As those of you who know me know, I'm currently a little bit obsessed with The Biggest Loser. I can't believe it's been on for twelve seasons and I'm only just catching on to its amazingness. It is high drama - the soaring highs, the crushing lows, the amazing transformations. Plus their workouts kick ass.
My favourite thing about the show though – after the makeover episode – is seeing what happens when the contestants go home. I laugh and cry along with them as their friends and families freak the fuck out at how much smaller their loved one has become. You see everything in their faces – shock, joy, awe, pride.
You know what else you see? Relief.
If you look closely you can see how worried the mums and wives and husbands and friends have been. The nights they must have spent gnashing their teeth wondering if their loved one was going to die young of obesity. You see how much it hurt to witness their withdrawal from the world as society shunned them for being overweight. You watch them and you know how hard it was to watch them eat themselves to death, how hard it was to find a way to help them.
Because it sucks to see someone you love in pain. To stand by and watch as they suffer and struggle and know that they’ll reach a point where nothing can be done. It hurts to see your loved ones hurt.
What hurt more though is to watch them to it to themselves. To watch someone you love struggle because of something beyond his control is one thing, but to see someone suffer at their own hand is something else entirely. It’s hard as fuck.
I’ve been in the situation of having to watch someone I love go through it because of their own choices. You look at them and you feel pity because you know how hard it is for them and you just want to ease their burden. You suffer yourself witnessing their suffering and you pray and you cry and you strategize, trying to find the one thing you can do to make things easier. But also, you resent them a little bit. Don’t you? At a certain point you become frustrated, you begin to lose your patience. You start to withdraw advice or become a little terse with them because you’ve done all you can, offered all you can, sympathized all you can.
And that’s when shit gets really hard. Because really, what the fuck are you supposed to do? You can continue to cheer them on, encourage them, help them see that they’re capable of overcoming their shit. But lets be real – that gets draining after a while. You have your own life and your own shit and how many times can you mop someone off the floor before you’re allowed to just leave them there? Whatever benefit they’re getting comes at the expense of your own mental health and well-being and of course they’re too in the middle of their own shit to offer you any support and so sooner or later you run out of steam.
You can ignore it of course – that’s what they probably do. You can chuckle along as they laugh through their pain. Turn a blind eye to their struggle as they pretend it isn’t happening. Focus on the positives; never acknowledging the gigantic elephant wedged firmly in the room with you. You can give them their space to work through their own shit, let them dig out of the hole they dug themselves. You can put it out there that you’re available to help, and say nothing more about the matter.
Or you can project manage their struggle. Forcibly remove the triggers, physically drag them to sources of help. Paste words of encouragement on their walls, check on them multiple times a day. You slap the donut out of their hand and replace it with a rice cake. You email them countless articles that might help them, PVR Oprah and Dr. Oz and Suze Orman and sit them down to watch it. You make lifting themselves up your full-time job. And yeah with you dragging them up the mountain they’ll likely reach the summit, but they don’t know how the fuck to stay there on their own.
Your other choice is just to withdraw. To choose not to watch the person you love push himself into a vortex of their own making. To spare yourself the hurt of watching the hurt that ultimately they are inflicting on themselves. No matter how big a boulder they’re pushing up a mountain, at the end of the day if it rolls over and crushes them, they did it to themselves, didn’t they? By choosing not to push anymore, by deciding it’s too hard, by not asking for help, by letting go and letting it roll over them. And is it really your job to hurt yourself by witnessing that?
As someone who often struggles as the result of my own choices, at any given time someone is doing one of these things to me. And it’s hard to say which – if any – is the right one to do. They all help in a way, but they all hurt too.
So I ask you, wise readers – how do you deal with watching someone you love hurt himself? Are we obligated to jump in and help or are we allowed to prioritize our own shit over theirs? Is choosing to walk away and not watch being selfish, or is it giving them the space to work through their shit? What do you do when your friends or family hurt themselves? Speak on it in the comments.