This just needs to be said.

I am angry right now. I may think better of this and back off from publishing it, but I need to write this out for myself and for every person who has had to pick up the shattered pieces left by someone suffering from pain, depression, bi-polar, manic depressive cycles, drug addicts, alcoholics, victims of abuse who cling to that excuse for 20 or 30 or 50 years. This needs to be said. I have been picking up the pieces of lives shattered since I was six years old. And there is not one on that list that has missed making sure I knew what they were suffering and not one who hasn’t said to me, “You don’t understand. You cannot understand.”

Really? Walk a mile in my shoes and let’s just see how we’re doing. That’s right. Leave your shoes at the door and enter our world. The world of the people who spend hours listening to you, taking you to a hospital, speaking with counselors, doctors, digging through the family life memory records, taking time off from work to rescue you, help you, calling the 9-1-1, and then years and years of dealing with the past, the present, and, if we’re lucky, the future.

A friend once said to me, “I know how intolerant you are of crazy people.” My brother asked, “Does she know you’ve used up your quota of patience and tolerance, way over and beyond what you were issued?”

I am not exaggerating when I say I’ve been doing this since I was six years old and I am now coming up on 59. That’s more than a half-century of picking up shards, carefully gluing them back together, being there when all I really want to do is run and hide. I’ve coaxed grown ups to drink coffee when my Mom and I went out on 12 step calls at 3:00 a.m. I remember reading Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka and writing an English paper about maybe that was how my brother, Patrick saw life when he got back from Viet Nam. He was a gentle guy who had no business going into the Marine Corps, but he did and we knew something was wrong before he left. He came home broken. As near as I have been able to piece together, they were on some hill protecting some piece of terriotry. It was late at night and he awoke and went to the latrine. The camp was hit. When he came out, he was one of two or more survivors. Doctors said he was schizophrenic, then later, they decided it was manic depression now known as bi-polar. Cocktails of drugs poured into his system. He would level out and then something, maybe an event or a chemical imbalance would trigger a cycle and it would be Mom and I dealing with a gentle man who was at heart an introvert, but when he went on a cycle, he was back in Viet Nam, under attack, or he was Johnny Rivers, the musician. He could change in a heart-beat and I could be flying across the room or being choked by two strong hands. Time period: 1967-2005.

There was my sister, who was eventually diagnosed as manic depressive, then bi-polar, who once cried out to Pat that it was unfair his hospital bills were taken care of. She too would cycle and again, she was an introvert, who suddenly would begin performing in public, singing on any stage anywhere. In the beginning, she was just profoundly sad and depressed and fearing something. That she might do something to herself. Wanting to be hospitalized, but no beds were available. Years and years of psychotherapy and whatever the current trend was, that was the newest label she received and that she bought into hook, line and sinker. From accusations of family sexual abuse to multiple personalities. Time Period: 1975-2009.

The time my sister invited me to move to Virginia after a period of rough years. “You’ve earned it, Huntie. You can have the guest house – it’s simple, but private. Take some time for you.” And, just as I finished having sent the moving truck off, put things in storage, and was cleaning up the apt, she called. “Um, I have to tell you something, Hunt.”

A shiver ran down my spine as I sat on the floor, studying the emptiness of my apt. “Okay.” I said cautiously.

“I’ve begun cutting myself, Hunt…”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, I take a knife and I cut myself – just my arms. I can hide it with long sleeves…”

“Why? Why would you do that?”

“Well, it helps relieve the pain I’m feeling.”

“Are you sure you’re not doing this because I am on my way?”

“No, oh, no, Hunt. I am looking forward to seeing you. I just felt you should know.”

And, each evening, as I drove across country with my cat and my dog, we would talk and she would give me updates. “Well, now, I’m cutting my hands…”

The day I arrived, she was hospitalized and I suddenly found myself taking care of her three children and her husband. None of whom were happy with the situation, all of them scared and freaked out, and attending my sister’s therapy sessions. She was not in for more than a week. I lasted three weeks before the whole edifice came crashing down. It was the dead of winter; I had maybe $100.00 and I was packing my car up when everybody showed up for the goodbye scene.

“You’re welcome to stay, Hunt.”

“I’d sooner trust a snow storm than you two.”

That was the same trip when another friend had gone through a crisis and thought I’d poisoned her dog, who died after I left…. The same one who thought I had no tolerance for crazy people.

