An alcoholic demanded to return home from a treatment center. His wife felt that being home where she could take care of him was a good thing even though the staff at the center strongly advised otherwise. Once she had assisted with his return, she did her best, as she had over their years together, to love him with tenderness, encourage him to stop drinking, create distractions, and generally try to make him feel good about himself, or at least better. She appealed to his reason (this didn’t work when he was drunk), and addressed the needs of the most frightened parts of his personality when they were active. For example, he would say, “No one cares for me,” and she would say, “Of course people love you.” He would say “I am washed up,” and she would say, “You have so much to give.” He would say, “I can’t start again,” and she would say, “When the going gets tough the tough get going.”
He feared experiencing the emotional pain that years of drinking no longer masked (which is what the center would have required him to do). His wife feared his rage, mood swings, irrationality, and drinking. Three months after his return home, he drowned in his vomit in bed, too incoherent or weak to prevent his death. There was no compassion in this picture. Neighbors may have thought the wife was compassionate, but what would they think if they realized that her choices assisted his death? Her fears and his fears prevented them from listening to professionals who know about alcoholism.
Compassion is loving others enough to say or do what is appropriate from an empowered heart without attachment to the outcome. His wife did not say, “You can’t come back – not to my home – until you start to change yourself.” Nor did she say, “You are a tornado in this house, destructive to me, our children, and everyone around you. Leave this morning and don’t return until you stop drinking.” She probably could not have forced him into treatment, but she might have been able legally to force him from the house he used for shelter while he drank with no responsibilities. Although these actions may seem hard or cruel, they would have been compassionate choices, and they would have required her to challenge every part of her personality that felt unjust, inhuman, or guilty. And her husband might still be alive. Might be. The choice to drink or not – to experience his pain and change or not – was always his. It was his last choice.
We each make choices moment to moment. Sometime we make them from fear, and sometimes we make them in love. Only choices made in love are compassionate. There are no exceptions. Do you have the courage to act with an empowered heart without attachment to the outcome? If not, you have no ability to give or experience compassion. That is the shocking truth.