Sometimes, the Best Intentions Can Do a Lot of Damage
There was an old Randy Travis song, called “Good Intentions,” playing on the radio the other day. If you’ve never heard it, the chorus goes like this:
And I hear tell the road to hell is paved with good intentions
And mama, my intentions were the best.
There’s lotsa things in my life I just as soon not mention.
Looks like I’ve turned out like all the rest;
But mama, my intentions were the best
It’s a mournful song, but those words – “My intentions were the best” – struck a chord, because sometimes people with the very best of intentions can end up doing a disservice to those in recovery.
We’ve worked with countless families over the years here at Little Creek Lodge, and we know those families want to do what is best for their loved ones once they leave our center; they just don’t always know how. And when that happens – when your intentions are good, but you’re unsure of the way – you can end up enabling behaviors that won’t help a loved one truly move forward.
So today, we wanted to talk a little bit about what it means to enable your loved one, and give you some suggestions as to how you can support your loved one as he works to break the cycle of addiction.
Helping vs. enabling
When your child, sibling, or partner is hurting or ill, falling into the role of caretaker probably seems natural. For example, if your child has a cold, you might take him to a doctor for antibiotics, or bring him some chicken soup. If your husband broke a leg, you might start to do some of his chores, like taking out the trash or mowing the lawn, because those tasks are more difficult for him while he’s on crutches. It’s all about helping a person who unable to help him or herself.
Enabling behaviors are different. When you enable a person, you take away his ability to do things for himself. Some more common examples might include quietly cleaning up your son’s room, doing his chores or doing his laundry, even though there is no physical reason why he could not do those things himself. Another really common behavior we see is not allowing any type of confrontation or anger – or any negative emotion, really – to surface while your loved one is at home or visiting.
We understand this instinct to coddle and protect; a person in recovery is vulnerable, and the desire to keep your loved one from harm is understandable. But the truth is, in the “real world,” there will be confrontation and responsibilities, and if you really want to support your son, brother, husband or friend, letting him “get away” with not pulling his weight does him a disservice – and it does you one, too.
5 Tips for ending enabling behaviors
There are a few things you can do to help you help your loved one while he or she is in the recovery process.
- Seek support for yourself. A lot of the literature focuses on how hard recovery is for addicts – but it is equally hard on caretakers, parents, friends and loved ones (just in a different way). Little Creek offers a monthly family program, but groups like Al-Anon can help you understand what it is you AND your loved one is going through, and give you the support you need to empower yourself to make strong choices, too.
- Set down ground rules. Make sure that everyone in the house knows the rules, and that the rules are enforced – for everyone. So if you personally forget to wash the dishes, then you, too, must heed the consequences. It will make it easier for you not to “cave” to enabling behaviors, while proving that everyone on the house is on equal footing.
- Face conflicts when they occur. Conflict is disagreement – that’s all. And sometimes, you and your loved one will disagree. That’s okay. Avoiding conflicts can lead to much bigger problems (or nastier arguments) later, so work out whatever problems arise as they come along. A perfect solution might not always be apparent right from the start, and that’s okay, too. Just keeping working together to reach a solution, just like you would with anyone else.
- Remember that the whole family is equal. It is really, really easy to let the addicted person set the tone for how the house is run. It is also really, really easy to simply let him or her be the center of the family’s universe. But that can cause other family members to feel resentful, and then guilty or ashamed of that resentment. It’s unhealthy for everyone. Make sure that all voices are heard, and that everyone knows it’s okay to express how they are feeling (as long as it’s done in a respectful way, of course).
- Find a new system of rewarding good behaviors. This one is a lot of fun, because the whole family can be involved. Try celebrating good news – a promotion at work, a good report card, a winning game, a one-year chip – by engaging in a rewarding activity together. Maybe the family can spend the day at an amusement park, or go to the beach, or take a dance class; something that involves every person. By celebrating achievements as a group, you not only get to share a wonderful memory together, but you are rewarding cooperation and respect, too.
Seeking treatment for addiction is the first important step, but the process will be ongoing. Learning how to support your loved one in a healthy and safe way is critical to that process. It can help you relearn to be a family again.
Little Creek Lodge is located in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and provides comprehensive care to those seeking treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. We provide counseling for our residents and their families. To learn more about our services, please call 877-689-2644, or fill out our contact form.