The Oregon Faith Report - Faith News from Oregon

Who picks up caregivers when they fall?

July 12, 2012

Lifestory provided by Portland Rescue Mission

Michael showed up at Portland Rescue Mission a year ago. He’d relapsed on an alcohol binge after nearly four years of sobriety. When he got to our doors, he’d traveled 2,000 miles, slept in a bus and on the streets, and lost connection with his family, all to find the answer to one burning question.

So when he got to the Mission—tired, hungry and helpless—he asked, “Why do I keep drinking?” A common question, but from an uncommon addict.

Decades ago, Michael worked as a psychiatric technician in a locked mental facility in California. He cared for severely hurting people with demanding needs. For years, he experienced immense stress. Alcohol eased the tension and made the daily grind more bearable.

Years later, Michael turned to alcohol to cope with anxiety when he took care of his father, sick with cancer. After his father died, Michael moved in to take care of his mother. They shared happy memories together. “The big outing for us was grocery shopping.” He laughs, “I’d push her in her wheelchair, and she’d push the cart. We were like a train, and it’d take us three hours to go through the store.”

Michael and his mother eventually moved to Texas to be closer to his sister. As his mother’s health deteriorated, Michael fell deeper into his addiction. He drank alone each night just to make it to the next day.

When Michael’s mother passed away, he was devastated. He had no purpose in life and was completely alone. “I had been a care-giver for so long, but I didn’t have anyone left to care for.” Over the next few years, he was in and out of sobriety, but trauma always pushed him back to his addiction.

When he lost his job last year, Michael relapsed again. “I went out and got drunk, and I thought to myself, ‘What are you doing?’” This time, he made the desperate choice to come to Portland, close to his birthplace. He had that one crucial question, and his life depended on the answer.

If half the battle to find an answer is in asking the right question, then Michael was well on his way toward recovery when he came to our doors. He asked why he drank, not just how to stop drinking. He knew his addiction had deep roots, so he started digging them up.

When Michael entered the Mission’s New Life Recovery Ministry, he learned that everything of value in his life had been based on his ability to care for others. He’d tended psychiatric patients, his sick father and his dying mother. Others had affirmed his abilities, and Michael truly found joy in easing people’s pain. His nurturing nature was a gift from God, but he had believed that gift was the sole source of his value as a person.

Once his care-giver identity was taken away, Michael had nothing left to offer. He felt alone, useless and horribly afraid. Alcohol, his closest companion, erased those negative feelings. It numbed him to reality.

After one year in recovery, Michael discovered truths that point him to his real identity.

“I used to believe that people would only like me if I took care of them,” he reflects. “Now I know that my true worth is as a child of God. My brothers here tell me that I am worth knowing.

I feel welcome here. I feel loved.” Michael took a step back from solving other people’s problems. He faced the daunting reality that he wasn’t responsible for everyone else’s happiness. He made room for recovery staff, volunteers and other residents to reach out to him in love and understanding. And he found healing. “I let Jesus in my life again. I had to surrender what was mine and let Him take over.

I don’t live alone anymore—Jesus lives in me.”

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