Recently, I picked up some contract work at a local drug rehab and detox center. I accepted the opportunity with some apprehension, having never really seen myself working in the substance abuse field before. I must say, however, that I have been pleasantly surprised. Even more shocking, I find myself somewhat rejuvenated and, yes, fulfilled.
Perhaps, the most satisfying aspect of my new side gig has been the men’s group I lead. Facilitating conversations among these relative strangers has been amazing. As I witness them become vulnerable and share with each other I realize what an honor it truly is. It’s intersectionality at its best. These men from different backgrounds and situations come together, helping each other to address a common problem and support each other. It restores my faith in people and their capacities to care.
One of the topics that invariably comes up during these sessions is relationships. This is hardly a surprise if you stop to think about it. When the residents and their families first come in, I tell them, “Substance abuse and dependency is not an individual’s disease, it’s a family disease.” Without fail, a cluster of heads, nodding in unison, is the typical response.
Even in the midst of their addiction, the majority of my clients have still managed to retain a basic understanding of the importance of relationships. Unfortunately, they are also familiar with the sting of them falling apart, as well. It’s amazing what a case of newfound sobriety can do for one’s memory—not to mention perspective. But, that’s the point. Isn’t it?
At some point, during the initial discussions with these men about their dependency, the topic of human needs (their’s, specifically) pops up. For too long, their individual needs have gone unattended, contributing to the chaos that has overtaken their lives. Due to their dependency issues, they would sometimes go days without eating, drinking, even sleeping. Bills didn’t get paid. Jobs were lost. Bathing became more of an exception than a rule. With so much energy and focus placed upon the search for, use, and recovery from substances, they couldn’t possibly have taken a moment to take care of themselves.
This, usually, is not a revelation to them. Once ‘the fog’ clears, they can see that things have slipped through their fingers. Unfortunately, they tend to fall into deep feelings of guilt and shame, as a result. Even more sobering, is the realization that the people around them have had the same needs (for food, shelter, safety, love, and respect) go unfulfilled, usually for long periods of time. These men concretely realize that they were not able or present enough to provide them. This truth is often an even harder pill to swallow. Navigating and processing these feelings presents as a recurring issue during our group sessions but never gets easier to explore.
I think this is an important lesson for all of us to remember, even if we aren’t caught in the thrawls of active substance use: We are not only responsible and accountable for our own lives but for those of the people (and fur babies) that are parts of our ‘stories.’ We can’t make it alone in this world and neither can the people who count on us.
Incorporating this wisdom into my life is something I try to do on a regular basis, especially when I get too wrapped up in my own ego. Like many, I can focus too much on things that don’t matter, pushing family and friends far into the periphery. As a result, I find myself alone and unsupported, feeling a little bitter that I have to deal with things alone. It makes no sense, but that is how I roll…sometimes.
Ultimately, I can move beyond my own myopic vision, but it takes some effort and proactivity on my part. Keeping focused on what is actually important helps. Understanding my need for interpersonal connection (and that in others), however, is what helps keeps me ‘on track’.
The interconnectivity between me and the others in my life keeps me grounded in this world. I don’t know where I would be without it. With that, however, comes a lot of hard work. Concerning myself with the needs and desires of others, while attending to my own, comes with its own struggles—a price–but nothing worthwhile comes easy. That’s OK because in the end my ‘story’ really isn’t just mine. Too many people have touched my life, shaped it, for me to take all the credit (good and bad). No, it is about the story of us and the indelible ‘fingerprints’ that remind me that I have never walked my path alone.
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