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Enabling vs. Compassionate Support

answered 10:45 PM EST, Sun January 20, 2013
anonymous anonymous
How is what we do as a society not enabling? For example. It is enabling when I give my daughter a place to stay even though she is an alcoholic spending her disability checks on alcohol every month. If I kick her out she goes and stays at a shelter. She still spends her disability checks on alcohol but now it is the government that is paying for room and board, and not me…but most importantly, it is still not her. She is still free to spend her whole check on alcohol. Which she does. I understand that we have shelters out of compassionate reasons but I thought that doing the hard thing and not enabling was actually more compassionate than letting her stay…so is it not more compassionate also to not provide shelters and free food to homeless alcoholics? Don’t we want people to hit rock bottom so they can start to change for the better?

Loren Gelberg-Goff Says...

I understand your concern and confusion. I can tell you that I have worked with clients over the years who have told me that there were many times they would have preferred the streets over shelters since the shelters were very challenging places to be.   Your daughter may choose to spend all her money on alcohol, and while the government may give her a place to stay where she is not out on the streets, it is ultimately her choice that that is how she chooses to live. You must choose how you want to live.

When your daughter was living with you, you were the one providing her with room, board, laundry (perhaps), love, care, etc. and it was up to you to set down rules, boundaries and expectations.  Since you could not control whether your daughter would follow your rules, etc. you had to create consequences... ie: she could no longer live at your home while she continued to drink.  Once that boundary/rule was violated, you had to enforce the consequence. IF you did not lock your door, and actually keep her from living at home with you, then you were enabling her to take advantage of you - and that is enabling.  Shelters also have rules, which if not followed, there are consequences as well, and there is no emotion when the consequences are meted out..  So, it is not enabling; being part of a system also offers the possibility of support services (counseling, AA mtgs, applications to rehab,etc... depending on where you live) so an individual can avail herself of these services and begin to make new choices and decisions... Again, it's her choice, not yours, and she has to be ready to face her feelings, fears and life before she will accept whatever help may be available to her. 

You can continue to love your daughter, and even be compassionate, BUT that doesn't mean you have to take her in, provide for her or pay her bills.  It is through respectful, albeit difficult, boundaries for yourself as a parent, that you learn to let go of your need and desire to fix, make better and 'cure' your daughter's mental and emotional issues. The purpose of any addiction is to keep one away from her feelings.  Whatever is going on for your daughter that she believes she needs to drink rather than deal with her issues, is where she is right now.  Counseling, therapy, AA is only helpful if she is ready to receive the help and guidance.  Trust me, shelters are not 4star hotels and while most residents may be grateful for a roof and a meal, it's not  a place to aspire to, and it's not a lifestyle that anyone has ever reported as a safe haven as I'm sure your home was.

If you were able to let your daughter go, then you are taking loving, respectful and compassionate care of yourself.  It is your mental and emotional health that is important for you to take care of, and I do hope that you are receiving good support and counseling. You might also want to explore Al-Anon meetings in your area (if you haven't done so already) to give you the additional support in dealing with a child who is an alcoholic.  I respect your concern, and want you to know that everyone's rock-bottom is different, and I hope that you find some peace in your life, and that your daughter will connect to her inner worth and see the truth that she really can heal her life and live 'being well within'. Please feel free to contact me if you have any additional concerns or questions.  I wish you all the best and continued inner strength in dealing with your daughter.

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Page last updated Jan 22, 2013

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