Monday, April 10, 2006

Diaries of a social worker

A client of mine, who I like, relapsed on her alcoholism over the weekend, just before her post-probation requirements were to be fulfilled, and may go back to jail until her hearing in two weeks that would have ended her probation. My co-worker's client who was doing well and was about to get a stable income for the first time in his life recently relapsed on pain killers, got in trouble with the police for trespassing where he is persona non grata, went to the ER with a mental crisis, probably lost his great new housing arrangement, and flunked a test for a new job and is using that as a reason to go off the deep end. My newest client lives in total squalor, a house so dirty and smelly and full of trash and bugs that the home health aides won't go in to help her, has such rock-bottom self-esteem that she may never be able to take care of herself, even though she's smart and capable in all other ways. My longest standing client can't seem to get free of the addictions to almost a dozen different substances that have plagued her since she was a teenager, yet she's not even 30 and is bright and has so much potential, so that when she tells me a few days ago that she relapsed again (for what has now been several times in a month after almost six months of sobriety) and then I tell her we start over, just like before and not to give up on herself, and then she smiles- it's heartbreaking and frustrating beyond belief.

So often people don't understand what I do or why- all the time, I hear about why the people I serve don't deserve to be served, about what a waste of time and money and human life they are, about how lazy and immoral they must be to live the ways they do, about how I must be such a saint because they can't bring themselves to feel sorry for these people like I obviously do. Here is one thing that I have to say about that- this work is not about feeling sorry for them. Aside from the general sorriness I feel that any person should be in such a sad state of affairs, I don't. Yes, most of the time they are capable people who aren't acting responsibly, usually for reasons unspeakably hard- I have only a single client who is not a survivor of child abuse- lo and behold she is one of the few who has never battled an addiction. I don't have a panacea for trauma, but I suspect it has to do with a personal journey toward a self-love which one has never felt- this is a journey we all have to travel, easier for some than others, so no- I wouldn't say I feel sorry. I don't think that is what this work is about.

For me, it is about forgiving someone for their faults and mistakes (because everyone deserves to be forgiven a million times because God forgives endlessly) and then helping them. It's that simple. I believe without forgiveness, we are all of us lost. Being the true-blue religious liberal that I am, I think of forgiveness as the most godly thing we can do- and since God's forgiveness is never worn out (ever, ever) that we owe that kind of love to our neighbors- that's one of the many places I think we Unitarians have it way over the hypocritical "religious" right. How mad it makes me to hear someone disparage strangers for their shortcomings, when that person is too afraid of the human condition to even stand on the same sidewalk as that stranger. I hear them talk about how saintly those of us are who work with the people who scare them- the poor, the mentally ill, the developmentally disabled, the severely depressed and oppressed- but I don't think it is saintly, I think it is just a duty to others to confront one's fears and prejudices in order to serve them no matter what, and that not doing so is the fault. Rather than most of our nation's people turning their backs on those who scare them being the normal ones, and the social workers the unusually saintly, I think it is those who actually try to connect with their neighbors who are normal and those who don't the not-so-moral-after-all. This all inspired today by yet another person disparaging the poor- this time because of their higher rates of Type-II Diabetes. WTF? *Now stepping down from high-horse*

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