Thank you all for the positive responses to my story about spending time with the guy I found by the ocean who was having a bad experience on too many drugs.
Even my mother, fortunately, responded with “I’m so proud of you”… which, I think, is a pretty big deal. Most moms I know would be inclined to scream, “WHAT ON EARTH WERE YOU DOING IN THAT DANGEROUS SITUATION?!”
I’ve gotten some responses, though, that put my actions up on some kind of superhuman pedestal, that’s a little weird to me. (I got some of that after the
“homicidal drunk on the airplane” story, too) When people need us (you, me, anyone), we help the way we know how to help, and we don’t think twice about it. There’s nothing magical about that. It’s just showing up.
But people can only respond to what I give them, so it seems misleading at this point not to disclose another piece of my history: I’ve gotten help for substance abuse.
Several years ago, I went through a period where I was severely depressed. I leaned heavily on alcohol to survive it. Pretty quickly, my reliance on alcohol become more destructive than my depression.
There’s a long story here, and I’m going to give you the really short version. I scared myself, I realized I needed help, and I went into an alcohol abuse recovery program (the famous one — the one you’re not supposed to name). I also started seeing a therapist. I spent eight months battling my compulsive actions and the depression that caused them, until I finally got to the root of the problem:
I was queer and not accepting it.
(Ain’t that one a stinker?)
I worked through the depression, and then worked with my therapist to experiment with letting alcohol back into my life. I drank lightly, socially, and didn’t enjoy getting drunk. I wasn’t, by the program’s definition, an alcoholic.
The recovery program and I had a very sad breakup, in which I couldn’t really explain my story because it didn’t fit their model for recovery. I’m still a huge fan of their program, though. I’ve seen it help lots of people — people who sincerely want to be helped — and I think, hands-down, it’s one of the best paths out there. I know it helped me immensely.
But back to why I’m telling you this: the moral of the story is that I’ve spent stretches of time in community with people who are struggling with self-destructive behavior and trying to help each other through it. I learned strategies that allow me to be present for people without letting their pain and flailing get too close to me. And after a few minutes of conversation, I can usually tell the difference between someone who’s really looking for help and someone who’s still trying to control the situation.
This complicated stretch of my life, by the way, is also where I learned that hanging out by the ocean is a good way to remember that I’m not in control, either.