How do I Break the Cycle of Enabling?

by Darcie
(Ottawa, OH)

My son is 29 years old and I have been enabling him his whole life. He is an alcohlic and drug user. He's been in trouble with the law, reckless ops, Dui's, theft, etc. He got out of prison in March and has been living with me.

My family is tired of my enabling and have cut me out of their lives. I have a deadline for my son to leave and gave him choice: homeless or go the Salvation Army Rehab Center. He chooses homeless...but he will not just go away peacefully, he will continue to bug and call me for money and help.

How do I break this cycle, he does not have a job or any money. He did get his GED and has a drivers license and a truck to drive. I would be OK with him staying until he gets a job but the family has deadlines.

What am I supposed to do, just turn my back...there are no homeless shelters in the area I live.

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Nov 25, 2009
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My Two Cents :)
by: mxkx

Yes, this is a decision you're going to have to make on your own, but it helps to be well educated before you make it.

Bottom line - a lot of times it takes hitting the deepest, darkest rock bottom for someone to start wanting to recover. That's because the behavior your son is displaying is more than likely an attempt to escape the pain he feels inside, and since recovery involves even more pain, he's not going to look towards it as a solution until the pain he is feeling in his life becomes so intense that the pain of recovery actually seems like a nice little vacation.

Right now, you are helping him to be comfortable with things the way they are. As long as this is happening his chances at choosing recovery are extremely small. Everything you do to make things a little better for him, from providing him a place to stay to just being a listening ear and telling him at the end that everything will be ok, all of that pushes him a little further away from actually recovering. After all, why should one want to move to a different chair as long as someone is throwing water on the one that's on fire that they're sitting on?

As for the phone call situation, I would recommend starting by recommending real therapy every time he tries coming to you for "help". No doubt, it will make him mad, but it will do two things.

First of all, it will allow you to stand your ground and stop enabling him without actually giving up on him and actually encouraging him. Tell him you know he can recover if that's what you really believe! He probably doesn't believe any more that he can.

Second, it will give you a means to REALLY help your son and not just enable him. Any time he is ready, you will be there with the contact information he needs to get real help.

However, if your son is verbally/emotionally/mentally abusive towards you in your phone conversations, it would probably be best just to tell him once and then do whatever you can to avoid talking to him again until he's ready to start on recovery.

Tolerating that kind of behavior is enabling as well and you also have your own mental health to think about. No one can possibly deal with a such a close loved one throwing insults at them for long without those words finally taking a bite. In order to help him you will have to be mentally healthy, so take good care of yourself and don't promote or tolerate any abuse!

And good luck!

Nov 25, 2009
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Last Resort
by: Don

Darcie, yes a restraining order if that's what it takes -- but only as a last resort. That's why they call it "Tough Love". Try everything else you can think of to get him to leave; have relatives help you, change the locks on the doors, change your phone number, whatever it takes.

This really is YOUR decision...your choice.

If you have given him a deadline and he is still pestering you to enable him and you give in then the noose gets tighter for both of you. Especially if he is drinking or drugging -- even "one beer once in a while" is a MAJOR sign that he is NOT changing.

Now, if he really is staying clean & sober (notice I didn't say "trying") going to lots of 12-Step meetings, has a sponsor, is actively looking for work everyday, and genuinely appears to be taking responsibility for himself and his recovery then it is a LOT tough decision to make.

In the above case, you would still need to let him deal with his own problems without "helping" him do anything he should be able to do for himself. You may find that it is next to impossible to resist "helping" him -- enabling is YOUR addiction.

Either way, if he stays or if he goes, YOU need help too if you really want a good outcome. A counselor that knows about addiction & enabling would be a good start. Alanon or Codependents Anonymous is a MUST.

By the way, "spiraling downward" is SUPPOSED to happen when the enabling behavior is removed -- your son must be allowed to hit bottom.

Keep in mind, Darcie, there are no guarantees that hitting bottom will end with him seek help or that there won't be a tragic outcome for your son. But Enabling behavior DOES come with a guarantee -- it will continue to get worse and the likelihood of a tragic outcome is increased.

Best wishes and my prayers are with you,
Don

Nov 25, 2009
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Tough Love
by: Anonymous

Hi Darcie

My brother was an alcoholic gambler until the age of 36. He is now 54 and 16 years dry, he has a wife and 2 lovely children and his recovery is a key area of his life, he attends at least 3 AA meetings a week even now, he never takes his recovery for granted. I am proud of him for what he has achieved but it wasn't always that way.

Our mother was in the same position you are now and because of guilt she carried from leaving him in Scotland when he was a young boy, she always enabled his behavior. She threatened to throw him out then didn't, countless times. She bailed him out of jail, gave him work in her business then did the work for him while he lay comatose, blah blah.

She died when I was 22 (he was 30)and I inherited his bad behavior - I passed up on the job though and left position of enabler to his then fiance. But nobody could enable him like mum had and so finally he hit his rock bottom and got help, he got sober and now he is an advocate of tough love. He says that if our mother hadn't enabled him when he was younger he would have hit is rock bottom and found recovery a lot sooner.

It's going to be hard Darcie but keep looking to the future for your son. One day he will thank you for what you did. With my best wishes, Lyn

Nov 25, 2009
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Restraining Order?
by: Anonymous

Really a restraining order...he's trying right now so hard to get back on track attending AA meetings and looking for job. I just feel like this would be a punch in the gut to him and send him spiraling downward again. Thanks for the insight though...really tough love needs to happen.

Nov 25, 2009
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Tough Love
by: Don Carter

Hi Darcie. I am going to keep this entry short. I know others will identify with your situation. The maternal instinct to protect is the most tenacious power I have witnessed in my professional experience.

It's a lot harder for moms to let go than anyone else in the family. Never-the-less it must be done if you love your son. At 29 years old he needs to find his way in life.

The best thing you can do, even if it means getting a restraining order against him, is to give him some phone numbers to several treatment centers. Then tell him that once he gets help, is working & supporting himself, and has X number of months of solid recovery behind him you will be able to re-engage in his life to a certain degree.

Then while he is gone -- get help for yourself whether it starts with a counselor and Alanon or just Alanon. It will not be easy but it can be extremely rewarding. Copy and Paste this link into your browser window to find treatment centers in your area.

http://www.usdrugrehabcenters.com/drug-rehab-centers/ohio-drug-rehab-centers/

The States usually have some money for people who cannot afford insurance...call several of them; talk to them about the situation and find 3 or 4 that sound like the best bets for him. Then give him the numbers and let him go -- even if you need to have the police or sheriff help you out.

Good luck & God Bless,
Don


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