I had coffee with my mom this week at my house, in my kitchen. I fed her and we talked for a couple of informative, surprisingly uneventful hours. She says that her case worker and counselor are two of the most friendly, knowledgeable, and responsive that she has ever had. (Praise the Lord for that). I can see that she has made so much progress with her current team of clinical support people. They treat her like a person, and that is a really (really) big deal.
I listened as she explained that most recently she has found herself struggling with new boundaries that she has had to create between herself and my brother. Her new landlord will not allow him to stay with her and she cannot afford to risk her housing allowance by sneaking him in and out. She has had to turn him away at night several times this month. According to her he visits her house frequently, and most of the visits have gone smoothly, but that is where the line has to be drawn. He cannot stay with her. She has driven him around town and has dropped him off at various locations. From a mens group home in the city that he has since left, the library, at St. Luke’s hospital (because they have hot coffee and public facilities that he was able to use), and on a different day she took him to the lake. He has shown her a few of the places that he sleeps at night, one of those places is a makeshift fire pit down by one of the local lakes. The other, between railroad ties underneath a bridge in the city.
She began to cry as she struggled to explain that she has been counting the nights, “He’s been out there this time for 32 days, Britty,” she said. She looked directly into my eyes. I didn’t know what to say, or how to respond. I looked down at the table. She continued, “How do I know if he has enough underwear and socks, and he keeps losing his backpacks. It bothers me that he doesn’t have a phone. His ribs are broken, but he still ‘keeps a smile on his face, and it’s getting cold. He is going to be cold.”
Sometimes I feel like a such a coward because I don’t want to know anything at all. As if it is wrong to not have details. I feel like the more I know the more I want to help and to fix and to intervene and save the fucking day. The more I know the more difficult it is to combat feelings of wanting to drive around town for hours, searching for him.
Other times I feel like a fraud for not revealing to her or anyone else that sometimes I too have nights where I can’t catch my breath I cry so deep, and so hard for him. My heart feels shattered in the specific space that it holds especially for him. It’s like some vacant rental space that I am not willing to let go of, and no one else can touch it. It’s like this deep vacuum carved out specifically to encapsulate the pain that I refuse to give away, pain that I won’t talk about, pain that is often misunderstood. I keep it close. I keep it tucked away there.
It took every ounce of strength I had to keep it together while we sat across from each other. She is his mom. She is speaking about her son. Can I even begin to imagine what her pain must feel like? I pray that I never find out.
Naturally, as she spoke I removed myself creating just enough emotional distance so that I appeared to be outwardly empathetic. As I listened to her describe his heart, I slowly sank away inside of my mind. As she described how he still smiles and tries to make her laugh, I remembered that I really missed hearing his voice, and so I dug even deeper.
The wedge I so carefully protect that acts as a barrier between my life and the lifelong connection I will always have with my younger brother bared down even harder on my lungs.
It felt hard to breathe.
Her sadness made my self-protection feel inhumane; my operating as detached from him, began to feel trivial all over again.
This is the raw part of me, the part of my life that whispers to me that I am not normal.
It’s a voice that has always given me the false impression that somehow, I don’t belong.
These hidden parts of my pain are the dark spots that seep through to the surface, reminding me of something very important.
My sobriety is maintained largely, by giving these parts of my story a voice.
By standing up to them.
By calling them out.
The shrink when light touches them.
As I attach recognition and feelings and raw emotion to them, I am acknowledging that I am human.
I am imperfect. Life is messy. It’s okay to have messes.
I don’t have to hide. It’s okay to come out. If not, this is that same sticky, detrimental voice. It is the one that held my face down under the water. The one that would let me catch a glimpse of the sunlight only to sweep my legs from under me. It is the one that kept me living within the lie that I am not worthy. The one that wouldn’t save me from being on fire if it were holding a glass of ice water.
As I sit right now I am standing face to face with pockets of time where my throat feels like it is probably closing, when it isn’t.
Where the sun is harder to feel as the darkness hovers creating shadowy places.
Incredible sadness lingers behind every word that I speak. Every smile. Every song lyric. Every prayer.
A new wave of tears moves closer and closer to the surface with each breath of cold, crisp, Fall air I breathe in.
Sometimes I start to feel guilty for taking advantage of the opportunities that my own sobriety has offered to me, and the beauty that God’s Grace has given me the chances to recognize over and over.
I push away the questions and thoughts that start cycling. Where is he? Is he alone? Is he hungry? Does she have anyone or any friends or people to talk to? Is he afraid? What does he think about when he walks around all day?
So this is just me. Letting it all air out, giving it a few shakes, making it stand out in the open against some daylight.
Not so I win and the shadows lose, but so the dark parts know that I am not afraid.
This is pain.
To feel pain is to know and experience love, and to love is to feel and connect.
To connect is to embrace vulnerability and authenticity.
And for any of that to manifest means that I am sober, and this is what sobriety is sometimes.