Tuesday, July 10, 2012

You Can't "Save" People From Themselves!

In AA Meetings, they posit that alcoholics or drug addicts have to "hit bottom" before then can turn their lives around.  This is probably sadly, but unfortunately true.  People make their own decisions in life, and you can't make them for them.  In fact, they will fight you on this.  Spend your energy saving yourself, before you try to save others.

Should you try to "save" someone who is headed for trouble?   It would seem the Christian thing to do, right?  We are supposed to look out for one another on this planet, and when you see someone driving their car off a cliff, you should stop them, right?

Well, you should tell them about the cliff, to be sure.  But the main thing is, make sure you are not in the back seat of the car when they drive off the cliff!

It may sound "Selfish" to some folks, particularly the sanctimonious types whose own lives are a wreck, but who spend countless hours trying to "fix" other people's.  But the best thing you can do for our society at large is to be successful and happy and  not a drag on our society.

We need fewer welfare recipients.  Fewer people on Prozac.  Fewer victims.  Fewer whiners and complainers.

And if you set out to "help others" it is highly likely you will end up more depressed and feeling more put-upon.  You will end up, in short, as the friend with the perpetual problem as you complain constantly about how your efforts to intervene in the lives of others never succeed.

Go ahead, tell your drug-addled friend that getting off drugs is a good idea.  And then walk away.  Loaning them money or bailing them out of one fiasco after another, is simply not a good idea.  And staging interventions is just an ego trip for the person staging it.  You've got your shit together so well, you have time to rescue a friend!  And what a good person you are for doing it!  Altruism is always suspect, if not in fact always evil.

And the temptation is strong, to "help out" a friend.  And helping out occasionally is fun.  But you can't help out a mentally ill friend or a friend who is a drug addict.  You really are not equipped to do it.

Let me give you an example of what I mean.  And this is a true story, the names changed to protect the innocent....

Suzie is 15 years old.  She lives in a typical tract home in a typical suburb in America.   Not a fun place to live, but then again, she is well fed, has a fairly good school, and is pretty well off by global standards.  If she does well in school, chances are, she will be able to go to college and study for a career of her choice.  But of course, that is a lot of work, and Suzie will have none of that.

Of course, from Suzie's point of view, her life sucks.  She has no money to buy pot with, and all her friends have the latest clothes and their parents buy them cars.  How come she got such a "raw deal" in life? What did she do to deserve this?

Of course, the idea of getting a part-time job or something to make money, was just not an option for Suzie.  To her, work was for chumps.  

Yes, Suzie is a spoiled brat, and deserves to be spanked, if anything, not "helped".

Suzie decided that getting attention by getting into trouble in school was a good move.  She was suspended a couple of times, and they were threatening to expel her.   She was smoking pot, which she mostly got from older boys that she had sex with, regularly.  Her parents had put her on the pill, once they realized she was sexually active.  They did not want to be grandparents, just yet.

Her parents tried to control Suzie's "wild side" but this just made matters worse.  Considering herself to be an "adult" she did as she pleased, sneaking out of the house until all hours of the morning, even on school nights.  With each angry confrontation with her parents, things got worse and worse.

And her parents had enough problems on their plate - a failing marriage, and mounting hospital bills from a recent illness.  They never made much money, but Suzie's mom managed to put food on the table.

But Suzie wanted out, and she felt, at age 15, that it was time to leave, so she ran away from home (it was a very 1990's thing to do back then).   She went to a neighboring city, and "hung out" with other kids, doing drugs, begging for money, and doing whatever she had to, to make a few bucks to eat.  Shortly, she found a flophouse where a number of other runaways hung out, and she was spending her days just hanging out, with no purpose, doing drugs and having sex.

Suzie was dumb enough to think this was a sustainable lifestyle.  She also had no clue as to what happens to young girls who live life on the streets.  Girls like that are brutally killed, on a regular basis, and no one really gives a shit, nor is anyone ever caught for doing it.

Suzie's Mom was frantic - well a little frantic.  She wanted Suzie back, but then again, the havoc Suzie was wreaking on the household was gone, at least for a time.  Suzie's Mom felt a little guilty about it, but having Suzie out of the house was, well, like having a vacation.  No more angry tirades, shouting matches, and confrontations in the living room at 3 AM.

She made Suzie's bedroom into a sewing room for herself, mentally thinking that perhaps Suzie would not be coming back at all.   She called her friend Eileen and told her that Suzie had run away.  Eileen asked Suzie's Mom if she had called the Police.  She had, but the Police said they could do little (never rely on the Police for much, you will be disappointed if you do).  Eileen was alarmed at how blase Suzie's Mom was about the whole deal.

"Why don't we go find her?" Eileen said.

"Well, other than the fact she has run off to Central City, I am not sure how to get ahold of her" Suzie's Mom replied.

Eileen dug further and talked to Suzie's brother.  He knew where she had run off to, as the flophouses that runaways went to were well-known among her high-school peers.  Armed with this information, Eileen and Suzie's Mom set off to find Suzie.

And they found her, in short order, right where her brother said she would be.   She was living in a squalid apartment with the sort of odious people in their 20's who like to hang out with high school kids to feel more important (and of course have sex with them).  It took some convincing, but Eileen was able to persuade Suzie to return home and go back to High School.

