Friday, August 15, 2008

Falling down to get back up.

I sat in my 6th floor office and watched an elderly man stumble down the street far below. He pushed his metal walker before him, a human barstool on the move. He came to the curb, attempted to navigate the bump, and fell. He struggled to get up but with each attempt, he fell back to the ground. Sitting up in my eerie, I had an eagle's eye view, and I was helpless. I phoned the security desk on the main floor to ask a staff to go out and help him but as I started to speak, two people came up and assisted the man. Later I went downstairs to ensure the man had made it safely to his destination, the DI. He had.

"Our greatest glory consists not in never failing but in rising every time we fall." Oliver Goldsmith

This man fell down. He got up. A tiny success in a seemingly endless journey through the haze of alcohol that constantly fogs his mind. Once again, I am in awe of the spirit's need to live, of the drive for survival.

This man's life may have little sense to it. It may appear to be a futile attempt to wrest a few more moments or days from fate. But, in the end, this man's life is all he's got. He is a late stage alcoholic. A man for whom sobriety is a long lost relative to the despair that permeates his spirit like alcohol pouring through his veins.

There is little we can do for him other than provide a safe landing when he falls. Provide him assistance with his daily ablutions, clean him up when he messes up, watch over him when he has a seizure and provide him food and a safe place to sleep when he comes in from the street.

The help we provide him is not based on 'cleaning him up' or even getting him into rehab. Too many brain cells have hit the dust, too many synapses have mis-fired. He is walking towards his destiny. A tragic story of one man's life gone grievously astray. A human being no long able to do anything other than what he's doing today -- drinking himself to death.

Is it tragic? Absolutely. Did he make choices? Absolutely. Do his choices make a difference to him today? They make a difference to his quality of life, what he might have done, or been or had. But for today, his choices are limited to a narrow corridor of insobriety, a singular path to keeping himself numbed under the influence.

Does this man need help today? Absolutely. Does he deserve to be helped? Yes.

Regardless of the circumstances that led him down his dark and drunken street, he is where he's at. He is helpless to help himself. All we can do is watch over him as best we can. Provide him the help he needs and will take, and ultimately, note his passing and gather his belongings when he's gone.

We've had and have many clients like this man. Individuals self-medicating themselves to death. We try to intervene whenever we can. We attempt to redirect their attention to some other path. Sometimes, no matter what we do, we cannot divert them from their self-directed date with destiny. For whatever reason, their lives have gone wildly astray, their paths become a constant struggle to get up.

Regardless of the reason, we cannot deny their need. It would be inhumane. No one deserves the street. No one deserves to die there. If he were a dog who had been hit by a car and been left bleeding on the road, we would not hesitate to pick him up and rush him to a vet. And yet, with a human being, we often stop in judgement and say, "It's his own fault."

In the end, it doesn't make a difference who's fault it is. He is falling and needs help. We cannot change his destiny. All we can do is provide the best care we can while he walks in the direction he's going. All we can do is walk beside him whenever we can, hold his hand when he needs us, and let him know we care enough to continue to make whatever difference we can.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If only we all could chose the way in which we die. I believe it was one of the WW II generals who said "Only the dead know the true cost of war."

We should not wait to see the dead to realize there is a battle.