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.


  • Published: February 11, 2013
  • Filed in: Blog


  1. jonseyj1 says:

    Thanks for this – I just clicked on this today and I needed to hear it! My family is planning a trip to Hawaii for my father’s 80th birthday and my parents asked for my input on getting a condo together. Rather than having an easy conversation I spoke from my own truth – that as a family we get very anxious around each other after about two days. Alcohol is used as a way to make this pain easier to bear – but of course it make matters worse. I have no idea where this conversation will lead – it was uncomfortable to have. Holding the tension of acceptance without resignation?

  2. heathergirl63 says:

    I appreciate the alcohol issue used as an example here by Gary. However, I felt that this article and his point about compassion was more about the contrast between acting in LOVE or acting out of FEAR and how that plays out in these complicated relationships that we have with our closest, most intimate Soul Relationships. The part that stood out most for me was ‘without attachment to outcome.’ Too often we believe “if only I do this or that THEN…(fill in the blank.)” Then we’re guessing from within our fear because we believe we need a certain outcome to be happy. Striving for Authentic Power is not EASY! It’s REAL…but it’s not EASY!

  3. ksb says:

    Dear Gary
    It sounds as if this situation touched something deep within you. Whilst I agree that this woman’s actions probably came more from co-dependency than compassion, I’m sure that she felt she was ‘doing the right thing’. It seems to me that both people were victims of this man’s impulse to drink. His wife being as psychologically unwell as him, her issues simply manifesting in another way.

    I am reminded of the ‘middle way’ when I think about compassion and any emotion for that matter. Having the volume turned up too high on any emotion can be detrimental. I’m not sure that this woman wasn’t showing compassion but rather feeling compassion too strongly and therefore unable to react/respond to her own feelings appropriately.

    You remain one of my favourite authors. Thank you to you and Linda for being here.

    Karen Scott-Boyd

  4. Kelley says:


    I am reminded by reading your post that things are not always what they appear to be. An action that appears cruel can actually be a compassionate one.

    Do I have the courage to act with an empowered heart without attachment to the outcome? Do I have the courage to refuse to relate to my friend when he has been drinking? Do I have the courage to refuse to interact with him from a place of mutual need? I do. It’s putting this courage into action that is most challenging for me.

    It requires that I let go of many things that I have hung onto. It requires that I let go of the need for my friend to be a certain way before I can accept myself (or him). It requires that I let go of trying to find external validation for myself. It requires that I let go of the need to be needed in order to be acceptable, valuable, and loved.

    It requires me to be radically compassionate towards myself.

  5. gracepetals says:

    I have worked with female and young offenders in the past. Many landed in the corrections system, as they had resorted to crime to sustain their drug habit. Gisela, not to imply that will happen to your daughter. The addiction needs to be addressed. And in my experience, it is tough love that is required. She needs to dry out, or clean her system out, in preparation to begin the healing.

    Having said that, I have a friend living in my home. This person suffers from Schizo-Affective Disorder and is on medication. I personally feel if he healed the childhood wounds, and began to love himself, his manic/depressive outbursts every two weeks would eventually subside. The energy draining is causing me so much stress, that he is now on a month to month tenant basis. He has his space downstairs and I have asked that he not bother me. He will sabotage a situation (has done this all of his life) to validate why he is unlovable. I have had to set very clear boundaries. Initially I wondered if my tough love and boundaries were too harsh. I was beating myself up. My friends have all said that I have gone far beyond what I would have been expected. Thank you for this article. I now realize that what I am really offering is compassion for this person so that he might heal.While staying strong in my own power.

  6. Brenda says:

    Dear Gary

    Thankyou. Your book Seat of the Soul turned my life around many years ago. I thankyou for your comment about compassion. I have a family member who is struggling and I can easly ‘give in’ becuase it feels the right thing to do but I am just muddled and coming from quilt.

  7. KimMoxie says:

    Is it our job to correct error in another? Aren’t we perceiving the error within ourselves when we point out error in another? Holy Spirit and ACIM tell me that “your brother’s errors are not of him, any more than yours are of you.” Only by accepting that my brother’s actions are real do I attack myself. Holy Spirit says ” give all errors to me.” Isn’t this the real truth about compassion? ( sorry for all the questions … but this issue is so prevalent on my mind).

  8. johnfourfeathers says:

    With alcoholism rampant on our reservation, this is an important and timely message. Both my father and brother died of alcoholism (my father of cirrhosis of the liver, my brother in a fatal DUI car crash). When they were alive and drinking, they were like tornadoes in our home, violent and destructive. But instead of confronting them, my family members and tribal leaders stood by and watched as they brought misery to themselves and those around them. No one dared confront them. Never again will I tolerate such behavior from anyone, including those who are close to me. Gary is right, until an alcoholic is willing to face the frightened parts of their personality that seeks relief in alcohol, no change will come. Caretaking them will not help them, nor help those around them.

  9. gisela says:

    This is such a difficult thing to do. It’s hard to know what the right thing is when it is your child who has the addiction and it’s your instinct to protect her. I am currently struggling with this. My heart is telling me to be there and nurture her while my rational mind is warning me that this might not be the right thing to do. I wish I knew what the right way was. Thank you for writing this.

    1. kim says:

      I grew up with a brother who was addicted to drugs and alcohol. My parents were so terrified of kicking him out of the house, calling the cops on him, or not continuing to support him in any way. Unfortunately, this took a huge toll on my family, especially my parents.

      My brother has grown up to know of no consequences and, although clean and sober, continues to keep draining the family, emotionally and financially. He quit drugs and alcohol but never got any therapy or did any work to deal with why he abused drugs in the first place. Therefore, his behaviors just manifested in others ways.

      In addition, the toll that it took on my parents led to my dad getting sick and passing away after 20 years of enabling and my mom getting sick leading to the point of extreme disability. Not to exactly blame my brother, as I understand there is a co-creation, and my parents also had choices that they made in creating their own lives and consequences. However, there comes a point in life where you must make a decision. Is my love and protection helping her or allowing her to continue to abuse herself and others?

      Here is a quote from one of my favorite books…

      “Determining what is best for you will require you to also determine what it is you are trying to do. This is an important step that people ignore. What are you “up to”? What is your purpose in life? Without answers to these questions, the matter of what is “best” in any given circumstances will remain a mystery.

      As a practical matter-leaving esoterics aside-if you look to what is best for you in these situations where you are being abused, at the very least what you will do is stop the abuse. And that will be good for you and your abuser. For even an abuser is abused when his abuse is allowed to continue.

      This is not healing to the abuser, but damaging. For if the abuser finds that his abuse is acceptable, what has he learned? Yet if the abuser finds that his abuse will be accepted no more, what has he been allowed to discover?

      Therefore, treating others with love does not necessarily mean allowing others to do as they wish.” ~Neale Donald Walsch from Conversations with God Book 1

      I hope this has helped. Please seek advice from a professional. Alanon would be a great place for you to get the help and support that you need to make the best choices for you, your family, and especially your daughter. Good luck! Stay strong and centered. You and daughter deserve this.

      1. Susie says:

        A beautiful, empowered and compassionate response to Gisela, Kim. Thank you for your thoughtfulness.

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