Loving them until they can love themselves
I imprinted on this song before I truly understood what it was saying about me.
A friend turned me onto Red House Painters during the spring of 2000 while living in Myrtle Beach, right before my addiction took a hard left turn toward the abyss. I was barely holding things together, fingers clutching at the metaphorical edge, desperate for something, anything, to fill the gnawing chasm in my soul that kept stretching wider like a sinkhole of self-loathing.
At night, I’d sit down on the beach, playing this song over and over while I stared out at the endless sea. My thoughts churned like the waves rolling over onto the deserted beach, and while I can remember what I felt and thought then, everything in the moment just felt … hopeless. I was trapped by the tired old lie that our diseased brains whisper with such certainty that we can’t bring ourselves to believe anything else:
“This is how it’s always going to be. This is how you’re always going to feel.”
Letting go of that lie was one of the biggest hurdles in early recovery, and as my addiction chiseled away at all of the decency and light I had until I finally got clean in 2002, that was what I felt most of all — that I was doomed to carry an albatross of pain, a soul-weight of exhaustion and hurt and hatred of everything I saw in the mirror, for the rest of my days.
“Have you forgotten how to love yourself?” Mark Kozelek croons.
I had. But recovery taught me how to do that again, and I think that’s one of the beautiful miracles I see here, every day: These broken, wounded souls who come to us, convinced that the pain they feel will be part of them, overshadowing them, for the rest of their lives. They can see no reason why anyone would love them, so how can they possibly love themselves?
That’s where we come in. We get to love them until they can do so.
It’s not easy, and many of them don’t make it easy. They’re like wounded animals, frightened and angry and prone to biting a hand held out in kindness, because they expect to be struck. By you. By God. By life, because that’s all they’ve done, for weeks and months and years: struck themselves, repeatedly, with blackened spoons and dull needles and grimy pipes and brown bottles filled with poison.
That’s all they know. They’ve forgotten … but we remind them. Through our actions, our words, our mission, we remind them, until that darkness begins to ebb and the light slowly returns and they find the strength to look themselves in the eye once more, standing tall in front of a mirror, and can say, “I love you.”
Does anyone have a more meaningful job that us?
I can’t imagine they do.