I got yet another chance to say hello to my tendency to be an "out of control" healer when a gentleman in the beginning stages of Alzheimer's fell into my lap recently.
Through a series of complicated events, he wound up in Sacramento with no family and no place to stay, so he came to stay with us for a while.
At first it seemed easy enough; I cooked for him, made sure he took his medicine and provided a stable situation for him to live in. He kept talking about leaving, about wanting to go live on his own, but I knew it wasn't safe for him. So I kept trying different avenues to find him someplace "safe" to go. And as is the case with Alzheimer's a relatively benign situation went from zero to sixty crazy-out-of-control in seconds flat. I ended up having to call the police when I finally realized what I thought I had "under control" was clearly not!
I've been around the block a few times with these sorts of experiences, and should have recognized the warning signs when they're waving in my face, like a big red cape being flapped in front of a charging bull, but I didn't. Or I chose not to, thinking maybe this time it would all work out ok. This time, I could handle it.
What are the warning signs of being "an out of control" healer? When you find yourself spending time, energy, money, or emotion on trying to make something "better" or "o.k." for someone else. When things keep getting worse, and doors keep shutting, and yet you keep going, searching and searching for some other solution to a "problem" that isn't yours to solve in the first place. When the people who really should care and be involved aren't. And lastly, when the person you're trying to "help" clearly doesn't want your help, despite how bad the situation appears.
Having been involved with alcoholics and addicts for much of my life, I've developed the tendency towards co-dependency. We hear this term a lot, but do you know what it means? Here's Wikiepedia's definition:
"The dependence on the needs of, or control of, another. It also often involves placing a lower priority on one's own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others. A tendency to behave in an overly passive or excessively caretaking ways that negatively impact one's own life."
Does this sound familiar to you? It describes me to a "t"! And the most remarkable thing I've discovered is when you find yourself in this situation, it's never about the other person; it's always about you! Where are your needs not being met? We tend to do for others what we wish would be done for ourselves; get some help, some guidance, a hug, or just permission to turn it over to a higher source for healing and transmutation and let go for a while.
The axiom "healer heal thyself" is so true. Often we become healers or caretakers of others when we most need to focus on our own health and wellness. It's a signal to step back, go within, and ask your higher self "what do I need help with today?" And then give yourself permission to notice what comes up and take action, or better yet, just receive it when the help shows up!
I realized I have been "doing" for everyone around me, and ignoring my own inner need to rest, take it easy, back off from all my activities and commitments, and just give myself a much needed "time out". But again, as out of control healers, it seems selfish to ignore the needs of others, the pain or desperation or poverty or depression or illness, or whatever it is that is pulling at you. "They need me!! I have to help them" Really? This sort of thinking is really pretty arrogant when you step back and think about it.
It means you don't think that other person is capable of making decisions for themselves, or of taking care of their needs, or of making a choice that suits them at that point in time. It means that you think your way is better, and how arrogant is that?!
When we don't let those around us experience the life lessons they need to experience, we act as God, and say "You can have this, but not this." It is us choosing for another person what is right for them. Now of course there's situations where we have to behave that way, such as being a parent. Being a good parent to a child means setting boundaries, and saying no to things that may not be good for that child.
But when you get into doing this for adults, that's another matter entirely. If someone you love is choosing to take drugs or smoke or partake of behaviors that clearly don't seem to be good for them, of course, intercede and see if it is really a cry for help. But if you keep putting them in a detox center, and they keep falling off the wagon, or ending up in jail or on the streets, it's probably a signal that you need to step back and let that person experience what they're needing to experience. It is probably one of their life lessons, and by you trying to "fix it" for them, you're keeping them from the growth they came to this body to experience.
AA really has a handle on teaching those in recovery to recognize the difference here. Their whole message is about focusing on your own self-healing, and learning your own life lessons. You know the famous "Serenity Prayer":
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Really look at it, and ponder it. It is all about learning to heal yourself and to recognize those situations that trigger our "out of control healer" tendencies.
As I write this, I've given myself permission for the last three weeks to go within, and to see what needs are not being met for myself by allowing the man with Alzheimer's to come into my life. He was my mirror, reflecting back to me where I need to take care of myself. It has meant not over-committing myself to activities, giving myself permission to just take it easy without having to do anything but heal. It has been a very difficult, but very necessary "time out" and I once again feel able to be in this world as a balanced, healthy healer, capable of helping others in a safe neutral way as I help myself.