16 January 2020 – Craig Maguire, Mental Health Therapist
IMPRESSIONS Family Counselling Services Inc.
As a therapist of over 30+ years, it has often been described to me by many of my clientele the severe anguish they experience when feeling completely defeated and helpless. By all accounts, they affirm that they did everything right – everything that was expected or needed of them – and yet, in the end, they still “crashed and burned” in their efforts to achieve a better life for themselves and their families.
Hitting rock bottom is not something most people can truly relate to, although I suspect many believe they understand it. In essence, this is a state of mind whereby you are truly alone, and on your own. You have exhausted all other resources known to you and you have subjected yourself to asking for help from others, and often even from people you would never normally consider asking for such support. Friendship is a very special, yet delicate, condition which exists between people. When the binds of friendship are stretched too far and the cries for help simply too great, the friendship does suffer. It leaves people often feeling awkward and uncomfortable and the whole issue of trust re-surfaces as if the friendship was a brand new or unfamiliar one for all.
The task of living in today’s society has never been harder and more complex as many find themselves unable to secure affordable housing, having to choose between groceries or medications, and virtually work payday-to-payday in which to only barely survive. Opportunities for renewed growth and prosperity in their life is few and far between and appears to escape them at every turn. These are typically not people who have created their circumstances but rather, have found themselves thrust within it and struggle to find a way to keep their heads above water and survive.
The saddest factor of all is that many of us donate money to various charities who support those in need yet, we struggle with the notion of charity at home and often never consider that those closest to us are silently suffering in pain. In my experiences, by all accounts, many of these families really have put themselves out there, gone the extra mile, exhausted every possible resource and have still come up short. All they truly needed was a decent opportunity in which to shine. Although many can speculate why such opportunities never arose for them, in my best judgement of common sense and diligent efforts, I can see little more these folks could have done over and above what they did to try and improve their situations. The end result however, was far from ideal or acceptable.
It is my firm assertion that each and every one of us has experienced difficult times in our life. It’s part of being human and living life. With this said, there simply doesn’t appear to be enough opportunities of the right kind in surplus to accommodate everyone. For this reason, many are left desolated and defeated with their lack of success in supporting themselves and their families.
So, what is this article about and what does it hope to suggest to the reader? Honestly, I feel compelled to simply share with anyone who will listen that there are certainly good, honest, decent and hard-working people out there who simply have fallen on bad times and not because they have poor judgement, have addictions, or have any other affliction preventing them from realizing successful outcomes. The only thing missing in their lives, so far, have been the valuable opportunities needed to show what they are made of.
Being at “rock bottom” is a condition for which I would surely never wish upon anyone. As someone who’s family lost everything in the Fort McMurray, AB wildfires in 2016, I can certainly attest to the fact that unexpected events and tragedies can certainly catch you off-guard and leave you struggling for years later in picking up all the pieces. But rock bottom, at least in more recent months, appears to have even further reaching connotations and consequences than I recall ever being made aware of in previous years of practice. Despite any hardships experienced, I remember the days when people still had a degree of hope and promise. I remember whole neighbourhoods bringing countless home-made dishes to a neighbour who had suffered some traumatic loss such as a house fire or a death. My point being that no matter how terrible the circumstances might have been, there was a time when we were all there for each other, in one form or another, and no one (for the most part) was ever left behind.
In more recent years, this same persona that I had always recognized and appreciated as the value of our community’s substance, doesn’t appear in quite the same manner anymore. There is an ever increasing number of social service agencies and private organizations that profess to assist and support people in dire need, yet the processes, procedures, expectations and actual help required often appears to be inaccessible by the most needy of individuals and families or, forthcoming in a timely or meaningful manner. This is not intended as a slight against these organizations and their good intentions but, let’s be honest, not every homeless person finds themselves homeless by choice or simply by poor decision making. We judge people quite harshly who run up their credit cards yet, for many families, they simply have nothing left to rely on. Unfortunately, this often tends to be a band-aide solution and only further negates their propensity for improving their situations in the long run with high debt loads that they simply cannot afford to maintain.
