On the Road to Recovery, Some People Will be Left

I am writing as a veteran from in and outside the trenches of mental health. I was as unmotivated a client as anyone could ever hope to imagine when I lived in veterans housing. i watched people being discharged for going out and getting wasted time and time again. I heard motivational speeches, volunteered in the community, tried to duck out of duties and enjoyed being left alone by a do nothing case manager. And yet only after being booted out of the program, did I accept that I could recover. Go figure.

There are some clever slogans about whether there are client resistant programs. That, is, suggesting that the programs devised to promote mental health, independent living and return to the community may need to be re-examined to accommodate some resistant individuals. I would like to suggest that to the contrary, some people may have habits, drug addictions, and other issues that became ingrained far before they ever entered community programs that may be beyond our ability to reach.

We may try to offer affordable housing, peer support, crisis intervention teams, alternatives to incarceration, warmlines, hotlines and lines in between and still you may find a 1000 pound gorilla in the room. That is the mental health consumer who Mr. Rogers would not have welcomed into the neighborhood.

While re-reading my peer support employment training book I found the phrase reminding us that our peers must have the space to make their own mistakes and fail. Just as teachers may discover that no matter how hard they try some students will refuse to learn from them, we are going to find that some people don’t want the vision of recovery we present.

  1. Think of all the problems you would want prevent from happening in your program:
  2. drug dealing
  3. prostitution
  4. theft
  5. covering up for criminals
  6. moving people not on the lease into a residence
  7. trading in prescription drugs
  8. unwillingness to adhere to any behavioral norms
  9. physical assaults
  10. any combination of the above

What would you do?

At some point, invariably, the response will have to be: discharge. I am writing this to say that discharge, that is, declaring that  someone is not suitable for your program, has rejected  recovery concepts and  is heading back to whatever remaining options existed before you interrupted the fall, may not be the worst to happen. In my case, I found I could only afford a  roach infested hole of an apartment before I decided to straighten out. The fact I am writing from a comfortable well appointed flat years later is directly attributable to the fact I finally lost all my other options.

So, don’t be afraid to let people  fail. Your program may not be the one that they need or ultimately, they may not be reachable. That is the ultimate and sometimes painful choice. I asked myself, where am I now when I need me? Luckily, I was right there.


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