The above does not begin to account for friends who threatened suicide. One of my friends called me from the hospital and when I got there, she was holding court with all the friends she’d called, recounting how she came to be there. As I listened, I came to realize that I would have been the one to find her. She had planned to slit her wrists in the bathtub and she was going to do it before I got there. That one, I lost my temper. I could feel her reveling in finally getting enough attention and I realized later that I had actually said, “Next time, do it.”

Or the people I worked with for years telling me stories of their woe and how I could not understand. Or, in one memorable conversation, she challenged me, “Prove it. Tell me just how bad your life has been…” I am ashamed I fell for that one – competing to see which of us had had the tougher life. That was the day I decided, never again. Let them win. You want to believe your life has been rough, go for it. People who tell stories with the same intensity as though it had just happened, rather than 20 years ago.

I realize I may well lose many of my followers with this harsh outcry by the healthy and strong against the weak and the victims and just plain old bad life choices. I get it. But there are so many of you, do you see? You have formed groups. Excellent. That is what they are for, because those of us who pick up the pieces cannot ever understand the pain you feel.

What tipped the balance tonight? What caused me to say, “Enough!”? Someone I love very much whom I have known a very long time has for the past year called me to say hi and check in. For the last year, he has talked of his right to end his life and each call might be the last one, ya just never know. He was astonished when I lost my temper.

“Do you have any idea how unfair this is?” I demanded.

“Well, yes.” “No.” “Maybe.” “Who else would I tell?”

After the Virginia trip, I had decided I would help those who truly wanted help, but for those who just want a listening post, I was done. Why waste my oxygen? (Pretty funny in retrospect, considering I have COPD.)

Being an analyst, there are a couple of salient points here. The common denominator in this is me. You can’t pick your family, but you can pick your friends. I am still very good friends with the one I yelled at, “Next time, do it!” She picked herself up, sorted herself out, and went on to great things, truly great things.

Point 2: There are very few people you can depend on to be there for you. People who will help pick up the pieces of a shattered life. Don’t burn them out.

Point 3: Everyone goes through hard times. Some recover, some do not, and some bath in their hard times, especially today with the celebration of victimhood. It takes courage, strength, guts, determination to turn your life around and no one can do it for you. Just because someone does not tell you of their hard times does not mean they have not had them. Just because someone is happy does not mean they have never experienced pain. I have a friend who is an amazing example of someone who should have just curled up and died when she was 12, and for sure by the time she turned 16. I met her later and had we never gotten drunk that night and swapped confidences, I would never have known what a remarkable survivor she was. The true definition of true grit. I count myself fortunate that I know this woman and that I know many like her, both men and women, who get up every morning and go to work, who are there for their friends and family, who are raising children of their own in spectacular ways we could not have dreamed of, who serve their community because they can and because they care.

Point 4: We have a responsibility to heal ourselves and one another, as we can. Dennis Prager writes that Happiness is a Moral Obligation. In it, he says, “Happiness — or at least acting happy, or at the very least not inflicting one’s unhappiness on others — is no less important in making the world better than any other human trait.”

44 thoughts on “This just needs to be said.

  1. I like it only because it would’ve done you a shitload of good just writing it.
    However … you know perfectly well that you never set the fences, Huntie. All these ‘friends’ of yours who have used you and abused you time after time – you let them.
    You’re an analyst? How come you’ve let these situations go on for so long without referring these people to others for second opinions? It was never possible for anyone but you to stop all this shit.
    Time to cut the whole lot of ‘em free, says I.

    • Oh, M.R., I did. Much of this was in my younger days, when loyalty to friends meant something and the world was a different place. Much of this can be laid at my door in my misconceptions of what a friend is. I live, for the most part, a very quiet life, that famous intolerance for crazy people. It is a fine line between being there and being taken. I’m not making excuses nor excusing my own culpability. If it sounds like it, then I did not write this well. When was the last time you heard someone say, “Enough.”?

      My point was the healthy have rights too.

      • They sure do. 100%. I have had someone say that to me, when I’d got to the point (I now understand) of wallowing in grief). Helped me, truly! I suppose it’s a matter of whether or not the ‘victim’ has the brains to understand anything except his/her problem/s.

