Yesterday, my friend Joelle (apple wedges, not slices) called me. Distraught and depressed. She told me that her sister is up to her eyeballs in a lethal swirl of prescription drugs and alcohol and Joelle has been trying to get her to go for help – but she just won’t go. To make matters worse, her sister lives in California and thinks nothing of calling Joelle on the East Coast in the middle of the night. Which makes for a very unhappy Joelle in the morning.
“Why don’t you turn off your phone?” I asked her.
“Um, er,” Joelle stammered, “I couldn’t do that… I want to help her, I feel so guilty turning my back on her …” And then Joelle’s voice fell off the cliff into that netherworld called despair.
“The thing is this,” I said. “You can’t save a drowning woman by jumping into the shark-infested sea and drowning with her. You just can’t save her. All you can do is save yourself.”
“But I can’t do that,” Joelle said. “It feels so wrong.”
“If it feels wrong, then you’re doing right,” I said.
It only feels wrong because it is new behavior. It’s something that you’ve never done before. If you have always jumped in and rescued (even at the risk of ruining yourself) – then not jumping in feels wrong. But it is precisely the right thing to do.
Joelle keeps thinking that if she tries hard enough, she’ll find the right words — like a locksmith searching for the right key to fit the tumbler — and then she’ll get through to her sister. But sometimes we have to push ourselves to admit defeat when we’re the kind of people who keep thinking that if we just try a little harder, we’ll succeed. Sometimes we have to do the opposite of what we’ve always done. Those very things are just habits, learned and automatic behaviors. (See my post about “I’m the kind of person who ____.” We have to step away from our usual selves.
Flip things upside down and inside out to start your best chapter. Stop doing what you’ve always done. Do something wrong because it just might be right.
Joelle’s sister cries for help in the sea. Joelle jumps in and they thrash around in the water for a while. Joelle feels relieved that she’s in there with her so she climbs out. She walks a few steps away from the water and just when she’s starting to feel OK, her sister calls for help again. So Joelle jumps in and they thrash some more. This will keep going on and on…and on…until Joelle gathers enough strength to stay out of the water. She has to do what feels really wrong, selfish, horrible, unsisterly and downright mean. For Joelle to be the hero of her own life, she has to stop trying to play hero in everyone else’s lives.
Do you have a story to share about how you did what felt wrong — but was really right?
Stay tuned to find out what happens…Meanwhile, you can follow me on twitter @dianabletter for more updates. I’m still welcoming entries to the writing in appreciation of our lives contest. Entries to be posted on Friday so send ’em in!