I Just Wanted To Say...

What is your problem?

Name:
Location: Georgia, United States

I am me. More than I was, less than I will be. This is difficult. Facts-female, southern, mother and grandmother. Abstract-a Christian, a loner, intelligent, somewhat arrogant, impatient with stupidity, an unusual sense of humor.

4/15/2005

You're Not Helping

I remember reading an article in the newspaper about ten years ago about a charitable mission in the metro Atlanta area that was closing down. It was begun by Catholic sisters and provided food, blankets, clothing and other services to the homeless. The paper was all aghast that this wonderful charity would no longer be available and asked why they were closing. The answer was telling. One of the sisters told the paper, "We have been operating this mission for seven years, and in all that time, we have not changed one life."

I understood. The word "enabler" is a familiar one to me. The word enable means "to provide with the means or opportunity." The sisters came to understand that they were just enabling. They were providing the drug addicts, the alcoholics, the mentally ill who make the streets their home with the means to continue living a destructive lifestyle. They were not helping.

My mother was an enabler. She enabled my father to drink by protecting him from the consequences. She covered for him with his work, she took care of the bruises and cuts he inflicted on himself when he fell or staggered into something. If he lost his job, she made sure the bills were paid, no matter how hard she had to work. She excused his behaviour to family and friends. And his drinking problem was never to be discussed, as if by not acknowledging that there was a problem, the problem didn't exist. She wasn't helping.

State Court handles misdemeanor charges. One of the most common is Driving Under the Influence. Mandatory treatment is almost always a part of the sentence. It has been my experience that family members have a harder time dealing with the treatment than the offender. A man called my office and was complaining about how hard a time his wife was having in treatment. He made excuse after excuse for her. It was too hard, they were unkind, they actually expected her to comply with treatment, no one understood how hard this was on her. I finally broke in and said, "Sir, you're not helping her." He stopped talking and I could tell I had shocked him. I told him about my experiences with alcoholics and I talked to him about the difference between helping and enabling. When I finished, he said, "I really do love her. I just wanted to protect her." I said, "Yes sir, I understand. Now decide if you want to help her."

I never heard from him again. But his wife must have completed her treatment and probation successfully, because she was never brought back in front of the Judge for any violations of the terms of her sentence. I want to believe she was able to do it because he was helping her.

I don't often step over the line from professional to personal when dealing with the public. It can be risky. But this time, I think it was the right decision.

This time, I think I helped.

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