I’ve always had a problem with helping others. And by problem I mean that I care too much, give too freely, and am an easy target for people looking to take advantage.
At some point between the time I took leave from work, at the gas station at the end of my street, and the time I returned, I became something like a “neighborhood mom.” I wasn’t unhappy with this.
We live in a fairly rough neighborhood, drugs and crimes are ever rising, and neighborhood kids just wander the streets, doing whatever kids do (let’s be honest here–it’s probably drugs and crime). So when they come to me for help, I want to help. I was once that kid wandering the streets doing drugs and committing crime. And we all know how well it worked out for me.
When their moms kicked them out of the house, we let them mow our lawn for some cash, food, drinks, and maybe a few cigarettes while they worked. We let them hang out on our porch when it was raining and when they had nowhere else to go. I let them use my phone to call their grandmas and I heard the worry in the voices on the other end–that worry that I know so well.
When they left a mess on my porch, I made them clean it up. “I have three kids of my own I don’t need anyone else to clean up after. I don’t mind you guys coming over and hanging out and I’ll help however I reasonably can, but this isn’t your buddy’s house where anything goes. Don’t f*** with my kids, don’t bring any kind of drug onto my property, and clean up your own mess. Those are the rules; that’s all I ask.”
Did they start taking advantage of me? Yes. Was it difficult for me to maintain my boundaries? Also yes. I wanted to help them. I wanted to save them from making the same mistakes and living the same life I did. They rolled their eyes behind my back when I began lecturing them about drugs and being hoodrats and taking advantage of people and making poor decisions. But I hoped something I said would sink in.
Maybe if I said it enough, something would click. I probably wouldn’t have listened if anyone tried to tell me the same things–but let’s be honest here, not very many people did, until it was too late. Because nobody I knew had been through it. Nobody I knew understood addiction. Maybe, just maybe I could help them.
And then they broke the rules.
Not only did they bring drugs onto my property, but they tried to sell me drugs. (Fake drugs, at that–I don’t know what upset me more, honestly). And when I reminded them of the rules, they persisted. It wasn’t until I asked them to leave that they backtracked and tried to play it off as a joke.
But this isn’t a joke. This is my life. It’s literally life or death, and I don’t play around.
Justin and I agreed that they aren’t allowed over anymore.
But you know, more than anything, I was just sad. It broke my heart.
“That’s what happens when you try helping others”
“This is why you shouldn’t trust anyone.”
“That’s people for you. If you give them the opportunity, they’ll take advantage. I’m sorry, but it’s true.”
That’s not the way I want to live. It isn’t something that I choose to believe.
I’m sure it would make my life easier, not helping others. I’m sure I would get hurt less. But at the end of the day, it just isn’t who I am as a human being. And it isn’t who I want to be.
I want to care about people. I want to trust them, and help them, and give them the benefit of the doubt. Even if they try to walk all over me. Because you know what? I was once that stupid, misled kid who sometimes took advantage of people and I did plenty of things I wasn’t supposed to. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t need help. It didn’t mean that I didn’t deserve help.
I still remember 18-year-old me, strung out at work, wishing for a different life that I no longer believed in. More than that, I still remember the customer who told me, “Don’t worry. You’ll get there.” And for a split second, I had hope.
One of the other kids that comes around–the one who’s never disrespected me nor overstepped my boundaries–told me recently about his life. He told me about his parents’ divorce when he was young, and how they both had troubles. He told me about trying to end his life, many times, even recently. And he told me about his aspirations, and his college offers–and that he’s afraid to go because he doesn’t want to accumulate massive amounts of debt.
Who would I be if I didn’t talk this through with him because of what his friends did? Who would I be if I turned away the next person who asked for help? Perhaps a better put together person with stronger, healthier boundaries. Perhaps a person less weighed down by others’ feelings and troubles and problems, left better to focus on my own. But ultimately, I wouldn’t be me. And I wouldn’t be the person I want to be.
So I talked to him. Because I would want someone to talk to me. And I helped him, because I would want someone to help me. When we were finished, I gave him a hug–and I prayed that, even if only for a split second, he had hope.
I told him to come to me whenever he needs me–as long as he continues to follow the rules and respect my boundaries.
Let’s be real. I didn’t come this far on my own. I never could have done it without the people in my life–family, friends, and even complete strangers–who helped me along the way. And they didn’t help me because I deserved it. They certainly didn’t have any reason to trust that I wouldn’t take advantage of them or break their rules. But still, they helped me, in spite of who I was and what I did, and in spite of all those who came before me who gave them reason to stop helping others. And when I did take advantage and break the rules, and they kicked me out–that helped in its own way, too.
I choose to live in a world where people help one another, for no other reason than to help.
I choose to believe that people want to be better, to do better.
And if I can help just one person avoid or escape the kind of life I created for myself, it’s worth all the trouble in the world.