Recovery Star or crucifix?

I loved the original concept of recovery: “Regaining what has been lost or taken away”. And I grieve for the way it is being used as a tool for discipline.

@TallaTrialogue presented a link and wrote:  

“A brilliant way of helping to measure outcomes in Recovery for both service users and services.”

When I was having severe dissociation problems, shoving this star with its checkboxes at me would have made me even more confused: 

Embedding some tweets with links:



@maddoggiejo called this star “A cross that they nail you to”. Here is her version:

And she has these suggestions for backup interventions: 

Reading PDF document on the recovery Star made me think of Leanh Ngyen’s excruciating and beautiful paper on “The Ethics of Trauma”

During the Physicians for Human Rights evaluations of the Iraqis, some of the men laughed incredulously upon reading the questionnaires. One man looked at the items in a studious, puzzled way. Another said, “What is this?” One man pushed the questionnaire away in despair. “I can’t do this. I don’t understand this.” Another man eventually refused to continue and said to me, “What you want to know, just ask me.”

Just ask me.

These reactions conveyed to me that the clinician-listener-witness was failing her traumatized subject in the task that the historian Dominick LaCapra (2001) has called “remaining in empathic unsettlement”: to stay unsettled in order to look at, not past or beyond, the subject. To stay in the not knowing and trying to know with the subject—such is the task that we may be failing when we unquestioningly engage in “empirical” standardized testing of traumatized people.


First posted in December 2011
Slightly rewritten

I can’t do grateful. 

“Grateful” seems to describe a condition – and I have no idea how to “be” grateful, positive or normal or whatever. I don’t even know if it’s possible. The only thing I can “be” is me. Yet I can say “thank you” very easily, as that is an action.

Thank you for understanding when I say things like this … and for asking when you didn’t understand. I am heavily scarred from earlier experiences, when professional helpers heard “symptoms” instead of asking me to clarify what I said, so this has been extremely important to me.

I have told you that I am writing this, so you know who you are, and this is for you. It is also for all the other helpers in the world who genuinely help people in non-physical distress … I hope that you know who you are, every single one of you; the people who are genuinely helped certainly do.

The importance of being with

I wish it were possible to teach “helping that helps” theoretically … and I think it is not something we can learn from the eyebrows up.

Neither is it necessarily something we can do … we can often help our fellow humans more by just being with them. The unspoken, and maybe even unthought, question of many who need help, is this:

You showed me that you can. And that was an indescribable relief after years of so-called mental health care where pain was wrong or crazy or inappropriate or faded or mystified or invisible or taboo or just plain unacceptable.

Freedom is the opportunity
to take responsibility for our lives

After all the years of harmful help, I have learned another important question that a customer of help should ask:

 “Is it possible to take responsibility for my life within the helper’s cognitive frames?”

Too often there will be direct or indirect demands for adaptation, subservience and obedience instead: “In order to heal/learn to live with your disorder you have to …” 

Thank you for having room for responsibility in your space and within your frames.


How do you help? Not with compassion or sympathy, which can “tear down a banner bravely borne”. 

Not only with empathy, which can be extremely harmful if it comes from the wrong place within the empathizer, as in: “I feel this, therefore it is the truth about you.”

And certainly not only with expertise, which, like empathy, can be extremely harmful if it comes from the wrong place within the helper.

You help with support. The best description I’ve seen was this, by Irene Claremont de Castillejo:

The first step is to disentangle ourselves and our personal wishes from the problem and, having done so, become as conscious as possible of where we ourselves stand. Then we may provide a fixed point of reference, a post as it were stuck firmly into the sand around which a rope can be thrown from the little barques being tossed helplessly by waves of emotion. If several friends can offer firm posts, though the posts may stand for different points of view, they may yet provide some strength and stability which will help the storm tossed people to find their own solution. Not our solution, theirs.

I don’t have the words to describe my relief at finally having firm support from someone within the health system. At finally being encouraged to take the time I needed and clear the space I needed to find my own solutions. Mine. Not someone else’s.

And in writing this slowly through a mist of tears, I realize that I am not done with grieving over years of harmful mental help. But that is another story.

A quality of loneliness

Thank you for not trying to squeeze me into a “positive” not-a-victim cage. Thank you for supporting me in the choice I had made so many years ago: to see what had happened to me, heal the wounds and reach out to others who, like me, have been “The Loneliest One”:

There is in certain living souls

A quality of loneliness unspeakable,

So great it must be shared
As company is shared by lesser beings.
Such a loneliness is mine; so know by this
That in immensity
There is one lonelier than you.

And even to loneliness, there is an end. 

For those who are lonely enough, long enough.

Thank you for propelling me into blogging NOW … Instead of in 3-4 years’ time, “when I am ready”, as I had planned. 


Thank you for integrity. I’ve never found a good description of integrity as I see it, so I made one in 1987:

Integrity is our mental skin.
When we are good at suppressing integrity damage,
our tattered skin is replaced with a mental armour.
Behind this armour we do not notice 
if our integrity is being harmed,
and we do not notice if we harm the integrity of others.

There is a huge difference between a helper with a whole skin and a helper who is encased in armour. When we (and yes, I do include myself) are hiding behind armour, we have no realistic concept of integrity … or borders. And we have a regrettable tendency to assume that we are objective when we let our reptile brain do the thinking.

