If I Were You….
Earlier this year I lost my older sister Colleen, after a decades-long battle with addiction. In our younger years we were very close. Over the last several years we had become more estranged, largely because of the choice I made for me and my own family to detach from the dysfunction that was associated with her disease. It wasn’t without years of trying to help and intervene in so many different ways. This became the case for my other siblings, as well as many other friends and loved ones who one by one distanced themselves over time. And yet with that, I still miss her and will always love her.
The one person who didn’t detach was my mom. She stayed connected to her, rescued her time and again--physically, emotionally, and financially. She was frequently used, lied to, and manipulated. This was clear to me. But the lines were blurred for my mom because of the physical ailments my sister was struggling with, tangled with the addiction, and, frankly, because she was her mom.
It seemed like there was always a reason, always an excuse. I often wondered, “How can mom not see what is happening here?” “How can she continue to support her?” “Why can’t she just cut her off completely and let her hit bottom?” It became easier for me to judge the further away I got, especially seeing how physically and emotionally taxing this was on my mom. Most outsiders might have had a similar perception.
In 2010 my younger sister Angie passed away at the age of 38 from breast cancer. This was devastating for me and for my whole family. We were close. She was the middle child, full of life, and to a large degree the glue in our family unit. I have grieved both of these losses in very different ways and on very different timetables.
What I came to realize over time is the impact this had on my mom, losing Angie at such a young age to such an unforgiving disease. The potential for losing a second child, Colleen, was too much to bear. I’m convinced this played a large part in her desire to do everything she could to keep Colleen alive, maybe not even realizing the toll it was taking on herself. Add to this, that seven years before she lost Angie, she lost my dad, her husband, to cancer as well. So much for a mother and spouse to endure.
I judged no longer. I still struggled, I felt for my mom, I wished she might have gone about things differently at times with Colleen, but I stopped judging. Essentially, I stopped saying, “If I were you….” There is always more to the story, and we don’t know how we would respond until we are in that situation ourselves.
In my work at Evoke, I talk to parents every day who are asking the questions “What should I do?” “When do I know when it’s time to get my child help?” “What would you do?”
I have years of experience working with hundreds of parents with struggling children, searching for answers that will help. Evoke is a special place, and can offer so many families that hope and the help they are desperately needing and seeking. I wholeheartedly believe there is no better place for healing.
And…it’s easy to give advice, sitting in my own chair from afar, especially when it’s not about my own child. But I now own that too. I acknowledge that distinction. When I’m asked, “What would you do if you were me?”, I can honestly say from my own personal experience, “I don’t know what I would do if I were you…” “This is what I THINK I would do, but unless we are talking about my own child, I would never suppose to know what I would ACTUALLY do.” I can educate, inform, advise, and even coach--but it’s not my place to tell someone what they SHOULD do. That is for each person to decide for themselves, without judgement from others, as it is THEIRS, not mine or anyone else’s. There is always more to the story.