22 Aug The Line Between Love & Enabling
The truth about being the parent of an addict is that it is not something you have any control over, there is no way to prepare for it, and you’ll probably be dealing with it for as long as you can imagine. It doesn’t end with recovery. The impact of current addiction is traumatic for all involved, but those lucky enough to make it through to recovery, it’s best to prepare yourself for a long period of time where the concern of relapse looms incredibly large.
There is no getting “out of the woods” with addiction. There is only crisis, and later, concern about going back to crisis.
I wanted to write a little bit about this idea of “closing the door” on a child who is an addict, in the hopes it might make the plight of others dealing with this a little easier.
Inevitably, after confronting the reality that your child is an addict, you are bombarded with advice, counsel, and input from friends, family, and other people in your life; not to mention an internet filled with platitudes, stories, opinions, and points of view about how to respond. Much of this input revolves around variations on one of the main themes of being in a relationship with an addict.
Where is the line between love, and enabling?
You won’t be shocked to hear that I don’t have the answer. And, further, my true feeling about this question is that the answer to it is completely individualized. This is the essential question in a relationship with an addict; and yet there is no way to answer it because each addict, and each addict’s family and set of circumstances is totally different. There is no way to know where that line is until you get there, and even then, it’s a deeply personalized decision.
Ultimately, after a long and painful series of attempts to get my son’s life back on track, I did make the incredibly difficult decision to “close the door.” I let my son know that, under the current circumstances, he was totally on his own, and that I was prepared to let the chips fall where they may. Getting to this decision was agonizing. Each failed effort brought with it a toxic combination of guilt, anger, and disappointment; and more importantly, a more deeply troubling question of what my role in this outcome had been.
His failure was becoming my failure, and that was simply too much to bear.
I decided that my tolerating or supporting any more of this was quite simply part of the problem. That part of the equation was the easy part. The much harder part of the equation is facing the consequences of “closing the door.”
Put simply, this decision brings with it the ultimate question of how mentally prepared you are to deal with the consequences of something catastrophic happening at a time when you have shut your child out of your life.
The dynamics of addiction don’t make this any easier because addicts are all about blame, so if the catastrophic event doesn’t involve death, you have to prepare to be blamed for whatever happened after you make that decision.
Here is the reality check for any of you, as parents, that feel like you’ve reached the need to consider this option.
Are your current actions, responses, and interactions with your son potentially making it easier for him to stay an addict?
Are you prepared to go to sleep every night, and wake up every morning worrying that a decision you made in your child’s best interest will ultimately end badly?
Are you prepared to truly “close the door,” and remain unwilling to open it short of anything less than substantial behavioral changes?
What, for you, are the circumstances in which you’d “open the door” back up and let him back into your life?
And, ultimately, the hardest question: are you mentally prepared to deal with a catastrophic outcome while your son is behind the “closed door?”
There is no simple answer, and in retrospect, this decision, for me, was the hardest I had to make in what turned out to be a long and painful journey.
My only advice is that you should answer these questions honestly. If you’re at this point, you’ve probably endured plenty up to now, and it’s time for delusion and magical thinking to take a back seat to some hard-core pragmatism.
Being honest about what addiction is and is not is just table stakes for the addict’s family. If you can’t say that your actions definitively aren’t contributing to your loved one’s addiction, they probably are in some way.
For those of you who are now facing this juncture, or may potentially be facing it in the future, please remember my last thought on this difficult topic. It may be the most important.
Addiction, absent of circumstances, takes on a life of it’s own. As a parent, you alone did not cause it, and you alone cannot fix it. You can only make the best decisions you can make along the way, and look for the balance between tough love and enabling. The only thing you can control is your response to it. If the status quo seems unsustainable, doing something is better than nothing, but this very traumatic action requires some massive soul searching before you take the leap.
So…did my “closing the door,” do any good? Well my son is still alive, and doing better than he has in the last 10 years. He’s on his second year of sobriety, and moving in the right direction on every front. Our relationship is as strong and healthy as it has ever been.
But, I’ve never asked him about the role “closing the door” played in his recovery. I suppose recovery is one of those things I am happy to just take at face value, and perhaps, more fundamentally, I’m not sure I want to know.
The idea of making that decision, even in what appears to be a good outcome years later, is still incredibly painful to contemplate and think about, but I don’t regret it. I was prepared for the worst, and thankfully never had to test that preparedness.
I hope I never do.