When does helping stop and enabling begin?

Approximately 2 months ago my mid-40's brother was diagnosed with cancer. Knowing that employment had been unstable for many years and my brother and his wife were no longer inviting family into their home. I was concerned that their living conditions were less than ideal for a future chemo patient. My husband and I, along with my parents, my son and his wife. Set aside a 3 day weekend to offer our assistance in getting the living conditions to a more sterile environment. Before arriving, I was somewhat prepared for what we were embarking on, but seeing the extent of the situation was quite overwhelming. For a family of 2 adults and 6 dogs, living in approximately 1000 sf, was overwhelming and unexplainable from all that were involved in the cleanup. Without a doubt, that weekend could have been an episode on Hoarders. During that weekend, I offered to be the medical advocate for my brother, for the journey that was ahead. I knew there had been a history of drug use in his 20's and my adult children had begun recognizing behavior that indicated that the drug use was more current than I realized. I confronted my brother and explained that if I was truly going to be his medical advocate that he had to be completely honest with me regarding his drug use. He was honest with me and confessed that he had been a meth user for approximately 25 years that he been clean for a few months ever since he discovered the tumor growing under his jaw. I also became aware that weekend that not only was there a hoarding problem and drug addiction along with the recent cancer diagnosis, but his financial situation was quite a mess, as well. He was almost 3 months behind on his mortgage, they do not have automobile insurance and neither have a valid drivers license due to unpaid tickets and warrants for not having insurance. The final awareness was that our parents had been helping him financially for many years, completely obliviously to the fact that they were the enablers. My parents admitted to me that all of their retirement was gone and almost all of the money from a reverse mortgage was gone as well. Basically our 79 year old father had been working a part time job for the past 15 years since his retirement, and I would speculate that probably a minimum of 60-70% of his earnings had gone to support my brother.


Needless to say, I was overwhelmed with all of this awareness at one time. I did seek guidance and counsel from people that I knew that had family members in similar situations. Although I had promised to keep his drug use confidential except for my husband and children, I was advised that since my parents were the unknowing enablers, I needed to tell them about the drug use. Knowing it would be devastating to them and struggling with the broken confidence it took me a couple of days to finally tell my mom of the 25 year drug use. She was at first, angry because they had been taken advantage and deceived for all those years. That anger soon subsided and and was directed at my in less than 2 weeks. She was made at me for breaking my brother's confidence, she didn't want to know all that she knew because she didn't want to have bad feelings towards him since he was about to have a tissue biopsy the following day. I have strongly encouraged my parents to not pay any of my brothers household bills without holding him accountable for where the money that my sister-in-law makes. I told her it was her right to know where the money he is spending was going since she was providing financial assistance to him. I have also expressed to all of them that it is not fair that a 79 year old man is working to provide wants (not needs) for his 46 year old son.

My husband and I provided the labor and material for many home repairs over the last six weeks. I live almost 5 hours away and have made 3 trips for the specific purpose of attending a dr visits, chemo treatment, etc. I tend to take charge of a situation and I have strongly recommended that my parents not give or pay any more bills until my brother provides a budget of what money is being received and were it is being spent. This past weekend we found out that the mortgage company is requiring that they get their account completely caught up (btw the mortgage is in my sister-in-law and my mother's name, my brother credit was too poor to qualify for the mortgage) After my brother accepted 2 puppies to his current 5 dog population..and declared that selling both of the $750 puppies was not an option. I finally proposed some boundaries of how we are going to walk down this journey. I proposed that my husband and I would continue to do and pay for simple house hold repairs, we would provide food and groceries when needed. Continue to make calls to medical personnel and would actively be a part of medical treatment, Because now that I am requiring accountability on his part he, he is turned on me and declared I am not allowed at any upcoming metal building. Should have I established Although I had promised to keep his drug use confidential d. except for my husband and children,so not to lose when do.
I am at a loss, of how to hand the dependent/co-dependant relations

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Feb 01, 2012
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a little more information
by: Anonymous

Don - thank you so much for your response. I truly believe stumbling across this site was God's doing. Please forgive me if I post 2 comments, as I am not sure the first one posted. Since my initial post, a month ago, I feel as if this situation has been a roller coaster ride. My mom and dad have cut off almost all the financial support simply because the funds are not there anymore. My brother has received good news in that the cancer is Stage 1 and he is responding very well to chemo treatment. I have discovered that my brother was over 16 months behind on his mortgage payment (mortgage is in his wife's name and our parent's name) 2 years ago and falsified documents and forged our parent's signature in order to receive a loan modification. I have confronted him with this information and it has infuriated him that I know, my parents do not want him to know that they know. They are fearful of his anger outburst and do not want to approach any controversial subjects for fear that it will depress him and affect his healing of the cancer or that he will turn back to his drug use.

This is incredibly hard on my parents, my mom will be 74 and dad 80 this year. They don't have the emotional and physical strength to confront him and the fear of him dying from cancer prevents them from stepping away from the situation. I did attempt to speak with him again about 2 weeks ago. I am asking him to accept responsibility for the results of 25 years of meth use. I have pointed out that due to the addiction he has made many irrational decisions over the past several years and that he needs to go through therapy to understand why he turned to drugs, the ramifications of the many years of drug use, and how to deal with traumatic situations in a healthy way. His response is that he "is the drug addict expert, not me, and he knows the last thing he needs is to be around more addicts - recovered or not" My parents are usually there when these extremely angry outburst occur and then I am viewed as the "bad guy" for provoking him. My mom has seesawed back in forth between blaming me and then sometimes understanding that I am trying to help.

So what do you do? Wait til the chemo is over, but then there is radiation? Try to approach it again then? I am in such unchartered territory that I don't know what to do and if there is anything my parents or I can do.

Jan 21, 2012
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Tough situation
by: Don

Meth is a deadly drug. After 10 years it begins to damage the brain in ways that cannot be repaired. I am surprised that he has used meth that long.

If I were in your situation, before I accept any responsibility at all, I would ask for and insist upon a policy of non-confidentiality. Addiction thrives in secrecy.

I would also insist upon counseling or treatment if he hasn't had any. AND I recommend that the whole family participate in that.

To expect healthy behavior from an unhealthy active addict (dry for a couple weeks or not) is a set up. If you don't get some boundaries in place along these lines you are destined to end up in a much worse situation that it is already - it will only get worse.

How this helps and sorry I have not been available during the past several weeks.

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