How do I handle Empty Promises?

The phone rings, you pick up and hear the voice on the other end announce that you've got a collect call coming in from the regional jail. As you reluctantly accept the call you brace yourself to hear what you have heard so many times before. Almost certain that the request for bail money is going to come, you begin to reason with yourself as to why you should or shouldn't post bail this time around. How do I handle these empty promises I am certain to hear.

"He/She told you this time would be different."

"I could hear a greater desperation in their voice."

"Maybe they have finally reached rock bottom."

"They have finally agreed to get help."

"How is this going to be any different"

You want to believe and for so long you have been hoping that something would happen; that there would be a spark or a cry for help. Yet on the other hand, is this truly that moment? Or are they just looking for a temporary rescue from woeful behavior.

Maybe you have never gotten a call from the regional jail, but you have dealt with someone in addiction for a while. You have your moment similar to the story I outlined above. It could be a late night conversation at home after they return from partying, clearly intoxicated or it's a phone call requesting money to help pay the bills because they ran through their paycheck quicker than anticipated.

These cries happen often and frequently. We have reasoned with ourselves that we would always be there for our loved ones. But what is the guarantee that these promises won’t be empty just like the others? This is a very real challenge faced by anyone that is attempting to help an addict.

How do we move beyond the empty promises but yet find reasonable ground to help if there's a chance that in these cries there's a genuine plea for help?

One Word: Boundaries

Dr. Henry Cloud writes an incredible book on the topic of Boundaries and if you haven't read it yet, I highly suggest you order a copy.

In his book he gives a great definition of Boundaries:

“Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where i end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom. Taking responsibility for my life opens up many different options. Boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out. Setting boundaries inevitably involves taking responsibility for your choices. You are the one who makes them. You are the one who must live with their consequences. And you are the one who may be keeping yourself from making the choices you could be happy with. We must own our own thoughts and clarify distorted thinking.”

If we are going to offer help, we have to evaluate what is our reasonable responsibility is to help.  Keeping in mind, that I can't let any amount of guilt or emotional connection to cloud what is sound judgement.

Boundaries bring about definition. Why is this relevant to the story I told at the beginning of this post? Boundaries create the reasonable ground. They give us the power to make sound decisions and not be drawn out into the shifting waters of a desperate plea to fix the problem. They clarify that even though I have the desire to help, I will help on my terms.  They keep us from shelling out $2,000 on a credit line for bail money and living the next 6 weeks in fear hoping they will attend court.

You owe it to yourself to set boundaries. Remember we can't give away what we don't have. As simple as that might sound, we would tend to not think that way when it comes to helping someone we love. We would move heaven and earth if we could, but yet when we don't think rationally and allow ourselves to fall victim to empty promises time after time, we really aren't helping. I encourage you to try this. Make the decision this week to put a boundary in place with your loved one. This is about setting a life up for yourself where you can feel confident knowing you made rational choices and did everything you could to help.