Looks Like Love, Smells Like Hell

Hemingway said, “I drink to make other people more interesting.”

I find the world plenty interesting, and perhaps that’s why I drink like a cartoon character. One gin and tonic and I want to take a nap, or take my top off.  I know addiction only through the eyes of an enabler.  I am one.  I’ve been one since I was a boy.  I don’t know exactly why my father drank so much, but I do know it made him, and life, far too interesting.  Overstimulated.  Chaotic.


An addict will lie to you, knowing it’s a lie, knowing you know it’s a lie, but knowing you’ll believe false hope and, thus, believe the lie.   My father told me often he would quit drinking.  He told me while drunk.  I — sober as a church — believed him for far too long.  I was drunk on the wrong  kind of hope.  I had to quit the stuff.  Sober up on the real thing.

Enablers act like Gods.  We believe we can accomplish what only Higher Power can.  We can love them, cajole them, ease them, comfort them enough that the addicts in our lives will stop being addicts and become fully human again.  We think we can make life so interesting for them they won’t have to drink anymore.  That’s our folly — spending money, time, prayer, more money, more prayer, tears, tears again, pleading, begging, raging.  We do so much heavy lifting trying to make a drunk sober.  And the drunk keeps hoisting a pint — or needle, or pill or whatever elixir leads to death.  It’s not just the drunk’s death.  The enabler somehow dies first.  Stone sober and living out a living death of trying to work a miracle.

Only God works miracles.  We who enable only work that rock back up the hill, bracing to feel it roll over us again.  Sisyphus surely had an addict in the family.

The takeaway here is — stop.  Stop giving money to a drunk.  Stop giving ear to an addict. Cease to become the silo for their harvest of lies.  Stop suppressing your instincts and callusing your feet on their eggshells.  If they yell, “You don’t love me, your never loved me, I’ll never forgive you for this” as you walk away, keep walking.  You are not God.  Nor a superhero.  Trying to save another human being from himself/herself is like trying to walk on water.  Not even Peter lasted long at that.

Ask yourself how many times you tried to surround an addict with love, only to have that love of your life come staggering through the door smelling like hell.

Real love doesn’t stink to high heaven.  Enabling looks like love, and smells like hell.

My friend, Rich Jones, is a recovering addict.  He works now in addiction recovery. That means he learned enabling from the school of hard liquor.  Rich is licensed therapist and MBA, an expert in co-dependency and the specious toxin of trying to fix an addict.  He knows why you shouldn’t try to talk your daughter out of shooting up again.  Why giving your boyfriend money or your car again is anti-love.

Rich admits he doesn’t know why the following approach works, but it does:  Go take care of yourself.  Go, and be a better, healthier you.  Stop begging an addict.  Stop being with one.  Don’t pray the same old prayer with her ever again.  Take care of  you, and things with the addict will work out as they should, according to the natural law of addictive behavior, not the law of you and the world you think you can create.  Not all addicts survive, but in the absence of enabling, they tend to rise.  They tend to roll to their knees and off their sticking bottoms — high or low — and begin to live again.  Life becomes interesting without gin or heroin or Hydrocodone.  My father lived as proof.  This happened to him.  It happened only after I walked away.

And that made me a living example of this:  Life will begin to carry the perfume of real love, not the stench of hell on earth, only when you walk away.

Another dear friend of mine likes to send me the occasional text with the letters YNG/BGI.  Those letters remind me to cease the idolatry of trying to fix someone addicted to something. The letters stand for You’re Not God, But God Is.

Enablers, we carry a sickness of our own, summed up in those simple letters.  It’s the illness of the folly of playing God.  We think we can do what only God can. We believe we can stand against anything.  Tolerate anything.  Love our way through anything.

We are wrong.

Enabling is no pathway to heaven.  It is cliff we tumble down into an ass-busting hell on earth.  Lord, it smells like hell down in there.  But what’s that?  A rope, hanging just within reach.  A rope, able to hold only one.  Grab it.  Climb out.  Climb out of hell, pull up the rope behind you, and dust yourself off at the top.  We don’t want that phony love stench up in here where we belong.

