Monthly Archives: April 2012

Relinquishing Responsibility

This is for those who live with/love someone afflicted with an addiction. It also fits those of us who have someone in our lives who has other issues that they can’t/won’t deal with themselves. I do not know who wrote this story. I came upon it when I was facilitating groups in a substance abuse program almost 20 year ago.

One day someone close to me appeared to be drowning in a lake. When I saw him sinking deeper and deeper, I jumped in and pulled him out. I left to dry off and change my clothes, but when I returned, the same person was in the lake sinking again. Again I jumped in and pulled him to shore. Everyone on shore told me how wonderful I was. I left to change clothes, but when I returned, I was shocked to see him drowning once more! I jumped in and saved him. This time I told him that he had to take swimming lessons before going back into the lake, and showed him where to go to learn. Later the same day I heard him calling to me for help again. Not seeing anyone else to help him, I felt it was up to me to rescue him. This time I drove him to where swimming lessons were given.

A few days later I went by the lake just in time to save my friend. At this point I started getting angry and I told him I would never rescue him again. Of course, I couldn’t follow through with my threat, and I pulled him out over and over again. Finally I ended up sitting on the shore unable to do anything I wanted to do, I just sat and waited to stop him from going in the lake. I became obsessed with trying to stop his destructive behavior. I couldn’t sleep or eat and became very sick. I was a nervous wreck!

Then a very wise person said that my friend would never learn to swim as long as I was always available to rescue him. She suggested that I turn my friend over to God and get out of the way. It was very hard to let go of the responsibility I was feeling, but since that time I have seen him in the lake many times. He does finally struggle to shore–sometimes alone, and sometimes someone else rescues him. I still hope he takes swimming lessons and learns how to swim, but now I can get off the shore where I was dying. I can live again knowing it really isn’t my responsibility to watch out for another adult human being.

It’s often difficult to determine when we are enabling someone. I learned years ago that I usually had to figure it out afterwards – at least at first. The signs I looked for were:

1) If I found myself doing something for someone who could do it for themselves, it was
probably enabling.
(In other words, if you tie the shoes of a 2 year old, that’s probably appropriate,
because he probably can’t do that for himself yet; but if you go into your husband’s
closet to pick out his clothes for work, that’s enabling).

2) If, afterwards, I found myself resenting the person, it was probably enabling. I
soon realized that if I gave something or did something for someone because I WANTED
to, I didn’t get angry. But if I did it because I felt I HAD to, the anger showed
up pretty quickly!

There’s nothing wrong with helping someone. Just be sure you’re doing it from your heart, not your head. And when we give constantly without stopping to take care of ourselves, then our well will dry up, and we’ll have nothing left – like the person on the shore in this story.