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Helping or Enabling an Addict

Updated on October 7, 2009
Stop the Cycle!
Stop the Cycle!

Helping is to Stop Enabling

Let me start out by saying I am a Christian. "Baby" Christians that haven't yet come to understand the Bible [1 Peter 2:2] are oftentimes misled to think that being Christ-like is to sacrifice oneself for another, no matter what the cost. After all, isn't that what Jesus did for us? This kind of thinking leads to congregations full of codependents who are guilt-ridden should they say "NO" to a dysfunctional family member.

If any of you have read the Chapters of My Childhood series you will understand that my biological family life consisted of dysfunction, chaos, neglect, physical and sexual abuse, alcoholism and so forth. My little sister Sarah, my older brother Sean and I were removed from that family when Sarah was 4, Sean was 7 and I was 5 years old. Sarah and I were eventually adopted, but Sean was left behind in the system.

At the age of 16 I found my biological family in the next town over from where I grew up with my adoptive family. I could see how awful things turned out for all of them. My Mom suffered from mental illness and her vocabulary consisted of simply "Yes" or "No". My Dad was doing well, as he'd stopped drinking and actually took care of feeding and sheltering our mother. My brother Sean couldn't even answer a question in a logical manner, as his brain was so burned out on drugs at 18 years old. My oldest brother Grant was now legally blind, but was married and took care of himself pretty well. He even helped care for his wife, worked, and rode a bike.

Sean continued to use drugs and knows prison life more than freedom. When he's in prison or a mental half-way house his medications are monitored by staff and he pulls himself together. However, he chooses to "escape" those half-way houses and wanders the streets snorting all his mental medications and drinking, then ends up breaking his parole and behind bars. He's currently in prison for the next four years.

Grant lives near our sister Victoria. She herself was addicted to drugs at one point in her life and overcame her addictions. Little did I know, I've since learned by observation that the substance is not the addict. One can quit the substance, but the addictive behavior continues in a different form, until one admits s/he is an addict and gets set free.

When our father died almost 10 years ago Victoria, bless her heart, decided to take our Mom in and took care of her for seven years until she passed away. None of the family could have done that because of the instability in their own lives. Out of nine kids, one died, two of us work and the rest are on medications and living off the government/state. At the time of our father's death, I was in an abusive marriage with a seven-month old baby.

I looked up to Victoria so much for being so strong, loving and caring. She was single and never had children, and it seemed the right thing to do. She's tried to help Sean who won't help himself, and thousands of dollars later she's still sick over it. Now that Mom's gone and Sean's a hopeless cause, she is involved in taking care of Grant, though Victoria's told me all of his "sins" and how dysfunctional he is. However, he feels he's independent enough not to need someone to look after him.

Grant's blindness has disabled him from working, but he can still ride his bike to get his medications, ride to see his psychiatrist, and generally take care of himself. He has his own place and has a care-taker to do his cleaning and shopping. Victoria's provided a cell phone for him, takes him to get his medications, takes him to doctor's appointments, and insists on being present when he speaks to his psychiatrist.

For years, Victoria shared awful stories about the majority of the family members with me. I felt so ashamed of everyone and exalted her all the more. She could do no wrong. Since I'm not an "enabler", all these negative stories kept me from keeping in touch with Grant and the others. Since Mom died, Victoria is now desperately upset with the rest of the family because no one took on Mom and certainly won't take on "helping" Grant. I think she's just angry over losing Mom and taking it out on everyone. She had no life of her own and certainly couldn't date anyone with the heavy burden she carried. Because she simply can't let go of Grant, she still has no life! This sounds like classic codependency.

Let's look at some great Americans with disabilities. There are those who manage well with blindness, mental illness, loss of limbs, are wheelchair bound, are recovered drug addicts, sober alcoholics, ex-gambling addicts, etc. Their very character developed them into accomplished individuals, because they had a will and trusted in God.

