To this day, I vividly remember the calamity that was my life on a daily basis for so many years. The endless attempts to stay intoxicated – regardless of personal cost or consequence. Oblivious to the fact that the choices I made in these narcotic periods of haze were affecting people in my life – people I loved and cared for deeply. It was chaotic to say the least. Sleeping in cars, walking the streets, crashing on a dealer’s couch, floating in and out of state funded and private treatment programs and sober livings. I just couldn’t seem to get it right. Despite my efforts in convincing myself otherwise. It was only when I found intrinsic motivation to try something different that things began to change.
Without a doubt, my parents helped that along. They dissolved the financial support – the safety net when things really started getting rough. The life preserver was gone. The training wheels fell off and I was forced into situations that grew increasingly uncomfortable and untenable by the day. It was by allowing me to have that miserable series of experiences that I eventually found the motivation within myself, through my peers, and through a power greater than me, that allowed me to truly surrender, and become open to a new way of living.
I’m grateful for that opportunity today. Despite hating it at the time (even cursing it on occasion), despite how contradictory it felt to the fundamental idea of family – it worked. It might not have been the easiest ride for myself or my family or my friends to jump on, but the end result justified the means every step of the way. I firmly believe things might not look the way they do now without those principles and boundaries becoming the foundation of our interactions.
I try to bring that energy to my relationships with others I’m attempting to help today. I don’t always succeed – in fact I’ve fallen flat on my face more times than I can count. Just the other week I felt the tinge of desperation in trying to work something out for someone who just wasn’t ready (and ultimately didn’t want to get better in that moment). How interesting to find oneself on the other side of a situation that you used to put others through on a daily basis – to feel the pain of wanting something for someone who isn’t in a position to even identify the thought process of wanting it for themselves.
Falling down is just as much a part of being human as is breathing air. We’re not always going to get things right the first go around. You’d think after all my experiences in recovery that I’d have this whole helping others in a non-codependent way down pat, but as I outlined above, that isn’t always the case. But I keep trying my best. I try to imitate the behaviors of my mom and dad when I was so lost in my disease. I keep trying to learn from my mistakes and help others in the most healthy way possible. And while I may not always get it right – the time between my spiral into rescuing and stepping back and setting boundaries gets shorter, and shorter, with each passing interaction.
Eventually I separated myself from that situation. I’ll remain available with some recovery resources if and when that individual decides they are ready. But in the meantime, I don’t have to allow myself to become wrapped up in the tornado of another person’s life. It’s just not worth the energy we’ll inevitably spend trying to cajole or move someone off a mountain of sickness if they aren’t ready, or even willing to do it.
You don’t have to allow that to happen to yourself either. Despite whom the individual may be. Despite how counterintuitive it may feel to you to let go of that life preserver you’re clutching to your chest – ready to throw at any given moment – you can stick to your principles. You can step out of the way of the oncoming tornado and help someone in a truly meaningful way: loving them from a distance. Allowing them to have their own new miserable experience. The one that may finally – eventually – give them that same insight that was so freeing for me to experience personally – on my own – that led to my salvation from this insidious disease: Intrinsic motivation. Willingness. Surrender.
I hope my story reminds you that your efforts are worthwhile. I hope it affirms your struggle – your hardship in implementing boundaries with your loved one. These experiences I have with other people who are fighting the disease (the one’s where I don’t always do the right thing) remind me of what you go through in this. They give me a deep appreciation for how honorable it is to attempt to help someone else help themselves in a truly meaningful, loving and healthy way – even when it doesn’t feel quite right when you begin.
Stick with it – the end result could someday amaze you.
With love –
Sean – In recovery
You can read, comment and ask questions for Sean to address in his blog on the PAL website, home page – www.Palgroup.org