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What is supporting versus enabling? Is it right to distance yourself?

Discussion in 'Helping an Addicted Loved One' started by k9cb, Jul 13, 2015.

  1. k9cb

    k9cb Active Contributor

    When you have an addicted loved one, and you are trying to support them despite their often bad and hurtful decisions, at what point do you decide what you are doing is enabling rather than supporting them? Even when you aren't necessarily enabling them, when do you decide that it isn't healthy to continue to put yourself in that type of stressful and hurtful situation? Is it ever really right to distance yourself from a loved one in the hopes that they'll come around and begin making better decisions on their own?

    Personally, I'm not a fan of ultimatums or tough love, and I think family support is important, but I also think everyone has a breaking point.
    S24 likes this.
  2. harold

    harold Community Champion

    It is not right to abandon a loved one. At the end of the day, everything has a limit. If you notice that the efforts you make to support the person are instead enabling the person, then you need to step back from being soft and take a harder tone. You need to use words that allows the person to know that you still love him or her, but at the same time, words that spurs the person to reflect. If you just insult the person, he or she will take it as an offense and will not listen to you any longer. speak calmly, but use strong words, and they will surely cause the person to think again. I do not believe that a loved one should ever be abandoned for any reason. At the same time, they need to be told the truth in a respectful way.
    k9cb likes this.
  3. MyDigitalpoint

    MyDigitalpoint Community Champion

    I think that the ultimate decision depends on the situation. @harold is right, one should never abandon a loved one, and it's expected to be going through thick and thin no matter what.

    However sometime a breaking point is necessary, but this is not about turn your back at the person causing the break, just putting some distance in between, but always remaining pending of what is going on with this person and trying to help in the distance.

    Or at least this is the way how I perceive a breaking point should be.
    S24 and k9cb like this.
  4. k9cb

    k9cb Active Contributor

    I think respect is a huge part of it, but sometimes I feel like some people in these situations become resistant or indifferent to any advice or input. That is, no matter how respectful you are, not getting respect in return makes it all the more difficult. I guess it comes down to being understanding and recognizing the difficulty of their situation.

    I particularly like what you said here: "speak calmly, but use strong words". Tone is important and a good way to convey respect while also being direct and truthful.
  5. k9cb

    k9cb Active Contributor

    I agree that turning your back is not favorable or really an option at all when dealing with someone you love. I would never abandon a loved one, but I can see how helping from a distance may be your best option. I guess in that way it lets the loved one know they have your love and support, but not your approval It gives them space to deal with their own problems, while not outright abandoning them.
  6. deanokat

    deanokat Community Organizer Community Listener

    @k9cb... I like to think of supporting vs. enabling like this:

    If what you're doing makes it easier for your loved one to continue with their addiction, that's enabling.

    If what you're doing makes it easier for your loved one to confront their problem and seek recovery, that's support.

    So... Giving them money would be enabling. But driving them to an AA meeting would be supporting.

    Sometimes loved ones of addicts think they're supporting their loved one, when in fact they're just enabling them. It is definitely a learning process.

    As far as "tough love" goes...

    My son battled addiction for 7 years, and during most of that time my entire family's life was a living hell. My wife and I finally gave our son an ultimatum: Go back to treatment, or leave our house. At the time he was 22-years-old and stuck in the rut of addiction. We didn't stop loving him. We just needed to put some distance between him and us. And we were totally supportive when he decided to go to treatment. Lo and behold, the treatment--which was his fourth time--finally sunk in. He's now 3 years clean and sober.

    I believe you can put some distance between you and the person you love who's addicted without abandoning them. Letting go with love is possible. But I don't think it should be the first course of action.

    Just relating my views/experience. Hope it makes at least a little bit of sense.
    Rainman, S24 and ReadmeByAmy like this.
  7. k9cb

    k9cb Active Contributor

    This makes a lot of sense, @deanokat. Thank you. I think sometimes it's hard to distinguish the two, and I think you are right that it is a learning process. I'm glad to hear your son is doing well, and that you were able to find the right balance between supporting but not enabling him.

