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Recovery efforts depend on relationships

During this time of COVID-19, the field of chemical dependency has suffered, due to a lack of person to person contact, testing procedures, and trying to get appointments for counseling. The families that are also living through addiction are finding themselves “lost” as to where to go or who to call. I hope this article on enabling will shed some light on more choices for spouses and parents to take care of themselves.

REBT maintains that most individuals who remain in destructive relationships with alcoholics and those addicted to other drugs do so because they have “disturbed negative emotions” that prevent them from leaving an irrational relationship. Many clinicians in our field feel that “enablers” are co-dependent on alcohol and other drugs. This notion states that a spouse chose a mate who had an alcohol or drug problem because the mate had the addiction or because they have some unconscious need to have the alcoholic stay addicted. As a REBT clinician, I never bought into REBT’s like of the term co-dependent. It isn’t helpful because many enablers chose their mate before an addiction develops, and clinical experience indicates some individuals refuse to leave a hopeless, destructive relationship with an individual abusing alcohol or other drugs.

REBT states that some individuals enter and stay in unhealthy relationships with people addicted to chemicals because they have an extreme fear of being alone and maintain the irrational belief that they do not deserve anything better. They believe they are worthless human beings, and no one good will have them. They are suspicious of entering any relationship in which they are treated well.

Because they believe they are worthless, and no one good will have them, if they do find a good relationship, they are sure they will be rejected as soon as their worthwhile partner discovers how worthless they really are. They may believe that an alcoholic or drug addict needs them, and if they are needed, they won’t be left alone. They also think that a bad relationship is better than no relationship. Therefore, they will tolerate all sorts of abuse because they desperately need to be with someone and cannot bear being alone.

If you need to break it, I would suggest here, but instead of “these individuals,” I would say “enablers” or open with a sentence describing it as part two dealing with enablers.

The layman doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand that these individuals lack self-worth and their need for love is being sought in “all the wrong places.” As a therapist, I would always dispute that these clients are “worthless.” Self-acceptance is worked on first, trying to get them to live alone and then look at their present relationship. Issues of being passive-aggressive and being assertive are key components. Because of these clients’ need for love and their chronic self-downing, they will be tempted to find another relationship like the previous one. The counselor’s job is to point out (a) they do not grab the first bad mate who will have them; (b) that they learn to be choosy — “find someone who treats you well and who you like,” and (c) maintain the belief that they are as worthwhile as anyone else and they deserve to be with someone they enjoy.

Enablers who take a messianic role in the relationship and feel they are primarily responsible for the alcoholic or addict’s recovery by their control are difficult to deal with. They demand that they have control over the behavior of the addicted person. The enablers may believe they must take responsibility for their partners’ substance abuse to show their love. The more abuse they take in the relationship or the more times they rescue the addict or alcoholic, the more times they try to get their mates to stop drinking or drugging — the more they prove their love for their mates. Trying to control another person is like trying to drive a car with your voice. I know it can be done. I’m wondering how practical it is.

Working with these enablers, I put the focus on their perception of responsibility and control. As a counselor, I don’t get anyone drunk, not do I get anyone sober. I give clients tools and I hope they use them. The enablers’ thinking needs to be challenged to find out what they get out of the relationship. No one can control others’ behavior. This point may have to be repeated hundreds of times, for enablers to understand it.

Organizations like Al-Anon, grief groups and counseling sessions can challenge irrational thinking that enablers have.

Mike Tramuta has been a CASAC counselor for more than 30 years. Call 983-1592 for more information.

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