A man with some sort of mental illness attends a meeting I go to. Sometimes he talks too long, or he talks about things that aren't pertinent to our program...grudges, arguments, he said, she said. I have room for these sorts of missteps in my world. There are a lot of newcomers who come barreling into these rooms in all sorts of misery and pain with no diagnosable mental infirmity who make many of the same missteps.
Last week this gentleman rambled for a bit, the meeting ending time came and went. Everyone nervously looked at each other, but nobody said anything....so when he took a breath, I gently said, "Its time for the meeting to end, but I would love to talk to you more afterward. Would that be ok with you?" So we closed the meeting and he bee-lined it over to me and it took maybe 3 minutes of my life to listen to him and to share some of what I have learned in my program about having the freedom to make choices that work for us. He thanked me and was on his way.
The part of this whole interaction that bothered me was that after he left, a person who is looked up to and respected, stopped me and said, "You are so good. I always look at him and wonder what he's doing here. What is he coming to our meeting for?" Then she *shuddered.*
I said, "I think he is hoping to get better at doing life, just like all of us when we first walked through the door." Then I smiled and got my stuff and started to leave.
My sponsor says, "We are a group of people who are not well."
We are....that is what brought us all together. We were afraid, angry, sullen, depressed, acting crazy, trying to control the uncontrollable, doing the same things over and over again and hoping it would turn out differently....and left to our own devices, we very easily could have become diagnosable! I never want to forget where I have come from and where I still sometimes find myself waffling!
A couple of nights ago I visited someone I love very much in a locked psychiatric facility. Secret codes to be let in, locked doors with escorts, screaming patients, patients with no awareness of personal space.....and then there was my sweet friend who I was there to see. Who even in that place, in his compromised state, was protective and called me to him in the middle of the chaos at the door of people trying to get out and staff members holding them back. He ushered us into a conference room where we could visit in peace. So many things about this experience broke my heart. My friend who I love so much being so sick. The other patients.... each had started out as someone's sweet precious baby at one time. Seeing strangers waiting in the waiting room to be allowed in to see their family member....I was just so aware that each person sitting there, and many were men, husbands, boyfriends, brothers....sat there carrying their own pain. Their own sad memories, their own hope that their loved one will get better, their own fears and broken hearts. And then the kindness of the very underpaid staff members....who were ruffled by nothing and responded with smiles and kindness.
I think my capability to judge another person as less than me has been stripped away. Not because I am good or pure or extra kind....not at all. I think its because if the truth be told, I have had to face my own limitations. My own lack of abilities to manage, to be on the edge of "losing it" in my grief and my fear. I know that there is not that definitive of a marker that divides me from them.
I think of the depressions, the ECT before it was a humane treatment, the myriad of medications, the behaviors, the hospitalizations, the addictions.... that I watched play themselves out in my immediate family. All in good people, people who at the core of themselves were loving and kind, but who were also so sick. How can I, how dare I, assume that I am better than any of those patients or my meeting friend or the delusional homeless lady I see sitting in the park. I think, if I am going to be honest, the line that separates us is very thin.
"This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you."