First I looked up the suffix ism, and found it is referring to “An attitude of prejudice against a given group: racism.” Not the same ism as in alcoholism, “State or condition resulting from an excess of something specified: strychninism.”
Although active alcoholism certainly disabled me, that disability is gone when I stay abstinent.
I remember a man at a meeting once said that he was a bus driver for “special needs” kids, and that he thought from time to time how these people would love to be free from their disability, if only they could for a short time. That all he has to do is not drink, go to meetings, work the program. I have a cousin who needs dialysis. Again, what he has to go through is nothing compared to what I have to do to stay sober. I need to be humbled by these things.
It’s a truism that any one at any time can join the minority group of the disabled. So many of us will. I try to believe that the culture I help create will one day directly impact me or a loved one. It most assuredly will.
My work with people who have disabilities is not directly related to my alcoholism, but they are both very large, defining aspects of my life. I’ve been around people with disabilities since my mother began working with them when I was five. I’ve worked directly with them for over 15 years.
I’m struggling to come up with some words that might turn someone’s heart just a little bit away from the prejudice of disablism. It would be trite and insulting for me to say that by thinking people who have disabilities are somehow less than people who don’t have disabilities, we are missing out on knowing some of the best, most inspiring people ever. I am around these folks every day. I know for a fact that they are some of the absolute best people in the world. And yes, maybe sometimes some of the worst, because they are, after all, fully people.
But mostly they are the best. The conditions they have to live with often make them strong and loving and interesting. They give me a chance to serve and help and I know they don’t choose to do so, but they do. They teach me how to communicate without words and how to be patient and to persevere and how to forgive. I won’t presume to say I teach them anything in return, though I do try.
I am profoundly grateful to this group of people and especially to those who choose to allow me to care for them. They have shaped me in uncountable ways, in good ways, and they always give me a reason to keep trying.