The problem with trying to save people

…is that you can’t. You can support them, advocate for them, and love them, but you cannot save them.

Years ago, I worked with an amazing and seasoned counselor. I met with a couple that she had worked with over twenty years previously. They saw each other in the parking lot later and the couple exclaimed, “You’re still doing this after all these years? Imagine how many lives you’ve saved!”

The counselor responded without hesitation, “One… My own. I do not save people. I help them save themselves.”

But when you love someone in the way that a mother loves a child, in the way that that long-term committed partners do, or in the way a combat veteran loves those who served alongside them, everything in you compels you to get on your white horse, don your shiny armor, and save the day.

But you can’t. More importantly, you mustn’t.

You can show up and hug them. You can believe in them and feed them. You can take them to a meeting or to the doctor. You can express that you love them and you can add three amazing words to the end of that sentiment:

“…no matter what…”

You can Narcan and you can search to the ends of the earth for an open detox bed. You can storm Augusta and Washington and demand greater access to treatment. You can sit with a person who is going through DT’s after the emergency room discharged them.

But you cannot save them.

You can enable by protecting them from themselves. You can cover for them, lie for them, and pay their rent. If you’re anything like me you have done these things unwittingly and with a good heart.

But you cannot force a person to be willing to change.

You can shame them, threaten them, guilt them and pressure them. You can point out the suffering of their friends and family. You can implore them, beg them, and point out their proximity to death.

But you cannot make a person stop drinking, using, or otherwise prevent them from destroying themselves.

You can choose to take excellent care of you, even though it feels wrong or selfish to do so. You can join together with those who struggle as you do, who watch the evil disease gradually strip away everything good. You can read about the latest overdose and the heartbroken family and pray that it will never be your family.

Or you can ask yourself how healthy you intend to be when at last your loved one is ready to get help? You can consider that sitting on the edge of your seat and waiting for the phone to ring is not helping your loved one and that it is robbing you of living.

You can join my brothers and sisters in Al Anon and Nar Anon. You can educate yourself and others. You can recognize that we are still losing this fight and that it’s getting significantly worse. You can inspire your church, your employer, your civic organization to take an active role in promoting recovery.

And you can join us July 5th at the Bangor Area Recovery Network 5:30-6:30 for our next meeting of Addiction & the Family.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.