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Enablers also are in need of help

In the last segment, we identified the types of enablers and what enabling is. To any enabler out there, you need to learn the three Cs.

Namely, you didn’t cause the addiction, you can’t control it and you can’t cure it.

Working with families and enablers can be counter-productive if the core belief is that the addicted person will stop if the family and enablers get treatment. Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy suggests that this is wrong for two reasons.

First, enablers are human beings in their own right and deserve to be helped to lead healthy and satisfying lives regardless of their relationship to the addict or alcoholic.

Second, it is more important for the enabler to identify how their philosophies of life got them into this unrewarding role, and if they play a similar role with other people in their life, and how they can develop new philosophies of life that can lead to more satisfying interpersonal relationships.

Because enablers help the addict or alcoholic stay addicted, it is easy for them (and sometimes their addicts) to conclude that the enabler is responsible for changing the addict or alcoholic. The enabler does not cause the addiction.

Because changing an enabler’s behavior toward the addict or alcoholic is frequently helpful in changing the addicts or alcoholic behaviors, (i.e. not bailing them out of jail, not paying their bills) it does not follow that changing the enabler will automatically change the alcoholic or drug abuser and their behaviors.

Many enablers take responsibility for their loved one’s chemical dependency. It is most important that enablers and other family members are brought into treatment for their own relief and help, and not as part of a scheme to change the behaviors of the addicted person. Once the enabler stops supporting, rescuing, tolerating or denying the alcohol or drug abuse problem, the alcoholic or drug abuser will no longer be protected from the natural consequences and punishments of addiction and abuse. Once this happens, the addicted person will be more likely to pay the price for their abuse and things in their life will really go wrong. Once things start to go wrong, the addicted person will probably cope by drinking or drugging even more. The more natural consequences will follow.

A downward spiral of crisis and drunkenness will follow. After this has occurred, the alcoholic or drug addict may “hit bottom.” Most people in the drug and alcoholism field believe that hitting bottom is good, and may be the first step to recovery (AA 1984). Sometimes a person’s bottom can be raised by an intervention of his or her loved ones. Other times, a person’s bottom, with continued use and abuse, may be death. The abuser can no longer deny the problem and will be motivated to stop drinking or drugging by the pain of hitting bottom. At this point, the enabler will start to withdraw their support. Enablers can help the addicted person to start the road to recovery by allowing this to occur. Unfortunately, this can enhance the feeling of responsibility of the enabler. Since the withdrawal of the enabler’s support started the downward spiral, he or she (enablers) can stop it by giving back support due to the enabler’s feelings of guilt, fear, jealousy or any other disturbed negative emotions when the addicted people suffer. The enabler may end their own emotional disturbance by rescuing the alcoholic or drug addict and be caught again in the role of the enabler.

Enablers can be helped to understand that there is always the risk that the addicted person may spiral downward and stay there. A new level of low functioning could be reached. I used to tell enablers that if they decide to stop supporting, denying and tolerating the problem in light of the benefits such a change will bring to their lives. Continuing in the enabling role has not helped the addicted loved one and will keep them and the rest of the family in the present level of pain and suffering. REBT calls this “detaching from the irrational behaviors of the loved one.” Would you still talk to them, and be concerned how they are doing, still using? That answer is yes, but that’s as far as it goes. You are not responsible for another person’s behavior, they are.

Finally, REBT maintains that most individuals who remain in destructive relationships with alcoholics and drug addicts do so because they have disturbed negative emotions that prevent them from leaving or renegotiating the unsatisfying relationship. Many times enablers are dependent on alcohol and other drugs. This notion among many clinicians suggests that the spouse choose a mate who had an alcohol or drug problem because the mate had the addiction or because they have some unconscious need to have them stay addicted. Some individuals continually enter into and stay in relationships with alcoholics and drug users because they have an extreme fear of being alone, and maintain the irrational belief that they do not deserve anything better, because 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. They are sure they will be rejected as soon as their worthwhile partner discovers how worthless they really are. When they enter a relationship with a chemically dependent person they feel secure, for at least someone who treats them badly, knows how worthless they are and stays in the relationship. They believe 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 couldn’t bear being alone.

In helping these individuals, we centered around self-worth and need for love issues. The REBT therapists would dispute the irrational belief that these clients are worthless and must therefore settle for being treated poorly and that they could not bear being alone if they ever managed to break free of the present relationship. After 30 + years as a counselor, self-worth issues for anyone gets five stars. Obviously what you think about you goes a long way in assertiveness skills, problem-solving skills and negotiating skills. The problem is that, as they learn to assert themselves, the alcoholic or the drug addict will threaten to leave, or even not come home, as a way of terrorizing these enablers into submission. My men and women were told, “sometimes you have to risk the relationship after you’ve had enough. You do not have to out-give God.”

If the relationship ends, our jobs as therapists were not over. Because of these clients’ dire need for love and their chronic self-downing, they tried to find another relationship like the last one. We would try to stress to them to remain in therapy through their courtship to ensure that they did not grab the first bad mate who will have them, or they will learn to be choosy, find a mate they like or maintain the belief that they are as worthwhile as anyone else and they deserve to find a mate whom they enjoy. Prevention entails them from resorting to becoming an enabler once again.

What you have just read is based upon 30-plus years of experience dealing with enablers. I hope it will give you better insight and help you to lead a little more peaceful life.

Mike Tramuta is an REBT counselor. He can be reached at 983-1592.

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