Any Little Thing — Finding Redemption in an Unlikely Place
“Redemption is something you have to fight for in a very personal, down-dirty way.” ― Joss Whedon
In counseling training, when we were studying how to respond to a crisis that involved a potential suicide, we were told to find something — anything, no matter how small, trivial or ridiculous — that would anchor the person to this world. It would be a short-term bandage, just enough to get them through the crisis. Later, you could begin the longer process of helping them rebuild a life they wanted to live, rather than escape from. It made sense to me intellectually, but I wondered if I would ever put it to use.
Ellen came into my office for her weekly visit one Friday afternoon when the weather was just turning toward the better after a long winter. Spring fever was starting to stir and, truth be told, though I loved my job, that afternoon I would have rather played hooky and taken a stroll through the park in the warm hopeful air. Some of my colleagues had done just that, starting their weekend early and leaving the normally bustling area quite quiet.
Ellen and I had been working on her deeply unresolved childhood wounds. We’d made some early progress but were stagnating a bit as she hesitated to delve into her really dark places. I wondered if either of us had the energy to approach those shadowy issues on this bright day.
Instead, she opened with a heavy sigh and the statement that she didn’t want to do this anymore. Given my own thoughts, I thought she meant this course of treatment. It was not uncommon for clients to question the value of continuing therapy when they hit a plateau or things veered into the uncomfortable.
But that day Ellen meant this on a bigger scale. She looked defeated but resolute when she said that it was all just too hard and she was tired of trying to hold it together. She was quitting life, she said.
Suddenly, all thoughts of Spring were gone and the world narrowed into that small room. We were in crisis and in need of an anchor.
I remembered bits and pieces of training. Don’t try to argue them out of it. Many already have and they have built up their counter-argument.
“There is one problem”, she finally said softly, as if she were expecting my advice. “It will be too messy.”
I waited for more. I was trained to wait past that uncomfortable silence until the patient spoke again.
Finally, the words tumbled out in a jumble. “I’ll leave a mess and someone will have to clean it up and that someone would probably be my dear landlady and I can’t do that to her.”
I let go of the breath I had been holding. OK then. Our anchor was not leaving a mess for the landlady. A little wobbly, but it would have to do. When you are drowning, you don’t get picky about the color of the life raft.
We talked some more about her landlady, firmly planting that anchor into solid ground. And we spent a lot of moments in silence. I let her speak. I let her cry. The bright sun faded into dusk. And I finally convinced her to follow me into intake at the clinic, so she would have a safe place to spend the weekend.
I visited her on that Saturday afternoon. As I walked into the room I noticed she already had a visitor. They were laughing as I entered. Ellen introduced me to her landlady, Maria. We spent the next few hours enjoying each other’s company until I headed out to grab take-out pizza for all of us after Ellen’s insistence that the hospital food was deplorable.
As I was walking down the hall Maria called after me.
“Thank you,” she said. “You saved her life.”
“No,” I replied. “Actually, you did.”
When Your Patient Teaches You a Thing or Two About Living
I believe I can fly. I believe I can touch the sky. — R. Kelly
The Summer of Freedom — A Preppy Girl and the Sign that Changed her Thinking
A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom. — Bob Dylan