Saturday, February 1, 2014

Lost causes

No quote rings with more validity than "you can only help someone who wants to help themselves."

It took me quite a few years to actually grok the meaning of this.  To truly know what it means.  People can read something and believe they can understand the words they read, however it's not until you have a personal association with something that it truly reshapes you, and causes a paradigm shift in your life.  

When I was a very young man this lesson was taught to me by someone I loved suffering from drug addiction.  No matter how many times I pulled this person out of a crack house, or helped them get through all of the problems associated with those demons, nothing I did changed her.  

She didn't want help.  At least not permanently.  So all of my efforts and all the energy I had put into trying to "fix her", was completely in vain.  I might as well have been trying to fill the Grand Canton with my own piss. 

It was that futile.  

I've learned that so many people do not want help.  They want "their" life.  THAT life.  

It's like trying to talk your mother out of smoking, because you love her so much, and don't want her dying of lung cancer or emphysema.  She hears you, but she doesn't listen.  She loves smoking more than she loves giving it up.  Addicts love their drugs more than they love giving them up.  Whether it be from using it as a coping mechanism, or to cover up the pain from a traumatic past, they feel they need those things to "survive".  

Some of us find weights.  The iron.  The sound of banging and clanging rings out like a sirens song and beckons us to come there.  A lot!  

We immerse ourselves in the lifestyle that is made up of gritty chalk, bleeding shins, and torn callouses.  Words that make up slogans and motto's only we lifters can identify with resonate with us like fine poetry.

Others find drugs or alcohol.  Some find crime.  Many times those two things are intertwined.  Like a vine that crawls up the side of an decomposing house, it envelopes it, becoming one with the rotting wood.  Just barely holding each other up, you can only watch and wonder how long until it all comes crashing down.

Just like that house, the abuse of these things and the poor choices that brought them to such a state are the cause for the eventual collapse of who they once were.

Yet there you are....trying to fill that space where they are left wanting.  Then unable to comprehend why it is that they can say no to an out stretched hand that represents freedom from the chains of addiction and the various afflictions robbing them of life.  An out stretched hand that exists to provide a metaphor that says "hey, it doesn't have to be this way."  

But it usually does have to be that way.  Because they want it to.  

There is just as much of a big empty left inside the person who owns that empty hand,  when the hand they are so desperately trying to connect with, won't reciprocate that gesture.   It's hard to pull your hand away, and look at it realizing that they didn't want it.  And it confuses us immensely.  So clearly we can see all the things this person is doing to tear away everything they were.  Everything they wanted to be in life, or achieve.  All the things they talked about before that time have nothing to do with all the things they talk about now.  Like wanting to get their next fix, or ruminate on ways they can come up with a few extra dollars for that next hit.  

But this situation isn't limited to drugs, or crime.  It also extends to people that find their life in a cycle of repetition in other ways.  Like lying, or cheating, or stealing.  In essence, not being the person they claim to be, or deep down inside know they aren't.  Maybe they can't be.  Not everyone can get clean.  Some people do drugs their entire life...however long that life may be.  And other people live a life addicted to another kind of drug.  The names of heroin, crack, and meth are replaced by names like liar, deceiver, and hypocrite.  

They get the same open hand reaching for them that the drug addicted soul gets.  It's there, just waiting for them latch on, and show that in some way that by doing so, they REALLY do want the change they talk about so much.  They want to change who they are.  They want to reshape the center of themselves and eventually be able to look in the mirror, and see a person in that reflection that let's them know, that the past is behind them.  That all of those things that they carried around like an overfilled bookbag, can now be let go of.  A new bag is to be obtained, with new books, and new words from those books, and that no matter what happens they will never have to deal with the poisonous version of their old self again.........


But often times, they don't reach.  In fact, they do so about as many times as the addict does.  They say all the right things, just like the addict, and they talk all the great talks, and they put on new shoes for all the great walks.  But their words eventually ring very hollow, and they never walk as far as their mouth planned out for them.  

They spurn your hand.  They ask for you to take it back.  That they don't need it.  They have other people that can support them, and that they will get through this.  After all, it's only a bend in the road, not the end of the road.  

And just like with the addict, you're left there with your hand out, feeling like an idiot because you made the effort, and they laughed at your sincerity.  They mock your help by "picking themselves up", not by their bootstraps, but by something else.  Something far more familiar.  Something they can understand, and not be too very uncomfortable with.  

