[Guest Blogger] Addiction: Am I Supporting Or Enabling?

Cindy Woodsmall: Nurturers unite! 

We love our people. We love loving them. We live to support them in their endeavors. If they need our help, we’ll give until it hurts and then give even more. Nothing is more important than meeting the needs and asks of our loved ones.

But if they are an addict not in recovery, are we supporting or enabling? 

Let’s begin by giving some distinction between enabling and supporting. 

Enabling is giving an addict the means or permission or right to continue with their addiction.

Supporting is being actively interested in and concerned for their success. 

Support is encouraging healthy behavior. Enabling is making it easier for them to continue drinking or using. 

As clear as the boundary between enabling and supporting sounds in written form, the implementation of it can feel like trying to walk a balance beam while doing laundry.    

I have a loved one who is an addict, and staying clean takes a tremendous amount of self-control 24-7, with no time off for good behavior. If I’ve had a good week of eating nutritiously and exercising, I can indulge, and it feels so good. But there are no nights off to indulge for an addict. 

The road is hard for an addict, fraught with pain and a constant temptation to drink/use. Despite how it looks, no one chooses to be an addict. A person can choose to fight hard and not give in to the addiction, but being an addict is a genetic predisposition that is often triggered by some type of trauma. One of the things life is known for is dishing out trauma—an untimely death of a loved one, a contentious divorce of parents, going to war, being involved in a car accident, living with abusive adults, being severely bullied at school, and the list goes on.  

We don’t want to blame the addict, but we also don’t want to “help” them in a way that actually strengthens their addiction and weakens their resolve. 

Enabling prolongs the active addiction and the suffering of everyone involved. 

Enabling looks like 

  • giving too much time and attention to the addict, while other loved ones and self are neglected; 
  • putting your finances in danger;
  • minimizing bad behavior; 
  • prioritizing their wants and asks over everything else; 
  • making excuses for them and covering up their actions or inactions;
  • lying to help them avoid consequences;
  • allowing them to control your thinking and decision making; 
  • blaming yourself and trying to fix your mistakes or perceived mistakes;
  • resenting the disappointment you feel while helping them disappoint you again;  
  • finding it impossible to say no.

Our best defense against enabling is setting real boundaries and offering real help. There are a lot of books out there that can go into detail about when, where, why, and how concerning boundaries.  

If you recognize that you have enabling behaviors, look for help—books, a therapist, watching teaching clips (like on YouTube) by psychologists on the subject of boundaries. 

In contrast to enabling, studies have shown that having supportive relationships can make a huge positive impact for the recovering addict. At the most, it can help the addict win the battle. At the least, it can make the journey slightly easier.   

The list below about ways to support is based on the addict actively getting help through a legitimate system, like AA or NA. 

Supporting looks like: 

  • listening without judgment;
  • being quick to forgive, which is much easier if your boundaries are in place; 
  • giving words of affirmation;
  • sending encouraging texts;
  • cooking a meal; 
  • sending favorite cookies or cake or hard candies (sugar is used as a temporary help);
  • paying for gas or an Uber ride so they can get to their AA or NA meetings (gift card, not your credit card); 
  • being willing to speak truth when necessary, but gently, with grace and mercy; 
  • holding your tongue from blame, anger, and resentment—don’t kick people when they’re down or when they’re trying to get up;   
  • recalling good memories of who they were;
  • creating a small scrapbook or sending endearing photos via text;
  • finding humorous things to share (memes, jokes, etc.);
  • recalling to yourself and to them their strengths;
  • not drinking in front of them unless you have a conversation about it beforehand and both people feel comfortable;
  • encouraging them to find and stay connected to sponsor. 

In Yesterday’s Gone, our main character Eliza is from a lineage of Amish women who crossed the ocean in the 1700s, praying fervently while sewing on a quilt. Their faith was woven into the heirloom quilt Eliza now holds. 

Eliza is brought to a devastating low, and in her grief, she asks to go back in time and change one decision. 

When she returns to her time to live out the differences brought about by undoing that one decision, she soon learns that the course of other people’s lives has changed too. One of those changes happened to her brother Moses. He was able to overcome his use of alcohol in the original timeline, but now he’s an alcoholic who can’t hold a job. Eliza is determined to figure out why and what needs to be done to help her brother set his resolve to change in this timeline.  

Yesterday’s Gone enters an Amish world where time-travel is possible, but faith in God and prayer are at the center of these characters’ lives, a little reminiscent of the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life. 

Learn more about the guest blogger by visiting her official website: Cindywoodsmall.com

“Yesterday’s Gone” novel releases on August 30th, 2022. 

A Special Thanks to Tyndale House Publishers and Cindy Woodsmall for the exclusive article and images. 

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