As a therapist, mentor, counselor, doctor, teacher or pastor, one of the most painful things to watch is your clients returning to their own vomit.

“I went back,” she said.

It couldn’t be more anguished.

The return to abuse, addiction, dysfunction, dependency and harm – it is almost too much to take. When the helped ones return to the harm we helped them run away from, it is excruciating for the helper and the helped alike.

“Why did you go back?” we may ask them.

They don’t rightly know. We don’t always either. Sometimes they have lost the power to know, caught as they are in a mindless, addictive cycle and habit of harm, and we ourselves are sometimes shocked beyond the ability to keep reasoning well about the causes of such horrible things.

The worst comes when it comes to the kids.

“The children saw him hit you?”

“Her kids saw her passed out on the floor?”

It’s possible to give a child life and then begin to slowly take that very life by exposing that precious, fragile, developing psyche to what a human being, of any age, should never have to see and hear.”

What to do?

It’s not always clear. We do what should be done: we report abuse, counsel boundaries, protect children, advocate for recovery, make clear the choices and lay out the raw consequences.

But there is a tension present as we do our work — to do too much, to not do enough at all.

Broken people may break even the best of counselors, and we healing helpers, when we try to mend them, risk being just another sunken life boat in their sorry, slouching, smoking, sinking ship wake.

“I’m done with him!” we will be tempted to say.

Should we be? That is for us to carefully decide. But if a damaging cycle is to be broken, then someone must stand in like a champion and help break it. Someone sane must plant themselves at the fulcrum, between the teeter and the totter, between madness and sanity, between rescuing and empowering and tell it like it is.

Someone tough and smart, full of grit and dirt themselves, jammed up with raw, gut wrenching truth must say it like it is, and then say it again, and then have the stomach yet to say it yet again.

We caregivers, to help some of the most broken, must refuse to take an inappropriate responsibility for their irresponsibility, while still standing in and telling them to take a much needed charge of themselves and the ones they say they love.

It is a gift, this thing of standing at the fulcrum between order and chaos and holding forth with sanity and class and love, and it is a privilege to have the chance to do so.

If you’re called to it; then do it.

This matters!

It is life or death for some of them.

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