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Providing non-judgmental and non-criticizing support for family and friends of end-stage alcoholics through one-on-one coaching, support groups, blog posts, workshops and public speaking.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Co-dependent enabler...

Before I understood alcoholism, back many, many years ago, I enabled Riley to continue drinking. I made excuses for his behavior and cleaned up messes left in his drunken wake. I didn’t realize I was being an enabler, I thought I was just being a good wife. There is a fine line.

In a “normal” marriage the husband and wife are co-dependent in their effort to make the marriage work. There may be a division of chores or responsibilities. In my parent’s marriage, my father went off to work and my mother took care of the household and children. So my father depended on my mother for a hot cooked meal and clean sheets. My mother depended on my father to bring home the bacon. It worked. Most marriages today have similar aspects. One cooks and the other cleans up. One does laundry and one mows the lawn. This is where co-dependency works.

But there is a dark side to co-dependency. It’s the version where one party enables the addiction by feeding into the dependency on the substance. It’s a way of staying in control. I don’t think anyone does it purposefully. It just seems to grow into happening as the addiction progresses. Sometimes it happens so slowly that it is hard to recognize.

Have you ever bailed someone out of jail when they were thrown in the drunk tank? Do you avoid confronting the alcoholic about the drinking? Have you lied to anyone about why you couldn’t do something because to tell the truth would be too embarrassing?  These are all actions of a co-dependent trying to stay in control of the situation. But the only thing that is really happening is that the non-alcoholic is enabling the alcoholic to drink by removing the consequences of the drinking. The alcoholic is dependent on the non-alcoholic to do these things – it is a co-dependent relationship.

For caretakers of end-stage alcoholics, things get a little more complicated. They absolutely must control the alcoholic’s actions in order to protect the people outside the alcoholic’s circle. An end-stage alcoholic is beyond reason and very much like a child in need of supervision. If left alone, an alcoholic will expand his circle and include innocent people with whom he would otherwise never come into contact.

From the outside it looks like we are all just a bunch of co-dependent, enabling lunatics. Don’t like outside appearances fool you.  We’ve paid our dues by trying to allow the alcoholic reap the unpleasant side-effects of drunkenness. We’ve spent years refusing to by booze, taking away the car keys, telling people exactly how things are and not lying the boss. But now… well…  things are different.

The first thing I must go against is providing alcohol for the alcoholic. Al-Anon says we should never provide alcohol because it’s enabling the continuation of the addiction. In end-stage, there is no hope that the alcoholic will stop. The only thing we can do is make sure the fewest amount of people possible are affected by the destruction.

In order to keep the alcoholic from driving drunk, I get the alcohol. I do it because I want to prevent Riley from causing an accident that may injure an innocent bystander. He refuses to go to the hospital for detox – he’s been there many times. In fact, I would be hard pressed to find a hospital or detox center that would admit him to treatment. I have no choice but to continue to supply the alcohol. Detoxing after many attempts and many years of continual drinking is extremely dangerous and should never be attempted without medical assistance. Riley’s at end-stage. I understand that any attempts to obtain sobriety are futile.

End-stage caretakers provide the basic needs to the alcoholic. At this stage, he is not mentally or physically able to care for his own basic needs. For me, it’s the humane thing to do. Providing shelter and food, and preventing him from driving, keeps him out of harms way – except for the harm he is doing to himself. I feel that I’m not so much caretaking Riley as I am protecting the rest of the world from his insanity.

In my case, I knew Riley would be completely dependent on me when I agreed to take him in. But, for many caretakers, it happens while they are not looking. Everything will be going along in the same normally chaotic manner and then something will happen and they will discover that the alcoholic is end-stage. Sometimes end-stage sneaks up on the non-alcoholic and they find themselves having to make a decision about what to do.

I made my decision. For me it was clear-cut. I feel no satisfaction in having power over Riley’s actions. In reality, I only have power over how I let his alcoholism affect ME. I don’t believe I’m co-dependent because I gain nothing by him staying drunk. It would be wonderful if he would manage to get sober and stay sober, thereby moving out of my house.

I am his caretaker. I provide a soft place for him to die because that is his choice. Alcohol is a terminal illness with only one prescription for survival – sobriety. Riley doesn’t want the fill that prescription.

Am I an enabler? Absolutely. I enable him to maintain his choice of not filling his prescription for survival. If he ever changes his mind – I’ll enable him by supporting his quest to find a way out of this craziness.


Karen E. said...

Wonderful post. I think I will print this out and give to those that give me that "look" when they realize I purchase the vodka... I didnt choose this way of life for her..she chose to follow in her parents foot steps (luckily she didnt start this until I was 16 yrs old..so I didnt not grow up with an alcoholic parent as she did..I had a wonderful mother, and I mourn her loss) She chose this path and I too am only taking care of her needs for food, shelter and vodka..the only thing she really wants. Thank you for putting into words the life we live/

Anonymous said...

thank you for this post. you are spot on, as usual. Alanon says I don;t purchase it for him, that I am purchasing it for ME, So I don;t have to see him go thru the DT's or the potential disasters that might arise if he gets behind the wheel. Alanon says I am getting in God's way.
Well, i hope that God forgives me, and in time that I learn to forgive myself...but he's exactly like Riley, countless rehab's, detox's, and in the early days, futile at home attempts. Freely admits that he is an alcoholic. knows it will kill him. he may not remember what he said ten minutes ago, but he knows this to be true...he will die from this disease called alcoholism. I am only trying to be compassionate and respectful. Call me selfish and co-dependent and enabling. it's better than the alternative...

