age of 17. My last two (one also a professional) have been relapsing continuously. Yes..the doctors..hospitals..detox centers etc. all came with empty promises. Now after many years..I feel my life is totally consumed. Giving up friends and just trying to be happy. Life can be very lonely. I will look into a recommended support group. I thank you for sharing.
There are support groups on facebook which alsp help. I mean meetings are great but they dont operate 24/7. I would highly recommend meetings aswell.
Try searching. The Addicts Mom. Or Alcoholic Family Support. They both have groups just msg them. (Alcoholic Family Support) support anyone affected by anyone elses addiction problems no matter what the addiction is.
I too was addicted to my addict and started to become sick. physically sick. the worry and stress where killing me. I just woke up one day and decided I had had enough. My son lives with me as long as he stays clean goes to work and cleans up after himself. I’m not sure things would have turned out so well for us if I hadn’t been the enabler first. When I told my son I was done and he could clean up , become responsible or leave it really hit him hard. He never expected me to stop enabling so when I did it woke him up. I love my son very much and will do anything to help him as long as I see he is helping himself but I will not live one more day miserable
thank you so much for your courage and sharing your story of struggle and triumph. My son is 21 and the morning before Mothers Day may 9 2015 turned out to be the worst day of my life when I awoke to find my son blue and barely breathing. As I am an ICU trauma nurse I was still in no way prepared for the condition I which I found my son. This day was also a turning point in my sons addiction. He survived after being on life support in the ICU in the very same hospital I work in. He is now back in Florida in rehab and greatful for his second chance at life. I pray that my story will continue as yours in that 4 years from now I will be saying the same as yourself about my sons sobriety. I know as you said I will always have the fear of relapse for him. One day at a time for now is how we will approach the journey of this new beginning however with the live and encouragement from the moms like yourself that give moms like myself the hope of recovery for our loved ones we can have faith! Thank you to you and for the many wonderful people involved in caring and teaching our loved ones how to heal and lead the productive lives they so dearly deserve to lead! Love and Prayers with all affected by addiction!
Lost my son April 30th, 2015. My son was dealing with an addiction. It was a shock to me because he was a athlete and very conscious of putting anything bad or doing anything harming to himself including smoking cigarettes. I’m really taking loosing him very hard. I don’t agree with blaming the parent for being there and taking care of their child. I don’t see where we should be called enablers. They are our responsibility no matter what. My son was depressed and it lead to drug use. We need to get the drugs that are killing our children and families out of their reach. Most drugs sold on the streets today consume so many harmful ingredients. (THEY ARE KILLING ARE CHILDREN) OUR CHILDREN NEED TO KNOW THESE DRUG DEALERS DONT CARE WHAT THEY PUT IN THEM. FOR INSTANCE (FLOCKA, KROC) I don’t feel we do enough to help. It cost too much for treatment for most so they don’t even try to get help. We stereotype to much. They need our help and support, not just for 30 days in treatment its a life long journey. And to all you nasty corrupted drug dealers that know you are killing people with your nasty drugs etc. I hope you answer to your maker soon. Parents need to become stronger against all of you. Know who you are the source. They are everywhere today pushing these homemade drugs to make a quick dollar and kill.
I never thought that all that I was doing was enabling him, and I sometimes still ask myself if was I enabling him or helping him to move foward with his life?! When I met him I was doing my Master in Mental Health and moving towards addiction field. My mother is an alcoholic and my ex-husband also was an alcoholic. Some how I always have attracted people in my life that I can take care of and that feeling made me feel good about myself. Today I know that it has to do with being abandoned by my mother when I was only 10 months old. I can totally identify with all that I have read and yes I have to admit for myself that I am ean enabler in many ways. Even after broken up with my ex-boy freind who is a crack addict I am still pretty much in his life tryi g to control whatever will happen to him. Is just really hard to let go. if feels like if I leave something terrible my happen to him if he relapses. During our 5 years together, I did all: I rescued, drove him to work and school, paid for half way house, ran to rescued him after his innumerous relapses, answered his phone calls during his relapses, sent him money while he was in jail, so forth so one. However, all always said that I would onlly would support him as long as he wanted to stay clean, do well, finish school, go to work and be product with his life. And with the God’s blessings he is doing great, finished school, working doing what he loves( he is such a talented man in everything he does) and despite of his occasional relapses he is doing really well and I am very proud of him. So, at the end we both became stronger and even through my enabling behavior, I today trully believe that I helped him more than I enabled him. I am very proud of him and pray every day that he continue on his journey of recovery. We no longer are together in a loving relationship but I will always love and admire him for he did work very u ard to be where he is today. And as for me I believe that I am someone who positivelly infuenced his life bringing hope that a good life is possible when you work hard for and have faith!
It fills your heart with joy one minute when you read and are so happy for someone’s child’s recovery and then the next minute you are crying from reading someone else’s child has died from drugs.It is part of the way I’m feeling continuously from having three addicted sons..the ups and downs have taken me over so much that I sm mentally and physically drained..I can’t even hardly get out of bed now to function..my life feels over and I’m tired..I have dealt with this constantly because of having three addicts..my hardest part of all is not having the kind of heart you need or the strength or whatever this sick love is called..I don’t even know what to call it any more..but there’s only one way I know as an enabler to even have a chance at life again is to kick them all out and not be an enabler any more and that’s the one thing that I need to know and figure out how to do..we do have a small n.a. meeting place in my small town..but I don’t have a way to get there..so thought I would vent on here..sorry for all that has went and going through this now..I’ve been dealing with this for 15 years now.Thanks for listening
I’m a 74 year old Great Gramma that was denial for many years….raised 7 children most were users. Finally after my husband passed (10) years ago; I woke up to the fact I was an enabler! Today after a long struggle; I’m a TUFF LOVE mom and Gramma. Need some advice, shoulder, or just to talk; I’m here.
I know i am an enabler but only weed and alcohol. Not as if that makes it any better,