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.