Monday, July 23, 2007


It's easy enough to point the finger and be horrified at someone else's addiction. The truth is that nothing is more horrifying than being the enabler of said addiction.

So in thinking about recent family events, I had to wonder not what draws people to their addictions, but what draws people to addicts? Because that's what we do in our family. We love and attract addicts. And we are - to some extent - addicts ourselves.

A few weeks ago, I watched an episode of Big Medicine. The premise of this reality show is that a father and son doctor team have dedicated their practice to helping morbidly obese people win the battle against the fat that threatens to literally crush the life out of the patient. Basically, the treatment involves some kind of drastic surgery, counseling of some sort, and sometimes cosmetic surgery to remove excess skin after the patient loses a few hundred pounds.

In the episode I caught mid-way through the show, one featured patient was a guy who was so large that he had to be hooked up to a machine so that he could breathe. Apparently, lungs don't work very well under several hundred pounds of fat and skin.

The patient weighed nearly 500 lbs. In the scene I saw, he was attempting to stand up for the first time in five years. Yes - he had been reclining in bed for a whole five freekin' years. That's right - all eating, all showers, all urinating, all bowel movements took place right there in that bed.

Even with his doctor and life coach cheering him on, Big Boy wasn't able to stand up unassisted that day. And I could see why. After spending five years in bed, something probably happens to that muscle tone. Plus, five hundred pounds is a lot of weight to lift. I can barely pick up my oldest girl, and she only weighs 70 lbs or so. I wondered, based on the doctor's reaction, whether or not Big Boy would have to wait to have the surgery, although it was beyond me what Big Boy would have to do in order to show his worthiness for the surgery. The guy clearly needed help.

Then I heard the doctor say that Big Boy already had the surgery. He used to weigh 500 lbs more. Holy cannolies! The dude weighed almost 1000 lbs! So the fact that Big Boy already lost 500 lbs was pretty amazing.

Even more amazing than that - or what dumbfounded me, anyway - is how the people who loved this man could allow his weight to get so out of control in the first place. I mean, someone had to be feeding Big Boy massive quantities of food. And for five years, Mom and Dad had to be changing some pretty full diapers. Was there ever an "If you want another pizza, get off your arse and get it yourself" spoken?

The truth is, however, that Big Boy was responsible for his own behavior all along. Just as all addicts are. Whatever the addiction - eating, shopping, cleaning, drinking, working, gambling, shooting up - the addict is essentially in control, ironically. Just as ironic is the fact that the behavior is the easiest piece of the addiction to control. The hard part is figuring out the "why" and filling the void in a less destructive way.

It's hard to be the person who loves the addict too. Let's be honest. We only want to see people fail on American Idol. But with the people we love, it's difficult to watch that person careen into the abyss. What if they kill themselves? What if they never hit rock bottom? What if? What if? What if?

And so the enabling is fueled. I know how it works. I've been down that road a million times with various loved ones. It's an effort to somehow protect the person from him or herself. It's a compulsion to maintain some semblance of control - or at least to not feel so out of control.

So what do you do when you're face to face with an addict?

You love them. You love them enough to let them reap the consequences. And then you move to Texas.


Ch@ndy said...

Wow. You hit that nail on the head.

CGA said...

You know how some plants or animals grow to fit the size of their environment? I wonder if some people try to do that too?