        • They have the brains, M.R. Are they willing? We all move at different paces. I got to the point when a friend, who was having problems and doing nothing except continuing them and talking about it, where I handed her a key to my house and said, “Look, you have your own pace and I find myself feeling like you’re not moving fast enough. Here’s the key to my house, when you’re ready, use it. From now on, we can’t talk about this. I am beginning to criticize you in my head. I don’t want to do that. Take your time, but don’t talk to me about it any more.” Oh my, she was offended and within 2 hours had found a new friend to listen. That taught me a great deal about my importance in the scheme of things. :) They will do very well without you. :)

  2. Having gone through a 12 step program myself, after a bit, I got tired of the constant whining and very little I’m on the way to recovery. My last meeting, I stood up in the midst of the weekly tirade by the person who whined the same thing. Oh for God’s sake, all of you, shit or get off the pot. Drink/dope yourself to death or recover. Move on. the train wreck has happened. Nothing to see here, move on. Most of you are self obsessed whiners super glued to the pity pot. I’m leaving. I’m joining the real world. I choose to recover and I will recover but not with a bunch of losers…..As I walked out, there was an uproar, many said I’d be dead in a month in a self induced cocktail of alcohol and drugs. Well, it’s 32 years later and here I am….I have a right to recover and an obligation to myself – I took the bull by the balls and I did it. And there have been times I’ve wanted to just quit but because of love for my family and my various cats and belief in myself, I didn’t. I taled to a few friends and listened to what they said. I learned how to take and how to give back. And I don’t have a lot of patience with crazy whiney people – I walked out on that and built that strong fence. Strong fences make good neighbors and Frost was right on that one. I’m caring and loving and if you keep kvetching about the same thing over and over and doing nothing to change it, you go on the other side of that strong fence. I’m with you Huntie…..I won’t get fooled again. And to my way of thinking, people who try to hold you hostage while they yammer, glued to their pity pot, those folks are terrorists. Those folks who tell you that you are bad because you don’t step in every time you don’t rescue them, they are propogandists.

    • Dear Kanzen, my cousin and I had a conversation once about 12 Step programs. Her husband was in one. We both believed in the power of words and affirmations. Across the table, she met my eyes and asked, “If someone keeps telling themselves they are an alcoholic and they are powerless, then doesn’t that just strengthen as time goes on?” I had no answer for her.

      Having grown up in AA and NA, I had seen personally how those programs help people who have heard, “It’s either AA or amen.” as one doctor put it. But with the Courts now sending offenders to these programs, no matter what stage they are at, it seems hard for those whose lives needed just what AA offers. And, you can’t go wrong following those steps. And yet, I fully understand why you stood up and walked out. I am so glad you were able to turn your life around, Kanzen. I have two others in my life who were able to do as you did and have done – and each of them is a remarkable human being.

      Kanzen, those last sentences of yours lifted my heart and brought a smile. Thank you.

      • Huntie dear heart, the only time I’d stop following your blog is if you start railing against animal welfare and that greyhounds are the devil’s minions. And not even then – maybe. I’d have to come and look you eye to eye and ask you, really????

        12 step programs serve an excellent purpose, don’t get me wrong. some folks need this sort of thing, others need a swift kick in the ass, several times. It got me started in the right direction and I just made an active choice to keep walking in that right direction.

        One night, in a drunken coked out stupor, a friend called me – drunk as a skunk and said she needed help. I got it together and told her to go to AA. A couple of years later, I followed my advice. I stuck for a year and then it just got to me. I heard two different versions the day I walked out of: F.E.A.R. – fuck everything and run….fuck everything and recover. I did both. I’m alive. My friend died. I tried to help her the couple of times she came to me. No one could. She didn’t want it, really.

        I am the product of two different lineages – mad
        Celts and Guilty Jews. One of my aunts once said it was a wonder I survived. But then like now, I made a choice – I would recover. I would rebuild my life. I would become the human my cat thought I was. I wouldn’t accept “powerless”. I made bad choices, I did wrong things. No one held a gun to my head and made me do lines of coke. No member of the Russian Mafia cut off my dog’s paws and forced me to drink – endlessly. I made that choice. By the same token, I made the choice not to do that again.

        I grew up with my mom always rescuing her aunt, my great aunt. I’d need her and she’d be someplace else – bailing out, sobering up, cleaning up. Years later I talked to my mother and she said, she had made the mistakes, owned them and asked forgiveness. I forgave.

