(Reposting by popular request. Happy New Year, everybody.)
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.
“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 climb 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.”
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 point. Just 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.”