today’s post is full of allegory. after the recent passing of a friend. i have come to a sort of secret compartment in my life. i was talking about how strange it was to have known someone on both a professional (counselor to client) level and as a fellow community member and volunteer. this caused me to pause for a while and consider the hidden cost of being an addictions counselor working with lgbt persons with addictions (who may or may not be hiv positive).
it is a complete recurrence that gay men (hiv + and hiv -) will appear when they need support and then disappear when they no longer feel the need for support (for a variety of reasons). as a professional there is an ongoing and undisclosed cost of knowing and caring for a person and then having them leave your life just as quickly as they appeared. and my experience is that when the “gay” factor, and the “hiv +” factor are combined, i have found that the boundaries have been a bit less distinctive. i might have cared a little more, or offered a little more support. and of course the disappearance of these folks from my practice has consistently left a deeper impression. but after they leave the treatment cocoon, they enter back into the community arena along with me and the rest of our world. because these individuals and i have engaged in a therapeutic relationship, returning to a friendly relationship is strained at best. i know more about them than they probably would like to admit. they have shared secrets with me. if they did not complete, nor were successful with treatment, then this usually means they won’t want to see me in person, nor see themselves in my eyes. this is perfectly understandable- almost expected. but it does have a price tag- especially in a smaller community. it is not a deal breaker at all. it is simply that i haven’t really looked at my own real needs in all this.
until this week, i have not looked at my own feelings about this whole brief therapy process. with bryan’s passing, i now understand that it has had a price. i have assumed that my skills as a practitioner are lacking at times. i have felt that i am too blunt for people too early. i have even felt that i am too old at times and out of touch with current lgbt culture.
although all of these are probable and appropriate, i have never considered that i might need some support around the loss this process brings. i now know that i have just hunkered down, trudged forward, cut my losses and tucked those feelings without processing or examining them with any concern. i don’t regret this after realizing this, but i do want to make some changes from here forward. and because of my childhood history of relationship and loss, i have had auto-responses of shutting down when i have become saddened. i have let go of friends because i honestly haven’t figured out yet how to do anything else quite yet.
to be less vague, i now understand that i have a primal feeling that i am not okay, so i assume that these losses are the price i am required to pay for being me-(conversely, there are many benefits to being me as well so i don’t think this as simply dark and morose).
since my work has recently shifted away from cultural specific clients, i have gained some distance and some perspective on all this. this reminds me yet again that situations and experiences in our lives shape, form, and mold who we are. and all the relationships, fabulous jobs, exciting or relaxing vacations, spas, makeovers, workouts, and new clothes in the world won’t really make me any different. i am required to do the work, look at my life and my part in it, feel my feelings, accept them, understand them, and make room for change if needed. and change is probably needed in this case.
i am posting from a quiet place of gratitude today. i hope your holiday brings even a small portion of the grace i feel today. happy thanksgiving.
i wrote about an encounter with someone who was deeply lost in his drinking last week. 4 days later he had died. i was very saddened by it all. feeling quite helpless and ineffective is just a fraction of the things that i have tried on. it’s better today. i am accepting and letting go. it is a process though.
the flip side of course, is that the struggling soul- my friend- is struggling no more. he doesn’t have to hate his hiv and his hep-c any longer. he doesn’t have to deny that he doesn’t feel his best.any more. he doesn’t need to imbibe till the blackness rolls in any longer. and he doesn’t have to hide who he is and how he is. he is free.
this space i now find myself in is part of my reality. strangely, it has been for half my life-in one way or another. in the 80’s and 90’s it was the virus that was taking out many of my contemporaries. drugs and alcohol took out a few too, but it was mostly aids. now i find the opposite to be true. working within the hiv field, the virus takes out a few, but more than anything else, i see multiple earth departures fueled by substances.
i am practicing staying grounded as i continue to remember that people die. this death is not an isolated incident. thankfully, it is not a daily one, but it happens more than i would like. i am thankful i am able to available for others. the 80’s found me numbing out myself. today i am listening. i honestly am changing. one day at a time.
today someone told me a secret about their life. they clearly didn’t want to talk about it, but at the same time they really really did want to talk about it, too. i let them make up their own mind without asking. and i didn’t press for details.
it was painful for me to watch and listen. it wasn’t my pain, but it was full of pain none-the-less. it wasn’t a pretty story. nor was it happy. it didn’t have a happy ending and it’s doubtful it ever will. there is much shame and guilt around it. there were first pleasures and lost boundaries. and left on the floor are broken thoughts and jagged memories.
i watched tears roll softly and pointedly as the details unfurled. the teller kept reminding me how okay they were with everything- which couldn’t be further from how it seems. what seems more likely is that the teller has become accustomed to the twisted feelings and somehow thinks (as survivors do) that this is how it always is.