        I’ll help anyone who wants help and I can give it. I stop helping anyone who becomes an emotional and spiritual vampire. I nurture and help. At some point, the person gets put on the other side of the strong fence if they become that vampire/terrorist/propagandist. As we say here in the south, my mama didn’t raise no stupid child.

        Keep being you Huntie, but guard your heart. After, tough love also works!

        • I love your F.E.A.R. acronym, Kanzen! It is a four letter word!

          I am humbled you shared your story here to lift me up and I thank God we met. Hold that porch chair for me. I’m getting there – wouldn’t that be a great way to spend a million dollars? Go meet all the bloggers who give of their time, their hearts, their souls?

          I think you are spot on re the vampire analogy. It is why I cannot read the vampire books – no matter who wrote them or how good they might be. Vampires are not welcome on my side of the fence.

          Thank you, Kanzen, for writing what you have. xxoo Huntie

          • I like the vampire stories cause they usually get staked, LOL. You have a permanent space on the back steps. I’ll put a pot of herbs in your place. Come on a full moon – we’ll yellsing the halleluia chorus, born to run, and Baba O’Reilly at the moon. I think a blogging roadtrip would be great.

            • Dear Kanzen, I came across this post tonight and reread it. Oh, I miss our blogging conversations! What an incredible spirit you own, possess and share with such a large loving heart! Best ~ Huntie

            • Ahh Huntie, you would have loved Friday night – soft warmth, no wind, silent except for the little early peepers of spring. My bunnies came by for a visit and since the clover was still a bit sparse being so early in the season, there were cabbage leaves for them in their place. Colcannon was on the menu that night and I always pull off those tough green outer leaves for my bunnies. A nice mug of irish breakfast tea full of milk and some sugar just made it all complete. Husband fast asleep, SamCat the Ripper hunkered down behind the slidling glass door sometimes peeping, sometimes napping. Sometimes I’d unwrap my violin and whisper a few notes. But the peepers made all the music that was needed.

            • Kanzen, there you are! :) You evoke a midnight clear evening with poetry. So glad to hear you are well. Best ~ Huntie!

              P.S., we should swap emails – I’ll look in mine and see if it lists one for you and shoot you a note.

  3. Hunt, I have so many thoughts, so many mental post-it notes in my head, I have so much to say, and so much not to say. I have only known you for a few months, though thankfully it seems like years. I appreciate all I know so far, and I am still learning. We share a physical issue, but we also share many other thoughts.

    Hunt, some of us are just helpers, we don’t heal, we don’t save, but we help those individuals around us, we do it because it is the right thing to do, we do it because we don’t see anyone else lending a hand or shoulder. We do it because deep inside we sometimes feel it could be us in that situation, and we pray that someone will reach out to us. But we also do this at great expense to ourselves. Not only do we hand or throw money if we can, we help in spirit, we help in presence, we are the shoulder they weep on, and we are the hand they reach for when they need that human touch. Yes Hunt you are one such person. Your rant has helped you feel a touch better; it has opened yourself to be viewed by others. It peels back a layer of skin and exposes even more of you for others to see. If you have been doing this since you were six, you’re doing because it is your calling. Because six year olds don’t normally have the moral fiber yet to actively be a helper.

    Hunt, You will put down your sword, and you won’t be abandoned by your friends. Your friends will understand completely, for some the mental light bulb will go on, and they will go “Oh Shit” as the realization sinks in. Yet when that next person calls or reaches out, your hand and shoulder will be there, your heart will ache for them, and you will do all in your power to help, because that’s what you do. My friend please take care, and realize that many many more people than you realized have thanked you for your efforts. I know I thank you for your friendship, your smile, your spelling corrections, and all the other things. Please take care, Bill

    • Dear Bill, below I wrote a response before coming back and responding to the comments left in my absence. Sauve qui peut – save who can, which you nailed above in your second paragraph.

      Your words and the other comments have helped me. I had instant guilt for shouting, “Enough” and worse, detailing why. Might be the Irish, we don’t air dirty laundry.

      Thank you, Bill.

