spiral framed 2

She’s a new client, looking around my office.

“I like your pictures,” she says.  “But what’s that?”

She points to the rusty bedspring on my wall.

“A metaphor,” I say.

“For what?”

“Recovery.  It’s the recovery spiral.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Most people think of recovery as a linear process.  They think you start off down here, at All fucked up, and recoveryclimb straight up to there, Perfectly fine. 

They think there’s a straight line between those two points, and that any deviation from that line – relapses, setbacks, mistakes — means some kind of failure.”

“Doesn’t it?”

I shake my head.  “Not if you see recovery as a spiral.”

“Emotional growth means moving in a circle.  The points of the circle are the issues or problems we’re working on — parents, money, work, sex, feelings, communication, control, whatever.  And you go around and around the same circle, facing the same issues over and over.

“But each time you go around you’re a bit higher on the spiral.  Meaning you know a bit more than the last time around.  And you’re a little bit stronger.  And you have more resources, both inside you and outside.

“And that’s recovery.

“If you’re lucky, there’s no end to it until you die.  There’s no There there, no Perfectly fine end pointJust learning and growing as long as you live.

“So when someone comes to me all discouraged and says Oh god, I fucked up or I’m so embarrassed that I’m still struggling with this I show them the spiral and explain what it means.

“And then I ask, ‘What do you know now that you didn’t know last time you were here?’

“And they can usually find something.  And then they can think of their relapse as a lesson, not a failure.”

She frowns, looking at my wall.

“Where can I get a rusty bedspring?”    

10 responses to “Spiral

  • NextInLine

    This speaks to me absolutely. As a client, I feel like I fail so many times, and I keep telling my therapist we are going over the same old grounds and I am getting nowhere. And then he says, but did you do this or that or the other thing, just one thing that made a change, and when I say yes, I see the spiral. I love your vision.

    • Steve Hauptman

      Thanks. In therapy (as elsewhere) it’s so easy to fall into the trap of comparing where we are with where we want to be, instead of where we’ve been.

  • John

    Bed spring or slinky?

  • Lisa Anderson

    I was thinking the same thing as the quote at the end. So when I got to it, it made me laugh out loud. You are awesome as usual and keepin’ it real…

  • Richard Szymanski LMSW

    You are truly creative in your therapeutic approach.

  • Steve Hauptman

    Kind of you to say so. A less generous interpretation might be that I enjoy decorating with garbage. 🙂

  • Angie Howarth

    This is exactly what i needed to read. Thankyou. I am in therapy for PTSD. I find that every feeling, emotion i have is somehow ‘brighter’, over stated/exagerated and so causes me more emotional pain that it probably should. When something hurts me, the feeling is extremely intense. My point being…….that i always feel as if i am failing in therapy, failing myself and failing my therapist…..not learning quickly enough, not talking about the important things, worrying about obvious things she says that i should have thought of myself etc etc. Anyway, your post will be such a good thing for me to start the subject with her. Thanks.

    • Steve Hauptman

      Thanks for sharing, Angie. PTSD is so awful I sometimes wonder how we who don’t suffer from it can pretend to understand those who do. But please note my response to NextInLine (above) about the comparison trap. However badly you think you’re doing, compare yourself now to where you were a week ago, or a month, or a year. And please let your therapist — who I’m sure sees your progress more clearly than you yourself do — help with that.

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