Thursday, March 15, 2007

I got a long letter recently – but unlike some, this writer wants me to publish his issue. However, what I have to say about it may not be exactly what he expects.
(Note: I did edit it down a bit for length.)
Dear Matisse,
My on-again/off-again partner has at times been a professional Dominatrix, although within our own personal relationship she is…submissive to me. I say "at times" with regard to BDSM work because her primary relationship is with drugs.
We have seen you around once or twice and you are her role model, on both a professional and personal basis. We read the Control Tower regularly and she's clipped many of your articles to make a scrap book…. I'm writing you because I believe that you are one of the few people who might get through to her and impact her. She has made half-hearted attempts to quit doing drugs, mainly by replacing meth use with increased pot use or alcohol binges. I'm beside myself with anguish, because the person I love most is letting her life go down the drain and I don't know what to do.
…Edited for length – the person in question is engaging in behavior the writer doesn’t like…
…I've told her I'm not about to help her go down the wrong path…snip… She's been in a circle of drugs and sex industry work for about 10 years, and I have a very strong belief that if you are a drug addict, this is certainly the wrong business to be in. I was surprised to find that after doing this for 10 years she had no money. ...snip... She still has no money, and despite my efforts to teach her how to fish, so to speak, she prefers to be given fish. Needless to say she gets resentful when there are no fish left or a person gets tired of giving handouts!
I would very much appreciate it if you could write a column with your thoughts on drugs and Dom/sub relationships... How they affect personal relationships and if you believe a woman should even be IN the sex industry if she's a drug user....snip... It just seems like a waste of life and so empty to me.
Rather than come back to me and a healthy, stable environment, she continues to think that if she just gets a hotel room at an Extended Stay for a week or so she will be able to take enough clients to get back on her feet. After seeing this pattern over the past several years and then getting calls for me to help put her up at a hotel again, I've said no. …Edit: he’s given her money and tried to help her in the past … I feel great guilt but realize I'm enabling and maybe even dragging out her time to hit rock bottom by chipping in. It has affected me immensely on an emotional level, but I feel that until she gets clean nothing will ever work, between us or in her own life.
As I mentioned before, she looks up to you and draws much of her insight from your columns. It's a long shot, but perhaps some pointed comments from you might strike a chord within her and wake her up. Nothing I say or do at this point makes a difference, and I'm sad to see that after 3 years I have had so little impact on her life.
Please write something about this. Meth is an evil drug that is such a huge problem in our society today....snip... it's like watching a movie and I can't do a thing about her self destruction.

Well, I had some reactions right away to this email. But rather than just respond from that place, I decided to ask my friend Miss K for her take. Not only is she just a smart person, she’s also a former sex worker. And – she’s a former drug addict. She’s been clean for some years now and I’m proud of her for that. I can’t think of anyone more qualified to comment on this email. Here’s what she said:
Here's my impression: the key phrase is: "It just seems like a waste of life and so empty to me." Yeah, to you. The problem is, it's not your life. Being a Republican, punching a clock and breeding seems like an empty, wasted life to me, but that doesn't give me any right, moral or otherwise, to stop someone from doing it. Now, if you throw in the disease of addiction, I also don't have the ability to stop them, and neither do you!

Basically: you're writing the letter? You're the one with a problem. I strongly suggest immediate participation in Al-Anon. Their hotline number is (206)625-0000, and their meeting directory and links are online at You've made a strong case for this woman to get into a 12-step program like Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous, but the thing that makes those programs work is that they're not for people who need them, they're for people who want them...Until she reaches out for help (and not to you!) to get clean, consider her on her own path. You don't have to go with her! In fact, she may hit her bottom faster if you don't.

Oh, and as for being in the sex industry while using drugs? Yeah, bad idea, but again, that’s just an opinion. Not that I approve of it, but we can't really know what goes on behind those doors.

I agree with Miss K. The only problem you can fix is your own. If your girlfriend has a drug problem, it's her problem. You said it yourself: you can’t do a thing about her self-destruction. So stop trying.
I confess to you, when I first read your email, it really pissed me off. I thought, “God, what a controlling person, he picked a woman he knew had a drug problem when he started dating her, and now he’s all about trying to change her and make her act like he wants her to. And he wants to involve me in this game he's playing with her. No way, Jose."
And then I realized why this letter irritated me so. Because I used to do the same damn thing. Oh yeah, I did. For most of my twenties, I surrounded myself with broken people that I was trying to control… Oh, whoops, I mean help. Yeah, help, that’s it. Some of them were sex workers who acted just like your girlfriend is acting. Some of them were men. But it’s the same dance.
I had to bang my head against the wall until it was bloody before I finally learned: no matter how good and pure I think my intentions are, no matter how many books I read, or how many therapy appointments I drag people to, I cannot fix or change or save anyone else. It’s not within my power. And it's wrong for me to even try, because sometimes help is just the nice word for control.
I don't think it's within anyone's power to fix someone else. You can love them while they work to fix themselves. Or you can love them while they’re engaging in behaviors you don’t like, and make whatever boundaries you need to shield yourself from the negative fallout. But you have to let go of any idea you have about influencing them to behave differently. It won’t happen, and you’ll just make yourself miserable trying.
Plus, it keeps you from focusing on your own life and your own issues. That’s probably why people do it – it’s so much more comfortable to keep the spotlight on other people’s problems than your own.
If your girlfriend asked me for my advice, I’d give it to her. She hasn’t. But for you, I have some advice: end the relationship, sever all the ties, and walk away. Don’t get involved with another broken person, either. That’s always a real temptation, because there are lots of them around, and oh, they can be so alluring. They have so much potential, if they’d just – just – just… change.
Focus your energy on improving your own life. Isn’t there something you want to accomplish that’s just about you? Climb a mountain, go to Tibet, write a book, lose twenty pounds, get a promotion at work, buy a house – something? Do that. And let your ex-girlfriend find her own way to wherever she’s going.