How Can I Fix My Friend?

Dr. Matt-

This may be a semi-long-winded question, but it takes some explaining to get to the heart of it. I just finished reading you blog concerning friends… Adding more pluses, getting rid of minuses, and I have a situation. One of my best friend’s of four years has been on a slippery slope towards badness for a while.

She was in a very abusive relationship, emotionally and verbally, she drinks heavily and she hides much of her emotions through food. She has gained about 100 pounds (give or take 20) since our freshman year of college, and does not look like she is planning on stopping her binge. She also drinks the equivalent of about a case of beer every night (in different forms… usually wine and harder liquors). She hangs on to the thought of her reclaiming herself through losing weight and getting rid of her attachment to her lover (who broke up with her over a year ago, but keeps her on a yo-yo through passive-aggressive tendencies). I have tried talking to her, my classmates (all of whom are very close to her) have tried talking to her as well about how to possibly fix some of the issues, she has gone to therapy about twice, but nothing has changed. I have gone through a similar situation, so I know that she leans on me a lot for different emotional support. I have changed from being angry at her ex-boyfriend, to being angry at her. She talks about wanting to change so much, but yet she takes no strides to help herself. I also worry about her alcohol consumption and her weight gain. She is a beautiful woman, and I want her to be around for a long time. I’m scared that she is killing herself slowly through the destructive patterns that she is involved in. What can I do/How can I help and/or when is it time to let go?

Worried In Illinois

Dear Wii,

Whew, Nilly, that’s a pickle, for sure. You have a friend in an emotional spiral the size of a hurricane, and your question basically is, “Dr. Matt, how do I change the weather?”

You strike me as one of those fix-it people. If someone is crying, you hand them a Kleenex. If a puppy is abandoned, you find it a home. You care about your friend and you want to help, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Thing is, it doesn’t sound like your friend wants to change. Now, you might say, “Dr. Matt, that’s silly, of course she wants to change, she talks about it all the time.”

Well, let me put it to you this way. Say you and I are at the beach. I’m wearing sandals, khaki shorts, and a polo shirt, and have on a really great pair of sunglasses. Now say I say to you, “I want a hot dog.”

You point out that there is a hot dog vendor not far away. I say, “I don’t know, I’m not sure if I can.” You point out that really the distance is not far, and you start pulling me by the arm.

I say, “I really don’t know if I’ve done enough to earn a hot dog.” You tell me that indeed I have enough money in my wallet and if I’m short some change there’s probably something you can do to help.

“I don’t know,” I say. “Am I really good enough to deserve a hot dog?”

You assure me that I’m a kind and wonderful person, and handsome at that, and certainly a hot dog should be consumed by me.

“Yeah, I just don’t think I can walk over there yet, because the sun is just too hot,” I say. I sit down and sulk and you comfort me and tell me that it’s okay that I didn’t get the hot dog this time and that I can get it next time.

Now… if this happened, do you think any part of that exchange had anything to do with hot dogs? Sure, I may have actually wanted a hot dog, but I got much more satisfaction from you doting on me and supporting me than I figured I could gain from actually making a choice and taking responsibility for myself.

I’m not saying don’t care about your friend. I’m saying you’re trying to get her to change things when clearly she’s not ready to, and then you’re getting angry at her for not doing it. Yes, it’s sad when people go into a downward spiral, but you can only help her to the extent she wants to be helped. The real tip off that something is amiss is that all of your classmates talk to her as well about how to solve her issues. It sounds like she might fall into the role of the Professional Tragic Character. The PTCs are people whose lives are so awful, so hopeless, so depressing, so without purpose, that they absolutely must tell everyone they know about it. “Try this,” you say.

“Oh no no no,” they say. “I’ve already tried that. Don’t you know that wouldn’t work for me?”

I’ve known a few PTCs, and they really aren’t worth your time. Or, at least, it’s not worth your time to talk to them yet again about their depressing, awful, hopeless, worthless lives (or at least that’s how their lives might sound to hear them describe it).

Instead, leave that friend on the beach, and let her work it out. Give her the money for a hot dog, if you like, but don’t spend your time convincing her to get one. She might panic and cry and claim to be slipping into deeper misery over her lack of hot dog, but by that time you could be over by the tennis courts, watching me play in my tennis outfit. And isn’t that much more rewarding?

Thanks for your question!

Dr. Matt*

*Dr. Matt is not a real doctor.

Have a question for Dr. Matt? Write him! Send your question to [email protected].

Dr. Matt

Dr. Matt* gives advice on relationships, life, death, half-life, pet ownership, sexuality, asexuality, proto-sexuality, and mustache growing. * Dr. Matt is not a real doctor.

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