“I CAN’T DO IT FOR YOU,” SHE SAID.
By: Lauren Anderson
My sister is a very busy lady.
Sometimes I only get to see her outside of a family event when I pop over. Meaning, I’ll be in the area of her house with time to kill, and I’ll text and be like, “You home?” And then I swing by. Usually before waiting for the answer.
She does it to me too. And I love that we have this relationship now. Especially when we fought so much and were so different growing up.
In fact, this last time, my sister said something almost exactly the way I would phrase it, and it made me laugh. She goes, “What?” I’m all, “Nothing. It’s just funny how much alike we actually are.” She’s like, “I know. It’s weird.” Then we both laugh.
My sister has always been somewhat of a pied piper of lost souls. She has infinite patience and a way with people that are far off the usual “track” we modern humans find ourselves on.
This makes her an incredibly good friend and sibling. Because she will be the LAST person to judge anyone for their choices. This is also what makes her great at her job.
Right now she is a counselor-type (I don’t know her official title) social-working for really tough cases. People without homes or access to prescriptions, who are sometimes schizophrenic. People who are on drugs with no plans to get off. People in dire need by anyones standard.
But my sister doesn’t talk about them that way. Firstly, she doesn’t talk about them much at all, because that against the rules, duh. And secondly, she always focuses on what they can DO NEXT.
“I help them make a plan, and then I hope they show up for it.” She’ll say. And then she often adds, “But I can’t do it for them. They gotta do it on their own.”
That last part always sounds so harsh to me. I know she’s right but still?
When I think about the people she works with, I always think that they could probably use some hand-holding. Like, they would benefit from being guided along gently because they are in so much need, and have so few options.
My sister shakes her head and smiles. “We always have options.” she says.
“Lauren, by the time they see me, they’ve already had their hands held. They’ve already been through every scenario. Family members trying and then failing and trying again. Doctors and friends and neighbors and co-workers all doing everything they can to help. And failing. Then eventually, they give up and leave because the person in need has taken too much.”
She continues, “When they see me, I offer them everything I have at my disposal. All the resources I have are theirs. But I can’t do it for them. They have to decide they want the help. They have to do that part on their own.”
I nod my head. This makes sense of course, and I defer to her expertise.
Our conversation pivots to talking about a friend of hers who once found themselves back on drugs. They knew they were not in a good place, and talked to my sister about it.
“Will you go to NA with me? Please?” the friend pleaded.
And my sister said, “No.”
When she got to that part in the story, I think my eyes bugged out a little. I was not expecting that answer. I mean, it’s one thing to set clear boundaries with your clients. But your friend? Your friend who is begging for help? I was surprised.
She goes on and says again, “I know that sounds harsh. But I can’t do that for her. She has to want to go. Once she shows me that she can show up for herself, I’ll meet her every week if that’s what she needs. I’ll support her any way I can. But she has to show up for herself first. Not for me.”
My chest thudded. I snapped away from our conversation and into my own head.
Because this is me. This is what I do.
It dawned on me that I am very good at showing up for other people, but I have so much trouble showing up for myself. So much so, that I enlist Account-a-Billy-Buddies in almost every aspect of my life.
To make hard appointments, to write that novel that’s been living in my brain, and to go to the gym.
I am far more likely to accomplish a task at hand if I know I am accountable to another person.
But what does that say about what I think about myself?
I shudder. I don’t think having a partner help keep you accountable is bad thing. In fact, there is countless amounts of research that support that it’s a GREAT thing. But I went digging a little bit, and was surprised at what I found.
Turns out, when the stakes are small to mid-level, having accountability by enlisting a partner or buddy or team is really really beneficial. So essentially, I’ve been smart to ask for help in things like writing a book, and hitting the gym.
But it changes when the stakes get high. When we are met with a significant moment in our life, at a crossroads so-to-speak, turns out, the most successful “change” has to be decided on our own. Or the likelihood of it “sticking” is very small.
Meaning that you can’t become a doctor because your parents want you to. You can’t “stay sober” for your spouse. You can’t choose to keep living if you want to die, because you know it will hurt your family. We have to decide to do these things for ourself.
It reminds me of my choice to go to therapy. My dear friends gently suggested I go for almost a year before I made the call. They gave me the number, they told me they’d be there to support me.
BUT I AM THE ONE WHO MADE THE CALL. It had to be me. Otherwise I wouldn’t have gone.
* * *
I remember years ago in high school, I was f*cking around and not turning in my history homework. I actually love history and would show up to class, raise my hand, and be active. I tested well. But I didn’t turn in one single lick of the required work.
I remember my history teacher stopping me after class a week before the semester ended. She said, “Look, Lauren you’re smart. You get this stuff. Your tests are all A’s. But you haven’t turned in any homework all semester, so the grade I have to give you is a D+. Barely passing.”
I gulped. Up until this point I’d never gotten a D in my life. She continues. “I don’t want to give you this grade, because I don’t think you deserve it. But I have to. However, I am willing to accept all your homework and grade it as if it were on time, if you can get it to me by Monday morning before class.”
My eyes bugged yet again. That’s a whole semester worth of homework in 3 days.
It seemed impossible.
I remember how annoying I was that weekend. I kept complaining and pushing it away, and trying to come to terms with a D+. I begged my friends to come over and help, but my mom was having none of that. I basically did everything I could to try and “get out” of the second chance I was given.
My mom gave me some hard truths. She said, “You have a choice to make. You’ve been given an opportunity to turn your grade around. No one can do this for you. It’s up to you—and only you– to do it. It’s time to ask yourself, what kind of person am I going to be?”
What kind of person am I going to be? Holy hell Mom… What a question! But a good one. Am I person that squanders opportunities? Or am I the person that makes the most out of the chances I got?
I am happy to say, I did the homework. I turned it in on Monday morning with 2 extra credit assignments added to the pile. I left that class with a B+, and a subtle ache knowing it should’ve been an A– if I would’ve just done what I supposed to do in the first place.
I learned a BUNCH of lessons that day. One, the power of a second chance. Two, doing something ON TIME is easier than playing catch up (still working on this one honestly…). And three, somethings you HAVE to do alone, so you know it’s something you really want.
So you can figure out what kind of person you are going to be.
* * *
I think this makes a lot of sense. I find it so helpful to have a buddy meet me at the gym. Knowing that my buds are going to be there, makes the trip easier and helps keep me accountable.
But my decision to start my fitness journey in the first place–and change my life completely– was made on my own. Coach Hannah gave me an opportunity, and I am the one that chose to take it.
If someone else would’ve signed me up, I wouldn’t have done it.
I had to figure out on my own that this was the person I wanted to be.
It’s funny looking back, cause when I started this journey I was living with my sister. The same one who is right across the table from me, giving me so much wisdom, and she doesn’t even realize she’s doing it.
She has always supported me. But she knew more than anyone, I had to make that decision on my own. She can’t do it for me. And she never would, because she loves me too much. Just like she loved her friend enough to say “No”.
Looking back on that now, and my high school history debacle, I am getting a whole new type of lesson out of this. My mom and my sister are really on to something here.
When I let people come to a decision on their own, I am also saying “I value you and your opinion. Even if it’s not the choice I would make. I respect your right to make it.”
As much as we may love someone, people ultimately are going to live their life on their terms. And it is our choice whether or not to support it.
But we can’t do it for them. They have to choose on their own.