Where does God come in? He's the HIGHER POWER that is delivering them! I say "Is delivering them" because overcoming such things is an ongoing and life-long process. What's AA and NA for? The part of the equation we don't often recognize is Alanon. It's just as important for those who have an addiction to helping others and needing to be needed by dysfunctional individuals to get help ~ help to STOP taking responsibility that is not theirs to take! These programs are proven successful, but only when the codependent admits s/he has a problem.

Is it un-Christ-like not to "help" when people won't make an effort to help themselves? I bought clothing and gave cash to Sean only to find out he sold the clothing and used all the cash overnight to buy drugs. When Victoria tells me that Grant continues to make self-destructive choices and then feels depressed because he's "unloved" by the rest of the family who will not come to his rescue, it sounds like she's trying to make everyone feel sorry for Grant and help her carry the burden she elects to carry. Grant won't become independent as long as she keeps him dependent on her by being dependent on him. Does that make sense? That's what "co-dependency" is all about: each is dependent on the other.

The Bible says, "If a man not work, neither shall he eat." (2 Thes 3:10). Indeed we are instructed to "bear one another's burdens" (Gal 6:2), but we need to remember also that verse 5 states, "each man should carry his own load 'backpack' (reasonable responsibilities). The Bible says when we "sow to the flesh, we reap from the flesh" (Gal 6:8). We are also instructed to "shake the dust from our feet" (Mat 10:14) when someone will not receive and heed the words of the Lord. Even when Jesus says to forgive 70 times 7 each day (Mat 18:22), Luke 17: 3-4 also states, "if he repent" as a prerequisite. What is repentance? It means to STOP doing the sinful thing, or at least have that conviction in your heart to try.

What is the Biblical consequence of drug abuse? First of all, the word pharmacy has the root word pharmakeus: from pharmakon (a drug, i.e. spell-giving potion); a druggist ("pharmasist") or poisoner, i.e. (by extens.) a magician:--sorcerer.The book of Revelation is very clear about this. In Chapter 21:7-8 the Bible states, "He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers (pharmakeus) and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." I'm not saying pharmacy USE is sorcery, but pharmacy and other drug AB-USE is.

Victoria is so resentful now from taking care of Mom, losing her, taking care of Sean and feeling helpless, and feeling obligated to look after Grant every single day, she's taking more medications to help her cope. All this sickness is becoming hers. When she went to Alanon, she seemed to get better. When she went to counseling, she seemed to get better. But now she's hostile with the rest of us and stating that God will have his revenge on us because we won't "help". She is crying out for help, but no one can help her but herself! She's so burned out, she was ready to quit on life! She sent a suicide note to me, which in turn caused me to contact her local police department to do a welfare check. Though that's all I did, SHE ended up in the ER, then in a mental hospital for three days. When she was released, she accused me of putting her in the mental hospital?! Her codependency is getting worse and worse.

Because I checked on Grant while Victoria was in the hospital, that's when I found out so much of the "rest of the story". She had kept me from talking to him (as I stated earlier), which protected her claims. Now that she was out of the hospital, she changed Grant's number to keep us from talking further! Control is the addiction.

I'm a survivor. My "disability" or "excuse" not to make anything of myself could be based on the life I had as a child. Yes, I've had rough times, slept on the floor, been on food stamps and suffered depression. Nevertheless, with faith in God and doing the best I can, I've raised four children, am living a sober and decent life as a single parent, worked my way up at my job and even bought my home with God's help.

I was adopted out of that dysfunctional past by the grace of God. Am I supposed to dive right back in? Did freed Israel go back to slavery in Egypt? (Ex 32-34). God delivered them and any turning back meant judgment. What happened to Lot's wife when she looked back on Sodom and Gomorrah after being delivered from its destruction? She disobeyed and turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26). There's still too much sin and sickness there for me to go back and get swallowed up by it.

Although Jesus died for us and we live in His grace, does He not discipline those He loves? (Heb 12:6). Are there not consequences for sin? We all have consequences in our lives from the choices we've made. That's what teaches us to follow His ways. The Bible states that "he learned obedience by the things which he suffered" (Heb 5:8). To enable someone is to protect them from "hitting the bottom". It's to protect them from their own, even God's consequences that are designed to teach them obedience and give them LIFE more abundantly.

