Been There? Done That?
Often we see them walking down the sidewalk with unquantified determination. Toting a backpack, pushing a shopping cart or riding a rustic bicycle with a caged trailer in tow filled with plastic bottles and aluminum cans or asking us for change all for the want of booze and/or drugs.
What is it that we think of these individuals as they become part of the history of our day? Do we wonder where they are coming from or where they are going? And if we do, how far back? How far forward?
And if we do not think about them at all, is it because we don’t care about them?
Do we make assumptions about them based on what friends and neighbors have said previously?
Do we immediately assume that they are alcoholics and/or drug addicts? Is this perhaps, one of the reasons we prefer not to think too long about where they have come from or where they may be going, besides the immediate possibilities of dumpsters and homeless shelters, only as far as a liquor store or a street corner drug connection?
Most law enforcement agencies, which have no choice but to interact with these people daily, will refer to them in a catch all manner as homeless and proceed to state that the three primary causes of homelessness as a lifestyle choice are:
These three primary factors will be hat has contributed to the unraveling of these people’s lives at some point in the past and why when you see the person I have described, their goals have become reduced to the ultimate in simplicity – pain avoidance – moment to moment, day after day. Hunger, DT’s and/or drug withdrawal and body temperature regulation. These three factors of suffering, trump all other basic/social needs, such as grooming, financial obligation fulfillment and perhaps most importantly of all – self respect, confidence and self worth.
There is an over-used cliché that says all of us are one paycheck away from homelessness, however, if this was to be the case for an individual or family not plagued by alcoholism, drug addiction or mental illness, many would not be homeless for very long because they would not be trapped within a viscous cycle of moment to moment pain avoidance.
In other words – the ability to freely set as well as procure long-tem goals without the yoke of foreboding.
Assuming that the person we have described suffers through this cycle and let us further discuss what can be done to determine if a rescue is at all possible – an attempt at intervention.
The basis for any type of motivation for performing a rescue by an individual – a stranger to the person targeted, would need to be one resulting from the capacity for empathy, whether practiced or natural. To place one’s self in the position of another, attempting to fathom the horrific experiences of the person.
More often then not, the individuals that I see intervening and attempting to rescue people such as this, are individuals who have, in one form or another been there – They have an understanding that many of us can only imagine – such as the pain of going more than on to two days without any food at all – or the nightmarish visions of DT’s brought about by alcohol withdrawal and the putrid sickness of heroin withdrawals. Individuals that themselves have hit rock bottom – been there. Done that.
They are the ones that understand from first hand experience, the futility one feels when trapped within the walls of the pit of despair created by drug/alcohol addiction. An addiction that first robs you of the freedom to choose a path independent of the substance.
These individuals will generally only partially agree that this particular lifestyle is on that has or is being actually chosen.
They will be, however, quick to tell you that their personal rise from the ashes in their own lives was one in which they finally admitted that the choice was not theirs to make. They had to admit that they could not rise from the ashes alone and by themselves. They needed help from other people as well as God himself. Not just a program, but the people in the program and spiritual strengths offered by the program. The strength to suffer. The support to do what they could not do on their own. They must admit that they now have no control over themselves, much less the substance that rules them and their lives.
Often, I liken alcoholics and drug addict to zombies. Those that are possessed by something outside of themselves. No longer do these individuals make decisions on their own accord – They are ruled by the substance of their addiction. What has now become their drug of seemingly necessity?
One who has not gone for more that one to two days without food, often does no understand what they would become. The choices they would make. The compromises that would take. They have no idea the extent to which they would go to survive to procure nourishment. Something inside of them would take over.
I suppose that many would say that it really all boils down to a matter of strength of one’s character. Though, this may very well be a foregone conclusion, are these no so many circumstances present day and historically that would skew the amount of strength possessed by individuals on a case by case basis? Would the lack of this strength in one human being, make this a bad human?
The judgement, whether made on a case by case basis or bj6y blanket generalities is always difficult, if not impossible if made from the point of view lacking the actual experience of having been there.
