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Not hurting anyone

„If I could have gone

Without it hurting anyone

Like a child, I would have found me mum

Like a bird I would have been flown“

(Sinéad O´Connor: 8 Good Reasons)

 

When my first book „Recovered without Treatment“ was ready for publishing, I was looking for a picture that would somehow illustrate the relational essence of addiction recovery that the book is about.

It was not easy. I browsed lots of photobanks, saw work of many photographers. And then suddenly I had it. When I discovered that picture (see on the left) from Anthony Pyper where a guy wraps himself in his arms and therefore cannot reach other hands that stretch upon him, I was immediately sure that this is the one. Although I couldn´t say why. In that moment I just felt this picture expresses an important aspect of addiction recovery, but it was hard to translate it to words.


Recently, more than ten years after my book was published, I finally found the words.

The hands say: „We want to help you.“

The guy says: „Connection is dangerous.“

 

Not isolated, but alone

A month ago, 17-year old boy from a family we were seeing with our community team committed suicide. I saw him and his father in my therapy room only 3 days before it happened. It was the first time during my whole psychotherapy career when my client died during our collaboration. Since I have received his father´s e-mail stating „Jonas* died last night“, I think about him every day. I am either asking myself what could I have done differently or I am reflecting on the very act of suicide. These thoughts are usually accompanied by pain around my heart connected not only to Jonas but especially to all his closed ones who desperately tried to help him.


For me, the situation when Jonas died is well reflected in Pyper´s picture. Lots of out-stretched hands, including my own, trying to reach him while he is hesitating, not ready or unable to accept the help. He was not isolated. But, for dealing with his own suffering, he was alone.

 

Fear of connection

In my own experience, the struggle with connection may often have something to do with experience of being hurt. Especially in two ways. If others hurt you, it is obviously not easy to connect because you are afraid that it can happen again. But it is similarly hard to connect when you hurt others. Not only because you may be ashamed but also because you do not want to hurt them again. 


Children are very sensitive in this regard. If they learn that their particular action or expression hurt their parents, they may try to stop doing it to please their parents. But sometimes it is, from many reasons, not possible so they rather hide the „forbidden“ actions.  


As a rather banal and tiny example, I recently noticed that my 7-years old daughter is trying to hide her coughing when I am present. As I saw that, I immediately remembered my previous reactions when I heard her coughing. I was worried that she is ill, that she would have to stay at home, that it would complicate my work. And even if I consciously tried not to blame her for her coughing, I bet she could sense that it makes me uneasy. And since she did not want to hurt me, she started to hide her coughing.

 

Arriving safely to the moment of connection

Similiar pattern is visible in the network meetings that we organize with our community team. As we nowadays work with many families where children have depressive thoughts, different anxieties, they stop eating, cut themsleves or use psychoactive substances, I can see how difficult is only to talk about these behaviors, thoughts and feelings for both the child and the parent.


I noticed that when family members are ready and willing to openly talk about these issues while listening to each other, it is a major step in recovery, even if the behavior is still present. In these moments, connections are re-formed, re-established and re-built. We could imagine that the hands of the person on Pyper´s picture as well as the others´ hands start moving spontaneously, and eventually, they connect. Since that moment, everything is possible.


If I get back to Jonas, a big part of my sadness is that we did not have a chance to experience this moment of connection with him and his family. I am sure it would had come. In fact, I thought we were getting closer and closer. Every member of the network was doing the best they could. Still, I am constantly asking myself what could we had done differently to arrive safely to the moment of connection. Currently, I am trying to accept the fact that this question will stay unanswered.


(*I changed his real name)

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