Then once again, we are left standing there in a state of confusion, wondering why it is that your help, your knowledge, your insight, and your ability to help them move through these personal minefields gets laughed at like a sick punchline at a party were everyone has stayed too long, and had way too many drinks.  

At some point, you have to take the hand away.  That takes far more strength than it does to extend it. Because what you don't realize is, the person you keep extending it to, is nothing more than another version of the very thing you are fighting as well.

And that is, letting go.  

At some point, you have to be strong enough to let go.  You have to find the courage to walk away.  Yes, the COURAGE TO WALK AWAY.  Some people can do that rather easily, and some of us cannot.  Walking away to us feels like either we weren't good enough, or that our efforts had gone to waste.  Most of us want to feel like the "good" things we do truly matter.  And we get can only feel "good" about that, if those efforts are met with wanting.  Someone has to want what we are offering, and also want that for themselves.  

If they don't, then at some point we have to decide if it's worth chasing a dragon that desires nothing more than to not take our gifts of love, support, and guidance and fly on it's own.  Leaving us now standing knee deep in a swamp of confusion, rejection, and disappointment.  Our task eventually becomes not saving them, but being strong enough, vigilant enough, to muster up the courage to let them fly into whatever abyss it is they keep desiring so badly. 

It wasn't easy for me to let go.  I left my hand out for years.  And despite my steadfast heart and unwavering spirit to stay in the fight, I realized eventually...I had done all that I could for that person.  All that I can do for those people who don't desire it.  That want to keep repeating their shitty behavior, but also want to bemoan all that life has become for them.

You ARE the choices you make.  

Walking forward takes an enormous amount of resolve, but walking away is unparalleled in terms of strength when it comes to these situations.  Detaching and removing yourself from a sinking vessel can seem selfish at first.  Especially when someone you love is still on board.  But after it sails no more, and then disappears into the deep, black, waters of an unforgiving ocean, you'll be thankful that you finally summoned up the courage to cut away.  You get to focus on the things you have been neglecting.  You can now live a life that is rewarding in both happiness and yes, sadness at times.  But the ups and downs have more to do with your own choices, rather than someone else's.  

Knowing when to knock the dust off of your feet, and leave those places is going to be different for everyone.  But no one can grow and thrive while their feet are cemented into the sinking life of someone else.  


  1. That hit close to home Paul. When i was a kid i would think that if my Dad loved me he would get clean and every time he didn't i would feel like it was because i didn't do enough to help him or be a good enough son to make him want to change. i realized like you as time went on that he just didn't want to. That expirience has really shown me that sometimes the best thing to do is let go. If you wait too long then your own life starts to fall apart. I love the lifting stuff on here, even bought a few books but i really appreciate knowing that other people out there relate to my expiriences. Keep up the good work.

  2. God damn aint lying. I read pretty much everything you write on here, and I don't know if you have ever written anything more true than that.

    Life can be a real bitch.

  3. that was deep,im gonna read it again,and again...great words

  4. Great stuff Paul, understanding this is almost a rite of passage into adulthood.

  5. Reading this (time and time again) has probably saved my life! There has to be boundaries, you can't keep extending your hand time and time again as you simply get dragged in to a world of chaos and dysfunction which can destroy the strongest of us both physically and mentally!

  6. I don't even remember how I stumbled across your site/this article, but I can't say "thank you" enough for writing this.

  7. I'm living this situation now. Something as simple as an article like this, while it hurts to read, hits like a ton of bricks. While my situation doesn't include drugs or alcohol, it is still painful to live through. You can only try and help someone so many times. After getting "slapped in the face" with their terse words and lack of appreciation for all you try and do you feel even more empty than if you'd tried nothing at all. Thanks for your words......they really hit home

  8. I never let people help me, very rarely anyways. This becomes problematic when I go into self-destruct mode, mainly because I don't see it as destructive. I can always somehow justify it, until I pull my head out of my ass long enough to see it for what it is.
    At that point I can admit that people were right, but that's the extent of their involvement for me. I'll clean up the mess myself, because I made the mess.
    I also assume that nobody else wants my help either, so I typically stay out of people's lives. If I see someone post something on facebook or something I may reply with my opinion, but that usually ends the same. Nobody ever convinces anyone of anything on facebook, people just argue until they're blue in the face. It should be called blueinthefacebook.
    I guess trying to help someone that doesn't want to be helped is a lot like arguing on facebook. I'm trying to do less of both.