Friday, February 15, 2008


He is his own worst enemy.
The navy gave him his trade, and an opportunity to escape his alcoholic father. The mines gave him lots of money and an opportunity to house and care for his family. Now the streets are his home, giving him little other than sporadic income from parking cars, and shared bottles of wine.

Joe is a kind, gentle man who speaks quietly, and invariably describes himself as feeling “just great”. He has painted the facia boards and gutters of my home with care and diligence. Right now he is cleaning leaves from the driveway, and will cut the back lawn, paying attention to the edges with precision. He is a thoroughly nice man.

A lovely man, who has twice been divorced, has three adult daughters and six grandchildren – none of whom have seen him since 1992. This was when he boarded a train from Johannesburg to Cape Town. He left ‘to escape his drinking problem’, only to discover that it followed him here. Joe is a binge drinker. He can go for months on end without drinking. But when the urge hits him he keeps drinking until he has destroyed all that he has so painstakingly built up over the previous months of sobriety. Two years ago my colleague Lynn found him a job, and we housed him on our church premises. This lasted for 9 months, until the alcoholic urge bit, and his drunken irresponsibility lost him his job and his accommodation.

He longs to stop.
But this disease eats at him. Sober, he will give us money to keep for him – only to return drunk and demand that we return his money. Sober he says that he needs help – only to reject the help when the alcohol kicks in. And because he is a 58 year old man, I give him his money and his freedom. I will not patronise him by thinking that I know what is best for his life. I do not agree with the choices he makes, but I cannot prevent him from exercising his choice of lifestyle.

I will not stop giving him my friendship and support. And I will continue praying for him.
Perhaps you might pray too.


rebecca said...

this is one of the most painful and frustrating calls in life working with those who are addicted.

I do it every day. The answer and solutions are not easy; it is a royal mess; they have stories and they usually go very deep.


David Barbour said...

Hi, I know the scenario too well. I worked at an alcohol rehab for three years and the different kinds of addictive patterns were evident. One highly respectable guy would be found about once a year far from his home and in terrible state. The sad story is the loved ones can only take so much, their hearts are broken too often. Love each day as it comes and don't think about tomorrow I suppose.
Strength David.

The Listening Hermit said...

You have an amazing capacity for compassion. Your life is a blessing to so many including mine. I am deeply touched by your writing and your life.