Working on the therapeutic team of an Addiction Centre in South Africa, my country. On night shift right now, in an enormous Cape Dutch house in the middle of a forest. All clients are asleep. I have just done my first round after lights out and felt again that peculiar hyper vigilance as I stood beside each sleeping client and listened to their breathing, looked at their sleeping position, scanned the room and the areas beyond the room. As an R.N. my job is mainstream medical – medications (all the rules and regulations, policies and procedures that go with that), vital signs, discussion with the diabetic about his blood levels and carbohydrates, observing the 25 year old with cirrhosis of the liver and a history of alcohol abuse from a young age, reading the report from the psychiatrist who evaluated the effect of medication on a client with bipolar disorder, watching the clients as they watch a horror movie and noting their responses, looking forward to the 30 minute walk I take with all of them in the early morning and as I passed into my office grabbing an apple from the dish of fruit always topped up and available for staff and clients. The water is sweet here, I think it comes from an underground spring. One of the clients did not sleep well last night and on the group walk this morning I asked him what had been on his mind and it was a book he had been reading. We talked and I was flabbergasted at the depth of sensitivity and awareness he brought to the story. The “water” of his soul comes from the same deep spring as that of all souls. Somewhere and sometime – maybe trauma, maybe genetic predispositioning, maybe just damn stupid choices, maybe loneliness, maybe a visionaries’ longing for the transcendent, maybe sheer availability of substances – somewhere and sometime all these clients have said yes and followed that with a movement of their own hands to their own mouths and perhaps later to their own noses and veins. They were lucid when they made the first move, when they said the first yes, had the first hit, felt the first comedown after a high. Then they said yes again. And many yesses later here they are with short term memory loss, impaired judgement, estrangement from parents / family / friends, unemployable and with a bad work history.
I was asleep in my flat and I woke up to find a man standing at the corner of my bed watching me sleep. He had both my laptops, one under each arm. I was so angry! I growled at him “What are you doing here? Get out,” and with that said “Jesus!” and flew out of bed to kill him. I was that angry. He fled! With my laptops. Long story about police and police case and trying to trace the laptops, to no avail. Fast forward. I commissioned the local Nar Anon group in a little town in South Africa and walked into the building in which we shared an adjacent room with Narcotics Anonymous. There, looking very fragile, was the man who had stolen my laptops. He was so out of it, so dirty, clothed too lightly for winter. I tried to make eye contact but he just kept looking down. I made him a mug of coffee and gave him a biscuit. What have I lost? Two laptops. He’s lost his place in society, his self-respect and his health. I later met up again with the investigating officer for the case and told him I had seen the man and where. The detective said I should have reported it. I said Nar Anon is anonymous. Confidentiality is water tight. He shrugged.
My son “tested” drugs and it changed him. Short term memory loss, personality changes. But subtle. He is a successful business man now, a fantastic father, an adored husband, the writer of two books, a surfer, an artist, a gifted man. But with a deep, primal anger at me. I have invited him several times over the last twenty years to come to counselling with me but he refuses. He says he has no interest in “all that psychotherapy mumbo jumbo.” “There is nothing wrong with me, you are the problem,” he tells me. But he will not sit with me and tell me what it is he holds against me. He says it is the divorce. He was young, only just a teenager. But we had a good relationship after the divorce, for many years. Until. It took me many years to twig that his behaviour was drug related. He has been “clean” for many years. I respect and admire what he has made of his life. With me he recycles grudges, holds me in contempt, lacks communication skills and last year in August told me he does not want me in his life and that if I want to see his family I have to ask his permission first. I have had a long time to think and I understand that he needs his anger. He needs his resentment. He uses it for drive. He needs to have me to kick against. It fuels his energy. He is making a huge success of his business. His wife is loyal (I miss her SO MUCH). I miss my grandchildren.
So I have lost my son. I miss what we had. I miss HIM. Now I am on duty in the middle of the forest, in this huge house, typing out the listserve. With me are the sons and daughters of many parents. And I am committed to this. If any soul gets to that point in their lives where they want to get well and stop using, if they have come all the way through from that moment of truth to this demanding programme on a continent far removed from their own, I am there. I will be here. Sticking to my role, practicing my profession. My role does not include psychotherapy or counselling but I can listen. And how they talk! There is an upholstered armchair in my office. Sometimes they say something and the “lights go on” as it were. At those moments I am glad I am a listener. A gentle and safe presence for them. I think my grey hair is a plus. I am a grandmother, a listener, a skilled helper. I am glad it is not my job to be a therapist although with my background, training and experience I know what it entails. I like it that they sit in the chair and talk. The corner, the chair, the forest, the large house, the tight routine, the skilled dedication of the team. I have lost my son. I can either sit at home and grieve for the rest of my life or I can do what I am doing now. Use the loss to serve, to listen, to stay in the stream of sweet water from the source.
Wow, that was a long story from someone whose first response to hearing it was her turn to do the listserve was an ummmmmm ……