In fact, “Don’t Get Stranded This Lifetime – 24/7 Recovery Service” could be a useful strap-line for the crisis house where I am working, the short-stay haven described in my previous Maintenantman post. I should give it a fictitious name for ease of reference: Monkey Puzzle Meadow, in celebration of the wondrous araucaria tree that complements the gnarled carbuncles of the massive oak.
There have been many problems to solve behind the scenes at Monkey Puzzle Meadow, and just as many still awaiting solution. However, it provides a service that is deeply valued by the guests, a warm and empathetic environment for those who are at a point in their journey where they have ‘recovered’ enough to be able to appreciate a brief stay in a supportive space. Occasionally a guest may not be at that point and may need to go into psychiatric care, or may self-harm in a way serious enough to warrant immediate hospitalisation. Most, however, are able to use the time and the place and the persons (their fellow guests and the staff) to truly good effect.
The old cliché image of the swan gliding upstream sums up the experience of working at Monkey Puzzle Meadow. To the house guests it is meant to look smooth, calm, effortlessly progressive. Beneath the surface it is about hard paddling, churning energies, perpetual motion, careful tacking and steering. Human beings who are deemed to be in need of care and support to aid their recovery are being looked after in a humane way by human beings who are deemed to be motivated and qualified enough to provide that care. And, I would add, the latter human beings need to be humble and open and reflective enough to learn from every guest that to be human is to be in recovery.
The (capital letters) Recovery Model has specific and contemporary meaning in psychology and mental health services. I won’t go into definitions, or pros and cons, here. Suffice to say that it broadly offers the most positive way forward in the sector, especially when augmented by an understanding of the social and political construction of mental illness. Medication remains a crucial support for many in their path to recovery, but the Recovery Model is at least based on concepts of hope and engagement with real life.
I am learning, or perhaps re-learning, that phrase in bold type above. All sentient beings are on a continuum, a line that has no end. At the beginning of that line we experience a breakage, a puncturing, a loss of imagined wholeness. Call it being conceived within the womb, call it being born, call it the first moment we cause pain to another person, call it when we tell our first lie, call it our first selfish thought, call it the first time that someone misuses power over us. Most people survive, or even thrive, via good enough parenting, friendships, work, creativity, a sense of humour, creature comfort, and growth of identity. But they are still ‘works in progress’. And in the lives of some people, factors both internal and external cluster to such an extent that the damage and the vulnerability require some kind of special attention to promote recovery.
To be human is to be in recovery. It’s a dynamic process, not a single magic gateway that we go through into a state where everything will always be ok. It’s a narrative that does not need the judgemental, guilt-infested filter that organised religion imposes, with notions of the Fall and redemption. I’m trying to imagine a 3-D version of Snakes and Ladders where the dice is loaded by our individual nexus of nature and nurture: we can land on a ladder and move onwards and upwards; we can land on a snake and move backwards and downwards; we can land on both at the same time (the dual nature of events and experiences); we might possibly reach that zone of relative peace beyond the last snake and the last ladder, but we’ll never shake the six that will get us to the Shangri-la of the big fat final square. There really is no reason to approach it as a competitive game after all.
Monkey Puzzle Meadow is one small respite ‘miss a go’ on some folks’ journey. To work there is joyous, frustrating, fulfilling, scary, big, difficult, inspiring, funny, small, tragic, extraordinary, mundane. It is a wonderful opportunity to learn how to learn.
Sometimes it is helpful to miss that go.
* * * * *
People who know that to be human is to be in recovery: any artist, musician, writer, craftsman or craftswoman, composer, sculptor, photographer or poet worth their slot; you; all babies; Katy Jurado in High Noon; me; any person who has ever looked into a mirror with insight; all those who “find they’re touched by madness” (from Sit Down by James); anyone who has been on the receiving end of power abuse; anyone who has tried to exercise power with emotional intelligence; lovers; shamen; traumatised soldiers; Elsie Tanner out of Coronation Street.
People who do not know that to be human is to be in recovery: torturers; religious fundamentalists; Margaret Thatcher; people who hunt animals for trophies rather than subsistence; dictators; Grace Kelly in High Noon; commissioners of television shows; Rupert Murdoch; anyone who steals power from others; people who operate in the higher levels of bureaucracies and financial institutions; suicide bombers; Nick Clegg; conscious promoters of racism and active bigots of any kind; arms dealers; Ken Barlow out of Coronation Street.
* * * * *
Going into 2011 I’m finding it hard to believe that last year was packed with such extremes. From true wilderness experiences in Canada to a guiding role at Monkey Puzzle Meadow, via warm Friendships on both sides of the Atlantic and great times with Jack and Carol and family, and highlights such as Rosie’s wedding. Since returning from Canada earlier than expected I have put up occasional posts about my mother and kinship in my experience, and I feel proud of those writings.
Mum died just before Christmas. I included a poem in an earlier blog entry and am rounding Mum’s passing with another poem. I wrote this after visiting her in hospital on an occasion where I took a small electric shaver in to clear the unsightly hairs off her face…rest in peace, Mum.
Glimpsing her languid tongue,
and gentle with her folds of paper skin,
I feather this neat grooming-razor
across my mother’s chicken slack jowls,
chin, upper lip, wick-and-tallow neck.
Some infernal life-preserving drug
is forcing thickets of silver filament
from her fear-becalmed face;
I must re-enact this tender shaving
perhaps three weeks from today.
Before setting out
I selected a brand new battery
to ensure a true swift whirr.
Long-life’s double-edged alliteration,
old-gold and black,
childhood charged with Wolves’ colours
of my Molyneux afternoons,
a mother’s rest time
from my restless mind.
We sprinkle lavender
about her hospital pillows
that she might sleep,
though not yet deep enough.
The purple label
on the vial
perfumes another memory,
the only time I saw her joyful,
excited, full of hope.
Our first council house.
I was four and she sat me
on the painted concrete floor,
and we gorged on sweet tarts
with lilac icing with
deeper mauve scented
Without touching her waned flesh,
her sputtering waxen veins,
I strive to trim the bristles close.
She looks better for this
as drowsing steals across her.
She feels better
(I tell myself).
Some inner guttering flame
warms her jaws apart,
searching out oxygen morsels.
I see her tongue loll
lax behind her lower gums.
Release is a swallow away.
Should I tell nurse?
* * * * *
So, 2011!? Monkey Puzzle Meadow, yes, yes and again yes. Very ‘maintenant’ in both the French and the English meanings! But what do I miss, what do I desire to say ‘yes’ to that may be for future posts here: the hills and mountains and natural world that I need to remind myself are not just for Canada-time; the attempts to get Pick Up The Pieces out there in the world; visits to loving Friends in Ashcroft, Vancouver, Toulouse, Plymouth (and all English points between), San Francisco, Scotland, Australia, Telford, to name only the very furthest flung…….
My recovery plan includes a courtesy carthorse.