When it comes to addiction, enabling is one of the most dangerous things friends and family can do for the addict. It’s often mistaken as love, kindness, caring, protecting, etc. We don’t want this person to get hurt and we don’t want others to get hurt because of this person either. We think we are doing the right thing. We aren’t. The intentions are good but the results are bad. If people are struggling with substance abuse, they need to have accountability and suffer consequences. That hurts us, their loved ones, the most but it is necessary. They will never be motivated to change unless there are negative consequences to their actions.
At seventeen, I didn’t know this. Go figure. I had become one of the most enabling people in my family. I made sure things were taken care of and the household was functioning. I protected my mom from hurting herself and others to the best of my ability. It was exhausting but I had a plan of escape. I was getting out. I was going away to college and my parents would just have to learn to survive without me. They had seemed pretty on board with it and I put all of my eggs in this basket. It was my last hope. We booked a trip to “South City College” (a made up university name I am going to use). We had family in that area and my mom and I were going up over Christmas break my senior year to visit.
The day we left for the trip, my mom and I were in high spirits. We make the long drive and have pleasant conversation. She is sober but I am still anxious. We have four long days to get through and anything could happen without my dad being around to help me supervise. We would be seeing a lot of family as well, which stressed out my mom and would give her opportunities to sneak away and drink. I think I ate two full bottles of tums over those four days.
The first night, she gets through fine. We see my grandma and a few cousins out at dinner. Everything goes well and there are no problems. I am on edge and even one of my cousins mentions my anxiety. I guess I came off a little twitchy. I laughed it off and continued to watch my mom like a hawk. The following day my aunt is hosting the family over for dinner since we are in town. Before the dinner, my mom seems fine so I start to relax. We get to my aunt’s house and it is so wonderful to see everyone. I have so many cousins and relatives at the house that it is impossible to keep an eye on my mom. I know I must have looked like a crazy person constantly going and seeing where she was but I didn’t care. I needed her to hold it together.
When we sit down to eat, my mom doesn’t join us. I excuse myself after the blessing and she is nowhere to be found. Nobody seems to notice because there are so many of us but I notice. I come back to the table and sit down holding back tears. Here we go. We finish dinner and when we start clearing the table, I see my mom out of the corner of my eye. She won’t make eye contact with me and I see her nodding along to some conversation. It’s too late. She snuck a bottle off somewhere during dinner. From the dirt on her shoes and her purple lips, I would say she went outside and probably downed a bottle of wine.
After cleaning up, I tell the family we need to go because we have the tour the following morning. My mom stumbles through her goodbyes and I pretend to not notice the side glances people are giving each other. When we get outside, I snap. I smack her as hard as I can across the face. She drops her purse in astonishment. I lunge for her purse and start rifling for her keys. She starts grabbing for her purse and I jump away from her. She tries to jump after me and falls. I fall to my knees crying, right there in my aunt’s front yard. After a sob or two, I realize any family member could come out and I pick myself up and dust off the snow on my pants. My mom doesn’t say a word as she follows to the car.
My mom falls asleep in the car and I grind my teeth the whole way back. We found the house by miracle. My grandma showed up a few minutes after us and asked why we left. I explained that my mom didn’t feel well and I was tired. My mom stumbled up to bed and my grandma didn’t say anything. She just patted me on the arm.
I went to bed that night feeling defeated and depressed. That didn’t matter though. It was only a few months before I would escape to school and not have to worry about these things. This comforted me as I fell asleep.
Around 3am, I woke up to my grandma yelling. I jumped out of bed and ran to the kitchen. My mom was sitting there with her hands behind her back. She was hammered. My grandma was crying saying that my mom was scaring her. My mom couldn’t respond and I reached around my mom and grabbed an empty fifth of vodka. My grandma looked at me and said “That was full” through choked sobs. I comforted my grandma and my mom crawled back to her bedroom. What the heck was I going to do now? She wouldn’t be sober by the time we needed to leave which was about three hours from now. I called my sister who was about four hours away on vacation and explained what had happened. She agreed to come and take me on the tour.
I didn’t sleep anymore that night. When my grandma woke up, I told her to hide all of the liquor in her house. I explained that my sister was now taking me on the trip. My grandma wanted to talk about it but I had had enough. I wasn’t in the mood to comfort someone else on my mother’s alcoholism. I told her we would talk about it later.
My sister and I went on the tour of the school and I fell in love. I forgot about my mom and dad. I forgot how much I was hurting. I forgot everything. All I could think about was the hope this school offered, the hope for a new beginning. My sister was an alma mater of the school and was so excited for me to go. We didn’t talk about my mom the entire time.
When we got back to the house, my mom was pouty and apologetic. She had gone shopping and bought me a new Coach Purse to take to school with me. I didn’t acknowledge her or the gift. My grandma and I talked and ignored my mom for the evening. That night I told my mom we would cut our trip short and go home the following day. She nodded in agreement.
That drive home the next day was one of the longest of my life. I called my dad on the way and told him everything. My mom sat there pouting while I was on the phone and I sat there wanting to punch her in the face. He didn’t say much but said we would talk when we got back. I thought that meant we would talk about what we were going to do with my mother, I was very wrong.
When we finally arrived, my dad asked to see me upstairs. I headed upstairs and was thinking over everything that happened. I assumed he wanted to know all the details because it was his family we were visiting. He didn’t look at me though. He just looked out the window and I waited patiently. I thought he was really upset with my mom. Then he started talking and he broke my heart.
“She can’t handle you leaving. She can’t handle anything to be honest.” I nodded confused. I wanted him to say we would get her some real help or look into rehab or something. This is what I have been waiting for, for seven years. “If you leave…” he started and my heart sank hearing that word. If? “She will drink herself to death. You know that” he said calmly. My dad has never verbally asked me for help before and I could tell this was killing him. “If you stay and go to the school here in town, I will pay for your school in full, I will give you a car when you graduate, and I will pay for your apartment.” He looks at me and my heart is in my stomach. “You need to stay” he said.
Those four little words. Those four awful words. I looked down and the tears spilled onto the floor. I could barely breathe. I couldn’t move. I felt like I weighed a million pounds. I realized this was going to always be my life. I never got to go away. My dad stood there and looked at me. I didn’t say a word. It probably only lasted two minutes but it felt like a lifetime. I gave a slight nod and he sighed with relief. He went downstairs and when he passed me he patted me on the shoulder. We never talked about why I stayed again.
Agreeing to stay enabled my dad and my mom. There’s no use playing the what ifs game but it’s hard not to think that if I had left, my mom might be sober today. She might also be dead. I will never know though because I stayed and continued to play my part in “the most enabling family show”.
It was hard at first. I had to tell all my classmates, who I had told I was leaving, that I would be staying in town. Everybody thought I was full of crap for ever saying I was going away to college. It was embarrassing but that doesn’t compare to any of the other embarrassing antics that happened in high school. Just another blip on the radar.
Next time I will talk about how my family perfected enabling while I was in college. Posts in the future will be a little more humorous. Kind of hard to lighten this one up 🙂 Thanks for listening! Subscribe if you are enjoying these posts. I love hearing the feedback from all over the world!