mission of mercy

Yesterday afternoon I drove Mom across town to deliver a care package to her sick aunt. The poor creature is in her early 80s, obese, and the chief enabler of a slew of miscreant kids and grandkids. She exists on a very meager pension and social security. It’s sad. It’s her choice though.

On the way home at an interchange where I was preparing to hit the Interstate, I saw one of Rudy’s longtime alcohol and drug buddies. This poor guy, who’s actually a fairly competent factotum, exists as a panhandler, begging for money at busy intersections around town. Several times a year the cops will grab him. Invariably he’ll have a crack pipe and wind up doing several weeks to several months in jail. Periodically Rudy or somebody will get him a job, and he may work for a few weeks, but pretty soon he’s back begging. He claims the money is too good, and that he can make in a couple of hours panhandling what he’d make in a couple of days as a painter. I don’t doubt it for a minute. When he’s not locked up he tends to live in flea-bag motels, under bridges, or in the woods.

I don’t know if he has mental problems, in addition to his substance abuse, or not. He may very well be depressed or god knows what? Unless he is separated from the drugs (and booze), he’s an unlikely candidate for any type of therapy – talking, meds, or otherwise. He recoils from the prospect of sobriety and responsibility like most do from his lifestyle. He was hit by a car recently. Now he walks with a pronounced limp. Maybe that helps him elicit sympathy from naive passers by. He’s pitiful and he plays on that for all it’s worth.

Egotistical fellow that I am, I thought about trying to 12-step him and encourage him to get into a treatment program somewhere. “Hey, look how great I’m doing” was almost certainly my unconscious motivation. After all, I should be able to help somebody, shouldn’t I?

Maybe, but bitter experience over the years has taught me that I don’t get to pick and choose who. None of the people I associated with on the streets has ever paid more than lip-service to my recovery sales pitches. The few people I’ve sponsored in the program over the years all returned to active alcoholism and addiction. We don’t get to pick who gets it, and the vast majority never do. The program is for “them that want it, not them that need it”.


4 Responses to “mission of mercy”

  1. 1 Michelle March 2, 2008 at 11:01 am

    “We don’t get to pick who gets it, and the vast majority never do. The program is for “them that want it, not them that need it”.”

    This is the hardest part – especially when working with family members. I want so badly to “help” and then find all I’ve done is enable, because they don’t want real help, only a hand-out. I also gave a panhandler some money this past week, am I a sucker?

  2. 3 Rob N. March 2, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    Michelle – It is a hard thing to come to terms with. I’m not sure we ever can completely. I don’t see anything wrong with “helping” hustlers, if you feel like it. I do it from time to time. Just don’t be under illusions as to what the money is almost certainly going for.

    untreatable – Glad you stopped by.

  3. 4 Bill May 26, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    One of the first things I learned in recovery — the hard way — is that you can’t 12-step family successfully. That’s true whether you’re six months clean and sober or a 20-year Master Addiction Counselor. There is too much old stuff involved, for them if not for the 12-stepper. Besides, they knew me when. Why should they think I have anything to offer?

    I can’t discuss emotional issues with the folks who helped wire my own buttons — and me theirs.

    As far as handing a guy on the street corner a buck is concerned, compassion and willingness to give have nothing to do with 12-step work. If I can afford it, I give. If I can’t, I don’t. When I do, my purposed is to alleviate the recipient’s suffering a little bit, in the only way I can. What they do with the money is none of my business.

    After all, isn’t one of the main lessons of my recovery learning that it’s up to me to do what I can, but that I can’t control the outcome?

    Finally, I can accomplish as much by example as I can directly (especially when it comes to family), and far more than I do by preaching. As the old AA saying goes, “I may be the only Big Book they will ever read.”

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