The Accidental Addict/The Accidental Enabler

Photo of a woman.Real Simple magazine featured an article, “The Accidental Addict,” about a young woman who inadvertently became addicted to prescription medications.  Aren’t all addicts accidental?  Who would intentionally choose the life of destruction called addiction or alcoholism?  No addicted child that I know said, “Gee, I want to open a Pandora’s box of destruction and quite possibly put my life on the line.”  Instead, I imagine he or she thought, “ I’d like to  fit in/ hang loose/ have fun/ not be the oddball/be popular/feel comfortable in my own skin” or something of that nature.

By the same token, enablers come by their craft quite honestly.  Love First, A Family’s Guide to Intervention highlights the genesis of two distinct types of enablers.  One type is the  “innocent enabler” who can’t even imagine that drugs or alcohol underpin a loved one’s inexplicable behavior.  The other variety is the desperate enabler who cannot bear the thought of the decimation of substance abuse.  My own enabling started innocently and then became desperate as I worked tirelessly to prevent the family boat from capsizing while keeping my child out of harm’s way.  That balancing act made me crazy, made me sick and didn’t solve the problem.  In fact, it made it worse.

The distance I’ve put between me and my child helps me take a clear look and how we got to where we are.  That’s been a very good thing: understanding the accidental origins of addiction and  co-dependency  helps me find forgiveness for myself and for the beloved addicts in my life.

If at first you don’t succeed – try, try again, and again and again

Making progress with recoveryHow many times did my daughter relapse before she committed to living a clean and sober life?   I don’t know the answer to that question and I bet if I asked my daughter, she would be hard pressed to know the accurate answer – I’m guessing her answer would be ‘a lot!’  I remember early in the journey when I was very naïve about addiction and thought when she went into a 28 day rehab, ‘finally she will be okay!’  Little did I know that was just the beginning of a long journey of trials and tribulations.  Not only for my daughter to overcome her addiction but also for myself to overcome my addiction to my daughter!  That’s how my codependency manifested itself, like an addiction to my daughter and her every move.  What is she doing?  Is she safe?  Where is she?  Will she call?  The questions and worry in my mind played over and over again like the obsession that it had become.  I distinctly remember one of her counselors telling me, ‘she’ll start getting better when you stop enabling her.’  Huh?  Excuse me…I’m not giving her the drugs!

But when I finally internalized what she was telling me, it became clear that I did not the power to control what my daughter did, I did play a key part in making it easy for her to continue in her addiction.  When I started taking away the comforts and started holding her accountable for her actions instead of bailing her out, she started making progress.  Not because of me but because she had to make difficult choices.  One of the biggest turning points was when I made an agreement with her that I would pay for her sober living rent but nothing else.  She had a job so she would have to budget her money for food and other necessities.  She didn’t like it at first, but over time her self-esteem soared as she took responsibility for her life.  It was so gratifying to watch.  Having a job and responsibilities is very healing for those in recovery.

Reflecting on the Progress of Personal Growth

Many times it seems that I look at the situation at hand and want more progress or have high expectations. Today I was discussing this journey that I have been on with some friends. I was relaying the trials and tribulations that occurred over the past 4 years. Later I began to think about how bad it had become when my daughter was in the depths of her addiction. I thought about how many times I almost lost her from various harmful situations she had been in. I thought about how she became someone I didn’t recognize and I was so desperate to have my daughter back. It made me realize that even though there is still growth and responsibilities to take on, so much progress has taken place. I had to pause and take stock of all the blessings that have occurred through this journey.
There are many blessings but the one that is the most prevalent for me is the fact that traveling this journey with my daughter has led me to experience tremendous growth myself. When I was desperate to help my daughter I was led to discover that the best thing I could personally do for her was to get help myself. I realized that the most loving thing I could do was to become knowledgeable about addiction and what I could do to stop enabling her. Learning that I did not and could not control everything taught me how to let go and be free of the stress that consumed me. This has been one of the blessings and today I took the time to reflect on this and be grateful for these discoveries.

Where should a child live after yet another relapse?

Community coming togetherThese words of wisdom are inspired by Christy Crandall, author of Lost and Found

If your daughter (or son) relapses and asks to come home, it might seems like you are helping her if you say “Yes.” But you may really be enabling her to continue a destructive lifestyle. If she is serious about working a program of recovery, then she will find a sober living center and abide by the rules of that sober community.

While I know this sounds harsh and it is hard to think of your daughter as being possibly homeless, she has to take responsibility for her choices to continue drinking and using drugs. She needs to be more committed to her recovery than you are.

Every county has an access number to get help to those who are suffering from mental illness, substance abuse, homelessness.  Give this number to her, and tell her you will support her as long as she is actively involved in a program. What that support looks like should be up to you, not to her.  If you make it contingent upon her seeking recovery (i.e., going to treatment, living in sober living, etc.) , then you are supporting her in a healthy way.

