This particular experience has weighed on my mind for a few days, and I’m conflicted as to how to respond to it.
Went to a meeting in which there was a person who has been diagnosed with various mental illnesses and who is on a bunch of medications. While reading the steps, this person descended into delusional talk. They really didn’t know what was real.
A couple of us put our hands on the person’s arms, trying to help them stop their rambling, but they just descended further. Finally another person came over and said, “Let’s go outside,” helped the person out of their chair, and escorted them out. And stayed with them for half an hour. And another person took over reading the steps.
This ill person sometimes calls me. And I sometimes call them to check on them.
Sometimes, this person talks as though they might want to end it.
This touches a still-raw nerve in me: when I was a kid, somebody very important to me, about my age, talked as though they wanted to end it. They had a plan: they had, they said, the materials to carry it out. And at 16 and 17, I was made to be responsible for determining this person’s state of mind. I had to talk with this person and report back what they said to the people who were responsible for them. I did this because I loved them and because I didn’t know, at 16 and 17, how else to behave when asked by adults to do these things.
(I’m talking vaguely on purpose: I don’t want to breach this person’s privacy. But the fact is, what happened back then still impinges on how I feel, how I’m tempted to make decisions, today. Do you know what I mean?)
When I was a kid we had a magnet stuck to our fridge that said, “He Ain’t Heavy / He’s My Brother.” I was taught that I Am My Brother’s Keeper. Cain and Abel.
And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel your brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?
(We didn’t read the King James version; we were Catholics; but I like the language)
I said this to a couple of my friends after the close of that meeting the other day.
“I was taught that I’m my brother’s keeper,” I said.
“That’s unfortunate,” said one of my friends. “Because that’s not true. You can’t keep everyone safe. Sometimes you can’t help.”
Sometimes I Can’t Help.
(Can I? Can I? … Trust God, Clean House, Help Others.)
I’ve actually thought about going to this person’s psychiatric appointments with them. They have hardly anybody in their life to look out for them, and I have a lot of experience negotiating health care systems.
I’ve thought about taking them into my house so they’re not so lonely and desperate. I mean, in the old days people took addicts and alcoholics into their houses and helped them out. Right? They did for them what they could not do for themselves.
(Who has delusions of grandeur here? Whose ego is blown to drastic proportions? Who fancies herself The Savior?)
It’s hard for me to admit my powerlessness over other people. It is so difficult for me to resist taking care of other people. It is my first “drug of choice”—saving people, taking care of other people, making other people feel better. It comes from having had responsibilities foisted on me at too young an age.
I was too young, at 17, to be climbing into a suicidal person’s head and reporting back. But the reality is, it made me feel competent, effective. Powerful.
It set me up to want to get high off this power-trip later in life.
My sponsor would say,
The question is not “Why did this happen?” The question is, what are you going to do now?
“But what if they decide to top themselves?” I asked. I could feel my throat constrict and my eyes burn with the memory of the person in the past talking about a cyanide pill they’d said they had. (This person also grew up in an alcoholic family, though they still, to this day, refuse to admit it. Fortunately, they’re still alive and well.)
“Then they will be dead. And that will be very, very sad,” my friend said. “But this program is not to help with mental illness. The best thing you can do is direct them to the people who can help them.”
I know someone else in the program who suffered with mental illness and who ended it recently. People with experience in mental health services tried to help him.
I know another person in the program whose son texted her the other day that he was going to end his life.
I’m thinking about these people today.
My sponsor would say,
Prayer is very powerful.
Part of me scoffs at her and says it’s all bullshit, I prayed my entire childhood and terrible stuff happened, prayer sucks.
Part of me believes her. The part that believes her prays.
Sometimes I want to get even more honest than usual on this blog. I hope you don’t mind.
If you’ve experienced something like this, I’d like very much to hear from you.