One of the hardest things I ever had to do was tell my friend I couldn’t help him, and it was just as hard telling his father that I couldn’t help my friend either. I was about two weeks sober, and my best friend’s addiction was just about as bad as mine, and he finally got a DUI. After a night in jail, he called me and his dad called me later begging me to help since I recently got sober. As much as I wanted to help, I had to humble myself and let them know that I was in no position to help anyone, but don’t worry, this story has a happy ending.
I’m not going to dive completely into codependency here, but I will discuss some of the savior behavior that I struggled with for a long time. Ever since I was a kid, I just wanted to help others. When I got to high school and started dating, this manifested in the girls I would choose, and this carried far into my 20s. If you weren’t a broken girl who had a lot of struggles, chances are that I wasn’t attracted to you. I “needed” someone I could help.
When I was in my early 20s, I dated Courtney. It was the most toxic on-again-off-again relationship I’ve ever been in. I was madly in love with her and often dreamed of marrying her and having a family even though we were both full-blown alcoholics who fought constantly, and I’m 99% sure she cheated on me. Don’t get me wrong, she was a great person, but we were both extremely sick, and for some reason, I thought I could help her.
During one of our breakups, I was extremely depressed and called my mom while I was super drunk. By this time, my mom was sober and had her Ph.D. in psychology, so she’s able to give some insight that I might be missing. I was a blackout drunk, but not only do I remember this conversation like it was yesterday, but I remember the epiphany I had when my mother broke it down for me.
My mom explained to me that because she was a drunk until I was 20 years old, it probably explains why I date women who I think I can save. On a subconscious level, since I could never save my mom, I was most attracted to broken women so I could try to fix them in a way I could never fix my mom.
When she told me this, my mind exploded. She was absolutely right.
Unfortunately, that didn’t fix my problem. I pined for Courtney up until she passed away at 24 years old from alcoholism. In complete honesty, I felt like she was the only one for me years after she was gone. I continued to date toxic women up until I was 31 when I met my beautiful girlfriend Tristin, but before that, it got better, but not by much. I gradually dated women with fewer problems, but it wasn’t much less.
I even remember the girl’s heart I broke because I just wasn’t interested in dating her because she was too “normal”. She was responsible, had her own house, her own car and virtually no problems. She was super sweet too, but I couldn’t see her as more than a hookup because there was nothing about her that I could try to fix. I didn’t realize that’s why I refused to date her until years later.
The Detox Messiah
When I was about 25 years old, after multiple relapses, I finally lost enough in my life to admit that I needed help. I called my mom, and I asked her to come to Las Vegas to help me check into a detox facility. It’s about a seven-hour drive from Fresno to Las Vegas, so while I waited for my mom, I drank all the alcohol and snorted all the pills I could because that’s what us drug addicts do before we get clean.
I didn’t stay clean for long after, and it might be because I try to help others before I help myself, which you’re about to learn more about.
I checked in late to the detox and went straight to sleep. The next morning, we had a group therapy session, and we went around the room sharing. The people shared about their addictions to drugs like heroin, meth, alcohol and pills. They also discussed their depression and anxiety as well as the trauma they were dealing with from their childhoods, which involved physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
After hearing all of these stories, my insane “fixer” mind made me sympathize with these people and believe I needed to help them. That’s when I became what I call “The Detox Messiah”. In between therapy, I’d make my rounds talking to the others in detox and telling them that everything was going to be alright, and I’d give them my phone number. I told each of them to call me when they got out so I could be there for them and help them.
It’s interesting because fast forward about six years when I was a few years sober and working in a rehab, I worked with scores of clients who were just like me. They were completely delusional to the fact that they couldn’t help anyone because they could barely help themselves. I had one guy call me after he had relapsed so confused because he was at the bar trying to talk his friend into going to treatment. I also had another woman who was in our 60-day program for less than a week, and she asked me if she could speak in front of all 150 clients because she felt that she could really help and inspire them.
The Oxygen Mask
One of the first lessons I learned when I got sober was that I don’t know shit. Obviously, I didn’t know how to stay sober, but I didn’t know anything else. I didn’t know how to maintain relationships with people in my life. I didn’t know how to manage my emotions. I didn’t know how to control my insane impulsive behaviors. I didn’t know how to take care of myself like an adult. So, how the hell was I supposed to help anyone with all the stuff I didn’t know?
I remember a newcomer being called on in a meeting, and he said, “My sponsor told me I’m not allowed to share yet because I don’t have anything to offer,” and that made sense to me.
It’s a played out saying, but it’s extremely true. On an airplane, when they tell you to put your oxygen mask on before helping others, it’s the same in life. If a plane is going down, and your brain goes into crazy survival mode freaking out, trying to save the person next to you might result in both of you dying. In life, when we try to help others before we have a solid foundation, we can both be in a lot of trouble.
So, when my friend and his dad called me just a couple weeks into my sobriety asking what they should do, I told them I had no clue because I didn’t. Hell, with where I was in my sobriety, the advice I gave might have made them even worse. Then, when I was about four months sober, a friend asked me to help with their mother’s gambling addiction, and another friend asked me to help with their brother’s alcoholism. Unfortunately, even at four months, I still barely knew what I was doing.
Now, I do want to add that we do have some valuable advice to offer when we start working on ourselves, but we need to be careful. I was taught that I could only give advice that had worked for me up until that point. So, whenever people asked me in early sobriety what they should do or what a loved one should do, I just told them they needed to start going to meetings because that’s all I knew how to do.
My sponsor saved my life. Literally. Once, I asked him how I could ever repay him, and he simply told me that all he asks is that I try to help others. This is something that’s given me meaning and purpose in my life, but also, I’m finally in a place where I can help others with my own experience. Not only have I not picked up a drink or a drug since June 22nd, 2012, but my life is manageable and my mental health is under control.
One of the hardest parts of my journey has been to humble myself and realize how little I can actually help people. All I can do is share my experience, knowledge and wisdom, and that’s it. Often times, the first suggestion I give is to get professional help. This is why you constantly see me recommending people get therapy and see a psychiatrist about possibly getting on medications. In fact, even though I have some advice that may help others, I still recommend people go to treatment if they have the resources.
Four years ago, after three years of loving my best friend from a distance because of his addiction, he called me. “Tomorrow morning, can you drive me to Southern California to go to rehab?”, my friend asked. And just like my mom did for me years before, I dropped what I was doing and said, “Absolutely,” and he’s been sober ever since.
He’s not the only one who asks me for help either. Many of the people who have known me most of my life and remember how fucked up I was could now turn to me and ask me what they should do in different situations. While I do recommend everyone sees a professional if they’re able to, I always help others in my life wherever I can. The caveat is that none of these people would be to ask me for help if I wasn’t working on myself on a daily basis. Much like back in the day, I wouldn’t be able to help them even if I wanted to if I didn’t have my metaphorical oxygen mask on first.
I still love helping others, and that’s one of the reasons I make my mental health my top priority, and I recommend you do the same. Without taking care of ourselves, we can’t be there for our friends, family, significant others or children. We often think that self-care is a selfish act, but it’s actually the best thing we can do if we want to help others.
If you’re looking for affordable therapy from the comfort of your own home, I personally use BetterHelp online therapy. I have a badass therapist, and I highly recommend this easy-to-use service. By clicking here to sign up, it helps support the work I do as well.
Originally published at https://www.therewiredsoul.com on November 29, 2019.