Words can work against those fighting addiction

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I hate the words. Enable. Enabler. Enabling.

“He wouldn’t be in so much trouble if his parents didn’t enable him.”

“She’s an enabler.”

“I feel sorry for that family — they’re constantly enabling her.”

They are harsh words, often spoken with a slight hint of scorn. They are words of blame, words that carry a heavy load of shame.

Too often we use words without thinking much about their implications, so let’s take a closer look at “enable.”

“Enable” means to allow, facilitate, permit, make possible. I love my trusty thesaurus, which leads me down all sorts of untraveled word pathways.

Allow means to let, to permit, agree to, consent to, tolerate.

Facilitate means to make easy, make possible, smooth the progress of, help, aid, assist.

Permit means to authorize, sanction, give your blessing to.

Enough already.

I am here to speak for parents of kids in trouble with drugs and for the wives, husbands, fathers, mothers, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles of addicted people. They may not all agree with what I have to say but I suspect most will.

We do not “consent” to the pain and misery, the shame and fear, the destruction and despair of addiction.

We do not seek to “aid” or “assist” addiction in its efforts to destroy our loved ones.

We do not “make possible” this disease nor do we “tolerate” its horrors.

We do not authorize addiction to walk in our homes, we do not sanction it, nor do we give it our blessing.

We simply do not know — not in the beginning — how to fight back. Addiction enters our lives with stealth and cunning. It disguises itself, talking back to us in ways that make our heads spin.

It tortures our emotions so that we begin to believe that we are the ones at fault, causing us to doubt ourselves, encouraging us to cover up, to protect and defend, to run screaming with our hair on fire to the hills.

Addiction takes our hearts and twists them.

It takes our thoughts and contorts them.

It takes our souls and fills them with dread, shame, guilt, and burning fear.

The “enable” word only adds to our guilt and shame and makes us hide in fear and self-loathing from the very people who might be able to help us.

Perhaps we might try to understand — or, as my trusty thesaurus elaborates, identify, empathize, have compassion for, appreciate, be conscious of — the hellish situation so many of us find ourselves in.

We see the people we love in trouble. At home. At school. In the office. With the law.

Because we love them, because it is our job to protect the people we love, we try to help them. We don’t know, not at first, that they are suffering from a chronic, progressive, deadly disease, and once we suspect it, we cringe from the very thought.

Because addiction is not like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or asthma. Addiction, like the word “enable,” is whispered.

When our family members are sick with addiction, friends don’t bring us home-cooked meals or fresh-baked cookies.

We don’t open our mailboxes to find heartfelt sympathy cards. No one sends us flowers.

Parents, relatives, teachers, and friends sometimes hint oh-so-subtly that our family’s “problem” stems from ineffective or even abusive parenting.

Insurance companies inform us that they don’t cover addiction treatment — or if they do, they “cap” the amount.

Counselors and health care professionals often tell us we are “overreacting.”

Doctors prescribe pills to help us calm down, relieve stress, get a good night’s sleep.

Sometimes the people we turn to for help look at us sideways, barely able to hide their contempt.

Perhaps contempt is too harsh a word. But that’s what it feels like. Disapproval. Condescension. Disdain.

So what are we, exactly? What words should be used to describe those of us who struggle to do battle with this disease?

Flawed. Imperfect. Struggling. In need.

In need of what? Help. Hope. Understanding. Compassion.

The irony, I suppose, is that we have compassion aplenty. We remember the old days, when we thought this could never happen to us, the days when we, too, wondered what was wrong with those families whose kids smoked marijuana, snorted coke, or injected heroin. Those days when our children were young and fresh and innocent.

Once upon a time, we, too, thought that we were immune.

Now we know better.

Kathy Ketcham is the co-author of 14 books and executive director of Trilogy Recovery Community. For more information, go to www.trilogyrecovery.org.

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