Enabling can be hard to spot by those who are doing it. In my line of work I see it all the time. Recently, I tried to point out to the parent of an 18 year old, that their undying belief in their sons honesty was a huge liability and handicap to his success in sobriety. As a parent myself, I understand the need to believe that my children are telling me the truth wholesale, but if I do not take into account that my child or family member is an addict or alcoholic, then I'm the one with the problem.
Addicts and alcoholics are very smart when it comes to manipulation. This parent described to me what their child told them, namely that he shouldn't be living in a half-way house. He played on a parent's worst fears, saying bad things about his housemates, complaining about unfair rules and that the house was in a bad area of town. None of this was true, of course, but the addict achieved his desired outcome. He got his own apartment and a car, and he'd only been out of treatment for a month. It may seem obvious to anyone reading this story that this was not the best outcome, but keep in mind that the desire to fix material things for the people we care about can be overwhelming when we feel powerless to fix the real problem: their addiction.
My problem when using was that I wanted life to change to meet my conditions. I didn't understand that I had to change to meet conditions as they were. My parents where lucky. They wised up in enough time to stop from killing me through enabling. They stopped bailing me out of jail even though I protested that it wasn't my fault, whatever it was that got me in there. They let me spend some real time being present to the consequences of my behavior. "But you don't understand" became my mantra when they stopped "helping" me. As if being misunderstood was the root of my addiction and the reason for the conditions of life as I was living it. I believe a wise parent would say, "I don't need to understand because it is your problem and you are going to deal with it."
The real problem with enabling is that it trains the sick member of the family to depend on you for too much security and unhealthy dependence. The sick person will not be equipped to handle life and all that it throws at them because they have depended too much on someone else for things they should be doing themselves.
I do my best to coach receptive family members as to how to approach the various situations that newly sober individuals face. At Wilmington Recovery, the priority is to teach and promote healthy life skills to each member through weekly activities such as short term budgeting, healthy approaches to relationships, realistic goal setting for future desires and doing for yourself what you can. For the parents and loved ones of addicts and alcoholics at any stage of recovery or addiction, Al-anon is the best resource for coping with and learning how to truly help.
Best of luck,