Signal Fire by Tyler Knott Gregson
Signal Fire by Tyler Knott Gregson
How To Support Without Losing Yourself | 4.14.24

How To Support Without Losing Yourself | 4.14.24

I'll Always Be There - The Sunday Edition

I think often of heavy things, the weight of them carried in the back rooms of my mind, the attics of my thoughts. Some collect dust and sit for years before I stumble up some rainy afternoon and blow the dust from them into the dim glow from the only window, and unfold the sides to open them. One corner always bent, for the tucking under trick our parents always seemed to know, but took us forever to figure out. Some sit on the surface of me, simmering like froth from a water once boiled, and I cannot see anything until I skim it off and wash it away. This place is that, the skim, the rinse, the drain, the last stop so I can stop carrying the heft of those ideas, the massive density in such a small package. Here is one, bubbling up to the top of all others that’s been here the last few months, that I don’t want to tote around anymore, and so before I leave it here, I’ll thank you for receiving it.

I believe us all to be subsumed with the decorations of all our choices, the adornments from the choices others have made that we’ve allowed to stain us.

We all walk around and wear the consequences of these choices, though we might not know it at the time. Sometimes it’s the darkening under our eyes, sometimes it’s the unwashed hair, sometimes it’s the bright eyes shining and the smile that we don’t have to fake. Sometimes it’s the things we’ve chosen, sometimes not, sometimes it’s the direct result of someone else’s choices, though if broken down far enough we’ll see what even then, even still, it was a choice we made (though it so often doesn’t feel like one at all) that led to their choice affecting us how it did, affecting us at all.

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This is the root of what’s been stirring around my soul as of late, the consequences that others’ choices cause for us, though they are not ours at all. As we collect friendships, family, acquaintances, and colleagues, over the course of our lives we’re constantly presented with the same choices, over and again, for each of them: How far do we let them in? How invested do we become, and where do we draw the lines?

It’s here that so many of us struggle, and I speak for my wife and I here so pointedly as it’s something we’ve been thinking a lot about over the last few years from the things we’ve endured. How invested do we become? Unfortunate circumstances that at the start felt coincidental, felt fluke, felt fleeting and written off as a one-off, have seemed to persistently pop up. Enough times, enough whac-a-mole-esque surprise bursts from different people out of what was previously some dark hole of disconnection, has made us realize that perhaps it’s not as coincidental as we thought. Maybe, just maybe, we’re over-invested too often, maybe we’re creating relationships that are often infused with elements of codependency that are unhealthy for everyone involved. Maybe we’re so willing to show up and help, so willing to invest ourselves into the problems that people come to us with, that in many ways we take away their confidence in their ability to handle things on their own. That they can fix things, that they are able.

What happens when this is the foundation of the connection between you and another, is it stops being about connection, about the mutual enjoyment of each others company, and starts being more about being a support unit, a shoulder to cry on, but not laugh with, a helping hand, not just a hand to hold. What happens, and this is what we’ve been seeing and struggling through, is that they no longer see you as a friend, no longer treat you as one, and just an outlet, just an answer to a question, just a solution to a problem. This, is not sustainable. This, is how things dissolve, and how someone you’ve cared about for so long can begin to fade into someone you’re overwhelmed by, someone that takes and takes, and then is upset when you’ve not more to give, if only for a moment while you try to catch your breath.

Sadly, and it’s happened before, these connections end up relegating themselves from close friendships to an eventuality of mere acquaintances that all parties would staunchly say would never happen. It does happen, and somehow people you counted as close confidants become someone you wave at across the grocery store, you stop for a moment to say hello, then move on, removed from the once intimate knowledge of their life, or they of yours.

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We can fix this, at least I think so. I am not sure about a retroactive fix, not sure that once the tide has turned on those that have drifted away, it can be re-turned again, that it can be brought back in in some tsunami after the earthquake pulled the sea back. I think when this place has been reached with someone, more often than not they will stay there, as some things cannot be unlearned, some things not taken back. The fix I speak of, is more of a preventative one, a prophylactic against the diseases you don’t want spreading between you and all those other friendships or relationships not yet stained. Problem is, this path to protection is not always fair, and the responsibility is not always evenly distributed, and it almost always means you’ll have to do more work than you should have to.

I only know to call it a gentle detachment, a kind indifference. Sometimes, the healthiest thing you can do for yourself, is to not be cruel, mean, or directly eject people from your life, but to put them into a place of gentle and loving detachment. Be there should they need, accept their calls for help, if it is help that does not jeopardize your soul, but otherwise, do not expect things from them, do not try to change them or their behaviors unless those behaviors are directly causing them, yourself, or others, harm, and do not demand that they be any more to you.

The hardest thing we can do with people we care for is to draw lines, to create boundaries where we’re so unaccustomed to building them, but I’ve learned — often the hard way — that if we do not do this, we run the risk of losing them in ways that are so much more difficult, so much more heartbreaking. The boundaries don’t just keep certain things out, they lock the good things in, they act as insulation and hold in the joy, the intimacy, the trust, and balance.

The dissolution of a connection, be it the heartbreak from a romantic partnership, a work-relationship, a friendship brand new or one you’ve had since youth, is one of the most challenging things we endure as adults. They can feel harder than deaths, in truth, because at least with death there is a closure, there’s a finality that closes that chapter of your life in a definitive way. With the crumbling of a companionship, however, there is none of this. You may still see the person randomly in your actual life, may bump into them and feel that awkward sting each time, you may walk away from it all with questions unanswered that may never be answered, only they are still here, they still could answer if only things were different.

If this has happened to you, I am truly sorry, I know the ache you feel for this. If it’s not yet, maybe this is the sign from the universe you’ve needed, not to insulate yourself from joy, but to just understand within yourself where your lines are. Often, this means figuring that out first, establishing them in the quiet hollow of your own thoughts, so that when someone begins to push against that veil, you’ll know, and you’ll know how to respond in turn. Without doing this work, without the scouting of the edges of your emotional, physical, and empathetic capabilities, I promise you, you will be drained, and you will be blamed when you’ve not enough to keep fixing all that’s broken in someone that only knows how to take, how to pull you under the dark waters in order to climb to the surface for another breath of air.

Gentle detachment, kind indifference. These sound as negative as the First Noble Truth in Buddhism, that life is suffering, but it misses the point. Love, true love, must be healthy in order to thrive, and only through the maintaining of proper empathetic boundaries, can this be so. We must first become the healthy soil, or no seed can take root, or no flower can blossom. This is how we do this, this is the way we truly water those we love with our care.

These heavy thoughts have been set down now, they are yours, again, to do with what you will. I’d love your insights here too, so please, as usual, feel free to leave a comment below.

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I’ll always be there,

but I will not lose myself

inside their struggle.

Haiku on Life by Tyler Knott Gregson

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Signal Fire by Tyler Knott Gregson
Signal Fire by Tyler Knott Gregson
Tyler Knott Gregson and his weekly "Sunday Edition" of his Signal Fire newsletter. Diving into life, poetry, relationships, sex, human nature, the universe, and all things beautiful.