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Reaching Back

September 9, 2009
Duane Hanson's sculpture "Drug Addict&quo...
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Years ago, when I was struggling with the traps of addiction, but really starting to crawl out of the pit, my family watched my struggle from afar.  Concerned with my welfare, they wanted to help, but sometimes the best help is to do nothing.  So, from the sidelines, they watched, they cheered  the victories, and prayed over the failures.  To their credit, they handled my alcoholism and addictions with tremendous grace.

I remember one conversation with my brother though. He was suggesting that I needed to walk away from some of my friends.  It was, and remains good advice to anyone struggling to be free of their addictions.  The drug and alcohol counselor told me the same thing when I checked a girlfriend into a treatment center.  But, like always, I thought I knew best then, and always.  I didn’t take my brother’s advice and I didn’t take the drug and alcohol counselor’s advice.

In the case of that long ago girlfriend, I was wrong. I didn’t do her or myself any favors by sticking around.  Although that was the beginning of my own journey into sobriety, my then codependent ways only enabled her  repeated poor choices.  What can I say? I was an idiot.

However, regarding my brother’s advice to me, I’m not so sure I didn’t make the right choices.

I remember at the time picturing this image in my head:  I imagined myself climbing a ladder. With each rung, I achieved growth, health, and serenity.  It was a struggle, but necessary and very rewarding.  But when I looked back, I saw my friends still struggling.  I had to reach back and give them a hand.  I had to help them climb the ladder too.  It was dangerous to let go and reach back, but how could I leave my friends to struggle on their own.

I liken it to being in a plane crash. The experts will tell you that you only have a few minutes to get out of the plane before the toxic smoke overcomes you.  If I were smart, and I’ve thought this through, I’d be the first one out of the plane. (Not just for selfish reasons mind you, but because I’m a trained rescuer and if I die, I can’t help others.)  I would crawl over the seats, under them, push, shove – whatever it takes.  And yet, morally, would this be the right approach?

Climber on "Valkyrie" at The Roaches...

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Having a family has changed my perspective on this. There is no way I would go off and leave my family, just so I could get my own sorry butt out of the plane.  I remember some of those old movies where they show the cowardly, frightened man, pushing others out of the way, so he could get into the lifeboat.  I remember a Seinfeld episode where George pushed his fiancé down because he thought there was a fire.  We laugh at those, and we disdain the cowards, but in reality, don’t we all see ourselves as looking out for #1?

How about you?  How far are you willing to go for others? Does it matter if they are a part of your family, your children, your friends?  What if they are just neighbors, acquaintances, or a family that lives in your town?  How far are you willing to go to help others?  To whom do you typically reach out to?  Or, are you just doing your best to hold on to any sense of reality on your own?  It really boils down to your core values, doesn’t it?

I’m curious, where do you draw the line as to whom you reach out to?

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  1. September 18, 2009 1:44 pm

    You pose an interesting question.

    ex. Would I jump into a lake to save a drowning person?

    No, because I have a responsibility to the kids I’m standing with on the shore to raise them to adulthood. Then again what kind of example am I being for said children by not jumping in? What if I jumped in and drowned would they think I was a hero or would they think I cared more about a stranger than them? I can quite honestly say I would probably not risk my own life for a stranger if that stranger was an adult…

    I would be more likely to risk life and limb for a friend or family member…

    Would I jump in the same lake to save a drowning child? Yes, without hesitation.

    So I guess the answer is…it depends.

    Kim (ex life guard, and life guard trainer who is seriously out of practice)


    • garyswalter permalink*
      September 18, 2009 5:17 pm

      This is one of those “situational ethics” discussions that used to be so popular in the 70s. I could throw a 100 logical reasons your way to debate your “what-ifs” – and vice-versa. 😉

      But, at the risk of taxing your under-used lifeguarding brain, here are two things for you to consider:

      1. Who does God love more, the stranger in the lake, or your kids? (In other words, if one were to experience pain, or death, who would He grieve the most for?)

      2. Who is ultimately responsible for the welfare of your kids, you, or God?

      See, I can’t help myself. After 20 years as a street medic, I have these images burned into my brain. Now, I see glimpses of my family going through this sort of trauma (it’s a curse!).

      Ultimately, I know that I have to walk so close to God that I will follow His promptings in those situations (not my own!), and that I will unconditionally trust Him in the outcome (even when I don’t understand it) – and know that He is walking with me, or better, me with Him.


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