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Healer Heal Thyself (NOT)

Jackie Farwell of BDN – I want to be your new BFF. You keep writing on topics near and dear to my heart. In your June 18th’s article you tell the story of a Physician Assistant (PA) who risked further jeopardy to his career through continued use of alcohol. The consent agreement allows the PA to continue practicing as long as he receives treatment and abstains from further use of alcohol.

Folks who read the article probably thought, “Well, if he was already in trouble, why did he continue to drink?” This is the nature of addiction – we continue to use self destructively regardless of consequences. Personally, I’m glad this gentleman received another chance though I don’t know him at all. What I do know is that potential loss of licenses, positions, income, and respect cause a lot of us in health care to suffer silently with addictions and/or significant mental health issues. This has to change.

Most of us have very personal reasons for being in the healing and helping professions. I explained early on to my wife the accountant, “Never ask a social worker about their childhood.” The upshot here is that most of us are very good at helping others and we tend to be lousy at helping ourselves. We are not the poster children for accepting limitations. We tend to do too much for too many with too little support and we are at all times at risk for unhealthy coping and burn out.

We do not burn out because of what we do but rather because of what we do not do. It is draining to bear witness to the suffering of others and exhilarating to be part of their healing. Many of us did not learn to separate ourselves. We take on other’s pain as our own. We struggle to release what we take in. We do the things we tell our clients/patients not to do. The hypocrisy eats at us and yet we do what we do to get by.

“We the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much for so long with so little that we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.” – Mother Theresa

We become jaded and cynical. We hate the institutions we work for, the paperwork, the mindless policies and the ever increasing caseloads. We want to do good work and we fight managed care at every turn. We lose sleep. We watch our families compensate for our absences. We drink. We prescribe ourselves and our colleagues powerful medications. We develop unhealthy supports with the people we work with because they “get us.” We have enmeshed friendships and we have affairs.

The unhealthy things we use to cope always turn on us. We readily identify our problems in others but we deny them in ourselves. We reach a point where we’re so terrified of being caught we almost long for the relief of being found out. As long as we can stand it we do. We want help but many of us can’t get past the humiliation of being in the field and being a patient. In this way we limit ourselves and we perpetuate stigma – most notably amongst our peers.

I am proud to say publicly that the two years I spent in therapy is the very best healing I have ever experienced. I am glad to refer to myself as a “wounded healer.” I will forever be a work in progress. I was a hot mess when I first entered the healing professions. I chose to become healthier before I began working as a therapist.

All these years later I just keep getting better and healthier. I have overcome depression and deep rooted insecurities and I have had the joy of helping others do the same for the past ten years. Between now and the time we change systemically, we need to have each other’s backs in a healthy manner. Recovery from addiction and mental illness is not possible alone. I am not advocating a veil of secrecy. I am saying let’s get together and figure out solutions. We have so much to lose but we must not lose ourselves.

Personally I love working with healers. I especially love working with therapists because I’m so past the weirdness of, “Hey…are you analyzing me analyzing you, analyzing me?” Let’s get past the fears of our health care records and gossip within our fields. Let’s be real people and instead of competing with each other as if we’re all one big dysfunctional family, let’s do what we do best – facilitate healing.

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