On the Bridge


Sometimes, it’s better to just stay on the bridge…

The story I was told is that one of my great uncles worked as a Bridge Tender in New York City, stationed on one of the Harlem River bridges. His job was to make sure the bridge was clear of traffic and pedestrians prior to opening the bridge for boats to pass through. While it was an important job, it must also have been kind of boring when he was waiting for the call to clear and open the bridge. So, when I think of that June afternoon, I imagine him sitting outside his booth, enjoying the sun, the breeze, and watching the water going by, with no clue of what was about to happen!

Just upstream from the bridge, two girls were wading along the banks of the river, when one fell in, and the other went in after her!

The first girl was washed downstream and was quickly lost under the water, but when my great uncle saw the second girl pass under his bridge, he dove into the water to save her! Although he was a strong swimmer, the current was stronger, and he simply could not reach the girl! Finally, the river became too much for him, and he too slipped under the water!

For his efforts, my great uncle won a Carnegie Hero Award for 1943, which was given to his widow.

There is no doubt about his bravery, by all accounts my great uncle was not the type of person to stand by while someone needed his help; however, as it turned out, his sacrifice was in vain. When the bodies were recovered, it was determined that the girl my uncle tried to rescue was probably already dead when he dove in after her.

Those of us who have Addicts in our lives can understand what it is like to continue to throw ourselves into the raging waters, in an attempt to save them, only to run the risk of drowning ourselves! Just as with my great uncle, who dove into the water after those children, it only seems right to dive in to try and save those who are drowning in a river of drugs and alcohol!

Unfortunately, Addiction seldom makes any sense. What seems like the right thing to do, doesn’t always have good results, which is why this is such a difficult disease to try to manage.

When someone in our lives is struggling with Addiction, there is seldom a clear way forward, making ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ subjective, instead, we often wind up having to face each new challenge as it comes to us, doing whatever we need to do to take care of ourselves. Sometimes this means doing things that doesn’t make sense to ourselves or others, simply to get some peace, relief from constant stress of living with Addiction…and there is nothing wrong with this!

Sometimes, it is better to stay on the bridge, and let the river flow by, rather than to jump in and drown!

Although he meant well, when my great uncle dove into the water to save those girls, he not only lost his own life, but also wound up costing his own family dearly. Due to the loss, his family was deprived of the love and support he would have given them. Eventually they were living close to the poverty line, and often had to rely upon charity and the kindness of others to make ends meet.

In same way, when someone sacrifices themselves to try to save an Addict (especially one who does not want saving) they may be depriving those around them of their love and support, as they become obsessed with ‘fixing’ the Addict! Sadly, all this effort often just leaves these good intentioned people tired, frustrated and sick…and not much good for anyone, including themselves.

While we may understand the importance of self-care, it is very difficult to go against our instincts and detach from the Addict in our lives. This takes practice, and patience (with ourselves), which is why it is important not to be hard on ourselves for occasionally slipping and taking a quick swim…it is all part of the process!

And this is why we need to support of those who have been on the river’s edge themselves, and know what it is like to dive into those murky waters, only to struggle back to shore, soaking wet, exhausted and empty handed!

With this help, and practice, it gets easier to let go, and we can get better, which is important as we will need to be healthy in order to face the challenges of living with Addiction on a daily basis, without losing ourselves in the swift waters!

For when reach out to each other in support and compassion, there is the hope of knowing that no matter what we face in life, we never have to face it alone, and that sometimes, it is okay to stay on the bridge, so that we can be there for those we can help…including ourselves.

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