This is an unconventional blog post. It is a story about human connection, and what happens when it goes wrong. It is a story about loss, trauma, struggle, addiction, rock-bottom, restoration, and renewed connections. Above all, it is a story of great transformation.
Suzy is a mental healthcare worker, a sort of psychologist/ social worker/ rescue worker, without the super theoretical background. Suzy is brilliantly talented in what she does, and has moved up rather quickly in her organization, where she makes the first assessment of crisis situations. The crisis involves people who have “completely lost it”, in terms of their mental and social capacity to function normally in society. Suzy’s job is difficult, but rewarding to say the least. She saves people from the damaged versions of themselves. She saves them from what started in all of these people as misconnections. (Misconnection, in electricity, is a failed or faulty connection. In sports, it is a failed transfer of a ball or puck from one player to another on the same team)
Suzy was not always on the rescue team. She is a survivor of major misconnections herself, brought about by child abuse, that lead to years of self-abuse through addiction, that eventually lead her to a life transforming stint of learning about connection, applying her knowledge, and then connecting with those who have lost connection to themselves and to others. As part of her core work she then passes on her knowledge of human connection, to help her patients regain that connection to themselves, and to the world.
I was friends with Suzy on Facebook, and had gone to an underground party with her some years ago in Amsterdam. Needless to say that at that time, our connection was quite artificial. I had seen her only once, though we had mutual friends. We were simply Facebook friends, and that is the extent to which we ‘connected’.
It was about two years ago, that I noticed the overwhelmingly positive messages she was sharing on Facebook. From what I knew of her, there seemed to have taken place a major change in her energy. There was light in her eyes, and she seemed to have undergone a dramatic shift. I became curious and researched a bit, and saw that she was working at an unconventional mental health clinic with a team of people from diverse backgrounds: social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and case workers, all working collaboratively to help individuals whose lives have gone awry due to psychological collapse, usually caused by some form of addiction.
I had and am still going through my own healing journey of a different kind, and for the purpose of this blog, thus felt called to interview Suzy. I sensed that perhaps her story may potentially help those who struggle from addiction, or come from a background of sexual and or child abuse, to better deal with their pain, and or be inspired to seek wholeness again through connection.
Sometimes, we feel so disconnected from ourselves, and therefore so desensitized, that it becomes difficult to face reality sober.
Little Suzy was only two years old when her parents divorced. Soon after, her mother adopted a new relationship with an alcoholic and abusive man, whom we will call “Brian”, for the sake of ease. Brian physically and verbally abused Suzy’s mother. During the night, when Suzy and her four-year old brother were supposed to be sleeping, Suzy remembers hearing her mother being yelled at, and thrown around by her mother’s boyfriend. Suzy, unlike her brother who “blocked” everything would remain awake, consciously frightened, and watchfully tiptoeing around at all times. Her early childhood was plagued by fear and stress of monstrous images of Brian’s fury projected onto her mother. The abuse continued, until Suzy turned four, when this time he sexually molested her. It happened only once to her recollection, but the physical abuse of her mother continued, until social services helped relocate them to a home in a different province, in order to escape Brian and his abuse. It wasn’t long before Brian would revisit and continue the abuse for a few more years.
Suzy was a hypersensitive child, and quite perceptive for her age. For her, it was not only the sexual assault and physical abuse by Brian, but her mother’s inadequate protection of her and her brother, that left deep-seated scars in her heart and mind.
One thing we must remember about the mind’s physical manifestation- the brain in this case, is that it is uniquely regulated from without, meaning that the healthy functioning and development of our brains is significantly dependent upon the interactions between our brains and the brains of those with whom we interact.
The awareness of this interdependency thus places a huge responsibility on all of us, but especially on parents and caretakers of children, as we now know (through clinical research) that the effects of our communication bear greatly on the psychological development and wellbeing of our children.
Moreover, and according to Dr. Daniel Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA’s school of Medicine, and Director of the Mindsight Institute, when children experience abuse or neglect by a parent, they develop what is known as a “disorganized attachment” circuitry of the mind, which is marked by confusion of a child feeling both attachment and detachment from the parent simultaneously. This experience confuses the child, and affects his or her sense of trust and feelings of safety and security; and it consequently plays out as distrustful behaviour towards others, and towards the self (since our brains develop in relation to the interactions between our brains and those from our surroundings).
Fast forward to Suzy’s pre-Crisis moment
Joseph Campbell’s archetype of the Hero’s journey recounts that every hero has their ultimate rock-bottom or Crisis moment
As a young adult, Suzy began working in a fast-driven commercial environment, in Amsterdam’s travel and tourism sector, where she did her job well for twelve years, received accolades, and got on well with her colleagues. She would go to work five days a week, from nine to five, become jarred with over-stimulation, and on the weekends, frequent night clubs and numb herself with all sorts of commercially manufactured party elixirs. She points out that besides numbing the pain of residual but deep scars from her traumatic childhood, being “over-stimulated” was one reason why she turned to drugs as suppressants, for so many years. In fact, it was the overstimulation or noise in a fast city that lead to her deciding to make a change in a new direction by bravely quitting her job. Her use of elixirs hadn’t stopped at this point, but her colleagues seemed to quietly acknowledge Suzy’s chaotic state of mind.
