Can Art nurture Empathy?

WORKING THERAPEUTICALLY WITH ADDICTION

 A course funded by Portsmouth City Council for people in recovery from addictions and for those affected by addiction.

 One of the requirements of this course was to give a presentation to the rest of the group. Mine was entitled ‘Can Art Nurture Empathy?’ A part of it included this poem that I’d written several years ago:    

 

            My Daughter’s Habit

A month’s respite doesn’t stop the heart

tilting in the cradle at the knock,

the scene replayed before I open the door.

I know from her expression what it is she wants,

but still she asks, and I fetch,

like a dog, hand over the score,

notice once more the half-moon scar

on the bone of her cheek.

The night swallows her shadow,

catches my sigh as she walks away.

I lean awhile against the door,

listen as the wind worries the trees,

smother the thought: to press

a pillow against my slipping heart.

 

(from The Zig Zag Woman, Two Ravens Press 2007)

After listening to the poem, one of the group members told me it was the first time he’d realised what his own mother must have been going through.

When I came on this course I believed I had lost the capacity for hope. As a mother of a child gripped by addiction there seems to be only two options. One, the most natural, is to jump in and rescue; the other is to cut yourself off, to demonise the person you love.  I’ve tried both. Neither of them works. If you jump into the well, thinking you can rescue your loved one from drowning, at best all you do is enable them to carry on; at worst you end up drowning with them. Cutting yourself off doesn’t work either – you end up living your life as if it’s inhabited by a ghost.

This course offered a third option. It offered a unique opportunity for mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, to get up close and personal; it offered us an opportunity to face our demons. Of particular interest to me was the course’s existentialist approach.  As well as providing us with a thorough understanding of the nature of addiction, it helped to demolish the ‘them and us’ barrier. It helped us to realise that as human beings we all face the same predicament – how to fill the inevitable void – and that we have a choice. We can fill that void with something that does harm to ourselves and to others, or we can fill it with something that, through acts of altruism, enhances the lives of others.

The Peer Recovery Broker scheme offers those in recovery from addiction, and those of  affected by it, a tangible opportunity to change, not only our own lives, but the lives of others.

Last month I did something I never dared imagine. I accompanied my daughter on her first visit to Narcotics Anonymous. When it came to the end of the evening devoted to newcomers, my daughter remained silent.  I found myself saying: ‘My name’s Maggie. I’m not an addict, but I do like a drink. I’ve come here to support my daughter.’ After that my daughter spoke.  I then watched as she walked towards the front to receive her badge of surrender. This course enabled me to regain the capacity for hope.

 

Writtten in November 2012 (first published in Flagship magazine).

 

 

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