Thank You, “K”

You know that saying, “They loved me until I could love myself?” That’s what happens in treatment.

I just heard that someone who helped me get better is moving on to a new work opportunity. I don’t know if it’s normal (whatever that is) to have such overwhelming feelings of gratitude toward the people who have been helpful to me as I’ve been trudging this gentle path of recovery. I don’t know if I’m going to actually send the letter to this person. Every word is how I genuinely feel, but I sound fawning and stupid to myself when I reread it.

Anyway, I sought help knowing that deep down inside I was a worthless piece of shit. I thought recovery would be me coming to terms with that fact. With that mindset, it was disorienting to be treated with kindness and respect. K was one of the first people to cause that mind wobble in my head, but actually nobody there saw me as the sub-human piece of crap I knew I was.

Dear K,

I heard that you’ve decided to move on to helping a different set of people in need. I wish you all the best. When I got to treatment, I was such a mess. At that time, it was almost painful to be treated with kindness. I’ll always remember how understanding you were when I had to wait to begin the intake process. Most people look like hell when they land on the doorstep of a treatment facility and I was no exception. I had big black circles under my eyes, black nail polish, and a huge black cloud of shame. Sometimes just existing is painful.

I was jittery. The guy on the phone had said there was no smoking on the grounds, but that I didn’t have to quit smoking unless I wanted to. It had been several hours since my last cigarette and I was ready to start gnawing my fingers off. The nurse would be there soon and I could get some patches but for now, I’d been parked on a chair to wait. The underneath part of my eyelids itched. I couldn’t keep my hands and legs still. My throat felt weird and my tongue was filling up my mouth. This was looking more and more like a big fat mistake.

I asked you if I could go out and smoke – made some lame joke about it being my last cigarette. Addicts push and push and push. They hear a rule and instantly start putting their toe across the line. Somehow you knew that I wasn’t pushing, that I really was at the absolute end of my rope and you extended me some kindness.

I sat outside on the curb, technically off the grounds and smoked that cigarette. Later when another staff member thought I was lying, that I was sneaking, you immediately stepped in and said that you’d given permission.

How does that seem now, almost two years later? Well, it really was my last cigarette. So you definitely didn’t have a deleterious effect on my long term “nicotine recovery.”

You were kind to me and that made a big difference. One of the most dangerous lies I told during my active addiction was to you and the rest of the staff at the treatment facility. I was worried that if I told you the truth about how I felt and the plans I had, I’d find myself on a locked ward. So I didn’t. In hindsight, that was a big mistake. Suicidal addicts are necessarily handled a bit differently than addicts stewing themselves in a pity pot. But you treated me like a hurt human being and let me have a cigarette. In your eyes, I wasn’t some kind of disgusting slut, but someone worthy of dignity as you had.

That, more than any treatment modality was therapeutic. Evidently this is borne out in more than just my anecdotal experience. Martin Seligman calls this positive therapy and asserts this is why so many different types of therapy are effective. In his words, “The deep strategies are not mysteries. Good therapists almost always use them, but they do not have names, they are not studied … one major strategy is instilling hope (Seligman, 1991, Snyder, Ilardi, Michael, & Cheavens, 2000).

My children have a mother, my husband has a wife, and I have a life, thanks to you and the other therapists who helped me in treatment. Thank you for instilling hope at a time when I was quite hopeless.


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