The ride back home was long and silent.  Suzie and her Mom weren't speaking, and when they did, they got into the same familiar pattern of arguments, recriminations, and hostility.

Once back home, Eileen helped Suzie get settled in the basement.  Suzie was chagrined that her Mom had thrown her out of her old bedroom - which sent a message she was not really wanted.   And before the night was over, there would be at least three or four shouting matches between Suzie and her Mom.

Eileen left, wondering if what she did was right.   Perhaps she had saved Suzie from a life of prostitution, homelessness, drug addiction, or God-knows-what.   Or perhaps she just enabled Suzie to continue her current path of self-destruction for a while longer.  Who knows?

Eileen and Suzie's Mom drifted apart.  A few years later, Eileen caught up with Suzie's Mom and was chagrined to find out that Suzie, now 21, was in jail for credit card fraud.  While Suzie's Mom was not rich by any standard, but they had come from a middle-class family and certainly had better values than that.  How did Suzie end up being so, well, white trash?

It is hard to say.  Maybe growing up in a household with a disintegrating marriage was the problem.  Suzie's Dad drank a lot and caused a lot of problems.  And maybe Suzie's Mom, being sick all the time, was the issue.  On the other hand, other children grow up in the same situation and end up fine.

Maybe, just maybe, people have inherent personalities, from the day they are born, and some folks are just bad - or make bad decisions.   And perhaps Suzie discovered that, in a perverse way, she got more love and attention when she did bad things, than when she did good.   Misbehaving was one way to get her parents to talk to each other - and to her - even if it was screaming.

Who knows?   What was clear, Eileen reflected, was that Eileen needed to take care of herself, and not try to intervene or run Suzie's life.  And maybe that sounds harsh, but there you have it.  Suzie would have to learn to make her own way in the world.  She could not continue to count on others to continually bail her out of one fiasco after another.

And Suzie did just that, after she got out of jail.  She found one relative to help pay her way through school, which she used as an opportunity to do more of what she did at age 15 - have sex and smoke pot and have a party.  Eventually, the relative got tired of paying for her schooling, which seemed to drag on for quite some time.

Suzie is doing OK now, working at a service job that barely pays her bills.  Her future is not very bright, as a convicted Felon with a useless degree from a party college, she will have trouble moving on to a "Career" type job.  And service jobs, which might be fun in your 20's, get really old, really fast, when you hit 30 or 40.  And we won't talk about her student loan debt and other financial issues.

Eileen gets a e-mail from Suzie, but doesn't answer it.  Suzie appears to be all friendly, but there are hints in the e-mail that her real reason for contacting Eileen is to ask for money.   Not much has changed in Suzie's life.

And there are a lot of Suzie's in the world.  Millions of them.   In the wealthiest country in the world with the greatest opportunities in the world, many, if not most, choose instead to live for the moment, get drunk, do drugs, and just be as irresponsible as possible.  There is little you can do to "help" them.

Of course, if you asked Suzie, she will tell you what a raw deal she got out of life - how the whole system is unfair, and the Wall Street Bankers are raking in all the dough, while she got the short end of the stick.  And she will tell what a "cunt" Eileen is, for not loaning her money.   After all, Eileen is "rich" and all, and has money she isn't "using" - right?

Suzie is not an invalid.  She is not blind.  She is not incapable of learning, working, or supporting herself.  She is not retarded.  She has no handicap or disability.  There is no reason she needs to rely on others to rescue or fix her.  Eileen is right - she should not interfere in Suzie's life.

(And a funny thing - the handicapped people I know, whether they are blind, paralyzed, or whatever, don't want to be "helped" by others, but rather want to live independent lives as self-supporting individuals.  It seems only that people are can support themselves end up being reliant on others all the time).

You can't fix stupid, as Ron White said.  And you can't "rescue" or "fix" Suzie.  Maybe Suzie will figure it out someday - that her life is heading for a long-term dead-end, unless she decided to turn it around.

And people can turn their lives around.  I know I did.  When I was 25, I was not too unlike Suzie, smoking dope, partying, and generally having a good time and low expectations of life.   I had an epiphany at that age - that my life was indeed going nowhere, and that I would end up being like the Suzies of the world - angry and bitter and depressed and broke all the time.  Wanting things but having no real money.  And having no real control over my own life.

And that is the irony right there.  The one thing Suzie was rebelling against was her parent's control over her life.  She wanted to be free and independent - and set out to do it in the worst way possible.  Today, her Mother is gone, but she has to hassle with her new "parents" - her landlord, her VISA bill, and her boss at work.  Far from being free and independent, she has shackled herself to a new set of chains.

You can't save people from themselves.  You can't.  I've written here a number of times how Pot is a dead-end, and each time with the explicit disclaimer that I don't expect to change a po-thead's mind in this regard.

Change has to come from within, or it will never work at all.  If a person doesn't want to change, you can't make them.  And if you end up enabling their lifestyle by trying to "help" them, chances are they are even less likely to change.

So concentrate on what is on your own plate, and don't worry about your neighbor so much.  Give them love, give them guidance, but don't give them your money or sacrifice your own life for theirs.  Fulfill your own part of the Unwritten Social Contract - and let them do the same for themselves, when they are clearly able to do so.

Because if you go around trying to rescue people, who is going to rescue you?