She acknowledges that during the “unemployment period”, though she felt she had more “room and space in [her] head” to ponder over her way of living and being, it also meant that she had more time on her hands to be alone with herself, something that many people, with so-called demons in the closet fear a great deal. Being with the self, alone, is not easy for most of us, especially if we decide to really look at ourselves, and connect to the core of who we are. Though in the long-term, enduring the pain of looking deep within may very well set us free, most of us usually opt for short-term satisfaction of masking our trauma with whatever gives us a quick high, be it drugs, alcohol, sex, unhealthy relationships, and self-destructive habits. Hence, this time around, Suzy turned to heavier and more destructive forms of drugs, until she reached her rock-bottom moment, as she describes it:
“There was an incident when I didn’t sleep for three days because of drug use, and was confronted by my friends, who told me they couldn’t stand around to watch me destroy myself any longer. Meanwhile, I started to shout at them, and get paranoid. I sat in the shower feeling this time that I had to leave Amsterdam, and so I got on the internet, and found a clinic in the South of Holland, and something told me I had to call them.”
Suzy emphasizes that changing her environment was a key factor to her recovery process. She had visited other addiction facilities before, but this one in particular she says was different:
“The others all asked the same questions: What are you using? When was the last time you used? I knew I needed something more”. At this particular place, Suzy and her counsellor connected.
Her crisis had come at a time of unemployment, which meant financial insecurity, though by choice. She recounts her short but powerful interaction with her counsellor who helped her in her recovery.
“I didn’t know at first that she [her counsellor] had also been an addict. The work I do now, she was also doing. She told me that in two weeks I would be sitting on a plane to a rehab center in South Africa, at no cost. But I was so paranoid. I didn’t have any money at that time, and didn’t trust her, so I contacted a lawyer friend to make sure nothing in the set up would oblige me to pay later.”
Two weeks came around, and Suzy was on the plane on her way to the path of recovery. For three months, she was confined to a “farm-house” in a remote village near Port Elizabeth, where the days would start early with meditation, and everyone would be in bed by no later than 10 pm.
When I asked her what was the most intense and powerful part of her treatment in the center. Suzy responds,
“You were naked. They peeled you like an onion.”
Essentially, they created a safe space where their patients could be vulnerable, and helped them to take off their masks. In taking off her mask, Suzy had to find the bruised parts of herself that formed during the years of abuse as a little girl. In revisiting the pain of her childhood trauma as an adult Suzy, after the initial shock, and through various mindfulness-based exercises, would be able to objectively see the situation for what it really was: a projection of pain and anger by a broken man, who was also masking his pain and unresolved trauma with alcohol and rage; and an expression of fear and weakness by a confused mother who didn’t take responsibility for herself and her choices, let alone for her small children.
As an informed adult, looking at the so-called weaknesses or poor choices of our parents, it is not easy still to forgive. To acknowledge that the person who chose to parent me failed miserably at it, and in turn screwed me up to a great extent, did it due to his or her own unresolved trauma, is much easier said than done.
But as Suzy remarks “I reached a point in my understanding where I realized that blaming my mother for the rest of my life is not going to help me, and it’s not going to help anyone. I think there is a point, where you should try to forgive and take responsibility for your own happiness. To learn to forgive: that’s the path that I’m on. I’m still on it”.
Forgiveness is the conscious and wilful decision to release negative feelings and resentment towards someone who has hurt or harmed you (regardless of their intentions); and to do so unconditionally is true forgiveness. Forgiveness is essentially making a true connection with the most loving part of ourselves, and in doing so, we make a connection with the most loving part of others, no matter their actions towards us.
A last note about finding connection through addiction
Addictions test our will to find wholeness again through the painful but rewarding process of finding the love that exists underneath layers upon layers of pain. It tests our will of truly going the distance to find our selves again, and to stay connected.
Whether we decide to mask this distance from our selves and our environment through alcohol, drugs, sex, co-dependency, or via some or all of the above, a major effect is essentially a further distancing from our selves, and from those around us. We resort to disconnecting from our selves, because in order to truly connect, we first have to look the pain in the face, and facing this internalized pain is simply too painful, and thus easier to avoid, in the short term. This disconnecting or misconnection from ourselves makes us create a sort of ‘fake’ self, due to a fake connection to our inner selves, thereby resulting in inauthenticity in our behaviour, and consequently affecting our connection to others. As a result, we then develop or create fake relationships, and further reinforce the fake connections in our minds, as our brains get programmed for such fake connections. And so, the fake connections grow and create in essence more distance between us and our peers, and naturally thereby creating more misconnection or dissonance within our selves, and our minds, until we take charge and seek true connection again. This true connection always and invariably comes first with truly connecting with our selves.
 The word connection here is emphasized as it makes reference to connecting on a deeper interpersonal level, both from a psychologically intimate and a neurobiological level (See Sources list under Siegel, D.J.)
 Wholeness here is in the context of healing, as in to be healed, we need to feel whole.
 The self that is the superficial self or our personality- the mask we wear for the outside world, versus what is actually underneath the ego-based layers of personality, which can be called the true self, or the part of us that can really look at things objectively with no sense of attachment. This self can usually be found within deeper states of meditation or by being fully present in the moment. This idea as expressed in this blog is derived from the works of authors Eckhart Tolle and Gary Zukav (See Sources list below)
Campbell, J., Cousineau, P., & Brown, S. L. (1990). The hero’s journey: The world of Joseph Campbell : Joseph Campbell on his life and work. San Francisco: Harper & Row.
TEDxTelAviv. 8(2010, July 13). Hedy Schleifer: The Power of Connection [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEaERAnIqsY
Sroufe, A. & Siegel, D.J. (2011) The Verdict Is In: The Case for Attachment Theory. Psychotherapy Networker 35. 2.
Siegel, D.J. (2010). Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation. New York, N.Y: Bantam Books. Print. 182-188; 221-223.
Tolle, E. (2005). A New Earth: Awakening to your life’s purpose. New York, N.Y: Dutton/ Penguin Group.
Zukav, G. (2014). The Seat of the Soul (25th Anniversary Edition). New York, N.Y: Simon and Schuster.