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Carole Bennett, MA


Are You Helping or Rescuing the Alcoholic/Addict?

Posted: 08/04/10 08:00 AM ET

A few months ago I wrote a blog about enabling and rescuing the alcoholic/addict. Though this blog is similar, I wanted to talk about the difference between helping our loved one versus rescuing them. Bear with me as I repeat a few key concepts about rescuing and enabling before I discuss the difference between helping and rescuing.

As caring, compassionate people we naturally and instinctively want to protect and help our loved ones. There is a universal drive of both animals and human beings that beckon us to stand between what we see as a potentially harmful situation and the ones we love -- especially if those loved ones are weak or sick.

But, there is a fine line between participating as part of the solution -- that is, helping -- or perpetuating what might be part of the problem -- rescuing.

Rescuing makes us feel wanted and needed. It is a momentary adrenaline rush when for a brief instant we are the center of someone else's world. Those we rescue thank us and are grateful for our intervention and since maybe someone else has said no to them, you are their Hero du jour. Wow; what a boost to ones ego!

So what does helping look like versus rescuing?

As difficult as this may be to witness, events pertaining to our loved ones' actions need to unfold as they are meant to, not how we want them to. If enabled or rescued, the alcoholic/addict is prevented from experiencing the repercussions of their decisions.

A healthy example of helping and not rescuing is my client Sloane. Sloane was married to an alcoholic who bounced between living a clean and sober lifestyle and relapse. Soon after their marriage, Sloane's husband became quick to anger, was easily provoked and their relationship developed a very poor, "walking-on-eggshells" dynamic. Sloane never stopped loving her husband, but had come to the end of her rope in the relationship, as she could not live with his instability or impatience anymore. They had no children and were only married for a few years, so Sloane requested a separation and ultimately filed for divorce. Her husband relapsed, and one day came to admit that he had hit his "bottom."

After a week clean and sober, he called Sloane and asked for a second chance as he wanted to try and salvage the relationship as well as save himself... from himself. He realized many of the things that had gone wrong during the marriage and his relapse opened his eyes to what he needed to do to put the pieces of his life back together. He felt that if he could have a goal in trying to not only rebuild himself, but their friendship, he might be able to really commit to a clean and sober lifestyle. Sloane reiterated that she did not want to be married to him and his disease and/or the responsibility that seemed to go along with it, but did love him and would be open to seeing if what they once had could grow some new, respectful and healthy roots.

Though difficult, her husband accepted the finality of their marriage, but was hopeful that they could re-establish something special and honest. Sloane's husband admitted that he had some personal and professional issues needing attention as a result of his relapse. Sloane realized that it would be easy for her to write a check for the finance problems, provide transportation and even housing to support and encourage her husband toward sobriety, and not expect anything in return; yet she knew that would be rescuing and not helping. Instead, she proposed her participation as more of a friend. She Listened, gently offered advice, encouraged his goals and presented personal, healthy objectives for the two of them to strive toward. By rebuilding their emotional relationship slowly, as well as implementing contracts and dates for areas of financial loans or temporary transportation, she felt like she was helping in a confident, grounded way.

It was understood that her husband was solely responsible for the wreckage incurred due to his relapse and that Sloane would remain part of his cheering section and not calling the shots from a play book on the field. Sloane's husband appreciated her fortitude, was grateful for her help and in realty didn't want to be rescued, but preferred picking himself up by his own boot straps. He could prove to Sloane and himself the commitment he had to his recovery, and it would mean more in the long run and hopefully stave off the relapse itch knowing that he had worked so hard to rebuild his life his way.

Ask yourself: Are you helping or rescuing? If you are coming up with all the answers, bailing out your loved one with cash, or shouldering some of their legal ramifications, then your crown of rescuing is polished to a blinding glow. If you are standing back and allowing incidents to play out as they may, yet presenting emotional and specific guidelines of support than the report card for help will be "A plus."

Please do leave a comment below or drop me an email with your thoughts, suggestions or requests for future areas of focus.
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