Once there was a kind old woman who lived near a beautiful lake. Every day she sat on her porch and enjoyed the view. In the summer she swam in the cool water. In the fall she took long walks along the shore. In the winter she watched the sparkling water and felt thankful for the wonderful place she lived.
One day a man came and fished from the public dock near her house. He fished often and they became friends.
After a time, he brought a boat and launched it into the water. Soon he decided to stand in the boat, and he fell overboard. He could not swim and called for help. The old woman jumped in to save him. She pulled him ashore and he thanked her profusely.
The next day he came again with his boat. “Don’t stand up,” called the kind, old woman. The man nodded, but soon he stood and fell. Once again, the old woman swam out to save him. “Don’t stand in the boat!” she said as she shook the water from her clothes.
Over the next few weeks, this occurrence was repeated. Some days the man managed not to fall overboard, but often he did. The old woman began to dread looking out her window. She stopped sitting on the porch and taking walks.
She offered to teach him to swim, but he said he couldn’t learn. She bought him a life jacket and he lost it. She bought another, he forgot to wear it. She asked him to stop using the boat, but his promise never lasted long. She hid the boat, but he soon found another.
She told herself she would not save him. One day she tried, but she could not bear to hear his cries for help. She jumped in again.
Every day she worried if he would show up. Even on the days that he didn’t come, she spent the day wondering if he would. Winter was the worst- jumping into the freezing water. Her paradise had become a torture chamber.
In desperation, she called the police, but they said the lake was public and she could not stop him from using it. “But he’s crazy,” she said.
“Fishing is not a crime,” the officer said.
“He should wear a life vest,” the woman said.
“I’ll write him a ticket,” said the officer.
The man paid his ticket and wore his vest for a while, but soon forgot. The old woman called the police again and again, but they could only write tickets and soon tired of her calls and began to act as if she were the problem. She begged them to put him in jail, where at least he would be safe, but they said they could not.
She continued to beg her friend to stop fishing from a boat, to wear a life jacket, or learn to swim, but there was no convincing him.
“But your survival is dependent on me,” she said, “you need to be able to save yourself.”
“But you always save me,” he said.
“I’m tired of saving you, it’s destroying my life,” she said.
“But I cannot save myself,” he said, “would you let me die?”
Next, the old woman talked to her friends at church and they said, “How can you not save him? You must love your fellow man,” and she felt guilty for thinking about letting him drown.
She talked to her friend the psychologist and she said. “He needs help, but we cannot force him to get help unless he says he wants to die. He obviously does not, because he calls for help. You must understand he is sick,” and the old woman felt guilty for not wanting to help a friend who was sick.
She talked to her strong, old friend who was a veteran of many wars and he said, “Only the strong survive. How have you let him ruin your life for this long? Ignore him.” and the old woman felt guilty for not being able to ignore him.
So, feeling like no one really understood her dilemma the kind, old woman felt totally lost. Would she ever be able to return to the life she had before he took it from her?
Parables usually have a moral. What is the moral of this story? Maybe you think the story sounds ridiculous. Who would be so irrational? Who would refuse to stop behavior that could kill them? Who would refuse to find a way to save themselves? And would someone really destroy their own life to save another?
Unfortunately, it’s not as ridiculous as it sounds. Repeating self-destructive behavior is exactly what an addict does when they return to drugs and life-threatening situations over and over again and refuse the help that could save them.
And the dilemma the kind old woman faced? It is exactly what the person that loves an addict faces. Every. Single. Day.