Unlearning enabling behavior

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Advice | Ask Annie

Dear Annie: My mother has been a bad drug addict for most of my life. Ive gotten used to taking care of her, but something happened. My sister followed in her footsteps. She moved away and is badly addicted to multiple drugs. My family has tried to get her to come home, but she makes excuses every time. I’m in a lot of pain, more pain than my mother caused me (which is saying a lot). Every time I talk to her, she gets really hostile. I don’t know whether to cut her off or to keep trying to convince her to come home. What is your advice? — Worried About the Well-Being of my Family

Dear Worried: I am so sorry. I know that your heart is aching.

If your pleas for your sister to come home have so far not worked, there’s no reason to expect that to change. In fact, insisting that she come home might have the opposite effect. It could drive her further away (while at the same time driving yourself mad).

Instead, you need to turn the focus on yourself.

I know. You’re thinking, “But Annie, my sister is the one who needs help.” Hear me out.

Living your whole life with the disease of addiction has shaped you in ways you likely don’t even realize. Addiction impacts and infects entire family dynamics. You have almost certainly become a part of your sister’s unhealthy behavioral patterns without ever meaning to. Support groups such as Nar-Anon (https://www.nar-anon.org/) and Families Anonymous (https://www.familiesanonymous.org/), will help you unlearn these healthy behaviors.

Give it a try. You’ve got nothing to lose except the invisible 200-pound vest you wear at all times.

Dear Annie: I read your letter from “Thirty-Three and Floundering” and I may have an idea that helps.

I went to college for a long time. I earned a BA, an MA, a Ph.D. and then went back for yet another degree. When I finally graduated, I felt lost without getting graded every semester. I felt like I had no tangible sense of accomplishment anymore. I felt adrift in a world where I was used to constantly achieving something and striving towards a goal.

I realized that I still learned every day, and I still achieved and accomplished many things. I just had no more written acknowledgement of it. So I started a “log book.” In it, I would date and log every significant accomplishment that I had achieved. From going to a historic landmark, museum or concert, to earning a promotion or some other kind of work recognition, I recorded anything I felt was special or noteworthy. I took note of any new skill I learned, project I finished or lecture I attended. I even keep a list of all the books I read. I had a lot more time for accomplishing nonacademic achievements now that I wasn’t spending all my time studying.

Every year on my birthday, I review my annual accomplishments, and I get the feeling of getting somewhere that “Floundering” seems to be lacking. Maybe this idea will help the writer. — Never Done Achieving

Dear Never Done Achieving: And thank you for yours! This is a great way to provide oneself some “external” validation.

Send your questions for Annie Lane to dearannie@creators.com.