And consider going to an Al-Anon meeting, specifically one for parents who have kids  struggling with chemical dependency. This will help you make good decisions for yourself and your daughter as you travel on this difficult journey.  Most of all, do not despair. There are 23 million Americans in long-term recovery, and your daughter can be one of them.

All I want for Christmas is an orange jumpsuit

I used to think that my child’s arrest would be the worst possible thing ever. Talented and energetic enabler that I am, I gave that topic a lot of thought and even imagined that I could keep my kid out of jail.  Note to self:  as Al-Anon so wisely teaches us, we cannot control another person’s addiction to alcohol or other drugs.

Today, with the holidays and winter’s cold blasts at my doorstep, I have a very different perspective on jail time for someone addicted to drugs or alcohol. Today, an orange jumpsuit and “three hots and a cot” might be the best gift imaginable for a chemically-dependent child (of any age) and family alike:

  • You’d know where your child is.
  • You’d know your phone wouldn’t be ringing with a desperate or dire phone call in the middle of the night.
  • You’d know you have a chance for a good night’s sleep.
  • You’d know he or she is sheltered and being fed.
  • You’d know he or she was not wandering the streets, a potential victim of assault or street drugs.
  • You know that your child is experiencing the consequences of his or her poor choices and dangerous decisions. And that can be an incentive to change.
  • You’d know (or you’d hope) the legal system would put in place some sanctions, like requiring your child to go to treatment.
  • You’d know that, at least temporarily, the balance of power has changed.  You’ve got some leverage on your side.
  • You know that you and your child have been given the gift of a brighter tomorrow.

Where is the Hope for your addicted child in the face of despair?

When I follow the years of progression of the disease of addiction with my son, I sometimes see 10+ years having gone down the drain. Now, for a 50 odd year old, one year flies by at the speed of light and a whole lot can be accomplished! For a 20 year old, 10 years seems a lifetime. It’s a matter of perspective. However it feels, it’s still 10 years and sometimes I’m overtaken with despair.

I now realize that the 10+ years past is what it’s supposed to be; I don’t have any right to judge the usefulness of it. I sometimes question, when will he choose recovery? Will he ever? How can there be hope when over and over the same thing happens and it’s never good. This is the time I find myself going to a 12-Step Recovery Program, open to the public: AA or NA , where I can listen to others in recovery.  It’s a good way to get re-energized. I’ve even found recordings on the internet to download of recovered persons who share their story. There is so much hope in their stories. By listening to them, I learn about the disease and it gives me another perspective to understand that recovery happens for each person differently, and on different time lines. Rarely do I hear someone speak on the help they got from their mom or dad. Sometimes there is an honorable mention to Al-Anon, where friends and family learned to stop enabling. The true source of help is inevitably something bigger than me or someone else – the unknown source, a Power, Greater than I – something I’ve come to welcome. I observe that some find recovery early, some get it years and years later.  Sadly, some never get it. For the latter possibility, I’m reminded to be thankful each moment that I’m afforded an opportunity to see, hear or be in some sort of communication with my adult children. Years can fly by or the opposite. Sometimes days, and even hours can drag out for an eternity. Either way, if I stay in the presence of a Power, greater than myself, I can find serenity in the knowledge that when and if they ever decide, someone will be there to offer a new way to do life, with their own hope for the future. I can let go of my need to be overly involved and learn how to be a loving parent, unconditionally, when opportunities present themselves.

Dangerous Tools that Fuels Co-Dependent Behavior – Why?

Years ago, when my control and need to know everything mentality was at its peak, the *69 feature on the telephone became a dangerous tool for further pursuit of things to add to my world of loose ends.  I was empowered to be an assertive investigator.   I was enabled to seek out who called for what reason and why did they not leave a voice mail.  Moreover, if the phone rang and I answered, the sound of the “click” provoked me to question WHO HUNG ON ME?

The feeling of empowerment – To be able to press those three keys and ring back the unknown caller back was a rush of adrenaline.  They would pick up and I’d say “you just called my number,” forcing a response on the other end.  The sound of their voice was already a piece of the puzzle.  Male?  Female?  Young?  Old? Why did they call my number?   The fact they called must be indicative of something…  Why?  Why?  Why?

Star 69 and later technology could be abused for the wrong reasons.  My need to know WHO WHAT WHERE WHEN WHY seemed important back when the addiction family disease of secrets was fermenting.  But in reality this underlying need to know was a symptom of my infinite desire to be in control of matters I may not be aware of and often powerless over.  Today it seems clear and obvious.  If someone is reaching me, they will leave a message or call back later.  I can let go with that knowledge and not pursue it to the depths of insanity.  I don’t have to obsess on things that are not my business anymore.  ”Why” is a question no longer the center stage of my life.


