At the heart of understanding the disease of addiction as a family illness is an understanding of the relationship between the addict and chief enabler. What is meant by the term chief enabler? The chief enabler is the person who is most responsible for cushioning the fall, rescuing the addict or bailing him or her out of trouble, taking on the addict’s responsibilities, and trying to control his or her addiction. This can happen in a number of ways. The chief enabler—whether that person is a spouse, parent, child, or friend of the addict—may rescue the addict financially, sometimes over and over. The enabler may rescue the addict emotionally by forgiving or trusting him or her again for the thousandth time, even when it makes absolutely no sense. The enabler may cover for the addict’s absenteeism, tardiness, and poor performance at work. The enabler may pay for treatment after treatment for the addiction when, at some point, the addict needs to assume total responsibility for the consequences of the addiction. The following chart shows the characteristics of the addict and enabler. Both lists appear with qualities rearranged so that each number illustrates how a given characteristic in one individual reinforces the sickness in the other individual. As long as both people stay active in the family disease, the relationship becomes more and more enmeshed, and each person loses more and more of his or her own identity. Sometimes, particularly with couples, people wish things wouldn’t change, but change is inevitable. If the enabler begins to attend recovery meetings that are meant to help friends and family members of the addict, and works on his or her own recovery, the enabler learns to accept that he or she is powerless over the addict and begins to work a one-day-ata-time program. Typically, when addicts lose their enabler(s), they tend to reach bottom quicker in their addiction, which is sometimes necessary for them to finally reach out for help with recovery. The reverse is also true. When the addict gets into recovery and the enabler has always blamed the addict for all the problems in his or her life, the enabler is forced to look at the fact that he or she is just as miserable, but can no longer point the finger at the addict as the source of the problem. Ultimately, the enabler realizes the problem is within him-or herself, and that he or she needs help. Beneath the control, performance, and caretaking of the chief enabler is often poor self-esteem. The addict sometimes has difficulty identifying resentments toward the enabler, but that is only true if the addict usually expresses hurt outwardly, not anger. The addict who expresses anger outwardly has no difficulty identifying resentments against the enabler. Typically, resentments by the addict are based on the fact that he or she knows, consciously or unconsciously, that to be able to use the way he or she wants to, there has to be someone there to take care of things, rescue him or her, and make excuses. In order to use the way he or she wants to, the addict is willing to give up certain things to the enabler. These include power and at times self-respect from allowing him- or herself to be yelled at, judged, or discounted. But that doesn’t mean the addict doesn’t resent it. The addict’s recovery can’t come from his or her enabler or family, and the enabler’s recovery can’t come from the addict. They each need to work their own separate recovery program. Then their time spent together can be quality time, spent not talking about recovery but talking about the day, and each being out of self. This blog post is an excerpt from Finding a Purpose in the Pain – A Doctor’s Approach to Addiction Recovery and Healing – by James L. Fenley, Jr., MD; Published by Central Recovery Press (CRP).