2.3 Helping or Enabling?

Alcoholics need help. But help in this context is doing something for somebody which they cannot do themselves. Many who live with alcoholics become as obsessed about the alcoholic and coping with life as the alcoholic is with the booze. They can easily allow their ‘help’ to become mere enabling of the alcoholic to continue their drinking. Thus the families end up enabling alcoholism.

The following questions might help determine the difference between helping and enabling an alcoholic in your life:

  1. Have you ever made out that the alcoholic is just not feeling well, e.g. ‘calling in sick’ to their employer, lying about his or her symptoms?
  2. Have you accepted part of the blame for his (or her) drinking or behavior?
  3. Have you avoided talking about his / her drinking out of fear of his / her response?
  4. Have you bailed him /her out of jail or paid for his / her legal fees?
  5. Have you paid bills that he / her was supposed to have paid?
  6. Have you loaned him / her money?
  7. Have you tried drinking with her / him in hopes of strengthening the relationship?
  8. Have you given him / her "one more chance" and then another and another? In this case your credibility with him / her gets progressively weaker.
  9. Have you threatened to leave or ‘detach’ in some other way and didn't?
  10. Have you finished a job or project that the alcoholic failed to complete himself?

In the end, all these things are enabling the alcoholic continue, rather than helping him or her quit. This is why it is estimated that over 90% of alcoholics are either employed or employable (8). They are cushioned from hitting rock bottom by family and friends, and thus they stumble on in their desperate, truth-less existences.

Love protects; we know that from 1 Cor. 13. And true love never seeks to humiliate publicly. Yet on the other hand, in chronic alcoholism, there is no point in covering up. Like the elephant in the home we spoke of earlier, the secret is likely ‘out’ anyway. You yourself will get caught up in a compulsive web of untruth, to the extent that the you become affected by the disease of alcoholism. We have emphasized that a leading feature of this disease is self-deception; part of the disease, a crucial part of it, is thinking that you haven’t got it. The lies that have to go on both publicly and within the alcoholic’s own self-talk will eventually become part of your psyche. To live “the truth” in Christ we cannot weave a continual web of lies and deception. You need to confront the alcoholic with this simple fact. God dealt with Israel’s sin by detaching from them- He had to let them hit rock bottom, despite it hurting them. Cushioning the fall will not achieve this. The alcoholic in the end has to face him or herself, alone with their maker. One suggestion is to leave a loving note explaining why you are leaving, but to spend a night away from home when the alcoholic returns drunk. In passing, it should be recognized by all of us that those who have to live with alcoholics are often in just as much need of support, just as locked into an obsession, as the alcoholic themselves.

The family of the alcoholic often go through the  feelings of 'he/she needs me'. But they have to face up to what that ‘need’ really is. We are not just enabling the alcoholic by covering for them, but we are also denying them their responsibility by doing so - possibly to fill a hole within ourselves (being needed as opposed to being loved) which ought to be filled by the Father and Son. Their real ‘need’ is not just to be covered up for, but to be healed.

God deals with His rebellious people in a way that is consistent and yet features the abrupt changes of plan which true grace and mercy require. Those living with alcoholics often display very widely fluctuating behaviour which isn’t consistent. One minute they are screaming at the alcoholic, threatening everything from death to divorce; the next they are compassionately rescuing them from the consequences of the latest drinking,  making excuses to others, etc. They willingly listen to yet another promise to change and take it seriously, despite so many such promises having been broken. This isn’t how God deals with the issues of repeated sin. He acts, in the end, decisively. I emphasize that I am talking here about hard core alcoholism and not occasional drunkenness. In the end, in love, God detaches from the hardened sinner. This is what we will now consider in detail.

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