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Enabling Is Not Love

I’ve struggled all my life with confusion about the difference between enabling and love. Most of us think of enabling in the context of addiction, and we’re familiar with the idea that helping an addict avoid the consequences of their addiction is not, in the long run, useful.

It’s a pretty clear idea in theory. In practice, however, it’s a whole different story.

Enabling, denying, or allowing destructive patterns of behavior to continue extends far beyond the issue of addiction. Compassionate, loving people who sincerely want to help and support others wind up enabling all kinds of toxic behavior with the best intentions in the world, or completely unconsciously.

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

That’s the problem. Enabling can look and feel so much like love. Choosing not to enable can look and feel so much like rejection, selfishness, or even hate.

I’ve spent years of my life enabling toxic behavior in the name of love, duty, and loyalty. I’ve truly believed that with enough modeling and patience I could heal the destructive behavior of others. For most of my life I’ve lived with the happy but delusional belief that my unconditional love is enough to keep my loved ones happy and healthy.

I only wish I had that much power.

Choosing not to enable or deny is heartbreaking. It’s a choice I’ve had to make, and I feel daily anguish over it, even as I know in my heart I’m doing the right thing for myself and those I love.

Those of us who are intimately familiar with patterns of addiction and toxic behavior know the unrelenting pressure from well-meaning but clueless onlookers to excuse and/or rescue loved ones from the consequences of their choices.

People who expect or demand to be enabled do everything they can to keep the dynamic alive. Remember that those who punish us for our boundaries are the ones who gain the most from their absence. One of the important patterns that helps identify relationships in which enabling is taking place is when we make any kind of excuse for a pattern of destructive behavior. So-and-so is not loved. Nobody has ever understood them (but us). They’ve had various kinds of trauma. The world is against them. Nothing ever works out for them. They’re disenfranchised and alienated. They’re suffering and nobody cares. They have no one to turn to. They can’t afford to get help.

Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

Solving or covering up someone else’s problems is very different from empowering them. We empower when we teach skills, share resources or give someone tools that support them in solving their own challenges. The difficulty is that someone stuck in a chronic pattern of destructive behavior doesn’t always want this kind of power. Resources, tools and skills are of no use if we aren’t prepared to take responsibility for our troubles, and it’s so much easier and more comfortable to deny or blame someone or something else for our destructive patterns and their consequences.

Unfortunately, the emotional dynamics of enabling are hard to fully understand until and unless we’ve experienced them for ourselves. I want to protect loved ones from going through the pain and damage that occurs to relationships when toxic behavior is present. I never want them to feel as torn apart as I have. I want them to use the resources and tools I can offer and learn from my mistakes.

Again, I only wish I had that much power.

As a lifelong caregiver, I’ve abdicated rescuing myself in favor of rescuing others. This is the shadow side of caregiving. Enabling others, entering into an unspoken agreement to work harder on their problems and lives than they do, is a dead end that keeps us nicely distracted from coming to terms with our own challenges. Even worse are relationships based on an unwritten agreement to mutually enable one another’s dysfunction.

Another part of why we choose to enable can be to help soothe our own anxiety. We don’t want to be in conflict with those we love. We don’t want to lose relationships that are dear to us. We don’t want to deal with a lot of trauma and drama. It’s easier and quicker just to write another check to help out one more time because our family member or friend can’t stay employed due to their substance abuse. It’s easier to manage their lives ourselves than watch them muddle along without clean socks and food in the fridge or listen to their constant complaining.

You’re an enabler if you’re asking why they keep doing it. Ask instead why you keep allowing it. As long as you allow it, they’ll probably do it. They’ve got no motivation to do anything else.

Enabling is painful, stressful, and will burn us out. It might take a long time, but eventually it will eat us up and drain us dry. It may feel like love, or duty, or loyalty, but it isn’t. It’s destructive for everyone involved.

For me, one of the most insidious aspects of enabling is keeping secrets. I’m not talking about protecting personal privacy or keeping confidences. I mean pretending not to notice that Brent is high again on the job, or looking the other way when a loved one drives home drunk from the bar. The biggest reasons I’ve kept secrets are shame (I must be a terrible person if someone I’m closely connected to is in such trouble), loyalty, and my effort to protect others.

You’d think I’d learn.

Keeping secrets implies tolerance, and it allows destructive patterns to continue and worsen. Every single time we pretend not to see, cover up or make excuses, we’re making the inevitable crash worse for everyone involved. Another reason I’ve kept secrets is for fear of no one believing me, or being told I’m overreacting (which masks their own denial). It’s easier to just avoid the whole issue and say nothing. Then everyone is more comfortable. Everyone except me. All that unsaid feeling and horror becomes a stone I carry in my heart, mute, but agonizing.

