Could our way of competition and capitalism be leading us to isolation and depression? I search our city streets and I see a myriad of frenzied people often using tense and terse words, elbowing others for their tiny turf they’ve claimed. Horns are honking and the homeless are shouting expletives. Under the bridges of the bustling city, a plethora of tents form the silhouette of a starlit campground, “if only”! Humanity is in a hurry and borders on depravity, definitely distracted. It is loud, busy, and not at all welcoming.
I don’t know if I’m that different than others, but the homeless always capture me, nearly grabbing me by the collar, choking my spirit. It cuts me to the core that we have fellow humans living alone, outside, in the harsh elements. This discomfort has been growing inside of me, spurred on by the numbers of homeless that spill onto the streets, which seem to be increasing daily. I can’t get past the growing numbers of disheveled people, holding signs in desperation, begging for a slice of the pie. No one wants to face the elements, often alone, for even one day, let alone in the dead of Winter. No matter if it is drugs, disability, mental illness, job loss, or any other unfortunate situation, having to be homeless seems inhumane.
This leads me to the space that inspired me to write this entry. Therapy was difficult today. I was given the task of thinking about the prospect of “flying solo”, without my family’s weight on my wings. I acknowledge in many respects that I have allowed the family stuff to stunt my own personal growth. I got wrapped up in a situation that I had little control over. Although my family dynamics will most likely remain unchanged, I can work to take control over my life and take better care of myself spiritually and physically. I accept the task of doing so. Still yet, there was something growing larger inside of me all day. Something that left me angry and inconsolable and, at one point, crumpled up on my bed, crying.
The world we are living in is hard and harsh. And honestly, more specifically, I feel it is our American culture that is causing a lot of the alienation that is leading to the pain that results in drug use and certain mental illness in the first place. And, so, I will have “fly solo” because in our culture it makes sense to do so. However, there is a larger part of me that is literally screaming in frustration that we are doing it ALL WRONG! I do believe self- care is important and that each individual is ultimately responsible for their own happiness, still yet, we are missing that our community needs its own form of “self care” and healing. Turning inward and healing oneself only can bring us so far. We have lost our sense of community and responsibility to one another. Connection to others is what brings us the greatest satisfaction.
My mind begins to spin thinking of all the aspects of community that has been eroding over the last several decades as greed related to unbridled capitalism has reigned. Less people are engaged in art, dance, writing, music, theatrical performances, etc. There are communities that lack employment opportunities while at the same time their school systems are lagging behind. Places where drug problems are more prevalent are paralleled with poverty and poor educational systems. Often these places have less parks, theaters, community centers, etc. Sadly, these places often have less treatment facilities available and transportation to and from treatment is non-existent. In certain rural areas, churches can be a source of refuge and connection, but often times are divisive and judgmental. People who long for connection feel uncomfortable seeking help from entities whose standards feel unattainable or foreign to them. Community often seems elusive and unattainable.
People outside of these situations feel that individuals in those areas need to just “seek help” if they are using. I can tell you from personal experiences with my family, they do not have access to transportation, most do not have a phone, and the hospitals and other treatment facilities are often too far for them to access. If you couple the logistics along with the fact that they have always lived chaotically with drugs in the picture (except when they were much younger), it becomes more apparent how difficult it is for many of these people to actually ask for help. Most people who are addicted deny having a problem and if they finally do decide to seek help, it is nearly impossible to attend treatment without a car (outpatient). The only rehabs nearby are waitlisted for several months. Access to treatment is very limited due to so many needing help. It is the same story for mental health treatment in certain areas. And sadly, I feel this is a common theme in many areas across the country.
So, again, this leads me to overwhelming frustration and sadness regarding the sad state of affairs our country is currently in related to treatment for both substance use and mental illness. We have a public health crisis on our hands and many of us have loved ones (or possible ourselves) that have been negatively impacted by the lack of care for so many struggling. This leads me back again to the homeless. Some of these beautiful people are lost in the system due not receiving care. They are recipients of trying too hard for too long and living in an area with higher unemployment rates. Some people get trapped into homelessness. Once you no longer have an address, a phone, access to showers, etc. employers “look over you” and you can no longer land a job. The saddest story related to unemployment that I can recall was one when I was filling out an application for a job at a fast food establishment long ago when I was in college. I knew they were still hiring at the time and I watched as a middle-aged man came in and asked if he could fill out an application. He was disheveled and looked “homeless”. They immediately turned him away. I remember watching him make a few statements in desperation, trying to convince him he was worthy to at least apply, but they turned him away based on his looks. Well, he might have been on the streets and was trying to get a job. I’m 46 and that exchange, with him walking out with his head down, defeated, was heartbreaking to watch. It crushes my spirit today telling it, as it did on the day I experienced it.
I just feel that we need to do better to invest in our community, not just ourselves. There is too much competition and not enough connection and collectivity. It may seem like a “pipe dream” to some, but I believe if we took care of each other, we would all benefit in the end. The current model where everyone is exhausted from working harder, not smarter, to “get ahead”, has actually caused alienation and a host of other problems. I realize I am barely scratching the surface of what would actually have to change for this to be achieved. I only know that we are living in times where we are pulling away from each other, instead of bending towards each other and this, in time, will break us. I think we are seeing that already.
So, yes, I am flying solo away from the devastation that addiction caused for my family. I acknowledge I am powerless to help them. I have a heavy heart because I know too much has to change to have real impact in the lives of those I love. The area they live in is economically depressed, lacking services, transportation, etc. I hold this knowledge in my heart and it is heavy. I pass by the homeless and I see the faces of those I love in them. I see people who have tried and perhaps they did not get the right tools growing up, or they are disabled or mentally ill, or have an addiction that has never been adequately treated. I see people who have trouble competing in a system that is difficult for even healthy people, who often end up with physical diseases, a heart attack or stroke, from refusing to never taking a break. We are all tired and disconnected. I do not have the answers, I only know I hope one day to find some way to contribute. I only wish we could create a “softer place” to land when struggling occurs.
I am searching for community and connection. I will heal by flying solo, but I will soar when I finally connect to others in that freedom! I’ll continue to search for ways to connect. The potential and power to heal lies within us collectively, not in competition.