i inquired about whether this wounded one had ever considered self-forgiveness. i was answered with a seesaw response of “i have forgiven myself” followed quickly and painfully by”i don’t know how”. from what i could surmise, both are true, with the latter overshadowing the former in accuracy.
today, i am reminded once more that the bullshit i ran away from in my childhood, used anything and everything i could heavily to drown out reminders, and then uncovered very clumsily in early sobriety has been transformed. i no longer lead with shame and self-degradation as my calling card. though they are definitely still there, they have been recessed to a back shelf where they provide backbone for empathy and and echo chamber to help me listen when working with others.
i understood today’s fractured fairy tale quite well. i felt blessed that i could be with someone as they allowed themselves to remove some of their armor and feel.
i am not the man i had mostly planned to be. thank god. i am just the guy i have become. it truly seems a gift.
today i talked with someone who is in the middle of the insanity of cravings. she has been substance free for about 2 months and has found herself adrift in her own emotions. the waves of feelings were visibly crashing upon her self-esteem. she seemed worn out from the pitching side to side that she must have been feeling.
i felt unequipped to console her in her process. one can’t continue to pick a scab if one wants it to heal without scar. but this message may not have been heard. there is not much ease in sharing logic with someone who is wearing their “emotional” outfit.
i recognized the combination of frustration and fear that she wore. it didn’t fit, but it looked familiar on her. she ended our chat abruptly and escaped as quickly as she could.
yet again, i understand that i am not the great and powerful oz.
“The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.” — Kahlil Gibran
i have been working as a counselor for a few years now. it is not the samo samo thing at all, really. i mean, most of the people i encounter are stuck somewhere in their lives. many have been stuck for a very long time. what i am learning about my work is that it continues to be more about helping them see that there may be another way, and not necessarily about helping them find it.
in someways, it seems that if they can actually “see” that there is another way, or a way out, they will muster the where-with-all to journey forward and do things a little differently.
but as humans, we are definitely creatures of habit. this being true, we without fail love our own pain and discomfort. if stuck, we have probably been numb to our own pain for some time and have forgotten that it it even hurts. often, not hurting is more frightening than hurting.
it continues to be fascinating to me- this process of education and counsel. there are definitely successes as well as distinctive misses. there is a mosh pit of unclarity sometimes around boundaries, professionalism, and my own human-ness. this doesn’t appear often, but it does appear. people who are in flux or stuck are often rife with drama. and drama is compelling for me. it makes life interesting. it makes the days go by. and i am comfortable with drama, because i grew up with so much near by.
i have let myself forget once or twice that i am on my own journey. those i work with are on a journey, too. part of the work is allowing these two arcs to play themselves out without trying to steer. oh this is without doubt part of the work.
Loving-kindness is a meditation practice, which brings about positive attitudinal changes as it systematically develops the quality of ‘loving-acceptance’. It acts, as it were, as a form of self-psychotherapy, a way of healing the troubled mind to free it from its pain and confusion. Of all Buddhist meditations, loving-kindness has the immediate benefit of sweetening and changing old habituated negative patterns of mind…. reprinted from www.buddhanet.net
― Pema Chödrön
he stopped by today to get a letter of support. the change in him these last few months is rather astonishing really. he has been sleeping regularly, has ceased using speed ad nauseum, and has been eating regularly. his eyes have become clear, his thought process has become understandable, and his smile and laughter have returned as if they had gone to afghanistan and had finished their tour of duty.
he has been in residential treatment these sixty-some days and has sparked a new interest in self-care. about 4 weeks in this process, he was told by a couple of employees that he would be restricted from doing his chore work by either cooking or washing dishes. the inference was that since he was hiv positive, he might endanger the rest of the residents if he were near the kitchen.
this had upset him naturally. it has been some time since he had been stable enough to think about standing up for himself. he had spent the last 3 years or so just trying to survive- mostly depending on the kindness of tricks and strangers. as i listened to him tell me this, i could hear the tone of “victim” in his voice. i recognize it well.
i asked him if it bothered him. he indicated that it did somewhat, but he did not want to take the chance of stirring up trouble. i understood this, however i felt it a duty to nudge him to talk to his case manager about the situation. he could relay how the restriction made him feel, and he could underline the fact that this policy is not logical nor legal. i would be happy to help educate the staff if needed about the facts and the myths about hiv as we know them in 2011.
as we chatted today, he told me that the counselor had listened to him, would research the issue, and get back to him- which he did in 2 days. he told our guy that he was right and he would be talking about the issue at the next staff meeting. yesterday was the meeting, and both the staff members that did the duty restriction came up to him individually and apologized.
his eyes lit up as he lightly savored self efficacy. he almost oozed the joy of being pleased with himself. i don’t often have such a joy-filled disneylandesque experience. my days seem to be mostly much more complicated. but today, it certainly made me happy to see someone else happy. for a minute, i got to be lighthearted and witness a beautifully simple (and drug free) pride parade.
