Ma'am can I ask you a question? Without pausing she asks, "Do you think I am crazy? Sometimes I am not sure if I am have already lost it or not. I am a good person – I really am. I smiled at the lady standing in front of me that I just at that moment met. I replied, "Why would I think you're crazy? I don't even know your name."
She smiled and glanced at my name badge "Angela my name is Tracy and I am have been clean for two years. Without taking a breath she continues speaking as I stood leaned against the doors ledge, one foot crossed over the other and hands in the pockets of my jacket listening.
Watching her facial expressions tell her story, she was a woman close to my age but looked so much older from the story she told of a hard life. Her cheeks were sucked into her face but her eyes were bright and danced when they spoke. She never denied making wrong choices and listed several mistakes that she wished she would have skipped.
"I was an addict for 31 years. I ran from one mess into another and could not figure out why all these things were happening to me." She paused to take a breath I ask "When did your troubles start." Without blinking an eye she said, "At birth". I ask what do you mean at birth?" She said," Well I was addicted at birth because my mother was an addict. I came into the world addicted to drugs. I was clean until I turned 12 when I smoked my first joint that was my beginning" I slowly shook my head listening to her life story. She showed me places on her body where she used the needles and the scars that are left behind.
She says, "After I had my three kids I was better for a little while but as an addict I had to use." She wiped the tear from her eyes as she remembered a time that she had to go three days of hell – in withdrawals – feening for the drug so that the money she had left could feed her children.
A huge smile broke out across her face and she said "I got saved in rehab. I had heard about Jesus but I had never felt him stir in my belly when he talks to me like he does now, I did not think he would forgive a junky…she paused leaned forward staring in my eyes…your eyes look like stars you got you some Jesus in your life too I can tell…without skipping a beat she shared her Jesus with me and how he has kept her clean. She was excited – She was almost preaching on the hall. She laughed, when she tells the doctor that Jesus talks to her. She said, "then he accuses me of hearing voices and wrote it on my chart.
Her life was full. Full of mess and hard times. People who she loved died from the addiction they shared. Her kids are the only thread that kept her from going under. She had over-dosed three times on her psych medications, that landed her in ICU on a vent from a drug reaction that she had mixed. She abused her body and mind since the age of 12, sold drugs to feed her habit, now standing under the roof of a mental hospital sharing her Jesus with me. I could not hold back the smile.
She ask, "Why are you smiling at me?" I said, "Tracy you have had a hard life. You have seen things no one should have to see and I hope life is headed down a new clean road. You have such a story to share. If you had not made those choices, I would not have gotten the privilege to meet you." She said, "A privilege to meet me? No one has ever said that to me." She said,"I don't know why I am telling you all this. I have never told anybody this stuff. People just don't listen so I stopped talking years ago. It just didn't do any good. My doctor tries to get me to talk but when I do he says I am crazy – this stuff really happen to me. It is not things that I made up – I promise."
She held jobs over the years from housekeeping to factory job before it closed down. She was not a person who did not want to work nor did her addiction cause her to lose her jobs – the jobs would run out. She handled the stress with the drugs to cope. She had nothing else to lose.
I had to know, "Where did you get the money to keep up with your habit?" She shyly looks to the ground. Well I had to sell all my stuff, the little I had. I sold for drugs dealers but got beat up once because he thought I kept some of his money. I never once sold my body. I just couldn't do it. I tried giving a blow job once but it made me sick and I ran out of the house. I never attempted that again. She laughed out loud, "I do have some morals" We both chuckled over the comment which opened the doors for more conversation.
We stood and talked, laughed and listened for an hour. We talked until she was tired and decided to go to bed. She turned to walk off and stopped. "Angela, thank you. I don't know why I told you all that or why you stood there and listened to me but I appreciate it, I really do." We exchanged smiles and she walked to her room. Where she would sleep safe in a warm bed, sober and clean in a mental hospital that is safer than any home she has lived in.
If you do not walk away from Tracy's story with anything but this – Listening gives someone hope. Encouragement can give them wings to make a change in their life. To a lot of the people that have been in her life and heard her story as a rambling drugy's mess. It is just her life story, the story of Tracy.
Angela Brooks has worked in a state-funded psychiatric hospital in Kentucky for 21 years as a nurse, assisting sometimes-dangerous patients who come in shackled and cuffed. At AngelaBrook.com, she offers stories of life on the inside of a psychiatric ward, and the site, as well as her company, offers support for nurses in the mental health field and helps them bring passion into their role at work.
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* Please note: I am not here to CURE, DIAGNOSE, Treat or suggest replacements for what a doctor prescribes. The names used in this post are not the real names of the people being mentioned – I am sharing my nursing adventures with you.
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