shared humanity

credit - -paulo zerbato

credit – -paulo zerbato

Going inside is always a humbling experience. So little separates us from one another, despite the heavy clanging doors, the keys, the metal detector, the walls. Seated around the table, we find over and over again how similar we are. How we share the same fears and doubts and desires. The same basic humanity.

Despite the oceans that separate us, experientially. For so many of these women, it’s the ocean of self-loathing that severe drug addiction has dumped on their psyches. An ocean of self-loathing they can barely move beneath, let alone swim through to the other side.

Try as we might to understand, the best we can do is hold their hands through the removal of inevitable layers of denial, shame, deceit as they strive to locate the core of their own humanity. Beneath it all, the same desire to be loved, accepted; the same fear of being unlovable.


I am the ‘terrible beast’ that no one understands.

Look closer, PLEASE!

The world of troubles are spilling out of my hands.

Alone, in solitude; hiding like a coward.

Stay quiet – be invisible –

lying to myself in my darkest hour.

I’ll give you anything, please just accept me.

I want to be loved;

But not just for what they see.

A catastrophic mind-set I’ve created for myself.

Too proud or too scared? –

— to just ask for help?
I feel so pathetic, needing something so small

for I feel as if I’m asking for it all.

No one can love me, or understand at the least . . .

for who could ever love what they see as a BEAST?


lost women in vermont

credit - unknown

credit – unknown

On Thursday, our new assistant Victoria joined me inside to write with the monthly mentor/mentee group. Later that evening, she sent a thoroughly touching email about her complex initial impressions. I do not want to say we become inured – although slamming doors eventually do feel less jarring. On the other hand, I hope we never become jaded or forget our shared humanity.

Some women remain slack-jawed and vacant-eyed. Perhaps it’s the drugs, or the bottom line of a hard life. But there are others whose eyes spark alive and in whom hope grows, bit by bit. Even some of those who have massively misstepped again and again begin to awaken over time. This is the magic of our work. This is why I continue to write inside.

What follows are Victoria’s own words to me, shared here with her permission:

“I have just taken the elevator down below the cold crusty earth to one of Dante’s rooms for the lost women in Vermont.”

Was it OK to really be myself inside?
I was a little uncomfortable figuring this out. Continue reading