I’m pretty grateful for the seven arrests I’ve experienced.

Although the root causes ran deep, every single one resulted from substance abuse of some kind—abuse of legal drugs, illegal drugs, and alcohol. The outcomes were theft, DWAIs, DUIs and other criminal charges. None of these were my own arrests, but they may as well have been—I shared the aftermath. I paid a high price financially and emotionally, and I took a big hit to my freedom. Believe it or not though, I’m glad; each of these events served to make me free today.

I’m a hard case—it took me seven trips to hell before I could see the way out. Ironically, peace was just a sidestep that I stubbornly refused to take until I got to arrest number seven.

I was guilty of my own crime: arrogance. It showed up as “helpfulness”, but in truth it was a form of selfishness—not to mention, fantasy. I believed that by “helping” I could mitigate the negative impacts for my loved ones, protect their future, and most of all, control any possible constraints upon my own life as a person standing in the falling rock zone.

Each arrest involved someone either living with me, or living close to my heart. I shelled out thousands for lawyers, loans, gifts, and payouts for jobs around the house that provided opportunities to earn the large amounts of money needed for penalties, court fees, and mandatory education and therapy.

The biggest cost was to my time. I drove people around—traded my priorities for theirs. I spent hours and hours listening, encouraging, and painting a vision of a great times to come after jail and probation—all in the name of love and an investment in the future. I did, and still do, believe that each of these precious people could flourish. But this is the lie I told myself: “If I make these sacrifices now, the coming years will be easier for everyone (especially me).”

It wasn’t until I stopped interfering with their lives that I got one for myself. It took me seven arrests to see that what I was trying to avoid wasn’t their pain, but mine.

The bottom line was that I didn’t want to co-experience their enslavement. The fallacy was in the belief that it had to become my own. I thought it was was going to be too difficult to deny them certain kinds of help and watch them squirm. It turns out, it wasn’t. I thought I had to demonstrate my love in very specific ways, but love isn’t something you should have to prove. You merely give it. Whether or not it’s recognized is immaterial.

At some point I realized that I had committed a crime against myself. I was giving up my own work—my own dreams—by choosing to participate in these dramas. I think I finally just got old enough to realize I was gambling with time. I had gone way beyond an offer of compassion and emotional support. Some might say, “helping them is the right thing to do” but help doesn’t have to look like a trade-in of one life for another. We’re each responsible, primarily, for our own successes, mistakes, and learnings. Our jobs as parents and friends are simply this: love unconditionally, give encouragement, and tell the truth. In the name of love, I may have denied my dear ones the simplest and quickest way to their own freedom.

In the end, we each have to decide for ourselves what love in relationships looks like. Don’t forget to love yourself in the process.