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Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in
Chicago, Illinois and Northfield, Illinois.

You can contact Dr. Frisch, Psy.D. at
(847) 498-5611.

Recover from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series.


How to Distinguish Between Enabling and Acting Responsibly


D
ear Dr. Steve:

After being on a roller coaster ride for the last ten years, I thought I had heard it all—the lies, the deception, the denial, never taking responsibility for anything. My wife has said and done it all. Then just when I thought nothing could catch me off guard, just when I thought that no one could say anything as preposterous as I’ve heard over the last ten years, I’ve got some alcohol counselor telling me that my wife has a disease, but not only that my wife has a disease, but that her whole family has a disease. This counselor had the nerve to say that we’re an alcoholic family. Well, that was the last straw for me. I told my wife I wasn’t coming back anymore. All that I’ve been put through just to be told that the problem is with me, that I have a disease. You don’t know the half of all that I’ve done as my wife became less and less able to function and fulfill her responsibilities. The burden was on me to keep things going, to make sure that the kids were taken care of, to cover up for my wife at work, to make sure her family never found out what was going on, and her friends, my God if her friends knew about any of this, my wife would just die. And all I get for my trouble is some college kid telling me that I’m just as sick as my wife.

The idea that alcoholism is a family disease can be a difficult pill to swallow. Having been put through an emotional wringer, rising above the drama and chaos of alcoholism and drug addiction, flawlessly juggling your responsibilities, filling the void created by your wife not being able to fulfill her responsibilities, and carrying the burden of keeping your friends and family from ever finding out, the last thing anybody would want to be told is that they too have a disease and they too have work to do with their disease.

But let me try to explain a phenomena that the family as a whole needs to learn about. Each family needs to understand how this phenomena may manifest itself in each family member’s behavior. Finally, each family member needs to learn different coping skills to cope with an active alcoholic. The phenomena to which I’m referring is known as enabling. Family member(s) may knowingly or unknowingly enable an alcoholic and therefore enable the alcoholic to stay active in their disease by:
1.) Rescuing the alcoholic from the consequences of the alcoholic’s behavior.
2.) Covering up for the alcoholic by conspiring with the alcoholic’s desire to keep their drinking problem a secret.
3.) Psychologically aligning with the alcoholic’s denial system and equally be in denial about the alcoholic’s problems.
4.) Acting in an overresponsible way in order to fill the void created by the alcoholic’s inability to fully function.

What motivates such seemingly self-destructive behavior? For some people, enabling is a misguided act of love, protection, or even pity for the alcoholic. For other people, enabling is the means by which the family can keep up appearances and project a picture of normalcy to the rest of the world. For other people enabling is a way to get their emotional needs met—the enabling family member needs to be needed if you will. Strange as this may sound to you, the enabling family member can actually feel threatened by the prospect of the alcoholic stopping to drink and getting better. For this family member, if an alcoholic were to stop drinking then the enabling family member would be confronted with the following questions. “If my alcoholic no longer needs me to cover up for them, then who will need me?” “If my alcoholic gets better then what use will my alcoholic have for me? “If my alcoholic becomes physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy, then how will I fit in to the life of somebody who no longer needs me?” If my alcoholic doesn’t need me to fix them, then what worth do I have as a human being?” “If my alcoholic no longer needs me to rescue them, then who am I without anybody to rescue?”

This is why your wife’s counselor suggested that the family disease of alcoholism has negatively impacted your entire family. Please be clear that asserting that alcoholism is a family disease is not an accusation. It is an acknowledgement of the negative impact of alcoholism on your entire family. When your wife’s counselor suggested that each family member needs to learn about alcoholism and heal from the aftereffects of alcoholism on the whole family, your wife’s counselor was piercing the veil of secrecy and suggesting that everybody has played a role in the unfolding disease of family alcoholism. In so doing, your wife’s counselor was not blaming you or anybody else but merely placing responsibility squarely on the shoulders of each family member for their own emotional and spiritual well-being. Please rest assured of the following, no matter what your wife must go through to stop drinking, it’s vital that the family as a whole discover that there’s a way of living life other than in a manner that pours fuel on a raging fire—no matter how well intended each family member might be.

So, if you can get beyond your understandable feelings of resentment and defensiveness, there’s much that can be done for your entire family. The first step in family recovery is getting help for the family as well as the alcoholic. Receiving assistance through a support group or professional counselor is the best means of helping the entire family get well. Family treatment includes: 1.) Validating each family member's feelings and needs,
2.) Learning communication skills that will improve listening and self-disclosing,
3.) Stop blaming and judging and begin taking responsibility, 4.) Making clear that family problems are not the fault of the children, 5.) Facing issues that family members have been either denying and/or avoiding.


Recover from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series—From Insanity to Serenity.

Pathfinder’s Checklist

1.) Alcoholism is a family disease that negatively affects all people.
2.) All family members need an evaluation to determine what kind of help and support they may benefit from.
3.) No family member is to be blamed for an alcoholic’s drinking.
4.) All family members are responsible for understanding what behaviors enable the alcoholic to continue drinking and learning new ways of coping with an active alcoholic.
5.) All family members are responsible for mastering new ways of communicating that create an environment of openness and honesty rather secretiveness and deception.

G.B.U.

Steve



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