Know the Difference: Healthy or Unhealthy Support System?

“Know the difference between those who stay to feed the soil and those who come to grab the fruit.”

This sobering statement recently came to my attention. I don’t know who originally said it, but it resonates, all the same.

It has personally factored in heavily as I have learned, firsthand, who was a part of my healthy support system…and who was NOT.

Indeed, this concept plays a MAJOR role for each of us as we navigate our addiction/recovery journeys. It is usually not too long in life, before we encounter the all too common cliché dysfunction of co-dependency, narcissism and/or exploitation.

To protect the “guilty,” the parties I mention shall remain nameless. Nevertheless, their actions reveal much.

“When people show you who they are, believe them.”
~Dr. Maya Angelou

Long story short: much of my experience involves me only hearing from certain people when they want something from me. And yes, the majority of that “something” is money.

Nothing brings this more into view than the context of family.

As I have addressed before, I don’t have a close relationship with most of my relatives. That is not, ideally, what I would want. However, experience has shown me how high I exist on various family members’ priority lists. Often, I’m not even ON those lists in the first place. I know this because there have been decades of time which have passed since I have last seen or spoken to certain relatives. That is even with social media’s prevalence. Come on, now. In today’s world, it’s not THAT difficult to “reconnect” if you truly desire to do so.

Yet, I have absolutely NO family members as my Facebook friends.

So, from that, I glean relationship with me is just not that important to them.

And yes, I understand life is busy. Marriage, family, career and health challenges are keeping us occupied. We are ALL inundated with the stuff of life.

But that does not jive with the next phase of my family interaction pattern.

With years, sometimes, decades, passing and no communication, let alone, no exchanging of contact information present, it’s a little strange then, when “out of the blue,” my phone rings. The initial “pleasantries” attempt to spill from my particular relative’s mouth for the first few seconds.

And then, here it comes: the question, the financial, and/or the “can-you-help-me-out-here-and-now” question.

It would be one thing if it was the emergency phone call, life or death. But it is not. I’ve learned (the hard way), upon granting a request, I cease to hear from that person again… until the next time, that is.

“…In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.”
Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

My phone rings again. “Can-you-help-me-out-here-and-now?”

Suddenly, I am important to them… again.

An old saying usually springs to my mind here: “Use things and love people, not the other way around.”
(I wonder if any of my family have ever heard that statement).

Regardless of whether or not they have, the important distinction here is I HAVE.

And, because I have, it is imperative I check the fruit.

“You will know them by their fruit.” Matthew 7:16

If I come to the same rescue here, will I have to come to the same rescue again?

The answer’s not too difficult to reach.

Therefore, within the last seven years, I’ve become best buddies with the word, “No.” I have had to.

And, it shouldn’t be too surprising the reaction I got when I introduced this best buddy TO my asking family.

Expletives were hurled; I was called a quite common, unflattering name used against many a female.

And I didn’t hear from that person again.

In that extreme, unpleasant moment, I learned with acute clarity, how to “know the difference.”

I have heard it said you know who a person truly is when they hear- and respond to- your no. Judging the reaction of my relative here, there was no respect for any answer that was not what he wanted to hear.

Nothing new under the sun about that: human nature.

However, an unexpected, surprising wrinkle developed after this incident. And this crossed from family…to clergy.

Upset by this abusive phone call, at the time, I contacted a pastor for counsel. On staff for years at a church I attended, he seemed to be a committed shepherd. Therefore, I sought his help. I hoped to receive prayer, wisdom and advice.

So, it felt like a FURTHER slap in the face when he bluntly responded to my request with, “This is not my area.”

“…Am I my brother’s keeper?” Genesis 4:9

What? Are you not a pastor, a shepherd, purposed to help the flock?

I walked away from that encounter, feeling like I was discarded. I could not even present my case. I was shut down. I was dismissed.

Why am I mentioning this? Because, it leads to the next “know the difference” phase of an education I received, albeit, this time, from the Church.

For, a short time later, low and behold, I hear from this same pastor. And He has a question: will I contribute financially to his church project?

Before the necessary advent of his particular project, I was invisible. Even while reaching out for his help, I was invisible.

But now, that he needs something from ME, I shoot to the TOP of HIS list?

I know I come across as a sheep who has, very much, her wooly axe to grind. But this underscores a troubling, yet, too real and common issue, even affecting those of us who need, in any way, help/recovery.

Certain people, including, unfortunately, certain family members, pastors and even churches themselves, are not to be counted on as part of healthy support network.

In an ideal world, yes, they would all be there unconditionally.

But is this world ideal? No.

So, the discernment NEEDS to kick in.

Basic questions need to be asked as we build our recovering lives.

    Will this party commit to being there for me? What does that look like for me? What does that look like for him/her?

    Is this person participating in healthy or unhealthy behaviors and choices?

    Is this person good TO me?

    Is this person good FOR me?

    Does this persona have my best interest at heart?

    Does this person have his/her own agenda? Are there ulterior motives for his/her presence in my life?

    Is this relationship a one or a two-way street? Is reciprocity here?


“Know the difference between those who stay to feed the soil and those who come to grab the fruit.”

There is no shame in needing help, asking for help, expecting a relationship to be mutually beneficial.

Sadly, that is often not what we experience, even as we are at are most vulnerable. We must not sacrifice our recovery for any other entity. This becomes challenging as we are confronted with “should expectations” from this entity. Yes, in example, family expects things of us; Church expects things of us.

But really, the hard question posits, “Are these expected things healthy for me, supporting my recovery?”

    Is our soil fed or depleted?

    Is our fruit respected or trampled?

Know the difference. Discern. Test the spirits (1 John 4:1).

This, sometimes, can be the biggest spiritual work we do in our recovery.