    So do you think that your ultimatum was what finally made it sink it the fourth time? Did he go right to treatment once you gave him the ultimatum or did it take some time for him to come around?
  8. deanokat

    deanokat Community Organizer Community Listener

    @k9cb I do think the ultimatum is what finally helped my son decide to go to treatment and finally get serious about getting clean. He had been manipulating us for years, and my wife and I enabled him for years. That combination allowed him to live comfortably in our home while using drugs. He had no reason to change, because he had everything he wanted. When we finally gave him the ultimatum and stuck to it, I think he realized that his jig was up.

    My son did not go right to treatment after we told him "Go to treatment or leave our house." After thinking we were just going to cave again--because we had made idle threats so often before--he realized we were serious this time. He initially chose to leave our house. He left and stayed with a friend for two days. It was difficult for my wife and me, but we were comfortable with our decision. After two days, our son came home and said he'd go to treatment.
  9. k9cb

    k9cb Active Contributor

    @deanokat. I had a feeling it wouldn't have been that day. I guess you gave your son the wake up call he needed. Good on you for not caving in the meantime. I'm sure it was stressful those two days.

    It's really sad when love ones can be so manipulative, though it's pretty obvious that addiction is a powerful thing that makes people do things they wouldn't think of doing while clean.
    deanokat likes this.
  10. deanokat

    deanokat Community Organizer Community Listener

    @k9cb... Believe me, we caved many, many times before. But it ended up being like that whole "definition of insanity" thing: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We finally figured out that that saying is 100% true. I'm grateful we did.
    S24 and k9cb like this.
  11. sonia11

    sonia11 Senior Contributor

    To my mind, enabling is any action you can take to prevent the addict from changing and getting help. You can't let them use in smaller quantities because you don't like to see the withdrawal symptoms. You can't give them money if they say they're getting evicted (they are going to take that money and use, sorry.) You can let you know that you're there for them, and listen to their struggles, as long as you're not putting them in a situation where they don't have to stop using.

    As far as abandoning a loved one, this might sound harsh, but if it comes to the point that you feel you have to cut them off, that's okay to do. If an addict puts you in a position where you don't feel safe, or you feel that you're being used, let them know that you want to see them again, but not while they're addicted. You should never have to put yourself in danger, physically or mentally, because of an addicted loved one.
    S24 likes this.
  12. ReadmeByAmy

    ReadmeByAmy Community Champion

    Absolutely it is true that sometimes a "wake up call" makes a person to realized their own mistakes and experiences and to think that there is a need to change their life for the better.
  13. k9cb

    k9cb Active Contributor

    I agree that you shouldn't have to put yourself in danger. Unfortunately, it seems like so many of us do before we wise up. In terms of financial support, do you think it's OK to pay someones rent or support them financial in some other way while not actually giving them cash? There is the possibility that this gives them the financial freedom to spend other money on drugs, but it's less direct support of their habit.

    Do you think even this type of financial support should be avoided?
  14. S24

    S24 Member

    I believe that distance is important if other methods have failed.
    Sometimes, just simply knowing that it is possible to feed their addiction while simultaneously maintaining an important relationship (girlfriend, friend, etc...), THAT can be enabling.
    Sometimes hitting rock bottom and feeling as though they will lose their loved ones if they don't change may be exactly what the addict needs.
    BUT i am also a firm believer in loving from a distance. While addicts do need tough love sometimes, they are also in need of some sort of positive support system.
    deanokat likes this.
  15. Rainman

    Rainman Community Champion

    I pushed someone away and regret it because that person committed suicide that same night. Yeah it was a friend but I learned something from it.

    If you are the only person who has been standing by the addict's side, cutting him/her out of your life would make things worse. They might not commit suicide but it could make their addiction problem worse. But this doesn't apply where kids are involved. One must make sacrifices to protect the little ones from abuse and negative influences no matter what it costs.
  16. deanokat

    deanokat Community Organizer Community Listener

    If someone is in active addiction, I think that paying their rent is absolutely enabling. You are enabling them to live comfortably while still using. And yes, paying them rent will fee up money for them to spend on drugs. Even if it's a less direct support of their habit, it's still support. Just my opinion.