Drowning slowly…

How far do you go in helping someone at your own personal cost?


Brick. That’s one of the daily word challenges I noticed a couple of days ago on WordPress.

“She’s a brick and I’m drowning slowly, off the coast and I’m heading nowhere” (Ben Folds Five, Brick). First thing that came to mind.

Have you heard the song? Ben Folds is alright – not my favourite artist, but yeah. The song was around several years ago, not sure how much of a hit it was. I remember being struck by it though. As far as I can tell, it’s a song about a guy stuck in a relationship that was drowning him. Not sure how much the lyrics tell us (I just checked them and as is so often the case, can’t quite make complete sense of them). Still, in the post-modern world it’s not so much what the songwriter meant as what it means to me.

I remember sitting there listening to this song occasionally when it got airplay, thinking what a raw deal he had. You enter into a relationship hoping it’s a two way street, but not this one. He’s being sucked dry, but we’re never given the details (or if we are I don’t get it). To me there’s this implicit struggle – do you hang around, or do you cut your losses and move on? If you hang around, you’re doing it for the other person, that’s a given. She (in this song it’s a she) is herself drowning, and latching on to whatever she can to keep herself afloat.

I literally had this experience once, where my girlfriend at the time was next to me in the ocean but couldn’t swim well at all, and when she realised that she was in water that she couldn’t stand up in, she panicked and latched on to me with the kind of strength that only fear can create. I remember being pushed under the water as she clambered on top of me to try and stay afloat, and it was only because I was stronger than her that I was able to force her away from me, all the while screaming at her “Swim, swim back to the shore” over and over and over. I’ve forgotten how she felt or what she said when we got back on dry land, but I’m sure she was ashamed and apologetic.

Fact is, she couldn’t help herself. And in the song by Ben, there’s no blame attached. How can you blame someone who is in the thrall of something so desperate that she feels like she’s going under? But do you hang around, do you continue to offer yourself as a piece of driftwood she can cling to?

The obvious and rational answer is no. You can’t really help her, at least not like that. Someone who clings to you, metaphorically or otherwise, is not learning to stand on their own two feet, and if you’re not careful you will prop them up for the rest of your life at great cost to your own freedom and happiness. But at the same time how can you leave someone floundering like that?

When it came to my girlfriend out there in the ocean, my solution to her situation thankfully worked. But how do you do that in real life? How do you push someone away whilst all the time still managing to help them? Rightly or wrongly (most of the time wrongly I think), I feel terrible about letting people down. I’m not sure where that comes from, and even if I did know I’m not sure I would share it here. But I find it very difficult to let someone face their own demons. I would love to be Captain Courageous and step in to save the day. But I can’t. I just don’t have the answers.

I have to let them go. I’m no good to them while they’re drowning me. But maybe I can stand not too far away, refusing to be clung to, but offering perspectives that might or might not get through. In the ocean that wasn’t hard to do, just seemed to come naturally in the moment. In real life it’s hard to know what that would look like.

Author: Terry Lewis

I'm a guy in his 50's who thought it might be fun to write about day to day issues - the stuff that life is made of. It's helped me think and develop some deeper perspectives. I enjoyed it so much I thought I might start posting it in a blog, and here we are! I intend to mix it up as much as I can. I am a thinking kind of guy so the majority of my posts will probably have some kernel of truth or (hopefully) wisdom nestled in there somewhere. But I also hope to have some light hearted posts as well. Too much thinking can make life pretty dull! Anyway, hope you like it.

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