Most of us, even if we didn’t grow up in the Christian tradition, are familiar with the story of the good Samaritan. It is a powerful story on so many levels. I always internalized the message about helping others and to the best of my understanding tried to put it into practice.
When I started my recovery journey anew and began sessions with a priest/therapist, the topic of helping others came up. I proof-texted the Good Samaritan story as an example of how Christ taught that we should always help others and not be selfish. This priest, who has years of emotional sobriety under his belt, asked me a question that blew the doors of my understanding open such that I have never been able to see the story in the same way.
“What if you are the one on the side of the road beaten and left for dead?” What? I am walking around, have enough food and clothing and shelter, should be helping others, yada, yada, yada.
He began to gently explain to me that folks who have been used to dysfunctional living (co-dependent) do not have a healthy basis from which to give, as their impulses are often based in shame and lack of boundaries. We spent a few sessions exploring my history of “giving” which have included some incredibly unhealthy behaviors on my part. I am going to list a few examples because I think it is important to see where co-dependency can take us.
- befriending a young man in my church from another country because I felt sorry for him being so far from home. In spite of some red flags, I continued this friendship which ended in him trying to force himself on me. Thankfully, I had the wherewithal to kick him in a significant place to stop the attack.
- As a young mother, befriending another mentally sick man from my church who exhibited increasingly violent behaviors. My pastor was wise enough to counsel against this and I eventually listened.
- giving money on a repeated basis to a person down on his luck. I paid for an extra week in a motel room for him and his girlfriend (after many other donations.) When I went to drop off the receipt I found their room swimming in beer cans. I had given literally the last $100 out of my account and at the time was a single mom with two kids.
- taking responsibility for an emotionally unstable woman in my church which ended up being an incredibly unhealthy friendship. When I stopped answering every call, she ended the friendship, sending me a message about what a selfish person I was. Of course I felt guilty.
- most significantly, marrying my first husband who had clear signs of mental illness. He had been in a car accident a few years back and had an almost fatal TBI (traumatic brain injury) which permanently altered his personality. That, coupled with the fact that he was also raised in a dysfunctional and alcoholic home was a recipe for the disaster that it was. The redeeming factor of that story is of course my two wonderful sons for which I have zero regrets.
If you have read this far (bless you) you are likely thinking: How in the hell did you allow yourself into these situations? I am going to refer you back to my post on the ACoA laundry lists as a reference to give you some context. As Maya Angelou so famously said, “We do better when we know better.” And I really, really just didn’t know better. But I am learning.
One of the things that I have learned is that religion or faith of any creed is not a cure all for being raised with dysfunction. The priest shared with me that some of the most unhealthy people he has ever met have been church folk because religion can be a great band-aid. And sometimes as our distorted thinking warps scripture, it may even make us worse. As we say in AcoA meetings, this is not an indictment, merely a description.
So if in this holiday season, when we are feeling constant pressure to give to every single cause, check in with yourself. Are you giving because you really want to or is it coming from a fear-driven place? If it is the latter, you may want to pause. And if you have read the Laundry Lists and see yourself there, the New Year may be a great time to start recovery work.
All the love and none of the guilt,