Less Medication, More Medicine: The healing power of being seen

Leg shaking nerves only slightly attenuated, you met my gaze meaningfully as you said, “I’m OK…better…OK.” This was our second meeting.

Some moments feel extra authentic. This was one of them. Cloak of your defenses parted, I could see more of you – the effortful courage, the determination to stay clean. I could see you were OK, but not easily so.

During our first encounter, I understood quickly that you were used to being dismissed. You understood mistrust, had lived a lifetime of both creating and responding to it. Prepared for judgment, I watched the confusion, then the change in your posture when none was forthcoming.

“I’m usually too much for people,” you said.

“Really?” I hoped you might consider that another’s response to you might be more about them. Your shy smile and brief eye contact told me that was the right thing to say.

Briefly, I saw you as a young girl. Before you knew of unspeakable cruelty, desperation, the relief found by a needle in your arm. Before so many years of shame distorted your reflection. Before.

I could tell I’d put you at relative ease, could tell by the way you seemed simultaneously more full and light, even as your leg continued to jackhammer into the carpet. What else would you notice if you could be still? Would the vulnerability feel too much like drowning? Could you remember what it was like to feel safe, if, in fact, you ever had?

Without fanfare, I announced my impending departure from the clinic, that this would be our final meeting. Best to rip the bandaid off quickly, if you’d even care.

“Wait, no, you’re leaving? No!”

Your vehemence and involuntary tears, wiped quickly away like an annoying mosquito, reminded me that even brief encounters can be powerful.

“You don’t understand. I don’t like people. I don’t trust people. You’re different. You listen. You…you…it was different…you don’t group people together…you never treated me like a junkie.”

I didn’t know what to say. Except, “I’m really sorry I won’t get to see you deeper into your recovery. I really am. You inspire me. I think you have what it takes to stay clean.”

I meant it.

Your allowance of grief at our parting was hopeful, I thought, as was the discussion about our shared humanity. Addiction is almost certainly fueled by a wish to get rid of unwanted feelings, to manage deep wounds, the aching loneliness. Your capacity for shared grief, even momentary, a sliver moon in darkness.

You didn’t realize, I’d bet, that I was only witnessing what I saw before me, what you – courageously – had allowed me to see.

It actually wasn’t me who was different, but you. The you that shame forgot. The you wiped clean, exposed, if only for a moment.

What was unusual, perhaps, was your willingness to shed the protective layers. To unfurl your defensive fists. To risk being hurt, just long enough to be seen. Only then could you see your light – the new moon reflected – in the mirror I held in front of you.

You came to me for medicine, which I provided. But I hoped you would realize: true healing is found not in medication, but in being witnessed, in seeing yourself anew. If you wish to know light, outside or within, you must learn to polish the glass. If you want to see your true self, you must look closely in the window, to see your translucent shine reflected there.


Note: This is a work of fiction. Although inspired by real events, it is not a story about any one person and should not be read as such.

15 thoughts on “Less Medication, More Medicine: The healing power of being seen

  1. Absolutely timeless wisdom, Amanda. You’ve done it again. Heck, you’ve surpassed anything that could be reasonably expected of anyone.

    This struck me the most and best of all: “true healing is found not in medication, but in being witnessed, in seeing yourself anew.” That crystallizes some thoughts that have been mulling in me only half consciously. It encapsulates them and makes them visible.

    Are you perhaps familiar with Jiddu Krishnamurti? According to him, about the only way we can really see who we are is in our reactions and actions towards other people (and even other things) while in some kind of relationship with them. The relationship can be brief and fleeting (The check out clerk at the grocery store), but it must be physically real. At least, that’s how I understand him. You want to know who you really are? Dispassionately observe how you respond to people and things.

    Any thoughts about that?

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    • Thanks for your kind and thoughtful praise, Paul. I’m not familiar with Jiddu Krishnamurti, but I think your accounting of his wisdom is well placed.

      On the other hand, I intended to communicate something a little different. That is, we may know who we really are by realizing who we’ve always been, who everyone is beneath the masks and layers of personality and protection. We may know who others really are by the same loving witness.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s interesting! “Who everyone is”? To make sure I understand you, Amanda, are you saying everyone is the same on some much deeper level? That’s not what I think you’re saying, but if it is, then I don’t want to miss getting your meaning.

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      • Actually, I am saying I believe everyone is the same on a fundamental level (which I’d distinguish from personality). It’s a concept at the heart of many spiritual traditions, I think? I haven’t studied the ideas intellectually since I was in college, and never deeply. You might know better than I.

        Regardless, my belief isn’t driven by participation in a particular spiritual tradition. My experiences with people – at their best and worst- tell me we are so much more alike than different. My feeling is that when we drill down deep enough (past the masks and various ways of articulating form), there is no difference in the essential ingredients.

        The elements in the periodic table might be a good analogy – each has different properties, behaviors, affinities (because of how the electron shells are occupied/configured, if I’m remembering correctly), but all are made of the same building blocks.

        But I’m not trying to convince anyone. What do you believe?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well, I’ve never wholly resolved the issue of what is our “core self”, but I lean these days toward the notion that we might not actually have a core self. There seems to be some relatively recent science in support of the notion. although I don’t take the science as being conclusive — more like suggestive at this stage.

        There is also a school of thought in Japan that likens us to onions. Keep peeling down through layer after layer until you come to nothing. Similar notion in some Buddhist schools.

        All that aside, I’m much more uncertain than certain.

        What I do believe I’ve found are universal human similarities. That’s just my observation of people on the net that I’ve met from various places around the world. Simple example. Haven’t found a culture or society yet where laughter is unheard of. More deeply, seems the kinds or types of humor are everywhere the same. For example. Badran — who is from Egypt — and I crack each other up riotously. My next door neighbor hates my sense of humor. She’s more into slipping on banana peels.

        I suspect — but I am not certain — the the humor model can be applied to just about every human trait. .e.g. maybe wherever you go in the world, you will find some people who are “accounting types” and some people who are “cheerleader types”. Who knows for sure yet?

        Me, I just like people, even though most of us seem to be pretty confused and messed up. Self included.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I came by at Paul’s suggestion. I’m glad I did. This piece resonates so strongly with me. It tells of working through the heart, of being present with another, of being open to and respectful of who they are, of not judging, of acceptance. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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