You haven’t seen Crazy until you’ve spent a few days as a substance abuse interventionist. That might sound naive – even arrogant – to service men and women. I know. In fact reading over my own words as I write them gives me pause to question if that is what I really mean to say. But it is. It really is.
The senseless death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman struck me deeply. Addiction never takes place in a vacuum. People know. Not everyone. But somebody always knows. Typically those surrounding the addict – family, friends, coworkers – perceive something is off. A bottle of eye drops on the dresser, an explanation that doesn’t ring true, something stuffed way down into the garbage, the refusal to make eye contact, frequent trips to the bathroom or garage or car, or the smell of mouthwash late in the afternoon.
If what I say is true, then why don’t people who care for these addicts do something as soon as they begin to suspect? The answer is that they do. However, oftentimes they act in ways that allow the situation to get much worse. It’s called “Enabling.” It’s crazy for parents to pay their kid’s bills because that kid smokes so much dope he can’t hold a job.
It’s crazy for a husband to find a partially-filled bottle of vodka floating in the toilet tank and then not bring up the subject later for fear he’s going to embarrass his wife. How crazy it is to watch your buddy get behind the wheel of his car after a night of drinking. How crazy to remain silent when someone you love is committing suicide by substance. That is not love. I’ll say it again. That is not love.
As a substance abuse counselor I walk into tough situations. One thing I can always count on is that the people who surround the addict and care about the addict are usually just as sick as the addict. Notice I use the word “sick”, not mean or stupid or thoughtless. Another word is “traumatized.” Alcoholics Anonymous describes the alcoholic/addict as a “tornado, roaring its way through the lives of others.” That’s a great visual because a tornado whips everything around it into chaos.
There always comes a point at which addicts cannot continue abusing substances without the assistance of those close to them. While offered out of love, this kind of help is misguided because it pushes the addict closer and closer to death or jail. Take it from somebody who knows. The chemically dependent person will always pervert the “help” of an enabler to further their own habit; and take pride in being so damn clever. Enabling by family members is a primary reason the chemically dependent person doesn’t get sober! It’s heartbreaking.
So what do you do? What is and is not help? Assuming the alcoholic’s responsibilities is not helping them hit “bottom” and face the reality of their disease. Either is lying, making excuses for them or looking the other way. Nor is providing them with a place to sleep, a shower, allowance, a phone, auto insurance, food, transportation or a few bucks for raking the yard. It’s all a misguided attempt to control something which is uncontrollable. Enabling behavior is selfish, selfish, selfish because it is the enabler, not the addict, who benefits. Better to call a professional for guidance, or visit a local meeting of Al-Anon or CoDA.
The hard truth is that when the nightmare is finally over; when the chemically dependent person finally receives proper treatment and recovers, they may end up hating the enabler for nursing their disease along when they could have faced their bottom sooner. I know I did.
Keith Angelin, MBA, CADC-II, CNDAI, is a Master’s level, board-certified alcohol & drug counselor, and nationally certified intervention specialist. Prior to counseling he enjoyed a successful career as a marketing professional in the health and fitness industry where he worked with professional athletes and celebrities including Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood and the Dallas Cowboys. He can relate to the worst in addicts because he was considered hopeless myself. His 14-year battle with drugs and alcohol included multiple overdoses. His recovery compelled him to re-evaluate his life and share the miracle with others. Recently he authored the AT HOME RECOVERY WORKBOOK. Learn more at www.InterventionRx.com.