Is Victoria truly "helping" others or "enabling" them to stay needy of her "help"? Is "rescuing" her from "helping" others only "enabling" her situation further? I will be there to help her stop being codependent and then she will probably be surprised that others are actually more capable than she ever imagined! Victoria needs to "wake up" to the fact she is codependent and is addicted to the need to be needed by others to the point of martyrdom, resulting in resentment and leading to self-destructive behaviors in order to get the attention she so desperately needs. By helping others, she feels self-worth and in control. When she stops involving herself in others' lives, she feels out of control. If an enabler wants others to get well, the enabler must STOP enabling. The enabler MUST also get well. Victoria needs to submit herself to getting the structured help that truly is available to her, physically, mentally and spiritually.

When the codependent gets well, the addict is forced to get well, too! Bottom line!!


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    • Shepherd's Lamb profile imageAUTHOR

      Shepherd's Lamb 

      9 years ago from Roseville, CA

      Connie, I so thank you for your words of truth and healing. I trust the Lord in healing them, if they just seek Him. He set me free; I don't know why, but I serve Him and love Him with all my heart. All I can do is pray and know that He is their Savior, not anyone else. He uses psychologists for help, other victims for help, other survivors' testimonies for help. I will keep the faith in love. God bless you!

    • Connie Smith profile image

      Connie Smith 

      9 years ago from Tampa Bay, Florida

      Dear Lamb, I used to manage a mental health assisted living facility, though I am certainly not a psychiatrist. It made me view a lot of this type of behavior differently. Everyone has different thresholds of being able to deal with pain, both physically and mentally.

      First of all, you mother had a mental diagnosis and your siblings' problems may be inherited as well as environmental. Also, it certainly sounds as if your sister Victoria's drug of choice is feeling needed (and being a martyr). You can not help her, though she is crying out for help. Only professional help can assist her.

      You have your own mental health to safeguard for your own family's sake. You neither caused the family problems or contributed to them. These are deep seated problems that will not go away for them. You might feel a bit guilty for being fortunate enough to be adopted out of the situation, but you are not responsible. If any help on your part would actually help, I would not suggest that you give up, but all of these people have demons that are so deep that even medical professionals can not help. To fight a losing battle will only hurt you, your own mental health and your family.

      One thing that stood out so much during my six years in this profession was this: the size of a problem for a mentally ill person has no direct relation to what real worries that they have . In other words, if one does not have to worry about food, clothing, shelter, family, they will worry as much about where their next cigarette or 50 cents for a soda is as much if not more than many people worry about where their next house payment is coming from.

      For your own sake, leave the care (but not the love, of course) of your siblings up to mental health professionals and thank God that you have been spared. You are not being a bad sibling, but a realistic one.

    • Shepherd's Lamb profile imageAUTHOR

      Shepherd's Lamb 

      9 years ago from Roseville, CA

      Jen's Solitude, very good word. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. It's a sad thing in our world today, but God is in the business of making our business His business. Truly, He is our Savior and all eyes need to be on Him, and He will heal our land. Praise God!

    • Jen's Solitude profile image

      Jen's Solitude 

      9 years ago from Delaware

      Hi Shepherd's Lamb,

      It is tragic when abuse suffered from childhood invades and takes over the lives of the innocent children. To handle it, sometimes it is easier to become engrossed in the lives of others. At least then you don't have to think about your own feelings, which is really scaring you the most. Becoming the saviour of the family gives you the feeling of purpose and success. The eldest has already become used to accepting responsibility. That mind set is a good place to hide when you can't face your own pain.

      As you know there is nothing you can do about it. Each child of abuse and neglect has to seek help. You can suggest, but that is about it.

      At least you are doing well and know how to keep yourself healthy. Hopefully the same will happen for your siblings. The more you can talk to your siblings yourself, the better off you will be in determining how you can assist those in your family who are really trying. I hope your sister will one day see herself and face why she busies herself in everyone's life but her own.

      Appreciated reading your experiences, keep up the good work.



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