Working with Angels

I remember once, at a group home where I used to work, celebrating the fact that a client actually used the toilet instead of her chair. The next time wasn’t quite as spectacular, but there for a minute, we were All-Stars. 

When I went off to work I jokingly (or not) told my hubby that it was a good day if I didn’t get poop actually ON me. That night, I told of the amazing feat of my lady actually using the bathroom facilities for a change. I knew he wanted to support me, but his face had kind of a blank look whenever I shared this kind of news. Fair enough. I didn’t fully appreciate the goings-on at his place of employment, but I was glad to see him happy. Probably the same way he does me. 

Sometimes when I’ve had a client with me out in the community, people have said something like “It takes a special kind of person to do that kind of work.” I appreciate it. I guess it does take a special something to do this work, but no more special than any other job that requires a lot of emotional weight-lifting, along with the usual physical manipulations of assisting an up-to 250 lb. infant/toddler go through their daily activities…

I mean, everything that an infant or toddler relies on their parents for, our clients depend on us to do for and with them. There’s kind of an inside joke among myself and my co-workers, that the bosses get us to start working there for super low pay, knowing that we’ll fall in love with our charges and basically put up with (no pay increases ever) any Managerial shenanigans so that we can be sure the clients are getting cared for by people who genuinely care about them. It’s the Hotel California trick. 

When we moved across the country last year, I was of course really sad that my older boy wasn’t coming with us, I still am every day. But he assured me that he  was a Big Boy and didn’t need me anymore.  So I gave him the benefit of the doubt,  and we moved. 

But deep inside of me, where I hadn’t even realized they were hiding, were my feelings about leaving behind “my” (non-verbal) little client. I really love working with the individuals who don’t speak. Possibly because of my personal experience in having to read body language as a child, and also because I know that they are the most vulnerable of any people group. 

The lady I had been working with before we moved was just as close to being an actual angel as I’ve ever seen. It’s not that she was beautiful by society’s standards, but her spirit shone through. When she was happy, her entire body shook with joy. And she was happy a lot when I was there. She loved going to church with me and her roommate, and the people at church fell in love with her, too.

Some of the other staff at the group home would get irritated with me because when she saw me come in, the world stopped and she did her kind of lurching goose-step over to me and hugged me fiercely. She watched for me to arrive, and would have hugged me all day if I would have let her. It was really nice. Like having a daughter, I suppose.

But then we had to move. Leaving that  sweet little girl behind was more difficult than I’d expected. Times when I’ve been home-sick, her smiling face has always come to mind. 

I know she is ok. The staff there are very compassionate and capable of caring for her, complicated medical issues and all. But I’ll probably never forget her, and I can’t wait to see her in her perfect new body in Heaven…

I was back home briefly over the summer, and the first thought  was to go see my special friend. Then I thought it through. And decided it would be selfish as hell for me to stop by & then leave again. So I didn’t go by the house where she lives. 

I know for sure that the rewards of this field of work are monetarily minimal. But the intangible rewards can make it surprisingly easy. I’m amazed when I think of the trust I’m given, when caring for my clients. Whether it’s pushing a wheelchair, coloring a craft, changing their pants/diapers for the umpteenth time or going through the “feelings” flash cards again, it is a privilege. 

Just another phenomenal blessing of sobriety. 

“And for that, I am responsible.”