Ann said...

I personally think much of the Al Anon program actually encourages the alcoholic. There are no consequences for drinking for the alcoholic, if the Al Anon follows strict interpretation of the Al Anon tenets. How do you 'detach' from an alcoholic when you are ducking fists, cleaning up poop and pee or worse, or battling low self esteem that for me, came from trying to be a good doobie and not try to control the alcoholic. I wasn't good enough to be his life partner, but I was good enough to clean up after him.

Syd said...

I don't think that Al-Anon encourages the alcoholic. It tells me to live my life and make a choice. I can either stick around or get away from active alcoholism. I know that if my wife starts drinking again, I will not stay. I will not live my life in misery. I believe that I have every right to have a good and fulfilling life. My choice may be different from others.

Gerry said...

I have been reading your posts on dealing with an alcoholic because I find that you insightful and intelligent. About the only way I would say I differ from you in my opinion, and I am looking on this with the perspective of one who grew up with an alcoholic father, is I find you a little too negative. You reminds me of my mother who did not drink, but who could not abide a drinker even though she lived with him for 35 years. I was asked to come and be his caretaker after the divorce, and I believe that the difficulty I had with him stemmed from the extremely unpleasant years of constant quarreling he had had with my mother and her attitude of practically undiluted hate for him.
I did not grow up with this attitude toward him because he was extremely suicidal. His older brother killed himself after a divorce over his alcoholic behaviors and his youngest brother died in an alcoholic related death in his early twenties as did another nephew. I emphasized every positive thing he did as he was a very skilled cattle rancher, extremely hard worker, who made hours of hard labor pay off despite his drinking. He was a functional alcoholic for years, who after nearly dying a number of times shut his drinking down in his early forties to several hard binges a year from a binge every weekend. cont.

Gerry said...

cont. My father fought my mother constantly about who would inherit his assets since he had developed emphysema and he did not expect to live too many years. He wanted to put some into trust for his five daughters. She wanted complete control of it all. I always thought my mother got away with being greedy and mean because she did not drink. She whipped us every single day when we were small, he never laid a hand on us, he did not believe in whipping kids like that, nor did he whip his horses or his dogs. My mother also fed us such a bad diet loaded with sugar that I almost lost two front teeth due to decay at 8 years old! I would call myself a foodaholic since I started to put on weight as soon as I left home and was not doing 'boys' work for my father. While my father remained slim and fit most of his life due to the hard work he did all day away from any chance to piece. But make no mistake he was and could be a horrible alcoholic. But I used to tell my mother, when I dared, that if she was going to live with my dad, why didn't she stop quarreling with him, which was the worst thing we kids had to put up with from them. But he was the drinker and she was the sober one so she did not allow herself to think she had fault one. The alcoholic can be the scapegoat we can blame too much. I struggle with overweight to this day and I am 80. Sugar has been my poison, alcohol was my dad's. Sugar was my mother's poison. And thinking she could do no wrong and did not have to control her temper while living with such a 'disgusting' man.

Linda (The Immortal Alcoholics Wife) said...

Gerry -- I'm so sorry that your childhood was such a nightmare. I commend you for having survived and remain relatively sane. There are many children of abusive parents were where not as fortunate as you. Many of them simply die.

I also commend you for your attitude as caretaker of your alcoholic father. It takes a strong person to take on that task.

I do think you are not understanding the position that most end-stage caretakers are in. It is not a matter of being negative. It's a matter of being a realist.

I've seen your You Tube video where you talk about my blog. I just want to clarify -- Riley is my husband and not my son. I do NOT buy him the vodka because I'm trying to kill him. I buy it because to NOT buy it WOULD kill him. I'm preventing him from going into a non-medically supervised detox -- which would most certainly be fatal.

What you have with your husband is very different than what most end-stage caretakers have. You husband is still capable of making some sense. He still has reasoning ability. That's not so much the case in end-stage. You are fortunate and I know you will enjoy every relatively sane second you have with him.

If you would like, you are welcome to come to my FACEBOOK page and start a discussion. I welcome every point of view. Without opposing points of view there would be nothing to think about. --Linda

jo said...

i did laugh a bit at the description that your a bit too negative. she must be kidding. you are downright cheerful compared to me! you are a realist. and im not at the position of buying mines alcohol. i have no idea what i will do but i suspect i would just to shut him up. i seem to spend most of my time trying to shut him up, or to not hear him. usually i come in my room and drown him out.

negative? LOL. not hardly. this is hell and its hard at times to put a smile on hell.