by Beth Livingston
Certified Recovery Specialist
Someone you love has an addiction or behavior problem; and you hurt for them so deeply that you try to help them get better. If their unmanageable lives have negatively affected your life because of your involvement in helping them, you might be an enabler.
Here are a few examples:
An adult son had three DUIs and spent a year in jail. He lost his driving privileges for years. He often needs a ride to work, college classes, pick up his children, recreation, etc. His mother frequently drives him, even when it’s inconvenient for her. But, she tells herself that she’s helping him get back on his feet, so she doesn’t mind. She discovers that he’s drinking again, confronts him and he says, “Well, at least I’m not driving while I’m drinking. I’ll never do that again!” She tells him the dangers of his choice to drink again while she drives him back and forth to work and school. She’s not helping him get on his feet; she’s helping him continue to drink. She gets so angry inside when she thinks of the stupid choices he’s still making. She is an enabler.
An older sister has snuck out of the house to hang out with friends her parents have forbidden her to see. She threatens to hate her little sister forever if she doesn’t keep the secret. Little sister keeps her mouth shut. She’s not protected the sibling relationship; she’s helped her sister get into dangerous situations. She’s put herself in the position of being an accomplice to her big sister’s bad choices and sits on pins and needles hoping she gets home safely. She is an enabler.
A wife wants to quit smoking and has tried and failed several times. She’s trying again and in the middle of fixing dinner for the family, she gets an upsetting phone call from a friend. “I’ve got to have a cigarette,” she demands. She looks at her husband and says, “I hate to ask you this, but will you please go to the store and buy me a pack?” He says, “No, I don’t want to be part of that.” She huffs back, “Well then, I’m going to stop fixing dinner and go get it myself! We’ll probably be late for the evening service. Won’t you please go get it? I really need a cigarette. I won’t ask again.” He caves in and gets her the pack of smokes. He didn’t help keep the family get their meal or to the evening service on time; he helped his wife continue smoking. He groaned on the inside and was angry driving to the store to get a pack of cigarettes. He just wishes she’d quit once and for all. He is an enabler.
The possibilities are endless for the many ways we “help” our loved ones who have problems. What’s it going to take for us to just say, “NO!” and stick to it? The general reason we don’t is that we feel it’s not loving and kind to leave them floundering in the mismanagement of their lives. After all, we are Christians. Aren’t we doing what Christ would want us to do? Not if we are not setting healthy limits for ourselves. Our lives are a gift from God. He expects us to manage our time here on earth taking care of our responsibilities, not someone else’s.
In 2 Corinthians 5:10, Paul writes, “For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.”
Enabling only delays our loved ones’ growth. We enablers need to learn to set healthy boundaries and love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds. He can help us sort out where our responsibilities end and how to love our troubled family and friends appropriately.
Do you think you might be wrapped up in an enabling relationship? What are you afraid will happen if you stop doing whatever you are doing? Please feel free to post your thoughts and situations on this blog. The more we get things out in the open, the more we can get healthy feedback.