Respectfully, I truly wish I had an answer for all this or, at least, something that could make a real difference in the lives of those who need it most. But I don’t! We have all but done away with the middle class earner and have a predominant system of “haves” and “have nots”. The reason our neighbours, friends and even family are unable to assist these individuals in their time of greatest need is simply because they too are struggling with just staying afloat and ahead of their debts and expenses. Perhaps the most concerning aspect is what, at least on the surface, appears to be a perspective by many that people deserve whatever fate they have succumb to as a direct result of their improper or un-attentive diligence to maintaining a financially secure, or sufficiently-maintained, existence. Again, this is not to suggest that this may not be accurate for some folks, however, in my practice at-least, it appears to be more of the exception rather than the rule.
With a record number of professionals, such as police officers, physicians, and prison guards committing suicide due to the extreme and unbearable traumas they have and continue to experience, failing marriages from the financial stressors they continue to endure and a continuing and never-ending debt load many feel they can never escape, what is the solution to helping those who have no where else to turn? Naturally, such conditions and circumstances are not exclusive to such professionals. Anyone, of any trade or profession, can quickly find themselves in a situation where they are no longer able to cope and accommodate their needs or that of their family. Yes it is true that often financial reasons are at the root of most difficulties experienced by these families, however, sky-high accommodation costs for renters, and a lack of affordable housing means that many individuals are forced to support their families by working numerous part-time jobs at minimum wage simply to pay their rent. This certainly does not account for their living expenses, and for many, they go hungry and without the necessities of life they require. Sadly, for many families today, they can often be found living out of their vehicles and moving from one place to another to avoid the authorities. The children of these families may be fortunate enough to enjoy a hot meal at school each day however, how are they able to effectively learn when they and their families are suffering under such conditions? We ask ourselves where all the hatred today is coming from, all the school shootings, bullying, and so on. Is it really so difficult for us to see and acknowledge that so many individuals and families are suffering in silence? By no means does this condone any behaviours which involve the harming of others. It is clear though that many simply cannot see beyond their own pain to ever fully understand that they still have meaningful and purposeful choices available to them.
As a society, we can and often do turn a blind-eye toward these conditions of injustice that affect so many. Although we are certainly grateful that our fate has not taken such a destructive path, we tend to adopt a protective stance believing we are not responsible or concerned with “saving” all these people but rather, in saving ourselves. The law of the old West appears appropriate – survival of the fittest. Regrettably, survival is purely circumstantial and your FATE is primarily dependent upon the opportunities you have enjoyed to-date to secure your future, and that of your family.
In a day-and-age where we fight so hard for our environment, wildlife and other such worthy causes, why then is it so difficult for us, as a society, to find acceptable and meaningful solutions that can stop the suffering and give people the opportunities they need to survive for themselves? Ultimately, I cannot answer this question or the many other questions that arise when considering the conditions so many individuals and families are forced to endure. Yes, it does require financial considerations however, our government has long practiced spending tax payer dollars in more frivolous ways than this and usually with the intent of lining their own pockets first. We need to start holding our local and national politicians accountable and start demanding they make the real and necessary provisions to ensure that all Canadians have fair and equal opportunities for substance and daily living. Before this can truly happen however, we first need to hold ourselves – each and every one of us – accountable for sitting back silently, complaining about the many things we truly do not understand, and start being responsible for our communities in a manner that we can truly be proud. Respectfully, what does it matter how many trees are planted in the park if few will ever be able to truly enjoy their beauty and tranquility? We need to return to our old ways of common sense, hard work and honesty with integrity that our society seems to preach much about but fails miserably in truly displaying with any degree of meaningful substance and reality. When will enough truly be enough folks?
I hope and pray that few, heck none, of my readers ever have to find themselves in such conditions and situations. I truly do! Ultimately though, the reality is that YOU might just one day find yourself there unexpectedly. Remember, it’s not about choices or planning – it’s about opportunities. If the well ever dries up in your World, how long will you last before you reach “rock bottom”?
At the very least, I only hope you will find more compassion and consideration from others than most ever encounter. We are better than this folks, and it’s time we start expecting better! Of ourselves and each other! We need the balances put back in place, within reason, and with the common sense and practicality that served our parents, our grandparents and the generations before, despite World wars, famine, and the Great Depression, among some of the trials and tribulations of the past. Life has not necessarily ever been easy, at times, but where is our humanity for one another gone? It’s high time we start making a difference that counts – for our life, and for the lives of others. If not, what then have we truly become in the end and how has it made your life any richer and enjoyable in the face of such destruction and despair?
It’s not about assigning blame folks. It’s just about making our communities what they once were – a place we could all call HOME. Instead, we have many today who are left on the edge and considering suicide simply because they believe there is no place left for them to go.