When I was working as a Substance Abuse Counselor, there were stories told to me and experiences shared that I couldn’t liken to any experience I’d ever had. Most of the people I saw were court ordered to see me, and the group sessions were an intense mash-up of people who were on waiting lists for County Funded Residential Treatment. Some of them were awaiting treatment because they were ready to try a different approach to their life, a lot of them were there as a condition of their parole from prison. I suppose my point is that I was with people who had for the most part, lived pretty hard.
One common thing I found is that each person had a desire to be happy. It sounds pretty basic, but I think that’s lost in these stories. When we hear about drug addicts it’s with this detached sense of judgment. People don’t stop to think or wonder why people are getting high, and I can tell you 99% of the time it is to be happy. The effect doesn’t last, they typically don’t stay very happy as the world breaks down around them, but truthfully there is a reliable effect from a person’s poison. How many things can you say that about in life? I feel like I understood, I could speak the language, and could take their stories in and give the story back. I was honored to be involved with each person, and I say that with the greatest sincerity.
I had to think about those days yesterday when I was on the subway with Roan. A seemingly homeless man was on the train and was totally schnackered. (That’s the technical term for wasted. Trust me, I’m a professional.) He was staggering around, muttering things and he eventually made his way past us. After he passed, another mom started whispering explainations to her kids that the man was drunk, and that he was a bad man and that’s what happens when you drink and take drugs.
Off the subway I had to sit Roan down and talk to him. I was pretty lit up over that mother’s words and had to debrief with my son. I asked Roan what he noticed on the train that was interesting, and sure enough, he brought up what the mom had said. He felt a little confused about why he was a “bad man”. We talked about choices, about how we sometimes make the right ones and sometimes we make the wrong ones. We talked about how even adults make a lot of mistakes and sometimes we can’t find people to help us make it right. I also tried to dismiss the notion that people are bad or good, submitting that we make choices that are bad or good. I believe that, and I really hope Roan will believe it too.
I do understand where the mother was coming from, trying to take the situation and turn it into a learning opportunity, and maybe that was her best way to comfort her kids. I just cannot let Roan think that’s where it’s at with me. In the end, even if my only impact is raising one boy who will respect others, and who will have compassion for the suffering that comes with certain circumstances, I’ll feel like I’ve done right by the people who trusted me with their stories and experiences.