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What is enabling?

Enabling is doing for others what they are capable of doing for themselves. When we enable addicts, we prevent them from experiencing the consequences of their own actions. When we do this, we discourage them from learning from their own mistakes. This, in turn, prevents them from realizing they have a problem.

The addict has made drugs the focus of their daily activity, letting responsibility and common sense fall by the wayside. When we continue to do even the simple things for an addict we care about, little is left to motivate them to enter or rediscover their recovery?

How do we enable?

We enable addicts by doing things such as:

What does enabling do for us?

Enabling gives us a false sense of control. We do what society tells us a "good" father, mother, husband, wife, son, daughter or friend should do, but we are not getting the results we desire. We feel frustrated and resentful. Because the addict's behavior does not change, we think we have failed.

Our actions, done with the best of intentions, have backfired.

What is the difference between helping and enabling?

We need to look deep inside ourselves to determine the difference between helping and enabling. "How do I feel when I offer my help? What's in it for me?" Checking your motives will help you decide when you are truly helping or when you are enabling.

Can you enable an addict (or anyone) who is not using?

We can enable anyone, using or not. Our enabling behavior patterns are not directed solely toward the addict and/or the addict's sobriety. Enabling deprives anyone of experiencing the consequences of their own behavior.

Remember, when taking responsibility for our own behavior each one of us must find our own path. Experience teaches us that it is useless to lay out a path for someone else to follow.

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What is Co-Dependency?

Co-dependency is a pattern of habitual self-defeating coping mechanisms. This is often a result of living in a home affected by alcoholism or drug addiction. In these types of homes there are three messages:

  1. Don't talk
  2. Don't feel
  3. Don't trust

In a healthy family, members can talk, can feel, and they can tell the truth. Living in an environment where one feels as if they're constantly "walking on egg shells" and "waiting for the other shoe to drop" causes a great deal of stress and anxiety. This stress/anxiety is heightened when there are rigid, inflexible rules and belief systems imposed on people trapped in one of these families. As a result, the co-dependent develops habitual self-defeating coping mechanisms in an attempt to survive: such as - my fear of rejection determines what I say or do or, I like to avoid your anger. Further to this, these mechanisms cause the co-dependent to be out of touch with who they are because they have been in a mind-altering experience.

Co-dependency is multi-generational and can be present even when there is no active drinking or drug use.

Who Can Become a Co-dependent?

Where do we need to look for this dysfunctional behavior of emerging patterns of co-dependency? We will find it in a person who is either alcoholic or non-alcoholic and who has been adversely influenced by one of the following types of people:

  1. Alcoholic or drug dependent parent
  2. Co-dependent parent
  3. The alcoholic or non-alcoholic who has an addicted spouse
  4. Someone who has an addicted child
  5. A co-dependent spouse

The end result is an inability to maintain functional relationships. In fact, co-dependents don't have relationships so much as they take "hostages" while feeling that they are "held hostage".

Most co-dependents have been searching for ways to overcome the dilemmas of the conflicts in their relationships and their childhood. Many were raised in families where addictions existed - some were not. Many were later influenced by an addicted or co-dependent person. In either case, the reality in  co-dependents' lives is that co-dependency is a deeply rooted compulsive behavior and that it is borne out of sometimes moderately, and sometimes extremely dysfunctional family systems.

Often, co-dependents have experienced in their own ways the painful trauma of the emptiness of their childhood and relationships throughout their lives. They attempted to use others, their mates, friends and even their children as their sole source of identity, value and well-being and, as a way of trying to restore within themselves the emotional losses from their childhood. Their histories may include other powerful addictions which they have used to cope with their co-dependencies. The bottom line here is that those other addictions may possibly be symptoms of a co-dependent personality.

The Three Stages of Co-Dependency

  1. Early: In this early stage, the co-dependent learns how to cope, and here the acceptance or rationalization of their addict's behavior takes place. They constantly try to help out this sick or addicted person.
  2. Middle: The co-dependent develops habitual self-defeating coping mechanisms. When the coping mechanisms don't work, the co-dependent does more and takes on more responsibility. They adapt their behavior to accommodate their addict's active addiction. The co-dependent's focus is on the addict.
  3. Control: The co-dependent, in frustration, tries to control more and more aspects of the addict's life. This often leads to family collapse and a crisis in personal values. Co-dependency, at this point, is reduced to continual self-defeating behavior.

The whole process is circular and rotates within the family from person to person. What we want to do in treatment is help each other break the cycle.

