Enabling: It's Not Blaming the Family

Many Times Family Members Sincerely Think They Are Helping

Giving Cash
Sometimes Helping Really Doesn't Help. © Getty Images

Each time an article on enabling is featured on the About.com Alcoholism site or in the weekly newsletter, it prompts email from readers who feel like the articles are somehow blaming the friends and family members of the alcoholic or addict for their problems. Although the articles always explain that family members do not cause the problem, love ones can find themselves contributing to the situation with their actions and reactions.

Al-Anon Family Group's Three C's say, "I didn't cause it, I can't control it and I can't cure it," but many Al-Anon members find their actions and reactions can contribute to the family chaos.

Recently, when I featured an article on enabling on my Twitter account or my Facebook page, I received an email from a reader that contained the following edited paragraph:

Blaming the Family?

Blaming a family for a condition that a person who has willingly, knowingly, and VOLUNTARILY, acquired regarding an addiction is BEYOND WRONG! No family (unless it's a family full of dysfunctional addicts/alcoholics!) TEACHES a fellow family member HOW to become addicted to a drug! So where is this bulls*** "addiction is a "family disease," myth coming from?

First of all, having been an active member of Al-Anon Family Groups for more than 25 years, I am not blaming the family member for the alcoholic's problems - I am a family member.

Nothing that I ever did caused my family member's alcoholism and nothing I did ever stopped it either.

Enabling, Not Helping

But after years of reading books and listening to other Al-Anon members share their experiences, I decided that some of the things that I thought I was doing to "help" the family situation were actually creating an atmosphere in which the dysfunctional behavior could continue.

Instead of helping the situation, I was actually enabling it to continue in many ways.

Well-Meaning, Good-Intentioned

The problem for me, and for many others who have found themselves in the same situation, is that I had no idea that some of the things that I was doing were part of the problem instead of part of the solution. Just as many others well-meaning, good-intentioned love ones, I was not aware of all of the different ways that I was enabling the insanity to continue.

I didn't realize at the time when I called in sick for the alcoholic, lied for her, covered up for her and made excuses for her so that she could keep her job and maintain her reputation, that I was actually enabling her to continue in her destructive behavior rather than face the real consequences for her actions.

Perhaps if I had allowed her to deal with the natural consequences of drinking, rather than stepping in and trying to "fix" things, she might have decided she needed to seek help for her problem.

A Family Disease

Also like many others in that situation, I found that I had gradually become so absorbed in trying to fix the alcoholic's problems that I in fact lost much of myself in the process.

It happened so slowly and insidiously over time that I didn't even realize how much I had been affected by the experience.

I was affected in ways that I didn't even realize. In many ways I was mentally and emotionally just as sick as the alcoholic, all the while blaming the alcoholic for all of the problems! That's why it's called a family disease. It can sneak up on you and affect you psychologically, spiritually and even physically without you even knowing it.

But I didn't stay sick. I found recovery through Al-Anon Family Groups. I learned to stop being part of the problem, when someone 25 years ago explained to me the concept of enabling and pointed out that little that I had done previously had ever "helped" the situation at all.

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