Photo by yatharth roy vibhakar on Unsplash

As counterintuitive and inadequate as it seems, the best thing we can do for loved ones struggling with toxic patterns of behavior, including addiction, is care for ourselves and stay firmly rooted in our own lives. If our offers of skills, tools and/or resources are rejected, we have no further power in the lives of others. We can only meet our own needs and solve our own problems, even if it means we must walk away from relationships in order to save ourselves.

Not everyone will understand or support us in refusing to enable, particularly the person we’ve been enabling. However, making the choice to live another day in our own lives means we can continue to be available to appropriately love and support someone when they’re ready for it, and at the very least provides a model of empowerment and self-responsibility.

Enabling is not love. It may seem like the easiest choice, but love requires much more than easy choices.

Not enabling, but empowering myself and others. My daily crime.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Easter Weekend: Aftermath

April 10, 2020

After a devastating storm on Thursday, April 9, 2020, by the weekend we were pulling ourselves together. We closed off parts of the house in order to preserve what heat we had from the woodstove. We had several buckets of snow melting for flushing the toilet. Our wood stove sits in an old fireplace, which limits our ability to cook on it, but we had a shallow, wide pot for heating water, a small skillet in which to cook eggs, and another shallow pot to heat or simmer food in.

We shut the kitchen away from the heat, trying to keep it near refrigerator temperature to spare our food, opening the freezers only when absolutely necessary.

We assembled flashlights and candles. We filter our drinking water in a big five-gallon bucket. Our water comes from an old hand-dug well, and it’s sweet and good, but we’re careful to filter. The bucket had not been filled before the power went out, and our pump is electric, so we knew we’d need water. Bottled water has been very difficult to find in the stores and if it is available, we can only buy a gallon or two at a time.

Our laptops had nearly full charges, but our cell phones were low. We figured out how to make a hot spot with my partner’s phone, but it drained the battery quickly, so we hastily made calls and sent e-mails to our loved ones and shut it all down. We called the power company again. This time the recorded message gave no estimated time of the power coming back up and advised us to “prepare for a multi-day event.”

I was desperate for a hot shower. My hair, never civilized in the first place, is badly in need of a cut, which I can’t get right now because of coronavirus restrictions. I felt like a dirty, disheveled steel wool poodle. Yikes!

We made a plan for me to go to a friend who still had power on Sunday, take a shower, get some water, and charge our laptops and cell phones.

Two friends showed up with their kids to take a walk with us on Saturday, and we went up the hill, our usual approximately 3-mile walk. For the initial few yards the road is paved, but then reverts to dirt. We saw tree damage everywhere, and evidence of large downed trees having been cut up and removed from the road in several places. Many trees were suspended on the lines, and there were long stretches of line draped around and over the road and ditches, snarled up with tree debris. We saw no sign of power or tree service trucks.

Every other house had a generator running.

Photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash

Shortly after our friends left, one of them called to tell me that four staff in the rehab building at the hospital, where we’ve all been working, have tested positive for COVID-19, and we’re all on a mandatory 14-day quarantine, after which we are furloughed until further notice. The building is shut down.

This was sobering news. I’ve been turning myself inside out trying to get hours at work, doing shifts in screening tents, working at a screening table, even doing things like putting together trauma packs—whatever needed to be done. In a way, it’s a relief to just be out of work. At least I can count on it! On the other hand, I felt concerned about my colleagues in the building. We don’t know who is sick.

How the hell was I going to keep the house clean and protect my partner without power and hot water? And if I’m in quarantine he has to go out and buy groceries and expose himself.

Shit.

In addition, we heard of another storm coming, this one with heavy rain and high winds. More than 200,000 people lost power during the snowstorm, and most of us were still down. Countless damaged and leaning trees were balanced precariously, held up by their neighbors, branches and crowns tangled together.

We read as long as we could by daylight, and had another early night in bed.

Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash

On Sunday morning (Easter Sunday) I loaded up the car with water jugs and our tech and went to my friend’s house. On the way, I saw one lone power truck from an out-of-state company with one lineman in the truck and another in a personal vehicle. They were trying, I knew, but coronavirus has complicated everything.

My friend was ready for me, and we plugged everything in to charge. I had a wonderful hot shower, washed my wild hair and felt much better. I sat on her living room floor drinking tea and dealing with my e-mail, looking at the weather forecast and headlines. We filled various containers with water and loaded them into the car.

