At the day shelter for homeless men where I work, one of our goals is to provide assistance to the men to find and maintain safe, affordable housing. When one of the men receives the keys to his own place, it is cause for celebration. Last week, I had the opportunity to celebrate a very different kind of homecoming, and it is one that I will never forget.
In twelve step programs, there is talk of the “geographical cure”, which means that people in denial of their addiction may relocate to a new city, home, job, etc., believing that the problem lies outside of them, rather than within them, so, they change their location, but not themselves, in hopes of changing their problems. You take your problems with you wherever you go, though, so, it is not really a cure. While I subscribe to this conventional wisdom, I had the opportunity to witness that sometimes going home is indeed the cure for what ails you.
The day shelter is a hub of activity, and a lot can happen over the weekend, so, Monday is always a day of catching up with what I missed in those two days. Last Monday, I got an earful from the weekend staff member, as the weekend had been busier and more chaotic than ever. As he filled me in on all that had transpired, he mentioned that one of the men had felt suicidal and had to be hospitalized for observation. In the midst of all of the other news that the staff member shared, this particular story was lost in the shuffle. Later that same day, what was lost was found, and what happened both broke my heart and then made it burst with joy.
That afternoon, I was stopped by one of my favorite guys who was sitting at a table near my office. When I saw him, his usual bright eyes and big smile had been replaced by a forced smile that hid pain bubbling close beneath the surface. It was a mask I knew all too well, as I had worn it myself not that long ago. I crouched down next to where he was seated, and he averted his eyes and said that he was supposed to speak with me, but was too embarrassed to tell me why. As he spoke, he gingerly slid hospital discharge papers toward me, and I immediately connected the dots and realized that he was the guest who had been suicidal over the weekend. He was discharged and told to follow-up with the social worker from a community mental health agency who shares my first name, so, I explained who she was and helped him secure a slot to see her the following day. He quietly thanked me, and I told him that he could talk with me anytime. He took me up on my offer sooner than later.
Shortly after the day shelter closed, I exited the building to go to a meeting, and there, standing alone on our front steps, was the gentleman I spoke with earlier. He looked despondent, and so I paused to have a conversation with him that left both of us in tears, as he recounted what triggered his suicidal thoughts and shared his journey from being employed and housed to being unemployed and homeless. While I have not experienced the same challenges he has faced, I have struggled with anxiety and depression and know what it is like when suicide becomes a viable option. As I listened to his heart wrenching story, the tears began to flow, and I took his hand in mine and offered him words of support and comfort in a voice cracking with raw emotion. I didn’t want to let go of his hand, for fear that he would let go, literally. I asked him to come talk with me and another staff member in the morning, so, that the three of us could devise a plan of action, and he promised me he would do so. When we parted, I headed off to my meeting, while he headed down the street to claim his spot on the porch of a building for the night. He was on my mind for the rest of the day and as I prepared for work the next morning, and every time I thought of the challenges and barriers to securing housing and employment, I became more and more discouraged. While I have been in the position of not being able to provide ready assistance to some of the other men, there was something different about this particular man. This was a matter of life and death.
He greeted me at the front door before the day shelter had reopened, and I was so happy and relieved to see him, even though he remained dejected. I headed straight to my co-worker’s office to strategize how to best help him. As we both kept coming up with more questions than answers, our thoughts turned to home. He had mentioned to both of us that his mother and other family members lived in a neighboring state and that he wanted to go home, but he could not afford the transportation. We had discovered the true geographical cure, and with that, the plan was set in motion.
When the day shelter opened its doors that morning, my co-worker opened his office door to this gentleman and talked with him about the very limited resources we had to offer and then asked him what resources awaited him at home. When he described the family support and community resources available to him, my colleague asked him if he wanted to go home. When he responded in the affirmative, my co-worker then said that we were able to arrange for him to get home, and for the second day in a row, the tears began to flow. Together, they called his mother, who was ecstatic that her child would be returning home, and she offered her support and her home to him.
After the arrangements had been finalized, he exited the office and came to mine to share the good news and to change my life forever. He thanked me and hugged me, and he said, “Miss Kristi, I cannot thank you two enough. If you had not stopped to talk with me yesterday when you left, I was planning on killing myself, but you gave me hope to hang on. This means so much to me. You saved my life.” We both stood there taking in the moment and letting the words hang in the air, as we wept over everything that had happened to lead us down our own version of the yellow brick road. I praised him for being brave enough to ask for help and thanked him for trusting us enough to help him, and I reminded him that help always is available, even if it does not readily appear, so not to give up. I then asked him to do two things for me. One, I asked him to return home and lead a happy, healthy life, and two, I asked him to help someone else when he was in the position to do so. Without hesitation, he promised to do both, and he left my office with the weight of the world off of his shoulders and a huge smile on his face.
Late last week, we said a tearful good-bye, as he began his journey home. A bus, not a pair of ruby slippers, carried him home, and his mother, not Auntie Em, was there to greet him. We spoke with him on the telephone today, and he sounded so happy and expressed his gratitude yet again. He laughed and said, “Someday, I hope to come back to visit, and I’ll say, ‘How do you like me now?’ ” I laughed and said that I was going to hold him to that and reminded him that he always is welcome here. He ended our conversation by saying, “I love you, Miss Kristi”, to which I replied, “I love you right back.” There really is no place like home.
That’s another story . . .
Categories: That's Another Story