“You threw the mattress down for him to fall on.”
That image stuck like glue in my mind.
I knew all too well my mother’s words were true: I was enabling my son’s addictive choices.
In fact, it took years to understand that the way I honestly believed I was helping my son by enabling was actually preventing him from facing the changes he needed to make to have a sober life.
What parent doesn’t want their child to succeed?
Enabling takes a lot of forms – credit cards, new sneakers, room and board, a car (or two or three), keeping secrets, lawyers, bail money.
In our case, my husband and I were particularly invested in helping our son squeak through high school with hopes he would get some traction and go to college.
So, we scrambled to make that happen with an array of fixes: tutors, academic accommodations, teacher conferences, cajoling, soft talk, loud talk and three “fresh starts” in new schools.
The problem was that while we were heavily invested in making these efforts work, our son wasn’t. He was suffering from an addiction illness and any movement he made towards our “solution” was, in his words, just to get us off his back.
As one school counselor put it: “You want this more than he does. And as long as that it the case, it will never work out for him.”
What we did in the name of progress for our son’s life was a trap a lot of parents fall into. All that scrambling was ultimately just a bunch of mattresses – that lulled us all into a false reality and masked the spiraling of his substance use.
Ultimately our son failed out of high school. And as this is a family disease that low point was painfully felt by all of us.
With a lot of support, prayer, professional counseling, 12 Step meetings, soul searching and guidance from the family program at the first treatment center our son attended, our family’s answer was found by letting go of the outcomes for him.
AKA: disabling the enabling.
We stopped throwing down the mattresses, allowing our son to find his Gift of Desperation – GOD. Easy to say, very hard to do. It took a lot of time, and more often than not, it was two steps forward and three steps backwards for all of us.
Even then, when our son was sober for a year, I once more began to rev up the education engines for him – I am definitely a slow learner when it comes to disabling that enabling button hard wired into my maternal soul.
But this time, a wise mentor gave me sound advice. And I removed the cotton out of my ears to hear it: that it was more important at that point for our son to spend his time laying a strong foundation of sober living than pursuing academic accreditation.
“The education will come in time,’ he told me. “It will happen when it is supposed to happen.”
That mentor was 100 percent right.
By my son’s third year of sobriety, he was deep into attending college and a program for addiction counselor certification, in addition to working full–time at a treatment center.
These were all choices he made. And he was able to make them because he had chosen for himself a sober life of purpose.
No mattresses needed.
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