This post deals with alcohol addiction and might be triggering for some readers.
The first time I saw my son Brian drunk, he was 14 years old.
WATCH: Exactly how to talk to your teens about alcohol. Post continues below.
We had just moved from Missouri to New York State after my second divorce. I felt ill-equipped to deal with the painful reality that my son was repeating the cycle of his father, whom I had left due to his alcohol addiction.
When I ask myself how I became an enabler to his addiction, I reflect on my background.
I grew up the eldest child in a family of four children. As the eldest, I was called on to be the caretaker of my younger siblings. The caretaking role felt comfortable and validating. When I left home at 18, I chose to pursue a career in nursing, further reinforcing my role as a caretaker.
Alcohol was not an issue. At my high school graduation party, my dad offered me a whiskey sour. When I finished the first one, he offered me another, which left me in an altered state, dizzy and swaying at the dining room table. He then came up to me and asked how I was feeling.
“Not so good,” I responded.
“Now, you see what alcohol can do.”
He never said another word to me, and the impact of this intervention stayed with me throughout my early adult years.
When it came time to choose a partner, I naively overlooked the red flags. My first husband, the father of my children, was an alcoholic. I left him when Brian was 18 months old, and our daughter Leigh Ann was three.
I can see now how I enabled his drinking until I realised that I needed to leave that unhealthy situation for the sake of my children.
Instinctively, I wanted to protect my children from harm. But it took many years to break the cycle of codependency where I wanted to step in and fix their problems. I only wanted to help them. I didn’t realise that I was an enabler.
Listen to Mamamia’s parenting podcast, This Glorious Mess. In this episode, Holly speaks to Paul Dillon to see what patterns are evolving with teens in relation to drugs and alcohol. Post continues below.
What is the difference between loving and enabling?
Stephanie Kirby offers this explanation in this post How to Stop Enabling Your Adult Children and Why It’s Important: “In the therapeutic world, an enabler is someone who habitually allows a family member or close friend to make choices that can result in harm.”
I had to learn the difference between helping and enabling. I equated helping with loving, but love is not the issue.