He was a client of the homeless shelter where I work. An addict. A high school drop-out. At twenty-eight, when he graduated from a three-week job-readiness program at the shelter he said, while proudly holding his graduation certificate. "I've never graduated from anything in my life."
He didn't want to go work on an oil rig, or live in one of the northern camps and work seismic. He wanted to give back to the community. Contribute to making a difference in the homeless sector.
He got a job at the shelter as a care giver.
He didn't last long. Little over two months. And then he was gone. He'd fallen back into his old ways, someone told me.
I was sorry to hear he hadn't made it. He deserved better.
It's been several months since he left without notice. It's part of that life. People come and then they go. You never know if they're back using, or simply moved on. So, I was relieved to run into him at an event I attended last week at a transition house in the city. He's working there. Running their catering business. He's helping other clients to learn the craft. Teaching them how to serve, to order supplies, juggle priorities in a busy dining room.
And he's doing well.
He looked embarrassed when he saw me. "Hi," he replied to my effusive hello as he busily smoothed a tablecloth that didn't need smoothing.
"I'm delighted to see you looking so well," I told him. "I wondered where you were. I'm glad to see you're here."
"You are?" he asked, his hands stopping their constant back and forth movement on the tablecloth.
"Yes. You look like you're thriving."
"I am," he said, his smile breaking out into a grin. "This is a good place for me." He paused. "I wasn't ready for the other place. It was too much. I just couldn't deal with the stress."
"Good for you for recognizing it before it was too late," I replied.
"It almost was. Too late. I slipped back for awhile. But now I'm okay. I'm clean again and I'm going to stay that way."
"I'm really glad to hear that," I said.
"Yeah. Thanks. I still want to work with clients. I still want to help out, but it's just too much for me yet."
"You cannot help someone else until you give yourself the medicine you need to heal first." I told him.
He really looked at me then. Nodded his head. Grinned. "Thank you." And he went back to work.
Medicine. Love. Healing.
Five years ago I had a lot of healing to do. Five years ago, my daughters needed to heal too. They were angry. Hurt. Confused. Terrified. And I knew, I could not help them heal until I helped myself first. Until I gave myself the medicine I so desperately needed to soothe my raging spirit, my aching heart.
I wanted to pick up their anger and take it from them. To take away their pain and carry it for them. But I couldn't. To have done that would have denied my truth that I had been abused and needed to heal. To have carried their anger would have weakened me, and them. I was not strong enough to help anyone in those first months of freedom other than myself.
It was hard. So many people were angry with me. Disappointed. Confused. I wanted to make sense of what had happened so that they could understand and not be angry anymore. But I couldn't do it. So much didn't make sense and trying to make sense of the nonsense of that journey through hell only kept it alive.
I had to step away. To give myself some distance so that I could gain perspective, and strength. I had to find my courage to stand up for me before I could stand up to the weight of the anger and sorrow around me. I had to turn up for me before I could turn around and face the devastation I had left behind me on that journey through abuse.
I am blessed. In having had the courage and the wisdom to seek to give myself medicine first, I am strong enough to share my medicine with others today, and to ask for medicine when I need it. I am strong enough to share love and be loved.
What a glorious blessing. What a joyful gift.
The question is: Where do you withhold medicine from yourself by giving away that which you do not have? Where do you keep yourself down by helping others stand up before you?