As she wakes up she hears the birds singing; she can hear a calf bawling, waiting to be fed. She pulls back the curtains in her room where she can see the dew glistening on the grass. She smiles as she sees her favorite horse looking back at her from over the fence. She knows she needs to get her work clothes on and start breakfast. She knows that since it is the weekend there will be a lot of work to do on the ranch. She also knows it won’t be long before she will be feeling the jolting pain from a belt, a rope or fist; and feeling the hurt of being told how worthless she is… Then walks in her protector… the one light in her day. “Hurry up so you don’t get in trouble, Dad’s already outside.” She smiled as she thought about the way her big brother always tried to look after her.
So many times her brother would try to get in between her and her father. Her father made it very clear how he felt about her: she was a burden; he wished she had never been born. His abuse was extreme and he left her in the care of others who were allowed to do with her as they wished. She knew where she stood with him. She knew that no matter what she did or didn’t do, by days end she would be sporting new bruises. From the time they were little, her brother tried to protect her. There were times he would put his body between her and whatever was being wielded at her. He would look up at their father and yell, “someday I will be big enough and I will get you – you *#**!” … a promise kept.
When they were in their late teens her father beat her horribly- one of the worst beatings she had ever received. Her brother saw the carnage… By this time he was a big man; a formidable force of his own. The battle was on. For the first time, much to the shock of their father, her brother had the power to back him down. It was clear that her “protector” could now take out the predator.
Years passed… life went on… but he always remained her protector.
She began to note changes in her brother’s behavior. He would say things that just didn’t seem to make sense. Then as sudden as a deadly tornado bursting on the scene, her protector turned predator. He had suffered a psychotic break and would later be diagnosed with a very serious mental illness. She had to run for her life and a nightmare began like none other: police; mental hospitals; being held hostage; broken bones from attacks brought on by the voices in his head. Truly, the one person she could count on now was one that could even take her life. She so wanted to see him get help… so wanted to have her protector back… her best friend. He fought against an offered help and due to the codependency of other family members, he remains in a delusional nightmare to this day.
So, what do we do when those we looked at as “protectors” or “safe people become unsafe. What do we do when we see these people making decisions that are going to destroy their lives and the lives of those close to them? And on the flip side, what do we do when those we so want to “protect” make decisions that we know will bring destruction into their lives and the lives of others?
Believe it or not, some of the basic answers are the same for both. I would like to share with you five steps to get you started at bringing back some normalcy to yours and your family’s lives (I want to stress that these steps are very basic and acknowledge that each situation has its own idiosyncrasies that have to be taken into consideration):
- Give up any thought of control! The first step in, number one, keeping your own sanity; and number two, in being of any help to your loved one, is to realize you cannot control his or her behavior. No matter how much you love; how much you clean up after; bribe; manipulate or cajole; you cannot control anyone else’s actions! Over the years it has broken my heart as I have seen family members put themselves in financial jeopardy to bail out a loved one; be held emotionally hostage; and literally allow their lives to be ruined by a family member whose life is out of control. And what is the outcome? The family member stays in their situation because they are not receiving the natural consequences of their out of control behavior. Say “NO” to control!
- Do not pick up their pieces! Again, the quicker a person is made to be responsible for his or her actions, the quicker he will get help. I always counsel families to have a no bail out policy; a policy that clearly states they will not cover for anyone; and a policy that does not allow their homes to become a revolving door for those whose lives display out of control behavior.
- Your job: be a prayer warrior and resource center: Know that there are few things stronger than the prayer of a loved one for a loved one! As a resource, your standard line is, “When you are ready to get help, here are some resources….”
- Present a united front. All those involved must be on and stay on the same page. Strong boundaries must be set and kept. Any weak links, will only add to the confusion and will thwart other family members’ efforts to see the loved one get help.
- Seek counsel and support for yourself! This is a pretty scary and lonely road if you are doing it on your own. I know from personal experience, counsel and support are essential to dealing with these kinds of issues.
Protector to predator; one you have protected to one whose life is totally out of control… out of control by drugs; alcohol; gambling; sexual addiction; food addiction or any other addiction and even mental illness… codependent behavior only exacerbates the problem. If you find yourself in this situation, surrendering the problem to God; relinquishing any presumed control; and seeking help from godly sources are the only ways to help yourself as you travel this tumultuous road.