On the way home, about a quarter of a mile from our house, I came across a tree service truck taking a tree off the line. Out here in Maine, when the power goes down the first responders are the tree service people. When they start working, we know the power company is not far behind them. I felt like cheering.

As we unloaded the water, my partner told me he’d been seeing both tree and power trucks going back and forth, and we dared to hope we might be up and running sooner rather than later. We decided to take a walk. When we returned, I wandered over to look at our shattered maple while my partner went in the house. He stuck his head out the door and called to me that the power was back on.

We discovered we still had no Internet. We called our Internet provider and got a recorded message: “If you’re calling from Maine, please hang up. If you’re calling from other service areas, please stay on the line.”

Great.

A few minutes later, the friend with whom I’d spent the morning called to say she was achy and feverish and going into the ER to get tested, per hospital staff protocol.

Shit.

We turned on the hot water heater and I got to work. I was determined to get done what I could before the next storm arrived. I put on a mask, as I’d been exposed to my friend so closely, knowing it was probably too late to protect my partner, but feeling I must do what I could. As I scrubbed and scoured and wiped with bleach, I worried about my friend being alone, sick and scared. I worried about my partner. I worried about other friends and coworkers and their families.

I worried. And cleaned. And worried.

By the end of the day, the house was in order, everything was fully charged, we had lots of extra water, and we were set to deal with another outage if it came.

That night, before I slept, I read by electrical light and was grateful. As I drifted off to sleep, I wondered what Monday would bring.

Photo by Rachael Gorjestani on Unsplash

A Specific for Vampires

I’ve never really thought much about vampires. I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula as a teenager, but I didn’t get into Anne Rice and I didn’t watch TV for nearly 20 years. When I came to Maine, my partner immediately set out to correct my cultural deprivation. He introduced me to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I fell in love with, which led to Angel. Then there was True Blood and Jace Everett’s sexy song, “I Want to do Bad Things With You,” along with a lot of other sultry Cajun music.

James Marsters as Spike (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

The aspect of vampires I was familiar with was the archetypal one. We’ve all run into people like this. They’re the ones we walk away from with a feeling of having been drained, no matter how brief, inconsequential or seemingly innocent the interaction was. Sometimes it’s hard to pin down exactly how they manage to suck all the energy out of any given person or situation, but they do. They’re insatiable and dangerous. I suppose they might be sexy, too, but not in the straightforward, I-wanna-do-bad-things-with-you-way where you both get to have fun. They’re all about the fuel, and others are just fuel-dispensing appliances.

These vampire series, characters, actors and writers added a lot of good creative manure to my already robust interest in all things magical, archetypal and mythological. Lately I had an idea for a writing project within the frame of plants and trees with thorns, and I wanted to revisit vampires within that context.

Well! Little did I know what a goldmine I would find.

I have a well-used reference library of witchcraft, folklore, myth, legend, symbology, magic and occult, not to mention the internet. Any kind of magic intersects with herbs and plants, so I have a lot of reference books covering those subjects as well. I began to think about thorny plants I’m familiar with. The most obvious, as they grow all over our land here in Maine, are brambles. Bramble, it turns out, is a lovely old-fashioned word that can mean blackberries or raspberries. I began to research folklore surrounding brambles.

I happily juggled my laptop and handwritten notes. Books piled up on the floor around my chair. I lost track of time.

I discovered that brambles are a specific (meaning remedy) for vampires. Who knew? If you are bothered by a vampire, you need only cut some bramble canes and lay them in front of your windows and on your threshold. When the vampire arrives in the dark hours to drink from you, it will be unable to pass the bramble canes until it counts every thorn. This task should keep it well occupied until sunrise, at which point it will be forced to decamp.

I was enchanted by the vision of a sensual, dark, hollow-cheeked vampire, intent on seduction and blood, hunched over outside the window trying to count the thorns on a bramble by the light of the moon. (Do mature (ahem) vampires need reading glasses for close-up work?) Picture his slumbering victim, young, palpitating, curving flesh on tempting display as she sleeps naked amid the tumbled sheets. So delectable! The smell of her flesh! The sweet throbbing pulse at her neck — and other places! Alas! He must stop to count the thorns. The cruelty of life! Or maybe I should say the cruelty of undeath.

How is it I’d never known that vampires had this particular compulsive side to their character? Why does no one ever talk about these important things?

This was too juicy a lure to ignore, so I temporarily abandoned my research on thorns and collected a new pile of books to see what else I didn’t know about vampires.

Photo by Anton Darius | @theSollers on Unsplash

Interestingly, the Christian cross and so-called holy water were not traditionally used to repel vampires. (All due respect to Buffy and Angel.) The vampire is an ancient universal archetype recognized well before Christianity in cultures all over the world.

