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Why I’m Grateful My Parents Didn’t Enable Me

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD By December 8, 2016
Why I’m Grateful My Parents Didn’t Enable Me

 “Write what you know.” -Mark Twain (Probably)

 First and foremost, I need to apologize to Discovery because this has taken me so long to write. It wasn’t me slacking. Instead, it was the paralyzing fear of writing about such a sensitive subject that I’ve never lived firsthand.

Addiction? Yeah, I know that like the back of my hand. I’ve resided in that hell for long enough that now when I go back into those dark rooms to pull other people out, I don’t even feel the heat. It feels more like an awkward Family Reunion with the in-laws.

Nevertheless, during the last couple of seasons there have been VERY few days that I didn’t at least get one call from someone at their wit’s end because they love an addict.

I’ve rejoiced with a sister about the light she sees in her brother’s eyes after getting home from rehab. I’ve joked with grandma and grandpa about how much their recovering grandson eats now that drugs are behind him and given the kid a hard time about his chubby cheeks, but still hugged him with residual pride because of his health and efforts. I’ve been on the phone at 3 AM with the girlfriend who doesn’t want to admit her boyfriend is using and had to be the bearer of bad news. I’ve cried with the father whose little girl is in the hospital after an infection from IV drug use. I’ve stood feeling gut-shot and inadequate as a mother sobbed on my shoulder and the body of her son rested in a casket a few feet away after a fatal overdose.

I have two daughters of my own now. I don’t have much room in prayer these days for anything but “THANK YOU” but I’d pray to any and every deity if it meant my daughters would learn vicariously from my mistakes and never touch drugs.

I didn’t turn to drugs because my parents were failures. They loved me the best they knew how and THAT is why I can write this now.

If someone dear to you is struggling with addiction, you might still LOVE them like crazy but not really LIKE them very much anymore. Addiction is to lying, thieving and manipulation; as the election year is to arguments, tension and bad memes.

I get these calls ALL the time. “I don’t know what to do! I don’t know how to get through to him/her!! Can YOU say something?!”

Sure, in some cases people will open up to me because I’ve walked in their shoes and have the track mark scars to prove it. However, I’ve also still been on the receiving end of manipulation, theft and ungrateful insults. It comes with the territory.

I’ve used a lot of examples to describe one particular lesson:

-You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.

-You have to have some skin in the game.

-Nobody learns to ride a bike unless you take the training wheels off.

-You can let someone lean on you but can’t carry them.

-Put YOUR oxygen mask on first.

Starting to get the point? Usually it all boils down to one question I ask anyone who is having a meltdown because they feel helplessly lost:

“If [addict’s name] made a miraculous turn around today, would you take credit for their recovery?”

 99% of the time, the answer is a resounding “NO.”

“Okay… then you CANNOT take responsibility for their addiction.”

There’s a fantastic article by Alison Sher on Medium.com called “Black Sheep Rehab” featuring a man named David Michael. My favorite part (among many) is when she tried to help David up after he fell. His response was “DON’T YOU DARE!!”

“For if I intercept in another person’s journey to rescue them from their challenges, I hijack them of everything they have, everything they’re here to do.”

At first read, it could sound like David would be the poster child for “Tough Love.” I don’t think so.

Like David, I believe in meeting people at their worst. I believe in the power of a kind word, a hug, a smile, or just a conversation over a milkshake to let someone know they are still worthwhile.

My parent’s helped teach me this, because they told me “NO” when I asked for cash or bail. My old man told me flat-out, “Son, I will always love you. I will always be here for you. I will always want to help you. But, I will not enable you.”

I call this “Wise Love.”

“This is all great but what do I do with Johnny who always sneaks out with his friends and just pawned my jewelry for the third time?!!”

That’s a really good question. All I can say is your feet need to be planted on solid ground for you to throw a lifeline. You won’t be able to help anybody while you are drowning with them.

I’ve had some success with the idea of “opening a door” and it’s really my first approach when talking to families. I understand your desperation. I understand you are watching someone you love slowly fade away and are leaving behind a hollow shell. I can HEAR how much it hurts.

Like everything else in my life, I believe in getting my hands dirty. If nothing else, action can provide at very least a distraction.

First thing we do is simply BREATHE. With addiction comes a jumble of pain from the past, fear of the future, worst-case scenarios and even resentment for today.

Take a deep breath and refocus.

In the case of treatment, you MUST be careful about where you send your loved one. Before I got into this industry I held the misconception that anyone who runs a rehab must have a heart of gold.

They do NOT.

So, do your research. Ask questions. Be vigilant about the motivations of anyone you talk to who tells you they will help get you treatment.

 There are people I love dearly who advocate for treatment. However, I’ve also seen the darker side of the industry and watched people get lost in a shuffle, milked for insurance, or even paid to relapse so that they could be put back into detox. 

There are bright islands of hope in these dark waters… but they are shark-infested.

Did I sign on with Discovery because I think they are the only good treatment center? Of course not. I signed on with Discovery because they pay me to do exactly what I do. If someone has Cadillac insurance or is homeless and penniless, I can do my best to help them and it doesn’t change my pay one bit.

I’ll tell you one thing, if my daughters ever DO struggle with an addiction, I am certainly going to put them into the hands of someone who sees them as patients… not bonus checks.

The final step to opening a door is to set this game plan in motion. We make sure we have done everything in our power to cross hurdles beforehand. Is the individual on probation in their state? Do they have kids, spouses, pets, or anything else that would prevent them from seeking help? Do they have medical issues that would need to be cleared first? Do they need Dual Diagnosis?

There’s plenty of other questions, but I’m speaking from personal experience. For most addicts, uttering those three magic words can be so difficult.

“I need help

That’s a “strike while the iron is hot” moment if ever there was one.

I’m happy to help if I can. There are other people here who are also happy to help. The people here I’m closest to are kindred spirits because we’ve all turned down more money elsewhere.

We feel good about the Discovery Promise – if this is the right program for you, we will do everything we can to help. If this is NOT the right program, we are going to help you find one that is.

The Family Counseling at Discovery can also be a great resource for you.

If there’s some way we can help, please know we want to. Honestly, I’m not trying to endorse any particular facility. I don’t think treatment centers should be like religions or political parties.

However, I’d send my kids here for one specific reason…

One Friday night I called Nick, the President of the Board of Directors on his personal cell phone at 11:30 at night. Not only did Nick answer my questions about a very difficult situation with a family, he said something that earned more of my respect than he could ever imagine.

“Dan, the patient has a great policy. We’d be happy to take him. But, his situation is very delicate. Only about 8% of men fall into this category and there are other clinical staffs that specialize in this. I think he’d have the best result going to…”

THAT is speaking my language. If that resonates with you, if you’d prefer to buy a car or jewelry from someone who isn’t paid on commission… we might be speaking your language.

I don’t want to cheapen what you are going through with the addict you love by turning this into a sales pitch. I don’t want to sell you any more than I want to sell an addict on treatment. I don’t see much point in that.

But… meeting everyone with empathy, compassion and hope. Never giving up on a life or treating someone like a “lost cause.” The power of a smile or kind word or just the simple statement of “it CAN get better.” The peace of taking charge of the things that are in your control and then looking yourself in the mirror knowing you did all you could for someone…

If you need help opening that door, feel free to call me.8014500030

I can’t make them walk through it any more than you can. But just know it is there and waiting could plant a seed that eventually blossoms in their mind and allows them to say those magic words…

“I need help.”

Article Reviewed by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MDDr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.

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