One of THE MOST emotionally and psychically impactful lessons I ever had to learn in my life was identifying the moment when you have to let someone go. I’m not talking about simply ending friendships or relationships. I’m talking about…
Those people in your life who are self-destructive.
Those people in your life who are spiraling in despair.
Those people in your life who are their own worst enemy.
The easy example would be someone you care about who’s a drug addict. Someone you’ve known most of your life, someone you love deeply, but they’re tightly within the grip of addiction and no matter what they do, who they see or speak to, through repeat interventions or repeat rehabs or repeat near-death experiences, they constantly – sadly – go back to their addiction.
The “Why” of it no longer matters. Nor does the “How” or any of the other common questions. The time for intellectualizing and trouble-shooting are over. They’ve repeatedly “borrowed” money from you, or perhaps even stolen from you. They continue to call at odd hours of the day and night, sometimes crying, sometimes to talk, sometimes just to achingly breathe into your ear because they don’t know what to say to you. Other than their drug, they don’t know what they need from you.
Sometimes, all you really are to them is a perceived lifeline. They think that if they can still reach out to you, they can tell themselves that – perhaps – they’re not completely gone yet. And that may or may not be true.
But those of us who have had to deal with drug-addicted family and friends – all of us know – that there will eventually come a time, a completely heart- and soul-wrenching time – that we’ll need to let them go.
Perceptually, we’re holding their hands, but only by the tips of our fingers. There’s not enough purchase to pull them back to the light, there’s nothing solid to grab onto anymore from our end. But, unexplainably, you can feel yourself being pulled toward them, simply by that faint touch. They are pulling you into their darkness. They are dragging you down into their despair.
It’s interfering with YOUR life now.
Your thoughts and fears constantly revolve around them; even your dreams often include them. Previously, you were living comfortably from paycheck to paycheck with the occasional blessing of being able to put something away for a vacation or for the future. But your drug-addicted loved one has drained that from you, small bit by small bit. Now, you wonder if you can pay this month’s bills and you’re not quite sure how that happened, or when. You no longer sleep deeply and all night through, either because they call you at 2am and want to talk for hours, or because of the dread and anticipation of the phone ringing, because it so often does. You’re finding it hard to focus completely on your work, so the quality of your work is now affected.
Patience for others, for your family and friends, is short because you’ve expended it all, and you rarely get the opportunity to build it back up before they drain it from you again.
You hear sirens, and a part of you automatically thinks that it may be them. Did they find your loved-one – alone – needle in arm – tear-stained cheeks – dead or dying – cell phone in hand with your number partially dialed?
I’ve felt that pull. I’ve received those phone calls. I’ve lost countless hours of sleep to worry and dread and panic. But eventually, all of us in that situation — ALL OF US — are faced with a moment when an overwhelmingly painful decision must be made:
When do I let go?
Again, the seemingly easiest example is when you’re dealing with a loved-one who is addicted to drugs, although I can attest that there’s very little that’s easy about that decision, even in those circumstances. But for our example, the mile markers are easy to identify and discuss.
It could be the financial drain: you’ve decided you cannot afford to give them one more cent, and something in you knows that every penny you give them will be used for drugs, and you have decided that you will no longer finance their addiction.
Or it might be the family drain: You’ve decided that your relationship with your spouse is at a tipping point and to save the marriage, you must cut communication ties with your addicted loved-one.
Or it might simply be self-preservation: Either through friends or family or therapy, or you may have finally seen yourself clearly in a mirror one morning, but ‘something’ finally made you realize the personal toll the situation is having on you, and you know deep in your bones that if you don’t let your loved-one go, it may cost you your health, your personal well-being, or perhaps even your sanity.
However you got there, you’ve finally realized that you no longer can afford to “own” your drug-addicted loved-one’s situation. It’s now time for you to release their fingertips and leave their fate to God or a higher being or to chance, or to whatever it is you believe in. Now, it MUST be okay to turn back toward YOUR life and YOUR health and YOUR normal.
But what if your loved-one is NOT a drug-addict? What if they’re: mentally or emotionally struggling because they’ve been raped and are dealing with the aftermath; or they’ve lost their job and can NOT find the strength to stand back up and move forward; or you’ve finally realized that your loved-one is abusive and controlling and feel that they can NOT get beyond their personal trauma without you at their side – because you are stuck in the cycle of abuse or they’ve assured you that they’ve learned the errors of their ways; or they’ve lost a limb or are battling cancer or have lost their sight, and are constantly fighting with suicidal thoughts because the concept of living a perceived diminished life is unbearable to them?
We humans often deal with so many life-altering circumstances during our decades of existence, and for some of us, these circumstances are enough to make our lives come to a screeching halt. For most, we may begin moving forward again on our own, or we may need the assistance – or repeat assistance – of others to nudge us, pull us, forward – or we may just sit in the middle of the road and wait to be hit by life. We instinctively reach out to others to help us, but we too often don’t accept or receive that help. We don’t know why we shun those trying to help us because we don’t want to accept the thought that it’s simply the fear of life that we’re avoiding.
I’ve had several people I love who came back from the brink of these decisions with my help (and with the help of others). I’ve also nearly been pulled into the abyss several times, but – so far – have been able to find the strength to let go before it was too late. Of these, some loved ones have come back on their own… while others, sadly, are no longer here.
I’ve watched people walk that gauntlet of daily decision and heartache as they try desperately to help a self-destructive loved one, not really sure when enough is enough, not really sure how much of themselves they are willing to sacrifice. They deal with the guilt of letting go, and they also deal with survivor’s guilt.
I’ve sacrificed much of myself to remain close to my children, and that’s a sacrifice I would do again. But to do that, I’ve lost loved-ones because the cost they demanded was too much.
To my children, to my family, to my friends: You are likely the type of person who would not hesitate to sacrifice yourselves for others, to make decisions that would deflect pain from others onto yourself, and to give as much of yourself and your personal resources as you could to help others in need. But I beg of you, please keep watch for that moment when the ledge is near, when the abyss is looming, and when you need to either let go… or be lost yourself.
When we look back – sometimes years later – at those decisive moments in our life when we had to make that choice, we realize only then that there were numerous hints and signs that our loved-one was lost, and we only then do we clearly realize that we stayed in that situation much longer than was healthy to us. But, while eyeball-deep within the swirl of these situations, those hints and signs are hard (if not impossible) to see.
THAT is when we must listen and consider the advice from those that we love and trust. They will point out those signs for us. They will warn us of the coming ledge and abyss.
When you sacrifice yourself for your loved-one, it is because that’s who you are, but please remember that those who love YOU are there to save you from your best self.
Lastly, also please remember that no individual can see everything that is happening or see every option or circumstance around us. It took a long time for me to learn that. So now, I trust a short list of loved ones to give me feedback that helps enhance my life and to avoid major pitfalls. To ensure I never forget this, I constantly remind myself…
Life – at its best – is not a solitary experience.