If we were to abandon our resentment for these people, borne of our assumptions that as individuals, this life-style was one that was not freely chosen, but rather, if we were to adopt a more humanistic, or what may be considered to be a more spiritual approach in sizing up these individuals, suddenly we might begin to be able to see that there can be hope for them.
To consider if for no other reason then out of respect for another human being, that just maybe the primary cause, besides alcohol or drug addiction, that the person is caught up in their current predicament, is because, simply they have no one to count on anymore.
As is often the case, along the life-path of an alcoholic or drug addict, most, if not all of the ties they had previously possessed, be it family or life-long friends, have been destroyed by deceit and treachery caused by their addiction. And nearly all of the people surrounding them in their community are of the mind that these individuals are making a conscientious choice to be in their present circumstance, unaware of the control being held over them like the proverbial carrot just beyond the reach of the horse.
Without the support of others. Without love. Without a single person to care about them, what hope can they possibly have? What motivation could be fostered to make change in their lives for the better? What is there to change for, when loneliness and withdrawal combine to infuse the perfect cocktail of depression, sadness and pain? Every person that should represent morality, hope and faith for them,. banishes them instead with a prevailing attitude of contempt and disgust. What hope can they possibly have?
However, there can be an alternative. There can be hope for them.
Beginning with the acceptance of these people more as lost than nefarious, the beginning understanding compassion can begin.
As a project, one could pursue these individuals to a certain extent, offering assistance. Providing support for them to possibly enter a treatment program and become actively involved in other services to improve the quality of their lives.
The first objection may be on that they have tried the program before and for one reason or another, they were either not successful or their success was short lived.
The very best method of convincing one to face their addiction(s) head on and enter into an appropriate program is to offer the suggestions of long term goals – what life could be for them – examples of having a plaice, a family again, etc.
Often there will arise from them a multitude of problems, some of which may be multi-faceted, but all of them seemingly overwhelming and impossible to solve by the individual solely. Generally this is cause by a combination of the amount of time the individual has suffered with the problems as well as the overall sense of hopelessness the individual has relating to her own alcoholism and/or drug addiction. The long term ravages that this has caused in their lives.
The objective of convincing an alcoholic or drug addict to change must always be based on starting over. A back to basics approach – crawl before you walk. Square one. One day at a time.
But emphasizing what life can be like by the accomplishment of basic short-term goals and achieving consistency through recovery and restitution – To remember what their dream were.
Focus and direction is the very first accomplishment that must be done by the individual. From this will come the determination fueled by the motivation of what life could be like for them. Often they are unable to paint this picture for themselves, because their dreams have long since been broken in shards, or simply faded from memory.
What I propose is an extremely radical approach. More than merely asking one to exit their comfort zone for the consideration of diverse liberal ideology, I am proposing physical action – A call to action by you as a citizen that just might result in injury or worse.
If one were to do such a thing – to extend a hand for reach outreach – The result could be magnificent and a testament to so many others.
Every person and situation is different, even though the commonalties are ever so present.
I have been struck by fist, beer bottles and other items. Police has also accosted me on many occasions over the years under the suspicion of transacting drug deals with these individuals. Abetting them or being one of them. I have been conned, lied to and have even been robbed by them. Was it worth it? Perhaps, but it happens less and less as I become more realistic and less confident in my powers of persuasion of a complete stranger strung out on alcohol or drugs. With nothing to lose or gain in there own mind.
There are those no one will ever be able to save. But, on the other hand, there are those that can be saved, if only another human being would help them see their own self worth and befriend them with unconditional love.
Every human being needs those things that drugs and alcohol quickly destroy – love and support from the community that feeds self-worth. The reason that none of us can not be absolutely immune is because so many of us have never been there. But for many of us, still, when we see an individual on the street who’s only goal is their next bottle or fix, we automatically empathize and do not take that road. We do not want to go there. We do not want that pain – the pain we empathize with. But we do not have to allow our empathy and compassion to only stop there.
There are rescues that need to be performed – right now! And sadly, if you do not take the initiative and attempt just one rescue on your own, there but for the grace of God will go all of us, forever into a dark pit of despair – all alone – Because on the streets – no one hears you scream.
Copyright 2008 by Robert W. Stanford - All rights reserved.