I started doing caregiving for a select few people while I lived in Colorado. My first client was Harold, a Korean War Vet who lost his legs when an artillery round went off near him in combat. Harold was a man wracked with pain, often unable to sleep due to the ongoing issues with wounds and the problems with prosthetics that did not fit properly. I often considered him to be a victim of the VA and not their patient. His care was dismal to put it mildly.
Harold’s pain control method was to use alcohol. It was not hard to tell when he was feeling good and when the pain was getting unbearable. The days his pain was increasing would be days he increased his alcohol intake to compensate.
During the time I cared for him, my days were spent changing bandages and dressings and adjusting the pads in his prosthetic legs in an attempt to make the act of walking more pain-free for him. It didn’t work. We never could find the good fit, and often he would just resign himself to sitting in his wheelchair. I had quite a few people in my caregiving days that were like Harold. I just could not find a way to make them truly comfortable.
But a group that truly caused me to truly feel inadequate at times was those few people I cared for who had damaged their own health through drug addiction. I had no idea sometimes how to make the proper presentation of a message of hope and motivation to help the patient see the benefit of quitting. I found that for many of the people in the grip of drug addiction, some early event in life had caused a serious shock or trauma bringing on PTSD. The problem was that if I had no idea what had happened or even if something had happened, I could not effectively minister to the person.
I encountered many of the people I worked with through my work as a pastor and evangelist. I often found when I was called to a church even in small prairie towns that I assumed would be drug-free that there was invariably the few people who were not coping with life and had lost their way sinking into drug addiction or alcohol. Of these cases I was involved with, the children who I provided foster care for were the most vulnerable and the most wounded. I often found that either a severe injury or illness, a loss of loved one or an emotional trauma would be found to be the issue that started the child’s decline into drug addiction or alcoholism. In a few cases, sexual abuse was the factor that had triggered the downhill slide.
Victims of childhood sexual abuse were especially difficult to work with for several reasons. First, if the person requiring care was unable to differentiate between love and sex, the patient would often take a rejection of their sexual advances as a rejection of them. I would have to first try to convey the understanding that real familial love and relationships based on healthy love is not always a sexual one. For a child who has grown up knowing only the wrong kind of relationship, this meant a complete relearning of relationships. Often the person would be tempted to just escape back to that drug induced stupor that numbed everything and wiped memories away at least for awhile. The problem is of course that a person cannot stay high and drunk continually. There is that inevitable moment when one is passed out or waking up with a hangover or the beginnings of withdrawal or coming down.
I was involved with a Camp program run by an independent Bible Church Leader in Southeastern Colorado in the early 80’s and his method was to establish a structure to the day, accountability and responsibility including chores and tasks that would help a child reintegrate into normal society. He would point out, however, that most of what we see around us is not normal society as there are a huge number of dysfunctional families out there. I have since found that to be very true, unfortunately.
Some things that worked extremely well to bring people out and help them heal were outdoor activities such as boating, canoeing, fishing, hiking etc. Another extremely effective tool for rehab was music. For some individuals, artwork was a huge release of the issues that were driving the addict or alcoholic.
As the years marched by, I found that there were an increasing number of sexual abuse survivors and more of those people who had been physically abused. I cannot help but think that with all the so-called new freedoms we have had that we have also had an increase in walking wounded members of our society.
The sexual abuse victims often were the most difficult to reach. They were usually unable or unwilling to trust anyone and often would make matters much worse for themselves by projecting the actual abuse that had occurred in the past on whoever they were trying to exclude in their present. Thus, a childhood rape victim would repeatedly accuse more people of rape. This was so commonplace that I almost came to expect it to continue until I could bring about a resolution of the original problem.
In one church in a major western city where I was Singles Director, I had encountered 189 prostitutes and all of them were addicts and/or alcoholics.
Many of the people in that group came sporadically to church on Sundays, and some were ordered to attend a fellowship as part of their release by a judge who was hoping that somehow they would find a way out of the mess they were in. For the addict who had gotten sucked in simply by seeking a thrill, I often was able to effectively move them from addiction to recovery just by helping them see the advantage of pushing through to recovery and reintegrating in society. Many knew they had lost the respect of family and friends and were seeking restoration back into a good relationship with society.
Two groups were much more difficult to reintegrate back into society. One was the wounded vets who had come back from combat still fighting the war in their mind, and the other were those people who had been abused. All efforts to rehab either of those two would usually fail unless I was able to reach back in their past and bring them through a healing from the event that had triggered their addiction in the first place. For some, that process was just too painful, and the best efforts of pastors, counselors, and social workers failed. Especially difficult were those who had brought the issue on themselves. One area where I found it to be very difficult to restore someone to normalcy were those women who had an abortion. Another group was those adults who had been the abuser of a child or spouse. And in one case I was dealing with a person who had committed manslaughter through a drunk driving accident where the other driver was killed. No amount of help would suffice to set such people free until first they were led through a process that would help them forgive themselves.
If the self-forgiveness was not there, recovery was not there either. Faith-based programs differ from the secular government programs in this area. Spiritual and emotional healing are part of faith-based programs and integral to them, whereas many government-run programs have a formula based process that is rigid and structured and in being so, excludes a certain number of patients from recovery. The evidence of this difference is seen in the central New Mexico area in the Heroin recovery programs operated by the government. Without the person truly brought through the healing process, it is necessary to substitute another drug for the heroin, and yet the addict is still taking a drug. No real recovery has been effected.
However, If a person has been led through a recovery and healing from the original event or trauma that caused the addiction, there is often a full recovery. The only people who do not make it through are those who cannot bring themselves to break free from the unforgiveness and the grip of the past. They are the most difficult of all to deal with. Without breaking the hold of the past, the person does not move on and stagnates.