Choices in RelationshipsI find the distinction between enabling versus helping difficult – especially in the heat of addictive behavior. You are witnessing your self-destructive child, no matter how old, and there is nothing more frightening. I wanted to definitely stop enabling because I realized I was helping further addict/alcoholic destruction.  But how?  It got to the point where I was paralyzed – I could not do anything, fearing I was enabling. This, it turns out, was OK because I could begin to identify what I was willing to do in support of RECOVERY.  A baby step measurement, or boundary, of acceptable “helping.” Gradually I came to realize the difference and found key points that help me balance ever-changing situations because I often fall back to old ways.

  • Addicts lie – If their lips are moving, they are lying, so asking them why they are out of money or lost the job or in a crisis will satisfy our own behavior problem: Denial, which encourages enabling.
  • Co-Dependents don’t see the situation clearly and tend to use speech versus behavior as our road map. I can easily justify “giving” as “helping” because I believe what the addict tells me.
  • Is there an ulterior motive behind my wanting to help? Often I catch myself “helping” with an expectation in mind. I have control issues too.
  • Did they ask? I am often quick to jump in and offer something – without even being asked. I know this is usually enable-based behavior because I’m feeling uneasy.
  • Help, if unconditional, feels better than enabling. Sounds simple but it’s not. Helping support recovery doesn’t necessarily mean one gets RECOVERED.
  • I don’t have to answer a request, or do anything right away. BUY TIME!

Lastly, my greatest lesson of all: there are other co-dependents out there. Just because I stop enabling, many will pick up where I left off. That’s OK. I accept that I am powerless in other people’s matters.


This explains everything – making sense of the disease of addiction

Mental Illness and AddictionResearching or reading articles of research on addiction educates me more about why our loved ones continue to do what appears to us a self-defeating, immoral and illegal activity. To think they are choosing or willfully lying is a judgment quickly taken, but the truth is much more complex and physiological.

With stats such as “only 10% of addicts seek help on their own” , that is, even recognize they have a problem, explains a lot. In one such article written for CNN, Dr. Seppala, chief medical officer of Hazelden, states “Our largest public health problem goes unrecognized by those with the disease.”  In my opinion, the same holds true for the family members. We don’t seek help readily; we don’t see that we may be part of the problem. Take, for example, a good co-depended parent model: self-authorized to sacrifice their own well-being, at all costs, with a fear based obsession not unlike the addict searching for the next fix. Using ineffective control measures, we have firsthand experience being among the 90%!

I easily equate the addict profile as it applies to me, a concerned parent fraught with hopeless attempts to assist. It explains the anguish, heartache and self-defeating measures those of us in this family disease do.  It explains everything.  Why we continue to ”mother” our 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 and older-year olds…as if they are still in toddlers! We ineffectively combat a disease of lies; and the alternative is at first, unfathomable, incomprehensible and counterintuitive.

The other measures that may ultimately “help” result from our own decision to seek help or maybe we were coerced.  However we get there, we are given tools to overcome our own connectedness to the addict and in so doing, contribute to changing that dismal 10%percent that seek recovery. When you know better, you do better.


Why do addicts and alcoholics want to leave rehab?

The lips are moving - watch the behavior!About three weeks into rehab, your loved ones may want to leave.  That’s because the numbness of substance abuse has worn off, and they are looking at their lives through less bleary eyes, relatively speaking. And they don’t like what they see, so they blame it all on the rehab (or on you). But their recovery is a work in progress, and you need to be shooting for the gold standard of a 90-day stay in rehab, where the statistics for sustained sobriety are in their favor. So steel yourself to hear some of these reasons for wanting to leave rehab:

  • The people here are losers.
  • My roommates are much worse off than me.
  • I can fix myself without this place.
  • I wasn’t serious before but now I am.
  • I really wasn’t that bad off.
  • The rehab just wants your money.
  • I’m wasting my time here; I need to get back to school/work/life.
  • I don’t like the people here.
  • The people here don’t like me.
  • We don’t do anything here.
  • The counselors are mean/stupid/don’t understand me.
  • The beds are uncomfortable.
  • It’s too much work.
  • It’s not enough work.
  • I wasn’t that bad off before…Really!
  • I know what I need to do now.
  • I don’t like that God stuff in the 12 steps.
  • AA is for losers.
  • Rehab is for weak people, so I don’t need it.
  • The food sucks.

This is just a sampling of the reasons your loved one may toss your way. Forewarned is fore-armed!  So what should you say when you hear one of these complaints? You could say “Oh” or  “Hmmm.” You could say, “I’m sure you can work it out with your counselor.”  You might say, “We will support you in recovery, and this is the place where we will support you.”  You could say, “I love you, and this is the place where you can get healthy.” You could say “No,” which is a complete sentence all by itself.

Whatever you do, don’t help them leave. Don’t pick them up, drive them to their old home or drive them to your home. Circle the wagons with your family, and agree that you all need to stay the course. Don’t offer any alternatives to rehab, or they’ll be back at Square One.  And so will you.