That being said, there are several plants that assist in vampire protection, one of them being the old stand-by, garlic. This can be used fresh or dried. Another protective plant is peppermint. Presumably, vampires dislike the smell. The Element Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells suggests wearing fresh peppermint leaves around one’s neck in bed, and adds parenthetically that peppermint is an aphrodisiac. Perhaps part of the efficacy of this old spell is that one will not be alone in the bed.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Both garlic and peppermint can be used fresh or dried, in combination or singly. If you know from whence the vampire rises, garlic scattered over its grave should keep it firmly underground where it can do no harm. Peppermint oil is also said to be efficacious, applied topically to the skin or pillow (of the intended victim, not the vampire). Surprisingly, lilac oil is also recommended. This is quite hard to find even today, and very expensive. (How was this discovered, and where? How was the oil procured?) The spell clearly specifies it must be essential oil from the lilac, not a chemical perfume. Interestingly, a remedy for psychic vampires, as opposed to the coarser blood drinkers, was infused rosemary taken as a tea or used to bathe in.

Photo by Vincent Foret on Unsplash

Iron is very commonly used as protection against many otherworldly folk, and vampires don’t like it, either. An iron ring set with pearls is said to protect the wearer from vampires. (Why this combination? Where did this belief come from?) Also, if one takes more than 100 iron nails and hammers them into the ground over the vampire’s grave, it will not be able to rise. Similarly, in what is clearly an old bit of women’s witchcraft, if one drives nine wooden spindles into the ground over the grave three days after burial, the vampire will not be able to rise.

I liked all that, but many of these protections are quite similar to other specifics for various spooks, haunts, ghosts and fairy folk. I’ve saved the good stuff for last.

Photo by Manuel Sardo on Unsplash

It turns out that everyone used to know vampires are obsessive compulsive! If one doesn’t happen to have brambles, fishing nets can be used at windows and doorways. In this case, the vampire has to stop and count the knots. Or, if you prefer, sieves can be used, because they have to stop and count — you guessed it — the holes. This makes me think about our modern screens. Here was I, thinking it was all about keeping out the bugs. Nobody ever told me we were keeping out vampires as well. Alternatively, one can sprinkle millet in the graveyard where a vampire is buried, and it won’t be able to leave until it counts every millet seed.

This changes things. I wonder if this is the vampires’ dirty little secret. Maybe all the dark brooding looks, swirling cloaks, drama and theater is just distraction from what they don’t want anyone to find out — that they’re compelled to count. It definitely dulls my frisson of erotic fear. I wanna do bad things with you — as soon as I count this. What if the vampire’s prey has freckles? It almost makes me feel sorry for them. Keeping secrets is hard work. Think of the relief when people switched over to Christian crosses and holy water and forgot about brambles, nets, millet and sieves (and freckles).

My absolute favorite vampire remedy, though, has nothing to do with counting. It involves the oldest cleaning and purification tool: running water. For this one, it’s necessary to know exactly where the vampire is buried. One must procure the vampire’s left sock. (The left sock, not the right. Is this further evidence of compulsivity? Do vampires label their socks left and right? Does one ask politely for the left sock, steal it while they sleep, or wrestle the vampire for it?) Fill the sock with dirt from the vampire’s grave and stones from the cemetery in which it’s buried. (What if it’s a sock with holes in it? Do vampires darn their socks?) Throw the sock into water running away from the area to be protected. Now you have banished the vampire from that area.

Finally, for all you peacemakers out there, here’s fokloric advice from the Romani people of Macedonia. Vampires, it transpires, love milk. Romani legend says that if one makes regularly scheduled offerings of milk to a troublesome vampire, it will agree to leave a short list of people alone.

(This is beyond fascinating. What other traditions and folklore come from this group of people? Who were they? Do they still live tribally? Were their milking animals cows, sheep or goats? Do they have written or oral records? Why are they the only ones who figured out a peaceful coexistence practice regarding vampires? But no, that’s probably carrying it too far for this post. I can research that another time. Do they have protective spells against werewolves, I wonder? Hmmm …)

There you go. Now you know everything you need to know to protect yourselves from vampires. You’re welcome. I hope you’re half as delighted as I am by this esoteric lore.

Before I leave you this week, I do want to say that I am in no way minimizing or mocking the suffering of those who struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder and like illnesses. I write this post in the spirit of playfulness and fun. Please accept it as such.

David Boreanaz as Angel (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel)

Hand me that bramble branch, will you? Where are my glasses? Let me see … one, two, three …

How long until sunrise?

 

 

 

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Jennifer Rose
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