Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Asking for Help

Somewhere along the way, I got this warped idea that self-worth and love could be purchased with favors, like some kind of twisted emotional barter system.  If you had a need that I could satisfy, then you would value me as a human being.  If I didn’t take care of you, I was worth-less, and someone else would sneak in and hold that place in your life.  It’s a good thing I was smart and resourceful because my emotional survival hung on this paradigm.  In fact, it’s fair to say that became an emotional hoarder. The more I did for others, the more important I was to the people in my life.  The more I sacrificed, the less chance there was I would be kicked to the curb.  More begat more, begat unmanageability, and we all know the rest of that story, right?

It wasn’t until I got to Al-Anon and did my Fourth Step that I realized how much this paradigm was ingrained in my psyche, and how flawed it was at its core.   One of the first things that I was told to do was to ask for help.  Pick up the phone and call someone, or engage a sponsor.  You might as well have asked me to light my house on fire.  To ask for help meant I had to give away some of my bartering chits and compromise my stockpile.  Clearly, I could do for others to buy their respect and love, but if I asked for someone to help me, I would have to pay for it, because that’s how the barter system works.  If I truly believed that doing for others would earn me something, then the converse had to be true as well.   Accepting from others would cost me.

The problem with this point of view is that it comes from a place of poverty and separateness.   It says that as a human being, I start with nothing.  I am worth nothing.  I have to perform and do for others to earn value in the world, and if I want love in return, I better pay for it.  Emotional currency.

But when I look at it in those very basic terms, I know I don’t believe that about anyone else. It comes down to intrinsic human value.  We all have a basic fundamental value as human beings, and are deserving of love and care.  I know that I believe that about you, the problem is that I hold myself to a different standard.

That is why learning to ask for help is such an important step in my recovery, as it is for all of us.  We come to Al-Anon because we are in trouble.  There isn’t one of us who doesn’t need help.  It has to be pretty big for us to admit it, but most of us are already there when we finally drag ourselves in the door.  Asking for help is the first step in acknowledging, to ourselves, that we are deserving of love and care.  We may say it differently.  It usually begins with “He won’t stop and it’s killing me!”  We feel like we’re taking a last ditch effort to save someone else, but what really happens is that for the first time, we say, “I have nothing left to give, but can you help me anyways?”

With those words, we begin to acknowledge our own intrinsic value as human beings, the kind of value we don’t have to earn or pay for.  And when we are blessed enough to find it, in Al-anon or elsewhere, it begins to replenish all that we’ve overspent and the false paradigm starts to melt away.

© Copyright 2013 al-anon journal
Photo credit:  www.iStockphoto.com/09-09-09 © oyaboya


  1. What a great post. Two things stood out to me first the fact that we don't hold others to our bartering standards. The being worthy only applies to us because we would do anything for anyone that needed us. The second was "having nothing left to give" we still show up to help someone else because we would never put our needs above someone else.

    Your post so closely reflect my story. Thank you.

  2. I am working with a fellow now who has been the care taker for others. He has little regard for himself and is gradually learning to love himself and put the focus on himself rather than on the troubled people in his life.