An old friend contacted me out-of-the-blue after losing touch years ago. We caught up on old times. In doing so, she relayed to me her ongoing struggle with an addiction to pain pills, and repeated last-ditch efforts in rehab to get clean, a fight that started long before we met. My younger self would have latched on and immediately tried to figure out a way to save her. My older, wiser self has stayed several arms lengths away, cringing each and every time the conversation went to how bad things are, how tight money is, because I now believe that she wants something from me. Money, a place to stay, I’m not sure, but I believed it wouldn’t stop at one request. The trust is gone, bled away from so many years apart and knowing that truth in our past wasn’t a shared offering, so it's hard to accept that all she could possibly want is a friend. I hadn’t spoken to her in months when she texted last night to say she’d gone back to rehab. My first thought was what does she want. She knows me well enough to know how to manipulate my emotions, or at least used to be able to, so this is obviously a ploy to get something. In my head I’m screaming, why can’t you rise above this?
I don’t believe I’m addicted to anything, so I’ve never been able to fully comprehend addiction and how powerful it is. I grew up with an alcoholic father. Two of my former relationships were with addicts. I know a lot about trying to fix the person and feeling like a failure when I can’t. I know about the overwhelming urge to sacrifice myself to make the person happy enough to not need whatever it is they are addicted to. Their crutch. It is a very helpless feeling to watch someone fight a losing battle and knowing you aren't enough to make them happy.
In the most recent contact, she asked me if she was a positive or poisonous influence in my life. I have struggled with an answer. I can’t honestly reply based on recent experience as it’s been limited at best. From our past lives, perhaps it is a bit of both. Positive, because she helped me realize I can’t fix people, or that she knew me well enough to know that’s what I was doing and could tell me I couldn’t have saved her. They have to fix themselves, which includes wanting to get better. Have I hung up my sword and put my trusted steed out to pasture, the white knight somewhat jaded by feelings of worthlessness? Jaded, but wiser, at least in regards to what I can do for others. If I did, I can take that as a valuable lesson. Poisonous in that I feel guilty. Is it guilt that I can’t fix her, don’t want to fix her or guilt that I no longer trust her enough to believe that she isn’t playing an angle? I’m not sure. But it’s there, whatever it is. Every I hear from her, I get turned sideways, caught between this obligation from a past so far away that I struggle to remember details about our friendship, and the need to save myself from obsessing over her well-being. I sound cruel, but I can’t decipher the “cries” as someone legitimately asking for help or someone looking for a handout.
My father-in-law once told Sarah that I will give pieces of myself away trying to save others until one day I won’t have anything of myself left. That scares me, because it has caused issues in the past. I wonder if a lifetime spent trying to save everyone will doom me to losing myself. That I never really learned to look after me and what’s important in my life, including my partner. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I am an addict. I’m not addicted to a substance, but a behavior. If so, I can begin to appreciate how compelling the craving is. Is the inability of saying no an illness? Does this epiphany help me sympathize or will the need to protect myself put the final nail in the coffin? I have to remind myself it’s not my responsibility to save her, nor can I. I can remind her that her son’s life is worth getting better for. For that matter, so is hers. I can’t make her see it, despite the itch to try. Perhaps, the right answer to her question is she was an eye-opening influence, in that I finally see my behavior is a pattern, an issue. Not so dangerous as drugs or alcohol, but self-threatening maybe. I can’t thank her for the lesson, because it sounds callous to say thank you for coming back in my life to teach me that I need to let go of this desire to save people. Thank you for helping me see that my life is pretty good, and I don’t need to seek out people who are broken like I did before, seeking fulfillment in saving others. Will I stop helping people? No, I know I won’t. But I won’t do it if it means sacrificing myself and my family.
I texted. I didn’t ask how I could fix it. I told her I’m sorry she had a relapse. I hope she realizes she has a lot of reasons to live. I hope she understands it’s not too late to save herself. I’m hoping…