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I Cannot Save You, by Michelle L Devon

The piece that follows was written over 10 years ago now. I wrote it while I was in a relationship with a man who treated me with love and respect, but he used drugs. Occasional marijuana use turned into snorting cocaine, and led to freebasing coke, and that lead to other things.

As his world fell around him, I tried to save him. For two more years after the drug abuse worsened, we continued an on again off again relationship. Eventually, the toll this drug abuse had on the relationship became too much for me, and I had to walk away.

Today, he and I are friends, good friends even, and I still care deeply for him, though I have moved on with my life. Sometimes, I will see him and my heart flip flops, with a mixture of emotion between sorrow and wistful regret that I cannot fix him, cannot save him. Each year goes by, and he looks worse and worse. My heart wants to reach out and pick him up, but having broken away from my codependency, I know beyond doubt that I cannot save him.

Anyone who has experienced codependency, no matter the cause (it’s not always drugs or alcohol) will probably understand the feelings expressed in this writing.

I hope you enjoy it.

I Cannot Save You

I can watch you on the water, struggling to breathe, reaching for the safety of the shore.

And I cannot save you.

I can reach for you and try to pull you in, but you must reach back and help me.

I can throw you a life preserver to keep you from sinking, but this will only work for awhile. You must still swim to shore and save yourself.

While I stand on the shore and watch you drowning, floundering, struggling to survive—gasping for air and calling out my name—I know that I cannot jump in and save you. For you would only pull me down into the water with you—and neither of us would make it to the safety of the shore.

And yet, I struggle with that decision—for surely, if you do not make it to safety, if the water overcomes you and I watch you go down one more time—and this time you do not rise—I know that I would not want to live my life knowing that I could not save you, that there would be times I would wish I had gone down in that water with you, sacrificed myself, yet neither of us would be saved.

I can save myself. I can choose not to jump into that water.

But I cannot save you.

When you first jumped into the water, I watched you, and you splashed around laughing and floating on your back. I laughed with you, standing on the shore, splashing water in your face. But then you dove deeper and swam farther into the water…and the laughter stopped. It was not fun anymore. I stood on the shore, calling back to you, begging you to come back to the safety of the shore.

And you did swim closer. Sometimes you would come close enough that we could splash and laugh again and it was fun again—but you would not get out of the water…you would not come and stand on the shore with me. You said you liked the warm feel of the water on your skin—you liked the free feeling of floating weightlessly. So you would come close to me, but would never come stand with me.

And as I watched you playing in the water, each time you swam out farther and dove deeper than the time before, and then you swam so far away from where I stood that I could hardly recognize you anymore… I could hear that you were calling to me, but I could not understand what you were saying from so far away. I called back, but you could not hear me any better than I could hear you.

And you began to struggle. You began to flail and wave violently against the waves that were now overcoming you.

And I cannot save you.

I reached out my arms for you, but you did not reach back for me.

Now you are so far out that I can barely even see you.

I threw you every life preserver that I could find—even borrowing from people the things that they had that might save you. But you just used them temporarily and then cast them away. Sometimes it seemed you did not want to be saved.

I asked people to help me and, while their intentions were good, all they could do was stand on the shore with me and support me while I watched you drowning. They reached for you too, they helped me reach for you—they listened to me cry because I knew you were drowning. I was going to lose you—they even offered me advice on how to save you.

But I cannot save you.

The only thing that I can do is stand on this shore until there is nothing left of you—to stand here and watch you and hope and pray that one day you will swim back in and reach out for my hand and you can once again stand on the safety of the shore with me.

But for now, all I can do is watch you drowning—and pray for you—and wait for you.

I cannot see you anymore. The night has grown dark and the water has grown cold and the waves are crashing all around my feet—and I cannot see you anymore. But I know you are still out there, drowning, reaching for a breath and going back under again and again. I can feel you out there, struggling to survive—and I feel guilty standing here safe on the shore—what right do I have to stand here so safely when you are fighting for your life?

But I cannot save you.

All I can do is stand here. All I can do is wait.

Maybe one day when the sun rises high above the water, and the water is once again warm, and the waves are no longer crashing at my feet—perhaps then I will look out on the water and will see that you are gone. I will never know if you found a way to cross to the other side, saved yourself—or if somewhere in the dark of the night you succumbed to the waves.

Perhaps on that day, when I can no longer feel you, I will walk away from this shore and move on with my life.

But for now, I will stand here, and I will watch for you, and reach for you, and throw you anything I can to help pull you out of the water.

But I cannot save you.

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2 Responses to “I Cannot Save You, by Michelle L Devon”

  1. kathy says:

    Thank you for this letter Michy. The words are powerful and describes precisely what a loved one of a dependent person feels. It is so hard to see them do things that cause them to sink even more. Yet, you know that if they do not accept the lifejacket you try to give them, it can’t save them. This piece could be framed and kept close by as a reminder of how sometimes letting go is the best thing.

  2. Heather says:

    My ex husband. I miss him every day. Thank you.

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