  4. Beautiful post Hunt. I understand. I’ve been on both sides but more than my share on the side of helping others as you are. Sometimes we just need to have our say. You are not unfeeling. You need to protect yourself as you help them. It’s frustrating, that’s for sure. But you didn’t lose my readership on this one. Far from it. ♥

  5. There comes a time to draw the line. You must for your own health well-being. Recently I heard about a woman going through a divorce sucking the life out of a friend, X, because she could. X’s health was at some risk and I told her she had to step back for her own good.
    I’ve had the feeling you are a nurturer that why you began at such a young age. You should not feel guilty for taking care of you first. :-)

  6. It does need to be said. And as someone who has been there for people like you have, you’re a good one to say it.
    And sometimes, no matter how much pain someone is in, they’re just don’t want help…

    • E.G., I agree that many really do not want help and for those that do and are willing to work at what needs to be done, I am all for them. Sorting them out takes a bit of time. Thank you for coming in and talking to me ~ it made a difference to me this a.m.

  7. Well, God bless all of you who responded above. I woke this morning, thinking an anvil was going to come down on me for having written this piece.

    The French have a saying, “Sauve qui peut,” and it translates as “save who can.” Those who can, do.

  8. How difficult to sort those who wallow in misery no matter how hard they try not to, from those who wallow in misery because they make no attempt not to.
    Like addicts: they cannot be cured unless they want to be.

  9. Ah Huntie, I’m sorry you are feeling this way! I have often been cast in the role of the “comforter” or “the person to turn to when you need to get sober” or a bunch of other enabling positions. And I have helped everyone I can. But there is a point where you have to say, you need to take some of these steps on your own – I will be your cheerleader, but I’m not going to be there for you at 2 a.m. when you need someone to talk to. Personally, I just don’t have the patience, the time or the energy to do it anymore. I have had to back off from the “needy” people. Now, if I offer my help to someone, I need to see some real effort on their part before I will commit myself to their struggle. If they aren’t working at least as hard on their behalf as I am, then I need to back away.

    • Exactly, Benze. With age, comes wisdom perhaps. The use of the word “enabling” today is a tricky one – it has validity, but it is frequently used as a chiding or accusatory word against those who would be compassionate. Always comes back to when to kick butt.

  10. Well said P. Brilliantly so!! When I had to deal with the HG, and he came with the depression and what not, all I could think was – Dude, grow a pair. Get yourself sorted. I can’t do it for you!” He also came with the suicide thing – I told him to do it in the bathroom – less cleaning up for me to do.
    Sure, they do have problems. But we all do. And what gives them the right to always take your time, but never give of their own to you? You have to deal with your own shit, I have to deal with mine – don’t really want to have to deal with other people’s shit too!!

  11. Hunt, I’ve been in much the same straits as your friends and family, yet I think you did the right thing.

    I have been in the mental health system for 25+ years. I had a LONG laundry list of labels during that time. I had a long comment here, but I cut it short. Suffice it to say I’ve experienced just about everything (multiple personalities is about the only one I haven’t experienced) that your friends and family did, and some stuff of my own. I also had a friend, and also a counselor, that challenged my victim mindset.

    I did learn about boundaries, and how to set healthy ones, thankfully. First clue-in was on a peer counseling retreat for at-risk teens (apparently, I was “at-risk”). I was taught there were limits we had- time, energy, lack of knowledge… and it was *okay* to say we couldn’t help. I also learned about the Steps for the first time. Many years later while working them, I learned that co-dependency and addiction could go hand in hand, and they could line up like dance partners, and it was possible to switch leading/following roles. It’s all a vicious cycle that keeps people stuck, of course.

    I think it’s a pity that some people are stuck enough that they don’t see the difference between enabling and compassionately holding boundaries. I too have been frustrated with “woe is me” attitudes I’ve seen in support groups. *sigh* I get you. My comment is still long. Apologies for that. I may write much, much more about this. Some, I have written already. Someday soon I may import my LiveJournal content and start sorting it out for content like this. But know that I think you’re doing the right thing, absolutely.

    • Jak, I appreciated reading your insights into this thorny mess we call life. It is a tough call to determine what is enabling and what is an act of compassion. As you say, boundaries can criss-cross (sp?) and even interchange. I look forward to reading whatever you choose to share. Best ~ HuntMode

  12. Pingback: There’s a Snake in My Couch Part I : A Mom’s Point of View | mariestephensgardening

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