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  • Tara Palmer

STORM CHASER: Trying to Keep a Loved One from Harm

I spent some of my early adult years as a storm chaser, chasing down loved ones who were caught in the hurricane winds of addiction.

I defined for them that they were in trouble. I was generous that way. I was so generous that I decided for them what they needed and what help might look like. I was determined, a bit obsessive 😉, and committed to excellence.

On a less sarcastic note, I was reasonably insightful for a young whipper snapper. I could see that my loved ones were not just ‘misbehaving,’ but were lost in patterns of trying to escape some kind of pain. I was determined to help them see the good in themselves and the pathway to healing.

I read books, wrote letters, rescued from potential harm, played the role of convincer, and forgave like a selfless queen. What I didn’t know then was that storm chasing was unwise and unhelpful.

Eventually, I attended Al-anon meetings where I began to learn that their pain was their own, and that there was only so much a person can do to support another person. I learned that people have to want help, and that helping without being asked is intrusion, not generosity.

Addiction, though, is not the only experience that can lead us to feeling caught up in concern, worry, uncertainty, or fear for someone we care for deeply. Whatever the experience that concerns us about our loved ones, there are often patterns that we need to notice about our own involvement.

If we’re honest, our 'help' often has an underlying agenda. We might find that we are concerned not only for our loved one, but also for our self; we might imagine that when they get well, we can have the connection with them that we’re hoping for. We might have the illusion that all will be right in our own internal world when all becomes well with theirs. We might find that our good feelings about our self comes from making things right for others.

Lost in the Storm

It is incredibly difficult to watch someone you love become swept up by pain. When we see others, especially those that we’ve come to know, care for and deeply love, run headlong into a dangerous storm, we often instinctively go chasing after trying to stop them.

  • We don't want to see our loved one drink too much and put themselves at risk for a lapse of judgment (cheating, overspending, a DUI).

  • We don't want to see them harm themselves with eating disordered patterns.

  • We don't want to see them get high and lose a job.

  • We don't want to see them hang out with dangerous people.

  • We don't want to see them create their own financial ruin with gambling or excessive shopping.

  • We don't want the harm they bring to themselves to bring secondary harm to us.

We might chase in deep… calling out wildly trying to get their attention. The problem is that no matter how loud we get, they are often quite literally blind and deaf to the storm; they might see our desperate pleas as nothing less than crazy. They don’t know what our problem is. They wonder, can't we see that they are fine and everything would be fine if we would just chill out?

At some point, we have to pull back from the chase. We feel the winds picking up. We see the clouds swirling and hear the sirens warning us to seek shelter. What started out as an instinct to help will lead to our own demise if we don’t step back.

We cannot make our loved one remove their goggles and see; we cannot force them to turn back to safety. We have to let them go, and let them decide for themselves what is and is not a problem in their own life.

Signs We’re Deep In

If we are traveling deep into the storm, we are likely to find our own well-being increasingly impacted.

We might begin paying detailed attention to our loved one's relationship to their problem. We might closely monitor their moods, what they eat, drink, who they hang out with, whether they are getting enough sleep. We might become manipulative, make suggestions for things we can do together that would be ‘fun’ to try to persuade them toward healthier patterns. We might try to convince them that life would be better without the __________ (alcohol, drugs, spending, purging, cutting, thrill seeking, etc.). We might try to coerce them into counseling, treatment, support groups, or ways they can love themselves better.

We might lose sleep about what is going to happen to our loved one. We might lose sleep over what will happen to our relationship. We might lose sleep wondering if they are right about us- maybe we are going crazy.

We can become so consumed in our role of storm chaser that we begin to neglect other parts of our own well-being. We are on a mission to assure that they stop doing whatever is causing them harm at the same time we are engaged in an unhealthy pattern of our own, chasing.

They are chasing a false sense of well-being by seeking the high of _________ (alcohol, drugs, spending, purging, cutting, thrill seeking, etc.), and we are seeking a high of our own by chasing and trying to 'fix' them.

Everyone is chasing something, and no one is getting any closer to genuine well-being.

Seeking Shelter

When we find ourselves caught in the pattern of storm chaser, it is time to seek shelter.

We have to return to a focus on our own well-being. Running our self into the ground is helpful to absolutely no one.

The best thing we can do is to return to or identify patterns of caring for our self. Once we have re-established or established our own well-being, we will be better positioned to make decisions about our future and our approach to the relationship.

We can express our feelings, needs, and concerns. We can let our loved one respond (or not), respect their response (rather than trying to change their mind), and then make honest decisions about how close we can or cannot be to them.

*If we are, for example, involved with someone whose problem is directly or indirectly affecting us, we may need to make adjustments.

Adjustments might include:

  • I will not buy you alcohol. I believe you have a drinking problem.

  • I will not hang out with you while you drink. You say hurtful things.

  • I cannot live with you unless you agree to seek help with ________, and perhaps, we also need to seek help together.

  • I am no longer willing to invest in this relationship unless you address _______. I want to invest in a relationship with someone who is able to be more accessible and responsive.

As we consider adjustments that might be helpful, we want to be sure however we are positioned in a relationship, our personal well-being is not going to be compromised. We also need to be sure that we are willing to accept the other person as they are-- that our engagement is not based on a hidden agenda that they will eventually change.

Younger Me

If I could go back and coach younger me, I would have told her that it was not her job to help or rescue others. I would have told her she needed to respect that others are capable of finding their own way, or asking for help. I would have told her that she was not a therapist, and even if she was, it was not her position to be counseling her loved ones.

I would have told her that she was free instead to learn about and begin defining what it looks like to be moving toward being a healthy person, friend, and partner to others who are also committed to growing toward being healthy people, friends and partners. I would have told her that when others are not committed to their well-being, it is best to let go.

I would have helped her know that relationships don't happen in hurricanes because you're never standing in The Eye.

The Eye
Brandi Carlile
It breaks my heart to see a dear old friend
Go down that worn out place again
Do you know the sound of a closing door?
Have you heard that sound somewhere before?
Do you wonder if she knows you anymore?
I wrapped your love around me like a chain
But I never was afraid that it would die
You can dance in a hurricane
But only if you're standing in the eye
Where did you learn to walk?
Where did you learn to run?
Away from everything you love
And did you think the bottle
Would ever ease your pain?
Did you think that love's a foolish game?
Did you find someone else to take the blame?
I wrapped your love around me like a chain
But I never was afraid that it would die
You can dance in a hurricane
But only if you're standing in the eye
You can dance in a hurricane
But only if you're standing in the eye
I am a sturdy soul
And there ain't no shame
In lying down in the bed you made
Can you fight the urge to run for another day?
You might make it further if you learn to stay
I wrapped your love around me like a chain
But I never was afraid that it would die
You can dance in a hurricane
But only if you're standing in the eye
You can dance in a hurricane
But only if you're standing in the eye
Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Timothy Hanseroth / Phillip Hanseroth / Brandi Carlile
The Eye lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc


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