Monday, December 3, 2012

stepping down as savior

I have a friend, whom I'll call Tyler, that I've been in touch with solely via text message for a little over a year now. We were classmates together at the social skills training course I took last fall. We hung out once during the course of my time in the class, but other than that, I've only communicated with him by text - so I think it's fair to say I don't know him all that well. From what I do know of him, though, we have similar temperaments and have shared similar experiences - namely, depression and agoraphobia - as well as our attempts at transcending them. These are what brought us both to the class to begin with. We were hoping for help finding employment as well as learning coping skills for tackling the anxiety that has kept us from it in the past. Over this past year, we've touched base every now and then to see how the other is doing, if we'd found work yet, etc. The messages were light, but I was glad for the connection.

For a while there we'd been saying we needed to get together again, so when he happened to text late one night last month and asked what was going on, I invited him over. My social trepidation being what it is with people I don't know well, it's something I probably wouldn't have done if Emily hadn't been with me. She was back in Dallas for a visit and we had been out drinking and talking under the moon; the vibe was right, so I thought, what the hell, why not? He came over and the three of us talked 'til the sun came up. It was fun; we had a good time.

Since Emily's left, we've hung out a few times just the two of us. As we've spent time and I've gotten to know him a little better, I've seen a haunting portrait of my younger, desperate self start to emerge through his words and behaviors. Tyler hasn't had the easiest life and the past few years have been incredibly difficult for him. He, like me, just wants to live a happy, independent life and has, also like me, had difficulty rising above the situation he's created and finds himself in. Unlike me, however, Tyler is not at all at peace with the process and his seeming lack of progress at getting where he wants to go - and his words reflect that. Big time.

In the short time that we've connected, I've seen a lot of behaviors and emotions played out in Tyler that I once relied on as an art form in my younger years. I've watched his shifts in mood. I've heard him blame the world and the people in it for his problems. I have seen what looks to me like a sense of entitlement and a huge lack of self-respect. But what's been most alarming to me, and hurtful, is the seeming disregard he has for his life - he was over the other night and after a conversation full of all that's wrong with it, he actually threatened to end it.

Maybe it's just my natural way. Or maybe it's because I have lived with a lot of my own self-hatred and pessimism, and I understand the pain that comes along with that - but whenever I hear someone speaking negatively about themselves or their circumstances, something rises up inside me that wants to take them by the hand, give them a hug, and say, "It doesn't have to be this way." I don't know where it came from and I'm not even sure when it exactly made itself known to me, but somewhere along the way, I got it in my core that All is inherently Well. I got it deep inside that despite what's going on along the surface, no matter the temporary storms that may be raging, and no matter how intense the despair or minor the annoyance - there is a divine order unfolding, and that everything is and will be okay. It's a knowing that's made all the difference in how I've come to experience my own moments of emotional pain. And it's something I'm always feeling compelled to share with others when I see that they're frustrated or even the slightest bit hurting.

When Tyler said he was giving up and that he was resigned to his own defeat and tired of trying, I did what I usually do in that situation. The "helper" popped up and tried to "help" him see things in another way. I tried to reason with him. I tried to help him re-frame his situation. I tried to guide him in the finding of better-feeling thoughts. I tried offering him solutions and alternatives to the matters weighing on him. I tried to gently suggest that maybe things aren't exactly as they seem, that perhaps there's more going on than what he's able to picture at the moment. I tried to get him to questions his beliefs. I tried to point out all there is to be grateful for. I spoke to him of all the strengths and greatness that I see in him. I praised him on the very real progress he's made and promised him that nothing real's been lost, that he's just getting started. I tried all of the ways I knew to bring him a sense of hope. Everything I brought, he shot down with perfect aim. For every suggestion, he had a reason why it wouldn't work. I'd try to focus on the reality of the situation and bring his attention to the things he is actually in control of, to remind him of his own power, but all he'd do is dance back in to the story of all that's wrong and how they'll never change and forever hold him back. As our conversation continued, the more panic I felt and the more I felt that I needed to convince him that he was okay. I admit that I got frustrated with him for not listening to me and for so stubbornly refusing to see another way. I took it very personally when he'd say how alone he is and how no one in his life cares...even as I stood there doing my sincere best to be a friend. I turned around and walked away from him. I texted him a couple of minutes after he drove away and apologized. But even then, I still continued trying to convince him via text message to make him see what I can see. I like Tyler a lot. I think he's a cool guy and imagining him ending his life the way he described really broke my heart. The feelings of helplessness and impotence brought me to tears.

