Tough Love

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There’s something I’ve been struggling with for awhile now. Tough love. When do you give it? How do you give it? Should you give it? There’s a line in Moonstruck that always plays in my head when I feel like I’m in a situation where tough love is needed: Snap out of it!

It’s really a fine line you walk between being sensitive and ignoring self-destructive behavior. I’ve been on the receiving end of it a few times. While I can look back on it and say it was needed and good, at the time it just pissed me off. Many of us know when we’re in a downward spiral. The problem is sometimes we just don’t have the will or the energy to pull ourselves out of it. Sometimes we feel like we deserve it, so any attempts by loved ones to help are often brushed off. There are several people in my life right now who are struggling just to get through each day. It’s hard to watch, especially when you have no control of anything. Not knowing what’s going on in their heads can make being supportive difficult. A lack of communication makes it almost impossible to help.

My mom has been in a downward spiral for about five years now. One of her sisters died unexpectedly. I came out and told them I was getting a divorce. And that was just in one month. A few months after that, she came back from a trip to New Orleans sick. After many trips to different doctors there she was diagnosed with lymphoma. The treatment took a lot out of her, partly because of the incompetence of the doctors involved. The entire time, she insisted it wasn’t cancer and that they were wrong. More treatments, more tests, more doctors. Some said she didn’t have cancer. Some said it was a non-aggressive form. One doctor said it was all a severe case of pneumonia and vitamin deficiencies. After those visits, she then insisted she DID have cancer. It became apparent to us that the biggest issue was mental and not physical.

My mom has always been active and independent. She used to routinely kick my ass at tennis. She loved to cook and read. That was five years ago. Now, she barely gets up out of her recliner. Most of the muscle that made her so strong has disappeared, leaving her a hulk of skin and bones. She barely has the energy to walk down the hall. The problem isn’t that her body isn’t capable of recovering and regaining its strength. The problem is that mentally, she has given up. That is what depression and grief can do to you if you let it. It takes away your will to live. You become the victim of your own head. You want nothing more than to play the victim or martyr and say “Woe is me, my life is horrible and nobody else understands.”

As a child, it’s sad and difficult to watch a parent become unrecognizable. As an adult who has also dealt with grief and loss and depression, it is frustrating to see someone self-destruct before your eyes because they refuse to see the good that is around them. I’ve been in dark places. Maybe not as dark as others, but it felt like there was no point in pulling myself out. Somehow, I managed to do it. I struggled. I clawed my way out. I fought. I survived. I’m stronger than I thought and getting through those dark times showed me that.

I will not ever compare my struggles to someone else’s. We are all individuals, with unique life experiences, perspectives, and baggage. We might all experience the same types of emotions but we do not experience them the same way. That is what makes doling out tough love so difficult. You don’t want to throw out tired clichés. You don’t want to be insensitive or make assumptions. One person’s grief and depression is not anothers. What we can say is that we do on some level understand their pain. We can tell them that we are there for support. We can love them and remind them that there is a life to be lived. We can remind them that they are stronger than they feel. We might have to get angry. We might have to say things we don’t want to.

We all need reminders that no matter how shitty our lives might feel, there are people who love us and who can help if we let them. We don’t honor anything or anyone by refusing to live or let go of our pain. You can have your memories. You can have your anger when it serves a purpose. You can have your grief, as long as it doesn’t consume you. Emotional consumption is the danger. It will slowly eat away at your will. That is when you start existing rather than living. Living is a choice. Living is an action. Living takes effort and requires you to take chances.

For anyone reading who has someone in their life who fits this description, help them learn to live again. For anyone reading who feels there is no point or no hope or that you just don’t have the will to get out of your hole, let your friends and family help you. Humans aren’t meant to live in isolation. We aren’t meant to live without love or companionship. Life is hard. Life hurts. But life can be fun and exciting and rewarding. The yin and the yang. That’s what makes life possible. Give tough love if you have to. Accept tough love as graciously as you can. In other words…

Snap the fuck out of it.

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