5 Things YOU can do to help someone in a downward spiral.

I think it’s important to at least be able to speak to where the train went careening off the tracks and sent my life into a ten year downward spiral. In your own life, you may have a moment or a series of events that you now realize was very significant to who you are. Unfortunately as a hospice nurse at heart, death comes to mind in many people’s moments of realization. Mine too. When I think of where it all went bad, I picture a huge steaming cauldron and a witches brew of death, disappointment, fear, and total chaos, all thrown into the worst year of a girls whole life. The sequence of events ranged from minor to major, piling on until I broke into a million pieces and stopped caring what happened to me anymore. My best friend moving away, starting a middle school, both of my grandmothers getting advanced cancer and declining quickly, departing this world with me still spinning. My dad, caught in a drug deal with an undercover cop, 500 feet from a school, fled from the police, intending to move to Canada. I don’t think there’s any surprises when the big reveal comes: He went to prison. He got 15 years for that. It was devastating and I tanked fast.

I remember believing that it was a mistake and he was set up or at least tricked by them certainly. I started to act out by stealing, smoking, and lying and progressed to lots of sex, drugs and rock and roll in the blink of an eye. I moved in with my aunt because my anger was so volatile that it was a screaming match with my mom and stepdad. I threw things, slammed doors, cursed for shock value, made threats and left the house unpredictability. I was full of a deep, thick, rage boiling down into a thick syrup that coated everyone I touched. My siblings were still little at the time and didn’t deserve the stress of living in that turmoil. My aunt was gone a lot and had only one child. I was able to really maximize my opportunities for critical damage there. I was a joke at school. A slut. A “Bad Girl”. I thought I lived it but I often felt alone, embarrassed, isolated, looked down on. My self esteem was zero and I would do anything for acceptance. I hated going to school. Since I was ALWAYS grounded, I used church as an excuse to go somewhere else. I hated my family. I hated God for taking everything I loved and I myself. The exciting part of this point in my story is that there was nowhere to go but further down. Ha ha! But seriously.
Do you have a point that comes immediately to mind when I asked the question, where did it go wrong? Have you embraced it and faced it? Or maybe you are reading this in complete shock and thinking “Wow I had a great life, nothing even close to that has ever happened to me but I wish I could help my struggling sister/friend.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:37-39

I thought I was completely separated from God permanently at that point. Now I hardly remember the actual feelings I felt anymore. I remember glimpses of conversations. I remember my mom crying. I remember saying goodbye to my grandma, being so high I could barely even hold my head up. Telling her I was sorry. For being who I was and letting her down. Thinking that it was too late for anything to ever be right for me again, so may as well do whatever I wanted. Looking back on these events, I see them for what they are, a catalyst that pushed me to the point of losing control. Now it is an opportunity to be so strong that sometimes I believe that my emotions are untouchable, that’s good and not so good at times. It is also an opportunity that has helped me to learn not to judge people on where they are at in their life right now. Instead I try to remember what I was like, and look at who they are and who they want to be. They are at place that they hopefully will not even recognize in 10 years from now.

So how do you help someone in this dark place? Here’s 5 ideas from my experiences to start. 1. Don’t Judge, there’s enough people giving negative feedback and input to this person that you need to realize that your advice is not what they seek.
2. Listen. Sit, be quiet and keep your mouth shut.
3. Be consistently present in their life despite their behavior. 4. Don’t react, respond. At this stage I would have done ANYTHING to get a reaction from you, so that you would be mad enough to see if you would give up on me too. This is a test. It’s only a test. 5. Really try to depersonalize everything said. It’s not about you.

5 Easy DON’TS are: 1.) Telling them to rely on God, that this is God’s plan (and why would God plan this hurt to happen to me right now on purpose? Is the answer I would give you). They are likely not interested in hearing that unless they asked you. I scoffed at “I’m praying for you” as well. Definitely pray for them but unless they invite the conversation, I wouldn’t even go there… 2.) Judge, scold, or lecture. Looking down on them for it will pretty much guarantee you wont be helping them through it. 3.) Don’t back down. Keep coming back in a supportive, non-intrusive way. 4.) Try not to “fix” their problems for them. You can’t. 5.) Don’t try to force them. Don’t let yourself believe you can change this person by controlling who they talk to or where they go or what they do. You can’t. You can help facilitate counselling and resources but this is a self-driven process by a person who is READY to do it.

I cannot wait to tell you the next piece of this story. It’s just getting good. You honor me so deeply by reading it and sharing your experiences and what you’ve lived through and how it’s changed you. Thank you.

  1. Susan C.

    Great thoughts/insights! Thank you!

    • nenamhart

      Thanks Sue!

  2. Erynn

    I just wanted to be your first comment! ?

    Your honesty is and will be a blessing to so many.

    Sending you lots of love!

    • nenamhart

      Thank you Erynn!!

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