“Sometimes you think that what you are doing is just a drop in the Ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop” — Mother Teresa
My oldest sister was diagnosed with COVID-19 this week. She is one who has underlying issues that will make her struggle difficult. It will be a miracle if she makes it through this medical challenge. In a nursing home, the pandemic spread to her through a roommate. People warehoused in nursing homes are mostly forgotten in our society. Their condition at best is categorized with statistical numbers. Most of the world does not want to know that these people are someone’s loved one. The importance of those sequestered to a nursing center is reduced to obscurity. Many people think that people in nursing homes are waiting to die anyway. Better they go away than others. Quietly one wonders “Aren’t those places pathetic”? When was the last time you made the rounds to visit old friends in a nursing home? Probably not lately.
The truth is that what is currently happening throughout America in nursing centers is tragic. We learn to reference other people’s tragedy by grouping individuals in categories. Like in war time, civilians who were innocently maimed or blown apart were identified as casualties. So we reference individuals in nursing centers with the terms like “that population”. When I think of the term population I always think of the sign outside my hometown which identified the number of people who lived there. That sign has not changed in the past 50 years. Just a raw statistic of people numbers. As a professional counselor, we often talk about the population that we work with. Yet, the folks in that “population” breathe my air, have the same heartaches, insecurities, anxieties and addictions that I do. Who they is, is who I am.
Individuals are not obscure statistics.
Regarding the current pandemic, one Facebook post emphasized “22,000,000+ deaths worldwide so far this year, 311,162 from the COVID Virus—Time to get back to work!” with several “likes”. Often when facing colossal struggles with costly solutions, people tend to reduce those who suffer to mere statistics.
Upon reflection, a great underlying fear of every addict is that of obscurity. How many times have I listened to an addict before, during or after acting out lament the fear of being invisible, uncared for and forgotten? The other side of an act out is always profound emptiness and unquenchable loneliness. I liken many who are sequestered in detox to those currently isolated in a hospital room with COVID. It’s such a scary place to be—fighting for your life without anyone by your side.
We all want to know that we matter to someone, somewhere. Many addicts talk about living a life where they think of themselves as on the “outside of the window looking in” throughout their entire lives. Wrestling with obscurity is not only for those working through pandemic or addiction crisis. Coming to terms with obscurity is a reality that confronts everybody. Some people discard the concern with comments like “well, when I am dead and buried, I won’t be worried about my legacy or whether or not you remember me.” While true, it has been my experience that as the shadow of time and age, or crisis bring the grim reaper closer to reality, the edge of anxiety and vulnerability to mortality frequently makes obscurity an ominous cloud. Do I really matter? Will I be remembered? These are existential fears that are common threads to many, particularly addicts. Here are a few considerations for us all:
Like the sequoia tree that takes hundreds of years to develop and grow to its mammoth size, so too, the fruit and meaningfulness of your life’s choices, convictions and cause may mature with my children and their children’s lives in the next generation. Never underestimate the power of right choice as an endowment of influence to a future generation. That choice can be a blessing bestowed many years past your life experience.
Obscurity can underwhelm and undermine the significance of your right choice. Develop a candle flame that burns brightly regardless of what goes on around you.
Addicts overcome cyclical acting out behavior when they advance with quiet confidence by passionately believing they can create the behavior that they see in their heart.
Most of the beliefs that dominate our adult experience were cemented in our thoughts in early childhood. Addicts carry mistaken beliefs that trigger destructive behavior. By replacing these mistaken beliefs with positive affirmations, you can underscore what you have decided to believe and act upon in your life. This will require daily disciplined conditioning.
Cultivating meaningfulness in obscurity will require that you be willing to practice getting out of your comfort zone. In moments of obscurity, addicts believe that they cannot get their needs met and resort to feeling entitled to overcoming obscurity through addiction. Obscure moments are places in life that you can either lose or find yourself. Making choices toward healthy behavior will require that you get outside your comfort zone, and take action to realize the person you believe you were destined to become.
Personal significance is determined on the inside as you experience the carnage of human tragedy on the outside. Facing addiction and pandemic one day at a time, may we all embrace Mother Teresa’s admonition to “touch the dying, the poor, the lonely, the unwanted, the addicted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work”. Amen
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