“These Rooms”

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Yesterday at church I sat behind a woman who doesn’t have a home. For a while she lived in a shelter, but she told me that she was now sleeping outdoors. I know her name and her age–early 60’s–and that she is clearly an addict. She was twitchy and shaking in the pew as Mass went on. My compassion for her was deep, but I thought about what I had learned in what those who know call “these rooms.”

Anonymous programs exist to provide people a chance to share experience, strength and hope with others. Some of these are for people who live with addicts, some for addicts themselves. I have spent hundreds of hours in such places processing and learning about the addicts I grew up among. Slogans are a key part of these rooms, and one in particular came to me as I sat behind and prayed for her. “You need to accept life on life’s terms.” It’s a counter message to the “visualize and it will come to be” so prevalent in much of the culture.

I had to accept that she was self destructing. I had to accept that her mind was consumed with needing a fix. I was careful to take my phone with me when I went up for Communion. Did that mean I didn’t trust her? Yes, it did. I care about her and I wish the best for her, but part of life on life’s terms is that in her need for a fix she might have seen my phone and taken it. Not because I wasn’t kind to her. Not because I don’t call her by her name(which I do.) No because she is an addict, kicked out of a shelter and not asking me for help beyond money. Our priest has asked us not to hand out money directly but put it into the poor box. He knows all these street people and can discern actual need.

It is extremely painful to watch people self-destruct. The only thing more painful is to mistakenly believe that I have magical powers to cure them. I didn’t have them as a kid and I don’t have them now. I learned that in “these rooms.” I am forever grateful.

21 thoughts on ““These Rooms”

  1. I don’t have religion to turn to to try to understand those people.
    But I have always had, “It so easily could have been me”.
    They have always been with us, and I suspect they always will.
    Some of us are just too fragile for life’s demands.
    Best wishes, Pete.,

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  2. It is extremely difficult and very sad to see when someone is on a self-destructive path. However, never is there no hope and a faint glimmer might be that she was at mass with the rest of you in church – hopefully

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  3. My husband and I went to a different church’s service once as visitors, and I was told, “Make sure you take your purse with you when you go up for communion. We have people struggling with addiction and we don’t want to put temptation in the way of our recovering brothers and sisters.” I thought that was a great way of putting it. We don’t want to create a stumbling block, or occasion to sin, for others.

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  4. I made that mistake when the kids were teenagers and had their friends around most weekends (I had four and we had a big old house back then). One personable young man was leaving and must have been talking about the different friends he’d stayed with over the weekend o something similar which prompted me to ask where he’d be staying that night.
    There was a silence.
    He stayed with us a few weeks. What I didn’t realise then was that he was in the care system (having been thrown out by his stepfather) and due to be moved to a new care home which he didn’t want to go to as people there were out for him. It transpired that he had managed to make enemies at every care home he had lived in, but I only learned this after he had stolen one or two decent bits of glassware (glass didn’t last long in our household) several bottles of wine from the cellar money from me and from other kids and eventually a playstation my son had borrowed from a friend.
    By this time he was already on a warning and this was the last straw. I managed to steal back his key. (I’d been so angry when my son lost his the boy didn’t dare tell me he’d lost his too and kept leaving the side gate unlocked so he could let himself in.) The kids were at a caravan we had on the coast with my husband. (I was working and the boy had stayed to ‘look for work’.) I took him down with me ‘for the weekend’ and invented a detour which meant I couldn’t bring him back with me on the Sunday night. I bagged up his belongings and took them to his social worker.
    I then learned that, having taken himself out of the system, he couldn’t be reinstated until he was actually homeless. He was soon to turn 18 when, had he stayed in care, he would have been eligible for a subsidised flat.
    I hadn’t done him any favours.

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    1. Thank you for this informative cautionary tale. It is very easy to get sucked into craziness out of compassion. One of my closest friends went through a similar nightmare with one of her own children. Finally when the police showed up at her door looking for him and he went to prison for 7 years she realized she had been way over her head. As had you.

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  5. You know, Elizabeth, even when you have raised your children, sometimes they self destruct due to circumstances in their own lives that are beyond your control as a parent. There is only so much even a parent can do when their children derail, other than offer them support and be their to pick up the pieces.

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  6. Addiction destroys families. My brother completely wiped out my mother’s life savings to maintain his gambling problem. And he did it with her consent by manipulating, telling her he would be beaten or killed if he did not pay his debtors. At 88, she was almost on the street before I was finally able to take control of her affairs. (Her consent meant I had no recourse.) I accept that addiction is an illness that can affect many but find it hard to accept the harm done to others because of it.

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  7. I appreciate your take on this and I agree. I do feel sorry for these people, but I know that by giving them money, I would just be enabling them. There are several programs in place to help them, but substances have taken over their lives.

    I did not know you have/had addicts in your life. I’ve been fortunate not to have any in my family or circle of friends, so I’ve never had to witness the deterioration firsthand. I have met them in other people’s circles, however, and I’ve always wondered what the stopping point is for them when they decide “enough is enough”.

    I’m sure you already know this, but retirement plans in America are getting upended. Grandparents are now stepping back into parenting roles because parents are busy getting high. According to an article I read on this 2 nights ago, 85% of children who currently live with their grandparents do so because their parents are battling with substance abuse.

    I really feel for those families. Imagine giving up retirement after 47 years of toil to spend upwards of 200k on raising a child. It’s a hell of a sacrifice!

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    1. That is very common here. There are grandparent support groups for such elders. I agree with you that it is a devastating development. The addicts in my life were all alcoholics, by the way.

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      1. Goodness! It seems to be the worst in Pennsylvania so far.

        You know, I think we did have an alcoholic in the family. Not sure how bad we can say it got though. He’s a business owner and does well for himself. Happily married until his wife died, though I can’t speak for her take on the marriage.

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