Al-Anon Meeting Topic - Enabling

When 'Helping' Doesn't Help

There Are Many Ways to Enable. © Getty Images

The way that I understand the concept of enabling, it's anything that I do that might make it easier for the alcoholic to continue in the progression of the disease.

It is enabling if I do something to prevent the alcoholic from facing the natural consequencies of their actions like:

  • Bailing them out of jail instead of letting them sit there.
  • Lying for them so they don't lose a job or are embarrassed.
  • "Fixing" things so they don't get a DUI.
  • Providing food and shelter when they should be doing that themselves.

Protecting Them From the Pain

The reason for this is, until the alcoholic's drinking, thinking and behavior becomes painful enough they will not reach out for help. If I do something to prevent them from feeling that "pain" that would be a natural result of their own actions, I am preventing them from hitting that "bottom."

I am putting "pillows" under them, so they don't even know they fell. If they never face the pain their drinking causes, why should they ever quit?

I my case, I did many, many things to enable the alcoholic, over and over again. I would love to be able to tell you, that when I finally stopped enabling the alcoholic she suddenly came to her senses and reached out for help. But the truth is, she just changed enablers!

Sometimes They Decide to Get Help

But, that is my personal experience.

Many times when family members stop doing things that enable the alcoholics and addicts in their lives to continue their behavior, it has an ultimate positive effect. Many times, without their enabling system in place, addicts do decide to get help.

I know one lady who was in Al-Anon for about a year and a half when she finally got the strength and the courage to make a change.

The next time the alcoholic became abusive with her, she decided she had enough.

The next day when the alcoholic came home from work, she was gone. She had moved into an apartment in another town. The alcoholic immediately knew he was in trouble; his enabling system that had been in place for the past 18 years was gone!

He checked himself into a treatment center that very night. That was more than 27 years ago and he's been clean and sober ever since.

She Was Gone, Too

She told him at the time, "I hope you are doing what you are doing for you, because I'm doing what I'm doing for me."

After 18 years of abuse and violence, she was finished. She had found the courage in Al-Anon to no longer accept unacceptable behavior in her life.

When she left and therefore stopped enabling him, he found recovery. She moved on with her life and she found me. We have been happily married now for 25 years.

Doing My Part Right

It didn't work that way in my case; when I left the alcoholic, she just took up with another enabler. I moved out on Monday and she moved in with him on Friday.

But, today, I know that at least I finally started doing my part right. If the alcoholic is still out there using, but it's not because I have enabled her to continue.

That lesson I have learned in Al-Anon Family Groups has carried over to other relationships in my life. So, now when I meet other alcoholics, I know better than to do anything to "rescue" them, from the consequences of their own actions.

-- BuddyT

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