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The Fourth C In Addiction Is Really Enabling –

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The Fourth C In Addiction Is Really Enabling –

Mother with two children fourth C in Addiction Family Disease Adobe

The Fourth C In Addiction Is Really Enabling –

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When I first heard the three C’s, “I didn’t cause it. I can’t cure it, and I can’t control it,” I was so relieved, but did you know there is a fourth C? I can contribute to it by enabling addiction.

How My Mom Contributes

Hearing this at my meeting Saturday was a light bulb moment. Before I knew about the three C’s, I blamed my mom for my brother’s disease. She should’ve been tougher and that should’ve stopped it. After learning about the three C’s, I knew my blame was misplaced, but something was still off. I didn’t want her to keep:

  • Balancing his checkbook
  • Lending him money
  • Believing his outrageous lies
  • Mediating arguments with girlfriends
  • Filing his taxes for him

I was furious because her enabling allowed my brother to stay sicker longer, and being angry with her is easier than facing my fear of losing my brother.

The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree

In case you missed it, nothing in the above scenario is any of my business. This often happens in families with alcohol use disorder. In an effort to keep everyone alive, responsibilities get shifted. Without realizing it, my mother showed me that anger, controlling, and manipulation were just part of the wife’s or mom’s job. Looking at the my brother’s addiction, analyzing what went wrong, and blaming my mom takes the focus off of me and my life. I was an enabler, just like my mom. I was still cutting my son's  food for him when he was 10 years old.

I'm Getting Better

My son has special needs, including severe ADHD. Fear and denial kept me from seeing what he could do. One day when I picked him up from school his teacher was waiting to see me. My son had refused to do any school work because:

  • The work was too hard
  • The lights were too bright
  • Some other kid was too loud
  • The assignment was too long

I knew the list well. It was the same list of excuses I gave his teachers when he was younger. Back then, he couldn't keep up with his classmates because of his medical condition. Now he is attending a private school which specializes in accommodating his needs. Now he's given work he can do; he just didn't want to do it. Now I have recovery, and my top priority is making sure he's able to take care of himself. While the teacher replayed the day's drama, I didn't defend or coddle. I just listened. It felt awkward and not rescuing him was hard, but I learned that would have been enabling. I was scared but proud.

The Experts Weigh In On Enabling

In their book Boundaries, Drs. Cloud and Townsend explain how contributing to the disease of alcohol use disorder interferes with the first law of boundaries - sowing and reaping. “Sometimes, however, people don’t reap what they sow, because someone else steps in and reaps the consequences for them…Rescuing a person from the natural consequences of his behavior enables him to continue in irresponsible behavior.” My goal is to not contribute to anyone else’s unhealthy behaviors. To reach that goal, I use these recovery tools:

  • KYMSI – Keep your mouth shut indefinitely
  • MYOB – Mind my own business
  • Smile, pause, and walk away
  • Stay in my yard and stay in my day
  • Keep the focus on me

When someone you love is losing his/her life to this horrible disease, it's easy to act out of desperation. On days like these, the best I can do is trust my Higher Power and take one day at a time.


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Grace Silverstone is an adult child of an alcoholic, wife and mother. She's also recovering from co-dependency. Her path to recovery has included many 12-step meetings and mochas.

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