Carry Your Own Water

We’ve recently been working with a family who has been loving their son to death. They have been helping him when he gets in a bind due to his drinking and drug use, helping him carry his water now and again. Unfortunately, these binds are happening more and more frequently, and the severity is also increasing. The family makes these minor concessions even when they know they shouldn’t (or are confused if they should.) Little well-intentioned lifelines to keep the disease alive. Which only insulates him from the consequences of his bad decisions, the result of which is to nourish the disease unintentionally. 

Families do this all the time. They do it out of love, fear, hopelessness, guilt, remorse, and shame. But mostly fear. What if he loses his job, house, car, or life? What if she gets mad at me? What if her husband finds out and leaves her? They do it because they don’t know any better. They see someone they love suffering and do what makes sense to them; they do what they always did, even if they know it’s wrong and that it’s never been genuinely productive. They do it because they don’t know a better way.

The hard truth is this disease doesn’t give a damn about how much you love each other. Or how much you hurt or how afraid you are. It wants to ruin them and you. It wants all of you so ashamed that you can’t even look each other in the eyes. It wants you so hurt and angry that you slam the door and cut off all communication. It wants you to live a life of turmoil, pain, and dysfunction. Alcoholism and addiction are parasites that feed on love until the hosts die.

When I first started drinking, I fell in love with alcohol. I thought that love was reciprocated. It was not. Booze seemingly gave me everything I wanted, everything I needed. I didn’t realize that, in truth, I was in an abusive relationship. Alcohol is the ultimate gaslighter. I felt alcohol had given me the keys to the city! Which only seemed to work well for a little while. Slowly, the keys no longer opened any doors. But even so, the thought of stopping was impossible to comprehend. When I believe I have the keys to the city, I never want to give them back. Even if they unlock nothing anymore, the memory they did and the hope that they might again someday was enough to keep me trying for far too long. And the thought of giving them up completely? Forever? Unfathomable. But, one day at a time? Maybe… I’ve heard it described that contemplating not drinking for the rest of your life while trying to get sober is counterproductive, like having a fear of heights and looking down partway to your destination. It doesn’t help. It overwhelms. It can actually cause you to fail, to fall.

I’ve learned in recovery that my problems are my problems, that’s all. The solution is not to avoid them but face them head-on, make the most of my situation, and try to help somebody else. The funny part about learning to take care of my problems starts with not worrying about myself. If I don’t worry about myself, I can give more. 

And conversely, if I give more than I take, I get more than I give. 

An African proverb says, “Once you carry your own water, you will learn the value of every drop.” My problems are my problems, and today I carry my own water.

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