Thursday, March 25, 2010

Step Four Work: Enabling vs. Helping


I've been working on my 4th step, which is slogging along at a slow pace. Originally I'd thought I'd commence with the beginning and work my way up through my alcoholic life to the present. But actually I've started with the present. My sponsor suggested to me today that it's recent stuff (i.e., the past few years) that is the most relevant for me at this juncture. I added, "Yeah, I think I need to figure out the acting out things I've done first, own my part of things, and then I think looking at the old stuff will probably offer the reasons for how I got here in the first place."

But there's one other part to the step she suggested I do, something I hadn't yet heard or understood. And that, she said, was to also figure out other people's part in things. I wondered to what end. That's their stuff; and they may never own their part. "But that's not the point," she said. The point is that nothing ever happens in a vacuum. Very seldom is anybody 100% responsible for a mistake when it involves more than one person. Takes two to tango, as the saying goes. We figure this out not to point fingers of blame but to resist pointing too many fingers at ourselves, resisting the urge to just say, "It's all my fault!" and feel like total pond scum.

So, for instance, the other day I owned my part of my "false martyrdom complex" and how that was destructive in my relationship with Chelle. I drank and drank. What could Chelle have done? Well, the thing that most readily leapt to mind was the issue of enabling. There I was, drinking myself to death, and she was letting it happen under her nose. But of course, she can't control me. Her attempts to get me to stop after one or two, her willingness to drive when I was too drunk to drive, were attempts on her part to be helpful. (Under no circumstances should she have ever allowed me to drive drunk, so don't misunderstand: I'm not saying that's a bad thing.) But I also did see her attempts to, say, tell a bartender to not serve me anymore as controlling. That led me to react by going off to a different bar on a different level of the grandstand and order a drink there. And, since she wasn't there to watch, well, hell, I'd just make it a double. Aware of it or not, at times she was complicit in my abuse of alcohol. (Now remember: this isn't blaming. It's just a statement of fact.)

Maybe that's not the best example. A better one would be going to the liquor store to get bourbon for herself and then bringing home a bottle of vodka for me because she saw that a brand I liked happened to be on sale. THAT is a more clear example of enabling. So she did play a part in my addiction. Of course there are tons of reasons why she didn't see that as enabling. For one, she had no idea I was an alcoholic. She knew I had a drinking problem. But she's what we call in AA a "normie." She drinks like a normal person can: she can have one or two and then stop with no agitation or needing to quelch the desire for a third. She simply is done, like I'm done when I finish a glass of iced tea. I don't need to get right up and go get another one. So she thought my not stopping was just a lack of self-will and self-control. I can't count how many times she asked me, "Why can't you just have two? Catch a pleasant buzz and then ride that out, be relaxed, and have that be enough?" She had no idea that handing me the first one was a matter of pushing my "START" button and then there'd be no going back. Hence I say again: I'm not judging or blaming her, but it is a FACT that she enabled me.

It's confusing. When is it "enabling" and when is it "helping?" In rehab, the difference was explained. When you enable someone, you do something for somebody that actually doesn't serve them well, or is ultimately bad for them. When you help somebody, you're doing something that's good for them. (Driving the car when I was drunk was good for me; it kept me alive, her alive, and kept me from killing somebody else. So that is more helping than enabling. But! Another option would've been to take my car keys, call me a cab, and make me face the consequences by having to pay for the cab and the trip the next day to pick up my car. That's tough love, but it's helping.) On the other hand, since we were usually in her car and going to the same place, a cab made no sense, so that's an easy one to shrug off. But here's a more solid example of enabling: calling in sick for me to my place of employment. I usually tried to do this myself, but there were a couple of times when my head throbbed so much and my stomach churned so badly, that even lifting an eyelid caused horrible spins. So she'd call in sick for me and make some excuse, trying to be helpful. That got me off the hook with my employer, so I didn't have to face the consequences of my drinking (beyond feeling like crap), and that didn't help me. It allowed me to continue my bad behavior.

Consequences to actions. You have to consider them, along with the rationalizations we use to avoid things like blame. Otherwise you're doomed to repeat your mistakes. Chelle has even taken the step of apologizing to me (she didn't need to, but she did) for not understanding my disease, for being in equal denial about it, and for the role she played in enabling me. We both understand our roles, own our roles in the great drama, and now we've moved on. With the grace of God, we will not repeat those mistakes. A great weight has been lifted from both our shoulders. We are moving forward, light as feathers.

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