Here are a few circumstances that typically send us into crisis mode:
- We discover drugs in our home.
- Our adult child has been arrested.
- Our adult child has been hospitalized.
- An urgent issue concerning our adult child has sent our family once again into hyperalert status.
A few months before the SWAT raid on my son's home, he was in a critical motorcycle accident. It happened on a deserted country road very early in the morning. He was alone, he'd been drinking, and he wasn't wearing a helmet. When his cycle went off the road, it rolled over on him, crushing his right hand, dislocating his shoulder, breaking his leg, and leaving him bruised and battered. He managed to make a call on his cell phone before losing consciousness. Just a few days before, he had moved into a rented single home a few miles from us. His belongings were still in boxes.
My husband, Kevin, and I arrived at the hospital ICU to find him hooked up to multiple machines and being carefully monitored for possible head or spine trauma, of which there ultimately was none.
Surely, God has a plan for you, I once again thought.
Over the course of the next few days, I went into hover mode, forgetting everything I had learned about how not to enable. I rented a room across from the hospital so I didn't have to drive the 75 miles every day, allowing me to remain in his room most of the day. Without medical insurance, he needed to apply for emergency care, and because he couldn't hold a pencil to write, I helped him complete the forms. Now this wouldn't be considered enabling, because he could not in fact hold a writing implement himself. However, I became not only his hands but his mouth as well, and at times his mind, too, as I began making choices for him that he clearly could have made for himself.
With the help of a friend of mine, while my son recuperated in the hospital, we unpacked his belongings and cleaned his home in preparation for his return. I did the legwork to rent a hospital bed, tray table, portable toilet, and walker. My husband and sons built a ramp on his back stairs for wheelchair access to his house. I arranged for a visiting home health-care nurse to look in on him and scheduled physical therapy for him. I shopped for groceries the day he came home from the hospital. I instructed his girlfriend-of-the-moment how to take care of him. I was worried sick that he wouldn't take care of himself. Yet why should he when he had me taking care of him?
Long story short, by the time my son came home from the hospital, he had fallen off the drug-use wagon, becoming once again addicted, this time to Vicodin, oxycodone, and morphine. His friends of questionable character, who never seemed to work, started hanging around, and instead of eating and sleeping right, taking care of himself, and doing what he needed to do to get better, he fell into depression, excessive drug use, and God only knows what else.
He wouldn't answer his phone, the curtains were always pulled, the home was dark and smoke-filled, and the floor was littered with trash and beer bottles whenever I stopped by.
I stopped stopping by.
After weeks of beseeching him to get help, to take care of himself, and to stop his downward spiral, I once again had to step out of the picture, handing him over to the Lord for safekeeping — something I should have done the day I walked into the ICU at the hospital.
Oh, I prayed — a lot. I called my pastor, and he visited my son in the hospital and prayed over him. My dear friends were praying for him en masse. Perhaps they should have been praying for me. I had once again fallen into the pattern of being my son's enabler. I should not have become so overly involved in trying to take care of him. He had been driving a motorcycle under the influence of alcohol — without wearing a helmet. He was blessed to be alive, blessed that he didn't kill himself or someone else. In truth, the thing he needed most, after medical care, was to accept the consequences of those actions on his own.
It's not easy to stay strong when a crisis occurs. I wasn't prepared. Today I would do it differently. If it ever happens again, God forbid, I'll behave differently. I only wish now, in that retrospective wisdom we all know and love, that I had known the value of role-playing different crisis scenarios before this happened.
I talk in Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children about role playing and how important it is to go over every conceivable consequence to your actions as you develop your action plan and begin to change your behavior to stop your enabling.
But for right now, in order to get smart and take action, you must be ready to declare the following:
As of today, I will no longer be...
- an enabler to someone who has no self-respect or respect for me
- a rescuer to someone who has no desire to be rescued
- a caregiver to someone who is capable of caring for himself or herself
I can hear you asking, "But what will happen if I stop doing all these things I've done all these years to 'help'?"
I don't know, but let me ask you a question: Has what you've been doing all this time been helping — really?
Al-Anon members learn that no individual is responsible for another person's disease or recovery from it. The simple answer as to what to do about the alcoholic holds true for what to do about the adult child we've been enabling: "let go and let God."
So we must get smart and take action.