Monday, May 14, 2012

you can lead a horse to water but you have to make sure they're not going to drown themselves

I have this friend.  Well, actually I have many friends.  One of the reasons I have many friends could be due to my big smile, my sparkling and cheery demeanor, and my knack for always saying things like, "You go, girl!"  Ok none of what I just said is how I describe myself, or why i think I might have more friends than my boyfriend or family members who by default, have to be my friends.

The real reason why I feel as though I have a variety of friends is because I like to listen to people.  I'm a problem solver, maybe a bit of a control freak, and somehow I can conjure up some bit of advice for pretty much anything.  I'm mostly an expert at telling people the blatant and not always gentle truth if they have a complaint about their dating life.  A conversation could go on for hours about whether this girl's ex-boyfriend was really a douchebag, or maybe she really did nag him too much.  Sometimes people mention they have bigger problems, such as money troubles or their car has been acting up.  Even if I don't have experience to provide "good" advice I usually chime in with at least a, "maybe get a better mechanic?" so I can contribute.  Could be conceived as annoying, now that I'm writing it down to explain myself, but usually I find that my input is appreciated, even if it's not useful.

I find that the concern for others and the willingness to listen is what gets me on someone's good side.  (Let's just clear it up here, folks.  I'm not trying to toot my own horn, there is a whiny and not-so-self-promoting side to this blog post).
There are acquaintances I have from comedy or acting that I have never hung out with outside of that setting, but I probably know more about their personal issues or family troubles than a far more average acquaintance.  I attribute this to my openness and how much I (sometimes annoyingly) dish out to people about how my life is going.  When someone asks me, "How are you?" it's very hard to me to simply say, "good, you?" and leave it at that.  So when I provide an anecdote, so do they, and a small bond forms between us.

One more lead-up to where this is going before I explain my personal dilemma of the week; I have had times where I'm on a bus, or a subway car, or in line at a taco stand and somehow a stranger starts telling me about their life problems.  No idea what it is about me, maybe it's just that my face looks non-judgmental, maybe I'm too nice and too good of a listener, maybe God is telling them that I can listen to their problems without running away screaming, but I've had more women tell me about their drug-addict ex husbands abuse or their alcoholic family members' financial troubles than a family counselor at a rehab institute... and I can't really figure out why except that I always finish the conversation with, "I'm sorry, I'll pray for you" and they really seem to love me for that in some way.

ANYWAY this week seems to be troubling for me because I'm at a loss.  Two instances where I'm at a personal loss for how to react to a friend and what my role is in their life when they come to me with an unsolvable-by-me issue.

 So I have this friend, and her family member is very sick.  I don't know how to comfort her, and I'm not sure what to say except that I'm sorry for her being worried.  Maybe we all go through that one, where a friend is suffering through a family dilemma and we're just supposed to pat them on the back and have a drink with them while they get through it.  See, I'm not that kind of person!
I feel like if nothing I can do or say will make them feel better, then I'm simply useless and I should just cut out my tongue and sacrifice it to the wellness gods and maybe THAT will somehow make everything better in the balance of sickness versus health in my friend's life... how do other people simply "be there" for their friends? Really, I feel like an awkward useless dumby, like there was a part of the friendship handbook that I missed when I played hookie to sleep in one day.

So then I have this other friend that has been going through a rough patch... well maybe they've always been in a rough patch, but they have had their ups and downs and right now they are most certainly down.  I have offered so much advice, so many phone calls, so many nights agonizing over what could possibly be the root of the problems, what causes their anxiety, whether it's job related or body related or just plain life related, and now I'm at a loss.

I can tell a starving person sixteen different ways to eat their dinner and pick up a knife and fork and put it in their hands, but they're going to stay starving if they don't put a fork with food on it, into their mouth, chew, then swallow.  I could write them a book, "How to Eat" and make them read it, but if they don't apply anything I'm giving them to their problem, then it won't be solved.  So now I feel even more frustrated because half of what I'm giving them seems like it's going in one ear and out the other!  They throw their hands up and say they're giving up on "eating", they may as well "starve".  How many times can you repeat yourself before you're just as ready to give up?

Of course, that part is somewhat made up and problems are never that simple.  But the point is, there is a certain point where as a friend you just can't do anything anymore because you talked until you were blue in the face, gave all the solutions you could think of, but whoever needs help can really only help themselves or seek out the help for themselves.

Maybe I'm throwing my hands up?  I get frustrated when I feel like I'm not being listened to, like maybe I couldn't get through to the person and I start being mean to them instead of just letting them run their course.  Then comes the mother/controlling part of me where I picture myself actually letting them run the course they're on, and I am terrified they're going to crash into a wall.  Should I just let them crash?

At what point, are friends supposed to stop the hand holding and advice giving?  Where are the lines between bad friend and letting them run free, or great friend and being a control freak?  I guess I need some advice on that one.


  1. I have been reading your blogs for a while and this is defiantly a tricky one. I like to help people the same way you described yourself doing it. I like to try to give a little input if i can to help or maybe make them see the situation differently or more easy. But then there are times where something comes up where you feel it’s a little out of your league. You feel like you helped this person so much but this one topic you kind of just draw a blank on how to help. Well this has happened to me a couple times and the first time I was tearing myself up trying to find a way to help my best friend that found out that his grandmother was only going to be living for days. She went to the doctors and found out she was very ill … I guess you know where I am going with this. Anyway this was a total shock to my friend, as well as myself.
    I have been very close to my friends family for many years and when I heard about his grandmother I didn’t hear it from him. I heard it from his sister so it made it even harder on me. I didn’t want to just blurt it out and ask him how he is feeling. I know that would just make him not want to talk about it, and possibly just piss him off and make him feel like I was trying to push myself in to try and save the day.
    So i decided to just wait it out. I knew he would talk eventually but I just had to figure out how to get him to that point. So I took him out and never said a word of it, and didn’t treat him any differently. (Looking back I think that is what helped the most. Being treated normal not catered to because something is wrong in your life) Then we were driving back from a game of pool and he said he had something to tell me. I said sure whenever you’re ready. Right then and there he lost it and just emotionally collapsed. Everything came out. We both cried, laughed, remembered the good times, hugged and got back in the car.
    Being in his same situation a few years earlier, a little different but relatively the same, I gave him some advice to let it out. Let out all his feelings, I let him know that I was that person he could do it with. Because I was in the same situation years earlier and tried to bury everything down deep. It all turned into anger and abuse. Self-abuse and drinking, He is the one who actually helped me out of that so it was defiantly a real good feeling when I could help him back the way he helped me.
    As for part two, if I am reading it correctly it seems that you spent a lot of time trying to help someone that was in a very deep need for help. But when It comes down to it they are not helping themselves. I had who was the same way. I spent a lot of time, and I mean a lot of time being with this person trying to help them in any way possible. I would set thing up for them to try and get them help on their own and they would go to it. So I eventually got frustrated enough to the point where I just stopped. I stopped helping and I told him when I was asked that I was done helping you just “stay afloat” Its time for you decide wither you sink or swim.

  2. Tough spot. I've been in the same place with another person very close to me, my sister. Didn't know what on earth to do. Eating became a power struggle with our mother. In retrospect how the heck as her caring brother could I have seen that, did anything about it when neither of us at that point knew the meaning to the starving.
    At the time, as you said, I could not start eating. You already know you can't. You can be there when they pass out and tell them before hand they are footing the bill at the hospital. Maybe it doesn't have to be that hard, but its a learning process in the end, not accepting control.
    Call up if you want to talk about it.