let the rainbow flag fly…:D
i taught an alcohol class yesterday and i walked away from it with a knot in my stomach. firstly, i realized that 4 of the 5 persons in that class have taken or are taking psych meds to help them adjust to life. this is nothing really strange by itself i suppose, but it does seem strange that 80 percent of any group would be such.
but another anomaly is that they don’t even realize that their drinking habits may very well be connected to their psych issues. they might very well be over drinking to compensate for the way they feel. this may not be the case, but my own experience and my intuition tell me differently.
so when the discussion moved to drug on drug interactions, half life, and the changing effects of substances when they are mixed, i would hope that this might have struck home somehow, as i am well aware that when someone takes adderall and drinks alcohol, the impact of both are more severe than when they are taken alone. and that when these folks got tickets they were under the influence and it was obvious… i.e they got sloppy.
but it would seem that we only see what we are ready to see. and maybe what i see has no connection to their lives. or maybe they will connect to the information after they left. or more likely, they won’t ever see it. i know though that what i teach about is real and has impact.. even if i am teaching through leaded glass and barely anyone can hear.
Working With Others
Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail. This is our twelfth suggestion: Carry this message to other alcoholics! You can help when no one else can. You can secure their confidence when other fail. Remember they are very ill.
Life will take on new meaning. To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends — this is an experience you must not miss. We know you will not want to miss it. Frequent contact with newcomers and with each other is the bright spot of our lives.
Perhaps you are not acquainted with any drinkers who want to recover. You can easily find some by asking a few doctors, ministers, priests or hospitals. They will be only too glad to assist you. Don’t start out as an evangelist or reformer. Unfortunately a lot of prejudice exists. You will be handicapped if you arouse it. Ministers and doctors are competent and you can learn much from them if you wish, but it happens that because of your own drinking experience you can be uniquely useful to other alcoholics. So cooperate; never criticize. To be helpful is our only aim.
i haven’t written about my raison d’etre for awhile. it’s not easy to be objective about something so personal. and working with others is not simple. really, there is probably not much to say that hasn’t been said. what i have realized in the few years i have doing this is that i learn as i go. that holding back is just as important as pushing forward. that listening holds more power than yakking. and that just being there is the most valuable gift to give.
all the missteps, all the wrong turns, all the dark hours, all the heartache and horror, all the self-deprecation, and all the failed attempts that i have experienced on my journey as well as the shared time with others leads me to an evolving place of the present. part of what i am privileged to witness is definitely the sprouting of fellowship around me. part of what am privy to is the way in which the world opens up to envelop my this intention- this intention of giving back. the synchronicity that prevails in tandem with re purposing my life has been an extraordinary experience for me. i am indeed a testament to the highs and lows that one life traverses.
however, the highlight of working with others are individual transformations that are sometimes seen. not always the same at all, they are as different as the characters they come through. sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly is a truism, but doesn’t come close to the diversity encountered. and although as varied as the number of species of plants on this planet, the singular expression of self-appraisal, self-empowerment, and self-forgiveness that accompanies recovery is a quiet masterpiece. and to see it is is a chance to see a one-time event with the best seat in the house.
i can’t imagine how my life would look without this turn it has taken this last decade. i am so very humbled by the pop-up-book quality that my life now has- turn a page and wow there’s an entire city. and i am thankful for the grace afforded me in having purpose. when i am working with others i am working on myself. i am others and others are me.
humpty dumpty sat on a wall
humpty dumpty had a great fall
all the kings horses
all the kings men
couldn’t put humpty dumpty
back together again
he had to do it his own damn self….
i used to recite this poem (with the final self-infused line) over and over to myself. i think when i was channelling it originally, i was resentful because no one was going to whisk me away and solve my problems for me. i was already overwhelmed and my brain was crispy, and i didn’t believe i had the where-with-all to do anything right.
as it turned out, i did have to do all the work to get my ass outa the hole i was in. i certainly had been commandeering the vehicle that got me there and i had to find my own way back. and on the way back, i have become a counselor- an educator of sorts. this newer direction started out being more about me than the beautiful souls i worked with. but as time milled the grist, there has been a definite shift. i have become much much more invisible as i work, and the focus is definitely the client. this has been a welcome transition and hopefully a healthy one. i love my guys. but moreover, i love carving out some silhouette of hope. that is where change germinates. and what helps us get through another absolutely impossible day.
my work these days involves supporting people in finding their way with regard to putting themselves back together again. sounds easy, doesn’t it? well… it ain’t.. but it engages a part of me that seems primal. primal and paternal and peppered with pathos.
i have been listening to bt’s “these hopeful machines” again recently. and again, i find myself enamored with the cover of “the ghost in you”.. no doubt you will, too…