Post Series: A Mother's Heartbreak

file000138289502This blog is a guest contribution from MaryBeth, one of the members of the My Recovery Helper Facebook community. MaryBeth is a mother who lost her son to the disease of addiction, and wants to share her story with our readers. To read more of her story, visit

Enabling is described as providing for the needs of someone living with the disease of addiction. Providing housing and food, clothing and financial support. I was conditioned to be an enabler from the moment my son was born. The essential work of mothering is to keep your child safe and alive. This is what Mothers do for their children, there is the concept of loving them with no boundaries; they are our flesh and blood. We love them no matter who they are or who they will become. How do you turn off that love when your son becomes an addict? I read all the books and the enabler was always painted as the bad guy, the one allowing the addict to continue his addiction, never having to worry about paying for food or a roof over his head. Enabling was the four letter word of the books written by parents who had the magic ability to turn their backs and throw their kids out in the street to find their rock bottom, never looking back and seeing that addict as their child with a horrible disease.

Enabling is also described as making excuses for and minimizing bad behavior. Well I became a champion of coming up with the best excuses for Matt’s behavior or lack of behavior depending on the situation we found ourselves in. I became so talented at covering for his choices that I convinced myself that everyone except me was overreacting to this man, my son the addict living in my home rent-free, eating my food with no regard for how much food cost. Every time he would offer to give me the little money he had I would feel horrible taking money from my unemployed son. I prided myself on being there for him and showing him how much I loved him and wanted him to have a good life. Believe me there were times when I would get fed up with his lifestyle, his lack of job hunting while I was working 12 hour shifts to support myself and now my son. Unfortunately for me and fortunately for Matt, I was a nurse, a caregiver. That’s what I did. It’s who I was. How could I take care of strangers and not take care of my son? Enabling became a concept that I tucked far back into my brain. I was not enabling. I was helping my son get back on his feet. I was caring for the little boy I loved, who was now a man with a horrible disease.

When he finally surprised me and found employment I still didn’t demand rent. Nope, not this Mom. He had bills to pay and I wanted him to keep his credit good so when the day came he would be able to find a place of his own. So the enabling continued. Making minimum wage made it hard to pay bills and buy pills, so I would help him out. I would take a bill and pay it off. When anyone questioned my actions I would defend myself, telling them I was keeping his credit in good standing. The laughing about saving an addict’s credit would always offend me and I started keeping secrets. My salary afforded me to be a very generous enabler/mother. I remember feeling relief as I saw the balances on his cards diminishing. I felt proud that I could take the stress off him, foolishly thinking the less stressed he was the less pills he would use. All this time I kept my head in the sand not listening to harsh words from friends and family trying to shake me out of this insanity I allowed to become my life. I would once again read about enabling but never identified with the enabler. I was a mother. I loved my son. I was helping him in a way I just couldn’t comprehend. I was helping his vicious cycle of addiction continue and finally escalate.

Enabling also included believing the addict’s promises. I believed everything Matt said. I needed to believe he wasn’t an addict. I needed to believe he really showed up for work and was attending his meetings. I would watch him as he left with his NA book in hand, hopeful that he really was working the program. Calling his sponsor trying to pretend I needed to get in touch with Matt. Was he at the meeting tonight? Deep down this mother knew I was making life so easy for my addict. I loved him too much to hold him accountable for his lies.

Piece by piece my blinders were slowly slipping away. I finally realized I was the only one concerned about his addiction. I had become so used to enduring his addiction and accepting its impact on my life. I remember seeing a poster at my own meeting. It was a slap, that bucket of ice cold-water hitting me and taking my breath away. If your addict is happy you are enabling, if your addict is not you are helping. Oh God, I had the happiest addict on the planet. I was mothering my son to death. He would come home and relax, ignoring chores and think only about his next fix. Knowing I would excuse his laziness and pick up his slack.

All this time I thought I was protecting him from destroying his life and future. Reality was I was preventing him from doing the work of recovery. I was allowing his problem to become bigger and destroy my peace. I realized that I was exhausted trying to fix him. I was the best enabler any addict could ask for. He needed and I did. I was trained by my addict. Like a dog needing to please his owner, I needed my son to love me back. I didn’t want the chaos that came with confrontation. I thought giving him everything was saving him. I thought making his life easier was helping him to stay safe.

Tough love was tougher on me than Matt. I finally got fed up and scared to death. Ok, I thought, I’ve got to change or nothing will. The look of shock on his face will stay with me forever. Neither of us ever thought the day would come when I had the courage to tell him to leave. Choice given. It’s me or the drugs. You can stay but you will go to rehab. I remember feeling like a horrible Mother. Tough love sucks. He left. I cried and cried, not believing he left after all the years of comfort and support I provided. Another slap of reality. My addict loved his pills more than his Mother’s need for him to become clean. I felt such a sense of failure. I, who never asked for anything in return, left with nothing. My loving son walking out like I was a stranger, anger in his eyes, never looking back. How dare I tell him to leave? What kind of mother was I?

Looking back, my toughness came too late. The damage too deep, the addict too lost. I loved my son too much. That love with no boundaries kept my son from hitting a place where he might have made different choices.  Now I look in the mirror and see myself as I truly was: A mother loving her son to death.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Paula Dominique

    Amazing, soul-bearing words that slap me into a level of awareness that I would not have known had I not read this. You are educating MANY! Thank you for the courage to share the darkest and most secret parts of you. You are an amazing woman, nurse and mother.

  2. Barbara Stoefen

    A beautiful piece, MaryBeth. You’re being awfully hard on yourself though. We all go through this, and we lay down boundaries only when we’re ready and able to do so. Just in case you’ve never heard this before: Matt’s addiction was not your fault, and neither was his death. It was a terrible, terrible tragedy… the unthinkable consequence of a cunning and merciless disease.

    You were a great mother, and you did everything you knew how to do. What more could you possibly ask of yourself?

    1. Karen d King

      Very well said !! This disease is hard to learn!! I’ve been trying to educate myself for awhile. I even try to get someone else to do the “Tough Love” for me. Sad I know! I pray God gives me the Knowledge and strength to do what is best for my family,to beat addiction. Also to help others going thru this!! Thank you for your teachings,caring,and courage!! It means sooo much!!

  3. justamom

    The disease is hard to learn, as karen d. king wrote. And what we think we know about it is hard to UN-learn. The best book on this yet is “Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy” by David Sheff, who based it on the “latest research in psychology, neuroscience and medicine.”
    I don’t think you loved your son “to death.” You were trying to protect him from future debilitating consequences. The rehab ultimatum was a good one. You needed more support & he needed more support. Sheff emphasizes it really takes a small army for families to heal – including self-help groups for all, a psychologist, rehab, medical doctor, maybe prescription drugs (like suboxone, naltrexone) maybe psychiatrist.
    Our country is truly backwards in the treatment of this chronic disease, and that is changing. People need to keep pushing for advances in knowledge. Look at founded by Dr. Thomas McLellan, who lost one of his sons.
    As a mom, I see my role as “patient advocate” & not enabler.
    Thank you for your essay, it is brave & heartbreaking.

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