2 Wildly Contradictory Views of 1 Disease (Part 2 of 2)

~~~NOTE: This is my experience, strength and hope, as a recovering alcoholic/addict. It’s not what I learned in a book. It’s things I’ve learned from folks who lived it.~~~

…so, where did we leave off? Oh, yeah. “I don’t have a problem” vs. “Oh, Hell, yes you do.”

It seems like a reasonable question, from a parent, spouse, friend, or even concerned employer, to ask “What can I do to make this insanity stop?” There’s where it gets really crazy. Why?

insanity_laughter_statue

“Shoot me now!”

Because YOU can’t do a thing to make them stop. Or even slow down. Nope. Sorry.  Look at it this way, if you could change the way their lives were going, wouldn’t you have, by now? It’s not like you haven’t done your best to “help” them!!

If loving you, the kids, their pets, their home, or even themselves (or whomever) were enough motivation to cause the alcoholic/addict to stop the insanity, they would have stopped a long time ago. Love or not has NOTHING to do with addiction (including alcoholism). One of the results of addiction, actually, is self-loathing, because they more often than not, know that they’re hurting you. But they are powerless to stop. For now.

If a good job being jeopardized was enough to get them to stop, they would have, after losing the first one. Right?  Ditto, losing their drivers’ license. Ditto, spending time in the county lock-up. Seems simple, doesn’t it? “Just quit!” or even, “Learn to drink like a gentleman!

So, addiction has nothing to do with how the addict feels about the world around them, necessarily. Sure, depression and/or countless other mental illnesses may accompany the addiction, or have become more noticeable to you since the person began to increase their consumption. Many drugs (including alcohol) mimic mental illness, eventually, after enough has been consumed. But that’s not the reason why they drink or use drugs…

I’m not going to go into an in-depth dialogue of why some folks get addicted and others don’t, or what causes addiction. Maybe in another post, but not this one.  The insanity of the disease of addiction is apparent in the behavior of not only the alkie/druggie, but also in the behavior of everyone in a relationship with them.

Today I’m hoping to reach out to the ones caught in the whirlwind of addiction brought on by their loved ones, and offer real, tangible hope.

The point is, the only one who is capable of deciding to stop drinking or using drugs, on a daily basis, is the one doing them in the first place.

What you can do, to HELP this person, will sound crazy, but consider it, please, in contrast to the ways you’ve been trying to “help” them.

*I am fully aware the this is going to sound harsh, and a lot of people involved with (us) will reject this advice across the board.*

Treat them like an adult. Let them take responsibility for their own screw-ups. Give them the dignity of finding their own solutions. You giving them is not likely to work, after all, haven’t you given them your best answers? (They have to find their own. You CAN’T do it for them.)

You didn’t pay the electric bill? Wow, that’s gotta suck. Do you need some candles? You don’t have any food in the  house? Maybe there are food pantries around that you can find. (Here’s a pb & j in the meantime. I’ll take the kids to McDonald’s, but you can pay your own way.)

You need gas to get to work? Ok, I’ll meet you at the gas station and put some into your tank. (This does not involve any money -plastic or otherwise- transferring from your hand to theirs. You go inside and pay the attendant. Or don’t: you’ll find out for yourself how that works out.)

                          ***LOVE THEM ENOUGH TO RISK THEM HATING YOU***

The problem with having children in the midst (which the alcoholic KNOWS is an effective manipulation tool-look how well it’s been working), is that they are going to suffer because of the choices their parents make. I’m not saying that you abandon the kids. Take the children out for a bite, take the children home for a sleep-over, even take temporary custody if you can or feel you must. (The fact is, if you know of neglect of abuse going on, think of what may be happening that you’re not  aware of. In the throes of our addiction, we are very talented in guarding evidence that might slow down or stop our using or drinking.) The thing is, the addict is going to look for any possible way to play on your sympathy, guilt, or love for them/their kids, to get to their prime goal: that next high. If you’re not  going to directly supply them, then they are going to find some way to relieve you of some cash.

Here’s the bottom line, dear friends: when an addict/alcoholic is active in their addiction, you are no longer interacting with the person you know and love. You are dealing with their disease. It helps me to understand the “disease” model by framing it within the realm of a mental illness. People with diagnosable mental illness act differently, don’t they? They often do things that they later regret, hurting those they care the most about, and some form of treatment is usually the only thing that will bring back any semblance of lucidity.  Sometimes therapy is enough, sometimes medication is needed for some amount of time, but ignoring it NEVER works. Seriously.

Trying to reason with a person in a bipolar/depressive/schizo-effective episode is like trying to teach a pig to sing:  It wastes your time and annoys the pig. People tried to talk to me about my consumption of mind-altering chemicals, and at BEST, they received a bored or irritated look in return.

Unless and until the person comes to the conclusion that their way isn’t working, they’re not going to seek out help. SO, since you DO love them, and you HAVE to do SOMETHING, please, take my advice:

Take care of you. Get to an ALANON or NARANON meeting, or a counselor familiar with addiction, to help you find the best way to detach from the insane behaviors and strengthen yourself. If you don’t take care of you, how are you ever going to be able to “be there” for them, if and when they come to their senses and seek help.

If you’ve read this far, I thank you. Some day, your loved one will thank you, if you actively work towards setting them free to take as much discomfort as they require, to decide to STOP. I leave you with one thought, that I heard from a wonderful lady in ALANON, many years ago:

How can they hit bottom if you keep sliding a mattress under their butt?

😉