She wrapped me in a warm flannel blanket and placed in front of me a bowl of hot soup. Rubbing my back to warm me up as I shook with coldness trying to control the spoon she had placed in my hand. I remember her sobbing but not allowing her emotions to consume her or distract her from her priority. The priority that she had always made her priority since the day she gave birth to me. To comfort me, to protect me from the ills of the world. As any mother would, she had felt it was her duty to do so. My mother has always been a strength to me throughout my life and was a beacon of hope during a very dark time. This moment in my addiction, I had been found intoxicated, shirtless and passed out headfirst in a snowbank. I was found by a former classmate of mine from high school. In a selfless act, he lifted me out of the snow placed me in his car and drove me to where he knew my parents had lived.
Moments like these had become frequent for her and up to that point in my addiction, never did she turn me away no matter the vitriol that would often come from my mouth or when I would throw things at her telling her how much I hated her and how much I just wanted to die.
My mothers’ consistent action of love always seemed to be the light that kept me going, but hers and many others enablement often shielded me from the consequences I very much needed to see the truth of my addiction. As I sat at her kitchen table trying to work the spoon of soup to my mouth, I can remember the deep shame I felt about the pain I was causing her and wanted so much for her love to be enough to stop the insanity of my destruction; but it wasn’t, and it never would be. I believe that’s why that memory stands out the most above all the other times I held her hostage to the chaos I seemed to always create and believe me, there were many. For in that moment sitting in her dimly lit kitchen, no words exchanged between us just the silent acknowledgment of our own tears; I believe it was in that moment we both knew her love nor anyone’s could ever save me from my addiction and that I needed to find my own way out.
When A Real Change Is Necessary For A Real Chance At Recovery
Luckily for me, my family began to realize the approach they had been taking towards trying to “fix” me kept producing the same results; constant relapses, multiple arrests, legal fees, mounting hospital bills, replacing automobiles, paying off credit card debt, getting kicked out of college on and on the list seemed to grow each year, but the outcomes were always the same. I manipulated and prayed upon their insecurities as loving parents so that I could maneuver with impunity through life addicted to substances. What I failed to see early on was how their enablement was also robbing me of a sense of self-worth and confidence to navigate my life as an adult man.
The author George Lukianoff, in his book The Coddling of the American Mind, states “A culture that allows the concept of ‘safety’ to creep so far that it equates emotional discomfort with physical danger is a culture that encourages people to systematically protect one another from the very experiences embedded in daily life that they need in order to become strong and healthy.”
Often times we tend to treat addicts as victims of their own circumstance and we enable them out of fear that if we do not shelter them from feeling emotion or discomfort or if we don’t fix a problem for them that they will only get worse. However, it is that approach that nearly killed me and one that I have seen rob others of an opportunity to truly recover and grow.
Turning Desperation Into A Solution
When my family finally came to the conclusion that they would not enable me and bail me out of whatever jackpot I had gotten myself into, is when I was finally able to see the truth in myself and the truth to the pain I was in as well as the pain I was responsible for creating. When an individual is stripped of their protective buffers and the emotional bubble wrap to their reality it’s a painful experience and one that placed me in a position of complete desperation. It was a desperation that saved my life. For I no longer wanted to use, I just didn’t know how not to, and I didn’t want to live a life feeling so emotionally fragile and helpless. No longer was my family choosing to enable me and they stopped buying into my victim mentality anymore; I became motivated to seek comfort and a solution where the bottle or a bag didn’t provide it anymore.
The gift of desperation I was able to experience was one that allowed me to seek out a solution that has kept me clean and sober for over 20 years. The ability of my family to allow me to fail, make my own mistakes, experience my own feelings and not fix them, allowed me to build up a sense of confidence within myself I so greatly lacked. It allowed me to be ok with failure and to be ok in moments where I didn’t feel ok. Where enabling someone may seem like the thing to do as it is often motivated by love it is also rooted in insecurities. It robs an individual of the opportunity to strengthen themselves, it robs them of confidence, it robs them of the truth, it robs them of finding dignity, and it robs them of a genuine opportunity of recovery.
-Joshua New, MSW, LCSW
Executive Director, Burning Tree West