A reader named Rebecca writes in and asks:
The alcoholic in my life is my ex boy friend. We remain friends and it works for us. He was sober for 16 years, and is drinking more then ever. He is not denying what he is doing, he knows its killing him, and he does want to stop and i believe he will. I do take him water, food, and bath soaps stuff like that, never have i given him money, he always genuinely appreciates every thing i do for him. We have never fought about it. I am always trying to cheer him up and make him see what a strong person he is, and that he can beat this. Is this considered enabling him?
That is an excellent question and it is a pretty fine line as a matter of fact. Now obviously if you were bringing him beer every day that would be obvious. But because you are just bringing him basic necessities and not giving him money directly, it becomes a little more obscure….a little harder to pin down as being enabling behavior.
But I think it actually is. The other readers can feel free to chime in and give their opinion in the comments as well, but I think that it is ultimately enabling to continue to do these things. In a way, you could even stop bringing the items to him, but continue to offer a certain form of moral support (in spite of his drinking) and this would still be enabling. Do you see what I am saying? It is not so much that you are just bringing him the items and the necessities….it is more that you continue offer any form of support at all, other than the push for treatment or recovery.
I am not an expert in this department and that is why I am urging my readers to chime in on the comments. I believe the experts would say that you are probably enabling him in a subtle way, on some emotional level, by giving your support and condoning his drinking. If you were to withdrawal this level of emotional support then it would force him to look more closely at his own drinking and his own situation and possibly make a change in his life. But it is tough either way.
You mention that he was sober for 16 years once. That is a significant length of sobriety and he certainly must realize that he can have that back if he chooses to do what he did before. But of course he might feel trapped in that he believes things have changed, or that he has changed, and that sobriety is no longer available to him. Ultimately he has to surrender once again and make the decision to ask for help.
I realize of course that I have not really answered your question, Rebecca. You could basically take 2 approaches, and either of them may or may not work:
1) Keep doing what you are doing and continue to encourage treatment and recovery.
2) Take some sort of stand in which you withdrawal your support, in the hopes that this will push him closer to surrender.
I have a tendency to lean towards option number one myself, but I am a recovering drug addict who probably does not know any better. I think the experts in codependency would lean more towards option number 2, but I personally shy away from this because I would be afraid that the alcoholic in question would be hurt by my actions. (See how my irrational beliefs cause me to enable others?)
What I would ultimately recommend to you Rebecca is that you seek out some experts in codependency and get advice from them directly. My readers may or may not make helpful comments but the best route for you is going to be getting yourself to an Al-Anon meeting and talking with the people there about your specific situation. They can probably give you more pointed advice than I can in a face-to-face setting.
At any rate, good luck Rebecca, and thank you for writing in.