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Addiction and Codependency: Top 10 Reasons to Stop Enabling the Addict You Love (Part II)

Last week, in Part One of the Top 10 Reasons to Stop Enabling the Addict You Love, we made it halfway through the countdown. This week, in Part Two, let’s pick up where we left off and unveil the top five! 

Drumroll please! 

#5 Others around you are watching what you’re doing. 

Are there others in your household who are affected by an addict, and by the ways you behave toward him or her? For example, if you have a child who is actively using drugs (and/or other addictive behaviors) and you are enabling this person, your other children will be watching as you ‘favor’ the addict, even while they may be trying to do well in their own lives. However, those children could well develop poor behaviors of their own because they feel resentful – or perhaps because they feel it’s the only way to get your attention.

Another common occurrence is a spouse or partner who is feeling estranged because your every waking moment is spent focused on the addict. Your partner may disagree with how you’re dealing with this situation, but instead of arguing s/he becomes distant. Or your partner may collude with the enabling behaviors so the two of you have common ground. Whether you and your partner are distanced or enmeshed, you are riding the same roller coaster of the chaos that is addiction.

If the addict in your life is your partner – and if you are minimizing, making excuses, blaming, and putting up with inappropriate behavior from him or her – this too may well be rubbing off on your children and other significant people in your life. As well, the risk could be high for your children to, in turn, choose partners with addiction issues, or for them to become addicts themselves, because that’s what feels familiar to them. Other friends and family members may be feeling quite concerned about you, as they watch your life become totally entwined with the addict you’re enabling.

Regardless of the details of your story, be aware that other people in your life are watching, and many are learning from you how to handle these types of situations. But please know that, just like the addict in your life, you are also at choice. You can decide to stop enabling and heal from your own unhealthy behaviors and role model these positive changes instead.

#4 We cannot control anyone but ourselves – really!

Everyone has free will and there is nothing we can do to control anyone else’s choices or behaviors. We each get to choose what kind of life we want to have. Obviously, you would like the addict you love to stop choosing active addiction and instead live a holistically healthy life. But there is no magic wand that will give you the ability to make the addict behave differently. Many of you already know this, having tried absolutely everything you could think of – to no avail.

For example, if you were dealing with a stubborn 5-year-old who refused to clean his room, you would likely impose a consequence to this behavior. The same holds true for the addict in your life. While you can’t make them stop, you can decide what your boundaries are, set out the consequences clearly, and be sure to maintain them if your addict chooses not to comply.

This shift starts with your own willingness to explore your enabling behaviors and to make the necessary changes within yourself. I understand how challenging it can be to create this type of difficult but necessary transformation. It’s courageous to accept the reality that we are powerless over anyone else’s choices – but when we stop enabling, we take a much more loving stance with the addicts we care so deeply about.

#3 Enabling only creates more drama – stop cooking with cheese!

Not long ago, there was a fascinating commercial on TV in North America that had its roots in the dynamic of enabling. It depicted two elderly parents still cooking for and serving their middle-aged adult children. As viewers, we saw the sense of frustration on the part of the parents – and we understood that this exact scenario had been going on in this family for many years.

The punch line of the commercial is “Stop cooking with cheese!” The message, of course, is that the children would move out and cook their own food if there were not delicious, cheesy dishes served at every meal. When I saw this ad, I was struck by the quintessential codependency of it.

In other words, stop making it so easy for your addict to depend on you in ways they shouldn’t. Stop making it so comfortable for them to behave badly and continue to engage in their addictive behaviors without any real consequences. And, above all, stop getting caught up in the continual drama of their addicted lives and give more attention to yourself!

#2 Enabling keeps everyone in their comfort zones.

“Comfort zones” are aptly named because their function is to keep us emotionally comfortable. Addictive behavior of all kinds is also used to keep us emotionally – and sometimes physically – comfortable. It’s easy to see how the two can so often go hand-in-hand.

Simply stated, people use addiction because they don’t want to feel what they’re feeling. Most people use addiction to feel better, although there are some who use these behaviors to keep themselves feeling miserable, thinking that this is what they deserve. Addicts often become experts at citing why they have to do this, especially when the addiction goes on for long periods of time. But there is a difference between a reason and an excuse and, in my opinion, there is no reason to remain entrenched in an addiction. The basic excuse is that addicts want to feel “comfortable” without working very hard for it.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m a firm believer in being comfortable, but only when that comfort has its roots in healthy solutions. Addiction – that feeling of “I can’t stop doing it” – is never based in anything healthy.

Using addictive medications is something that I had to grapple with myself many years ago. When I decided to stop my addiction to the various prescription meds for my Crohn’s Disease – as well as daily marijuana – I was very uncomfortable for quite a while, both emotionally and physically. The mantra I repeated to myself over and over again as I stopped using these drugs, was “This feels wrong – but it’s right; this feels wrong – but it’s right.” Over the years, I chose to learn about alternative pain control methods instead – and today, nearly 30 years later, I take virtually no meds for my ‘incurable’ and still at times debilitating condition.

As I mentioned in Reason #8 (in Part 1), when we enable we are really only meeting our own needs, not the needs of the addict. We are in essence staying emotionally comfortable by not requiring very much of the addict. We need to role model a better way to deal with life by becoming willing to come out of our own comfort zone. It’s not going to work if we expect the addict we love to be the only one struggling to reach that ‘new normal.’

There is a great saying – “Life begins at the end of our comfort zone.” This is true for enablers as well as anyone else with an addiction. We simply cannot live our best lives if we continue to choose to be chained to any behaviors that do not promote health and self-respect, either for ourselves or for the addict we care so deeply about.

Choose to love your addict enough to raise the bar for both of you. What an act of courage it is to come out of denial and do what needs to be done – especially when it’s uncomfortable!

#1 Enabling an addict is NEVER A LOVING ACT. 

I’m sure you understand that trying to rescue an addict only hinders that person and quickly spirals into a lose-lose situation.

There are times and situations when people need to receive extra care from those around them – and when those times occur, it’s compassionate and appropriate to help them. However, it’s not helpful to continue to give and give, with no end in sight, to people who have the ability to help themselves.

The same holds true for people struggling with addiction. If they continue to be rescued and enabled – especially when they truly are able to make a different decision – why should they ever try to be productive and self-respecting? If we take that possibility away from them on an ongoing basis, how is that helping them?

Think about why you are enabling the addict you love and see if you can come out of your own comfort zone so that they can learn how to help themselves instead. What I know for sure is that it is not a loving act to assist addicts to stay entrenched in unhealthy, unproductive behaviors that could kill them.

We can step in and truly be helpful when the enabling stops and those who are addicted are ready to face their own demons. There are many ways to do this, including financially supporting their time in residential treatment, or providing emotional support by letting them know how proud we are of them. And we can share with them what our own recovery from codependency looks and feels like.

What if we all loved the addicts in our lives enough to do what is right for THEM? What if we recovered right along with them, so that healthy relationships could then be forged? What if we stopped the enabling that keeps everyone stuck and serves only to continue the addiction? What if we were courageous enough, compassionate enough, and wise enough to do things differently – and do our part to stop the addiction in its tracks?

To paraphrase that age-old song – what a wonderful world this could be!


Image Courtesy of iStock

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