Asking for help Part 1

I had a blast on Monday at the taping of Oprah’s lifeclass with Dr. Brene Brown.  Oprah and Brene are both witty, smart, engaging women who create interesting and engaging conversation.  The tapings flew by. The audience had about 150 people..and to be honest, we weren’t there to see Oprah (though, to be equally honest, she was a fabulous bonus! 🙂

We were there to see Brene.

And it seemed somewhere between 1/4-1/2 of us were therapist/social worker types who use her research in our daily practice with our clients.

The thing about using her research with clients means that if we are going to expect authenticity, vulnerability and  courage in our clients, we gotta walk the talk.

 And I hate that.

But only mostly.

When I deliberately choose practices of wholehearted living, I am richer for it.

Better relationships, greater joy. Increased sense of inner calm.

One of the important points for this “helping crowd” that Brene Brown raised was that when helpers won’t accept help, it is actually a sign that they are judging those that they help.

poster made by Bergen and Associates Counselling in Winnipeg of quote by Brene Brown: If you can

That’s hard, eh?

Most of us helpers  (mebbe you, too?) are quite uncomfortable accepting help.

It acknowledges vulnerability to depend on someone, and it opens one up to uncertainty when a person lets in another to help.When Brene said that, the discomfort level rose in the room.

A room full of “helpers” who excel at giving help…and squirm at the thought of asking for help.

That old adage of “It’s better to give than receive” gets conveniently twisted for many helpers to say, “It’s so much better to give than receive, that you simply shouldn’t ever receive, and if you do, you’re weak and selfish and not a good helper”…and for many that’s a convenient cover for, “It’s more comfortable to be in control by giving, than by being vulnerable by receiving, so I’ll armor up in a socially acceptable way so no one will ever know that I’m hiding from others”

I know that without me being aware of it, being a helper, rather than a helpee was one way I armored up to avoid vulnerability.

Years ago, crisis hit my family when it blew apart.  I had major demands on my life of crisis management in the midst of a time I felt pulled apart with grief and confusion.  In short, I was a mess, and I had too much to get done to fall apart…except I was.

My pastor asked me if there was something people could do to help…people wanted to help and they wanted to know what to do that would be truly helpful.  I jokingly said that I could make a list.

She seriously asked me to make the list. I intentionally made it quite extensive, to give a potential helper the ability to choose something that felt like it fit their interest.  I was clear about the reason it was long, and asked people to pick and chose.

Don’t you know that everything on the list got covered by somebody.


And then some. I got home from work one day in late spring (work stops for no family crisis) and don’t you know that my empty flower beds suddenly had flowers in them, with a little note that “the Garden Fairies” had come by.  I still don’t know where Garden Fairies come from…and that’s part of a lovely mystery for me. In the midst of a hard time, having people help me so lavishly was healing in itself.

Helen decided that she would come clean my house…not once but regularly…and for as long as I needed it. Generosity that blew me away. Who does that? Wow!

She had been in a similar situation in her life, and was adamant that I should spend my energy with Junior Tribe Members, rather than cleaning toilets. She was doing this so my kids could have a more accessible parent.

I didn’t know Helen well.  We hung out in different circles and were unlikely friends. I was shocked and profoundly humbled by her offer. Friends of ours said, “But Helen, how are you gonna clean Carolyn’s house? You can hardly leave yours?” Helen suffered from depression and anxiety.  She kicked her drinking habit a few years before, but that took Herculean effort considering the sort of trauma she had experienced in her life. It was a daily struggle for her to get through the day…how was she gonna take the bus to my house?

But she did…oh, she couldn’t get out of the house some weeks, but probably more often than not, Helen came to my house.  She bravely got herself on the bus to my house. She would arrive just as the house emptied of its morning chaos, and about 20 minutes before I had to leave for work…we would sit and have tea and share our lives in its rawness…two women in a bit of a mess (actually, a lot of a horrible mess) that had nothing to lose by being completely honest about it with each other. We would share stories, and actually had some good laughs too, as we commiserated together.

We became close friends and our lives intertwined under these most unusual and most unlikely of circumstances.

Over time, she let me know that she would need to miss a week here and there because she got some part time work with a company that needed casual workers.

Eventually, my circumstances improved and it became natural for me to be able to clean my own home…and that was right around the time when Helen announced to me that she had permanent part time (and eventually full time) work.

That experience, but most specifically Helen, taught me how to accept help without judgement on myself.  It was uncomfortable, but desperation can push a person to learn hard things. And in the wonderful way of life, both of us were enriched. Helen’s help changed my life, and mixed up “helper” and “helpee” in ways that blurred the lines between, and made me a better person.

I think often the helper is helped by helping, and the person who is helped gives something to the helper that helps. (Now–a gold star to you if that makes sense to you!)

It’s still not easy for me to ask for help, but Helen and my many other friends forever changed how I understand the value of accepting help.

Helen, who had perhaps forgotten she could help and had lost touch that she had much to give, rediscovered her ability to make a genuine difference in the world.

And I gained a friend and received a blessing in my life that was priceless…then practically, and now, in the rich memory. Salisbury House is now “our restaurant”.  We still have brunch every once in a while.

And we still help each other.

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