Dynamics of Co-Dependents

  1. Out of touch with their own experience: Co-dependents are in a "mood altered" state, leading to neglect of their needs. Co-dependents will often say things such as "I used to do that at one time", etc.
  2. Their feelings are discounted: Co-dependents do not know they have the right to feel. They show anger a great deal which protects them from exhibiting other feelings.
  3. A great deal of emotional pain.
  4. Learned not to ask for help: Co-dependents have overwhelming feelings of being on their own and you should never ask for help because then you really are on your own.
  5. Not able to get needs met: Not only are co-dependents not able to get their needs met, they often can't even identify their needs.
  6. They mistake feelings: They mistake feelings such as control for security, intensity for intimacy, and obsession for fear.
  7. Tolerance: Co-dependents have an extremely high tolerance for inappropriate behavior.
  8. Anger: Co-dependents often suffer continual feelings of anger that they feel compelled to suppress.
  9. Health: Co-dependents do not recognize, or ignore, the injury to their own physical and mental health. They believe the alcoholic or addicts has the problem.
  10. Adjustment and change: Co-dependents adjust constantly to external circumstances but never make any real changes.
  11. Co-dependents are compulsive about pretending: They hide the truth, they react constantly to the alcoholic or addict, and usually put up a front that everything is OK.
  12. Defensiveness: Co-dependents get very defensive about their feelings.
  13. Co-dependencies are infectious: Others that are vulnerable will easily get pulled.
  14. Realization: In recovery, a co-dependent will come to understand their own role in the cycle of addiction. By working the twelve steps of Nar-Anon, they will learn to change their perception and behavior to regain control over and improve their own lives.

Common Characteristics of Co-Dependency

  1. My good feelings about who I am stem from being liked by you.
  2. My good feelings about who I am stem from receiving approval by you.
  3. Your struggle affects my serenity. My mental attention focuses on solving your problems or relieving your pain.
  4. My mental attention is focused on pleasing and protecting you.
  5. My mental attention is focused on manipulating you (to do it my way).
  6. My self-esteem is bolstered by solving your problems and relieving your pain.
  7. My own hobbies and interests are put aside. My time is spent sharing your interests or issues.
  8. I am not aware of how I feel. I am aware of how you feel.
  9. My fear of rejection determines what I say or do.
  10. My social circle diminishes as I involve myself with you.
  11. I put my values aside in order to connect with you.
  12. The quality of my life is in relation to the quality of yours.

Part of the recovery process is when we can see and acknowledge our
behavior. Be patient, live and let God, and above all, be good to yourself.

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Here are some Nar-Anon Nuggets:

"What others think of me is none of my business." (What I think of you and what I think of me that's important!).

When one door closes, another will open. (But sometimes we spend a lot of time in the hallway).

How important is it? Is it worth giving my serenity away?

Say how you feel, not what you think.

Ask yourself, "Is this mine to fix?" If it isn't broken, don't fix it.

Change the behavior and the attitude will follow. (I have to put action into my program. I have to take care of myself to believe that I am worth taking care of.)

Fake it till you make it, then you got to face it. (I can't go over my problems or under my problems. I have to work through them).

If I am in fear - I forget I have choices.

If I am having difficulties, it helps to ask myself, "What step am I on?" (The answer is always step one.)

My sponsor gave me two responses to use when I am being blamed
by the addict (or others): "I may have been wrong but I forgive myself." and
"I am sorry, but I am not that powerful."

If someone says something you do not agree with simply reply, "I know you believe that."

I have to take the risk of telling people honestly how I feel without any expectations of changing their behavior.

I am allowed to have a full range of feelings. Feel the feeling for 15 minutes, then let it go. Anything over 15 minutes is self-indulgent.

Forgiveness is the realization that our past isn't getting any better.

Have a nice day......unless, of course, you have made other plans............"

We didn't cause it, we can't control it, and we can't cure it.

Take what you like and leave the rest.

Keep coming back!

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Do You Need US?

A Questionnaire for relatives and friends:

  1. Do you find yourself making excuses, lying, or covering up for someone?
  2. Do you have a reason not to trust this person?
  3. Is it becoming difficult for you to believe his/her explanations?
  4. Do you lie awake worrying about this person?
  5. If it is your child, is he or she missing school often without your knowledge?
  6. If it is your spouse, is he or she missing work and leaving the bills to pile up?
  7. Are your savings mysteriously disappearing?
  8. Are these unanswered questions causing hostility and undermining your relationship?
  9. Are you asking yourself "What's wrong?" and "Is it my fault?"
  10. Are normal family disagreements becoming hostile and violent?
  11. Are your suspicions turning you into a detective and are you afraid of what you might find?
  12. Are you canceling your social functions with vague excuses?
  13. Are you becoming increasingly reluctant to invite friends to your home?
  14. Is concern for this person causing you headaches, a knotty stomach, and extreme anxiety?
  15. Is this person easily irritated by minute matters? Does your whole life seem a nightmare?
  16. Are you unable to discuss the situation with friends or relatives because of embarrassment?
  17. Are you frustrated by ineffective attempts to control the situation?
  18. Do you over compensate and try not to make waves?
  19. Do you keep trying to make things better and nothing helps?
  20. Are the life style and friends of this person changing? Do you ever think they may be using drugs?

If you have answered YES to four or more of these questions, NAR-ANON may help you find the answers you are looking for.

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