When Helping Is Hurting You (And The Rest Of Your Family)

May 17th, 2016 | By Lorelie Rozzano | Posted in Blog

Lorelie Rozzano is a guest blogger for Addiction Campuses.

When Helping Is Hurting You (And The Rest Of Your Family) It’s Not Helping, It’s Enabling.

I was speaking with a worried mother who said she’d done everything in her power to get her addicted son help. Shelly – not her real name – was at her wits end. Her son, Ben – not his real name – had been to three rehab centers in the past four years. Ben completed his first rehab, walked out of the second and was discharged from his third. Each time he left treatment he went back to his Mom’s house and relapsed.

Ben was smoking marijuana daily and drinking heavily when he first entered treatment. Upon completion he only followed through with half the suggestions the rehab center had given him. Ben did give up alcohol – for a short period of time – but he refused to stop smoking weed. Ben was convinced that marijuana was a non-harmful medicinal herb that would help him fight cravings and stay sober. With no job, Ben had time to kill. He started hanging out with his old buddies again and it wasn’t long before he was back drinking and finding even more dangerous ways to get high. One of Ben’s friends offered him an Oxycontin. Ben loved it. The pill replaced alcohol and marijuana and became his favorite drug of choice. Ben found news ways to support his habit, including stealing from his family.  

When Ben was caught writing a fraudulent check he agreed to go to rehab, for the second time. He wasn’t there very long though, before he started to complain. Ben didn’t feel like he could relate to the other patients and wanted to leave. One day Ben called his Mom and asked her to bring him home… and she did.

Ben’s third time in treatment found him using a new drug. He’d given up Oxycontin, it was too expensive and moved on to shooting heroin that he purchased off the streets. Ben’s disease had progressed and his health had deteriorated. Although Ben was made comfortable with medications in the rehab facility through his withdrawal period, he refused to get out of bed and was discharged for non-compliance.

Because Ben had no job or insurance, Shelly had paid for his previous attempts at treatment and was in a difficult spot. She was preparing to send her son to treatment for the fourth time and remortgage her home. As Shelly talked, I listened. I had no idea where Shelly’s son was at the time she made the call. Likely he was out getting high. Clearly Shelly was more interested in getting help for her son, than Ben was. Shelly’s case isn’t unusual. Most often it’s the Moms who try and arrange help for their addicted child.

As Shelly wound down I asked her one simple question. What have you done during this time to educate and take care of yourself? Shelley was silent for the first time during our call. After about thirty seconds she blurted, “Haven’t you been listening? I’m not the one who needs help. My son does.”

Shelly was so focused on helping her son, she’d lost the ability to see. She isn’t alone in this. When you try and help your addicted loved one on your own, you become consumed by their illness. Shelly is a good Mom and she is desperately trying to save her son.  However, Ben is not the only one who needs help. Shelly’s mental and emotional health are fragile. She experiences mood swings and feels tired and exhausted most days. Her husband and their two other children need help too. Shelly is so caught up in her son’s addiction she neglects the rest of her family. She keeps secrets from her husband and is barely present for her other children. Even when she does spend time with them, she is thinking of Ben and wondering where he is and what he is doing. Shelly doesn’t know it yet, but she has more in common with her son than she thinks. Shelly is suffering from mental obsession, one of the essential symptoms of addiction. While her son obsesses on his next fix, Shelly is obsessing on her son.

Shelly and Ben have a codependent relationship. When Ben needs help, he reaches out to his Mom. She doesn’t give him money for drugs, but he does live at her house for free. Shelly says she knows she needs help setting boundaries, but then just as quickly justifies her statement by focusing back on her addicted son.

I assured Shelly I had been listening to her and felt confident in what I was about to say…

Here’s the hard truth. If Shelly wasn’t prepared to make changes herself, there was no sense in sending her son to treatment again. As long as Ben had Shelly to fall back on, he would never learn to stand on his own two feet.

Shelly had spent her entire life trying to make Ben’s life, easier. Although Ben was an adult, he functioned as a child because he’d never needed to grow up.

If Ben couldn’t grow up, he wouldn’t recover.

Both Ben and Shelly will need a lot of support. When helping is hurting you and the rest of your family, it’s not helping, it’s enabling.

And enabling… kills addicts.

Ben and Shelly might not know it just yet, but their story can have a happy ending. If Shelly learns about her role in the family disease, she’ll be able to help her son in the best way possible… she can love him with healthy boundaries and without enabling his illness. Ben will be more successful in his next treatment knowing he can’t manipulate his family or walk out when the going gets tough. Only when Ben is forced to deal with his illness, will he begin to heal.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call this number for assistance. 1 888 614-2379