After a few more interactions with him since that night, I've come to believe he's probably not someone I want in my inner circle, for a variety of reasons. It's been difficult to come to that, though, because we've had some good talks and some laughs, and I genuinely like him. I can't know his motivations or see inside his heart - all I know is that there's an energy about him that I don't entirely trust and I'm not going to sacrifice my own sense of peace in the name of trying to help someone else find theirs. I still consider him a friend and I will still keep in touch and support him the best way I know how, but I'm not going to engage with him anymore the way I have been. And the truth is, he doesn't need me to.

As I talked about this with my counselor and was explaining the sadness I felt for Tyler not being able to see his worth and the sense of guilt and fear I had over him potentially trying to kill himself, and the pain I felt at not being able to help him see another way, it dawned on me that this must be the way Emre, Simone, and Cody - not to mention my family - must have felt back in high school when I would come at them with the same brand of self-destructive acts. The realization made me cry, what I must have put them through. It's not that I wanted to hurt them. It's that I felt scared and sad and lonely. I didn't feel inherently enough - and so I'd cling to those around me in the most manipulative, hurtful ways - so they'd come save me and I'd be reassured that I was lovable and loved. Their attention propped me up. So when I look at Tyler and halfway assume his motivations are possibly the same, I feel a deep and indescribable compassion for him.

The way I reacted to Tyler is the way I react to most people, I've noticed. I see pain and I reach out to alleviate it - whether I'm asked to or not. I think there's a profound arrogance in that. There's nothing wrong with having a genuine, pure of heart desire to bless another with your hope and love. But when I begin to imagine that it's my responsibility or that I ultimately even have the power to help someone change the way they feel or that without my words or presence they'd not find their own best way is quite insane - and I admit that that's how I approach things sometimes. I pray I'll be more mindful of that in the future. A clue that I was off track, falling short of pure-of-heartness was the fact that when Tyler wasn't able to hear my words, I began to get frustrated. I became annoyed and stopped being present. There was a clear signal at that point that it was no longer about helping Tyler, it was about me showcasing my own wisdom - and that's not a blessing or what I want to be about. I do want to be an inspiration. I do want to help others, because I've seen through my own experience that despair doesn't have to be one's identity - but I came to that realization through the grace of love, consequence, and time. And hell, I'm nowhere near to living my highest, most authentic life - so until then, I need to keep my mouth shut. Revelation isn't something that someone is going to come to because I say the right words. It's going to be something they come to in their own way in their own time. Spouting unsolicited advice or personal insights doesn't serve anyone, especially if no one's asking. If my insights are so wonderful, I should live them. As I've reflected on this, God's impressed it upon me that my job is not to save my loved ones - but to simply be here and love my loved ones. And that means allowing them their stories. It means allowing them to have their own thoughts, their own feelings, and their own pain and triumphs, without trying to get them to shift out of the world as they know it to be. People don't need saving. They need love and compassion as they do the best they know to do.


  1. Ah, that moment when we can see very clearly where we are getting in someone else's way, and thusly in our own--there should be a corndog stand or something there, handing out a morsel of sustenance for the rest of the journey.

  2. Haha! I like that image - there definitely should!

  3. I love it, Jeff! I feel the same way. I used to try to save people instead of just loving them. It's especially hard with family. As always, your openness touches my heart. Thanks. :)

  4. Thanks, Sandi! It really is hard, but I'm finally understanding that's the only thing valuable we have to give them anyway.