Working in mental health is a pretty thankless career path, and I'm grateful for that fact. Working in substance use within the field, as I see firsthand, is a particular kind of thanklessness. But I have chosen it to help circumvent the savior complex so many therapists encounter at one point or another.
However, Tara Brach said in Radical Acceptance that people come to her, a renowned therapist, to be with her settled nervous system. This truth immediately struck me as true. I've sought ways in the past few months to further and maintain my settling. Perhaps that's helped in the past several weeks at work, but my nervous system isn't the focus of this post—stick with me another second.
I had a session earlier today with a person who had adamantly refused to meet with me since I started this job nearly five months ago. I can't tell you the number of times that the staff at my facility have asked if I worked with this person or suggested that they talk to me. Today they caved—I was serendipitously there when a couple of staff members cornered them, flat-out told them that was the case, and they caved, "...for fifteen minutes."
Less than fifteen seconds into the session, they were sobbing—this tough, thick-crusted human. They talked about how they were depressed and told me the many factors that contributed to that. I didn't fight back the tears as I suspected they would further tear down their dense walls, but my eyelids barely contained them.
I was in the very presence of God in those many minutes. This human who was so tough in appearance being so brave, vulnerable.
It was as if I was experiencing Christ discuss how deep, tremendous, and sudden loss led him to use substances to keep himself alive—to cope, as we might say. In that moment, I was "the least of these" listening to the gospel of a Christ enduring addiction which began as a survival method. As I've said before, addiction often starts as an adaptive mechanism our bodies utilize to survive trauma.
I fixed nothing for them, yet I felt like those precious minutes validated the past few months of work and the work I have done over the past few months on my own as a client in therapy. Even typing this, I viscerally feel once again the grief and lament of this beautiful human. At the same time, I want to defend them against the common interpretation of their toughness that they have felt over many years that they must embrace.
The human I saw in that space was brave and tender, not fearful and attacking. In many ways, I saw how I wish I could be more courageous in my everyday life and speak the feelings truthfully I so viscerally feel in almost any given moment. In a way, I find it so much easier to hold space for this bravery than to be the brave one—I envy this tremendous courage.
Sure, others have burned me when I've been vulnerable, but I've known that would be the outcome on some level. It's undoubtedly been deeply hurtful each time, but in a certain way, it's what I've wanted to see continued in the world around me. What do I mean?
I mean that I have clung to a narrative that the people I love will inevitably abandon me—that felt comfortable and safe to me instead of a universe defined by abundance and love. I have repeatedly created or contributed significantly to scenarios where other people leave me by clinging to that narrative. Instead, I increasingly believe that the God in me, if you will, asks for as good as I choose to think that I deserve.
This framing is a fundamental paradigm shift from a highly Calvinist evangelical mindset fraught with original sin and predestination. I will go so far as to say that I believe it is this very frame of mind that referred to as changing God's mind in the Hebrew Bible—yes, I'll stake that claim. To distill this thought, God will, despite God's desires for me, generally give me what I ask.
The pesky aspect of this thought is that the Bible quotes Jesus as saying—it's something I take with a grain of salt in a literal sense, and it's worth noting since the Bible includes it—whatever one asks of God believing God has already provided will be blessed. What might happen if we believed we were each divine, gods, and shared the mind of God? What might happen if we all accepted our bodily sensation, intelligence, intuition, etc., as that with which we share with God? Dare I say, this concept is something that this human who is supposed to be a client taught me once more earlier today.
What's would it be like to trust your mind, body, or the God/Flow/Source/Universe in you more confidently?
I imagine if more of us did that, believing that we deserved more than we came to understand as children, this would be a vastly different world. For what are you waiting?