YNG.  BGI.  Peace.




14 Responses to “Looks Like Love, Smells Like Hell”

  1. Thank you…this post resonates. My late husband’s brother (now also deceased) was an alcoholic in a family of enablers. Eventually we all had to learn to say “No” and walk away. It was heartbreakingly hard. He hit rock bottom. He finally pulled himself out where we never could for him. He learned he had value and something to give back to those his addiction had robbed. He reconnected and reconciled with all 3 of his brothers and extended family. It was a gift to all of us to have that loving man back in our circle before it was too late.

  2. I adored my husband of 11 years and always envisioned us growing old together, but 5 years ago I willingly ended that dream. Some say I made the most heartless decision of my life, but it was actually the most selfless decision of my life. I loved my husband SO much that I would not allow him to stay. Becoming a single, struggling mom of a 4 and 5 year old has been a high price to pay for his addiction, but death would have been an even higher price, which thankfully I did not endure. The fairy tale I envisioned for my life may no longer be alive, but thankfully the man I once called my husband is.

    • One of the most courageous, eloquent sharings of the heart I’ve ever read. Bravo. Yours is faith as God intended. Heartless? Never. It is full-hearted love. Fairy tales tend to come with deeply human traumas. Their heroes are those who act with courage and grace. You are living as the hero of your own story, and a hero to your children. NEVER should one compel a broken family together for the sake of the children. Peace is a sine qua non for healthy childhood. Again, bravo.

  3. Jamie Tilson Says:

    I sit here and read this with tears streaming. I lost my 25 year old son Feb 21, 2016 to an accidental opiate overdose. I never could get the notion I wasn’t God. I thought if I prayed enough, loved enough, cried enough, raged enough he would eventually put down the addiction that killed him. I prayed for years for God to make him happy, healthy, and healed. This prayer has been answered, just not the way I would have imagined. My son is now all these thing and more as he rests with our Savior. I have peace now, and so does he.

    • Jamie, peace to you. Peace, and abiding love beyond words. There is no repairing one human being by another. And often prayer is truly groaning and yearning beyond words. So much on this side of mortality we do not understand. But we know Love never fails, and that eternity makes mortal life but a wink at the universe. Blessings. Please, stay in touch.

  4. As I sat and read this, my heart already broken, I gained the affirmation that ending my 10 month relationship with my definite alcoholic, and some unknown degree of an narcotic abuser boyfriend was the right decision. I was totally losing myself, by pouring into him every ounce of time, energy, & effort I could muster, trying to prove to him how wonderful a “normal” life could be. Constantly being berated for simply caring and trying to help. Never did I see myself turning into this woman. This verbally abused, emotionally neglected, weak, coward. It’s amazing how quickly their manipulation and poison destroy your self worth. Thank the Lord for others who had gone before me and saw the situation for what it truly was, not what I wanted it to be. And thank you Michael , for sharing such an inspiring message.

  5. I don’t think enough words can express how meaningful this is to me. It is everything I haven’t been able to put into words myself. Thank you, a million times, thank you.

  6. Excellent article Michael! I recently published a book called Frank Wilson and the Twelve Apostles. It is about a local TR handyman who God sends on a seven year quest. WYFF4 is a big part of the book helping Frank get God’s message out.

    All the best Michael!

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Sometimes I still have bouts of guilt. You know, grabbing the rope and climbing out of the hole and trying not to look back. But this puts it in perspective. Im doing the right thing. Thank you. .

  8. Hi Michael, My Name is Amber Hollingsworth. I own and work at Hope For Families Recovery Center. A client of mine forwarded me this article you wrote. I really enjoyed it, and completely identify with what you are saying. I plan to put a link to it on our social media sites. Thanks for speaking out about codependency. It is a topic that needs addressing. Your passion for the issue definitely comes through.

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