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26 August 2012

What is a crisis, anyway?

Coping with “being in crisis” was one of the last topics we covered in my WRAP group at the VA. The more I think about it, the more I’m in the middle of “being in crisis”. Those three words don’t mean much by themselves. Of course I’m not in crisis, I’m a veteran, I can handle this. It’s just a bump in the road, gravel instead of blacktop. Hold onto the wheel a little tighter, maybe downshift, and it’s all good until I hit pavement.

Sure. OK.

A mantra I’ve used for a number of years: “Food, clothing, shelter first. Then work from there.” Currently, I can buy food, although nothing I’m eating lately can be considered healthy. I’m not quite operating with just the clothes on my back, but pretty close-- the rest of my clothes are in my buddy’s van until I find a storage unit or an apartment. Shelter-- if all else fails I can sleep in my car. Sleeping in my car because I don’t have a place to live probably qualifies as a crisis. Not having a place to live is probably a crisis, too.

Probably? Who the fuck am I kidding? I’m homeless-- another homeless veteran. That's just fucking peachy.

Nights off are the worst, because then the only place I have is the car. Work gives me somewhere to be for 6-8 hours, and on more than a couple of nights I’ve stayed at work until dawn. The day crew here comes in at 0600; I figure that if I leave here at 0545, I’ll arrive at McDonald’s a few minutes after they open for breakfast. Yesterday, I was zonked out in my chair when day crew got here. They let me sleep, and I woke up around 0800. It took another hour or two for me to wake up and be coherent, but they were cool about it. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I understood why. I really looked like shit left out in the sun to dry.

After getting breakfast, I came back to the same building and sat down in one of the common areas. I’d consumed 48oz of Dr. Pepper and still fell asleep for most of the day. To say I was confused when I woke up is putting it mildly. I have noticed that some of the places around campus that I haunt are also haunted by some other possibly homeless folks. I've begun to wonder, do people look at me and find it obvious that I'm homeless? Or am I just that good at looking like I belong here? (I'd bet the former.)

So I survive, and I don't cry about it, and I go on because that's what I do. My Dad was a stubborn Irishman, and so am I. Actually, my Dad told me that I could do anything if I put my mind to it (see "stubborn Irishman"). Other than surviving, I haven't done much to solve any of my other problems. I need to find an apartment. I've found listings, but I haven't called or emailed. The longer my situation goes on, the harder it is to believe that I'll ever have a nice place to call home again. I was not able to manage my last two places to live-- one I had to leave because I couldn't pay the rent because I didn't have financial aid, and the one I moved to from there (my last one) I couldn't pay the rent because I couldn't get my hours entered on my timecard at work.
My life is a mess because I couldn't fill out forms. I try to remind myself that I couldn't do those simple things because my brain is too busy processing things like past verbal and sexual abuse, and war, and all else that has happened. The worst is when I have to explain all of this to someone who can't understand, who hasn't been to this place. Those people are all business, they tell me that the world doesn't work that way, that respectable people fill out their paperwork and pay their bills on time. I can almost convince myself that I'm not a terrible person because of my situation, but then someone wants to run a background check on me just to rent me a 5'x10' storage unit. Oh, you've been evicted-- we won't rent to you. Well, shit. 
I should argue, stomp my feet, have a hairy shit fit about how as a veteran I'm being treated wrongly, and how dare you treat me with such a lack of respect when I was willing to give my life to save your freedom to run your own business and keep the profits. Do you know that without people like me who were willing to sacrifice for our country, you'd be speaking Russian and sending your profit to the collective? DO YOU? 

There is no school of hard knocks, there's just life. Being rejected is nothing new to me, and being told they can't help me because that's just how things are is nothing new either. When I confronted the uncle who had decided sexually abusing his nephew was ok, his response was "So? What am I supposed to do about it, I don't even remember doing that."   Ask for help to try to make a situation work, and be told there's nothing that can be done and so I land on my ass in the street. Don't come to me telling me about how God will guide me, when my first abuser is a Christian who goes to church three times a week and teaches Sunday School, or my second abuser is married to a Christian pastor and who posts scripture to her Facebook news feed nearly every day.  How about the Catholic archdiocese in my home city, which is now bankrupt from settling priest child abuse cases?

I digress-- but those are the kinds of thoughts and voices that invade my brain. Being homeless, sleeping in my car, finding places to be that won't throw me out, these are things I've been practicing for a long, long time. I suppose it would help to cry, to break down, to freak out, to do something crazy and end up in the VA hospital drugged to the gills and tied down with four points on suicide watch. Maybe there is a point where life is too much and I just break down, but maybe with all of the crap and bullshit I've survived in my life, my skin really has become that thick.

It's so easy in crisis, to forget about those things. To forget that it was small steps, sometimes one step forward and two steps back, but small steps that added together to make small progress happen-- to forget that that's how I got here. If I hadn't made it here, I would have no way of getting from where I was to where I eventually want to be. Another mantra of mine:  "You can't always get there from here." (This is exactly what behavioral activation is about; making manageable, real, small steps forward to get better.)

Maybe there's something in the future where it will be the best thing that I've had these experiences, these difficulties, these trials and challenges to survive and keep going. I don't know, and there's no way to tell. That's sort of abstract but it makes more sense to me than the myth that "when you finally graduate/get married/have kids/whatever" will make everything all right.

It's 0230, and I need either some sleep or caffeine, or both. Something should come out of all of this writing, right? So here it is.

* I'm going to text a friend in the morning: "Hey soldier, come help me find an apartment. I can't do it on my own right now." Time is running short, and if it takes someone else dragging me along, then that's what I have to do.

* My car won't start because I slept on a switch or something the other night and the battery is drained. So I'm going to get to a store somehow and get one of those "jump your car battery" packs that you charge up in advance. Might look a little odd having it plugged in at work, but if I can get away with being here all night I figure it'll be okay.  (I suppose it would be easier to ask someone for a jump-- but hey, if I get a charge pack now, I'll have it for next time.)

* McD's opens for breakfast in three hours, and I have a fresh cup of coffee. Ok, so it's instant, but it's close to coffee. It'll help with swallowing all of my meds, and get me to 0600 and the $1.00 breakfast menu.

Tomorrow (today), I'll be tired and cranky. I'll feel unsteady sometimes, and dizzy others, and at least once I'll look into a mirror and tell myself I look like dried dog shit in a desert because that's how I'll feel.

Nothing like having a plan, right?

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