A fixed point

Thank you for being there for me in your own integrity, firmly rooted in your own skin, standing in your own shoes and in your own life. By being there in this way, you were an anchor for me.

A fixed point. When I badly needed one. 

And this gave me a place to stand in my own life. Like Archimedes, I needed a fixed point … not to move the world … But to move myself out of the morass of confusion, stress and exhaustion I had been stuck in so long, and with your support I managed to do so.

Thank you for not trying to fix me by pushing bullshit which would have shoved me back into the morass.

Thank you for letting me get on with the detangling that I had begun many years ago, because you could see that it worked … and thank you for having an open mind about what I was thinking and doing.

Thank you for saying that I had “an interesting skewed way of looking at things”, instead of dismissing what I said as fantasies, emotions and psychiatric symptoms.

Thank you for being a sounding board that helped me regain the belief that I could think – a belief that I had lost through years of legal and correct and harmful mental health care.

This you accomplished not by doing anything, just by listening and responding, just by being you – in your skin, in your life … being there for me as a separate entity.

Keep it real

Because you were honest with yourself, within your skin and within your life ( which I still know nothing about, and that’s completely ok with me,) you could give me honest feedback, often nonverbal, on what I said.

I’ve been trying to understand the mechanisms of this, and the closest I’ve come is Ali Gs ubiquitous and untranslatable “Keep it real”.

When I kept it real, what I said resonated with you, when you were centred and in your own skin.

When I got tangled, you did not have to say anything – what I said just klonked to the ground because you did not have receptors for it.

A complicating factor here is that true and real and important information can also klonk to the ground … when said to a helper in reptile brain mode who is encased in armour and has no receptors for “real”.

My heart aches for everyone who has been misled into thinking they were safe in a psychotherapeutic setting – and who were let down by specialists in armour who had no receptors for integrity damage.

I have been one of them, and my heart aches for me, too, and for the years of thinking that societal wounds were my private defect … proof that there was something wrong with me.

Thank you for accepting the term societal wounds, and my reasons for using this term.

Thank you for giving me in 2010 what I asked for in 1988: Support in the process of taking responsibility for my own life.

What I got in 1988 is another story entirely, the short version is that I allowed my wings to grow and had started to fly when they were plucked off because there was no room for wings and flying within psychiatric realities about “incest victims”.

Thank you for not using imagery like this to prove that I’m crazy.

Those who demand trust 

are not trustworthy
Thank you for never demanding or expecting trust from me, and for giving me clear and verifiable reasons to trust you instead … mainly by having clear borders yourself and respecting my borders.

In a toxic family there are no clear borders.

I have also experienced this lack in mental health care: How does one protect integrity and borders when it is correct and legal to treat disagreement and border protection as psychiatric symptoms?

Thank you for recognising standpoints like this.

The whole elephant

Thank you for knowing that there is a whole elephant, even if you do not see all of it. I have seen your confusion when you saw only an ear or a leg, and your face showed the mental shift when you chose to know that this is not the whole of the thing.

And that brings me to something very important …

Thank you for asking good questions. 

There is a huge difference between constructive and destructive questions, as can be seen in many descriptions of harmful help.

And that is another story, to be told at another time, so I won’t go into details here, except to say this, categorically: All questions that start with “why” are destructive when we are with pain.

I don’t think there is any way of defining helpful or harmful questions, except by looking at where the questions come from within ourselves. Do they come from our integrity, our mental skin, or from armour that we have developed to replace our mental skin?

Guts and logic

Finally, and certainly not least, I want to thank you for having the guts to assess situations that I have described. “This is rude.” “This is a violation of your integrity.” 

Thank you for guts and logic. For being able to think independently instead of blindly following psychiatric expertise. Thank you for offering to guard my back, offering to be an objective witness for me in a specific situation, and for saying that if I need someone to assert that I have insight, you will do so.

Fear of vulnerability

Writing this last paragraph was painful, and is painful to reread. It has opened the door to a reservoir of anguish that I thought was emptied.

It has also triggered my old backache, which shows that I need to move – once again – through fear of helplessness and vulnerability to flashbacks of being a child and knowing that no one is protecting me, and there is nothing I can do to protect myself. 

Knowing that protecting myself is baaaaad, because the Powers That Be That Harm Me know that THEY are protecting me … and that I have no need for protection from THEM.

Thank you for making it possible for me to reopen this door, to accept and respect and learn from the tears and backache yet again, and to accept that I need to continue to explore what I had hidden so well from myself so many years ago.

I know that I can go in there alone now, and I know that I can handle whatever I find there, because this is my stuff, and I have years of experience in connecting with my inner child.

I also know that this would not have been possible without the support you gave me … I needed to detangle years of harmful mental health care before I could get back to where I wrote this in 1986.


Whenever I come here in editing this, I am blinded by tears. It has been excruciatingly difficult to write this, and I finally realize why: For every thank you, lies years of harmful help. And that brings me to a conclusion:

In 1988 I gave myself the right to be vulnerable with dignity, to be helpless and wretched with dignity. Thank you for recognising and respecting this right … It was what I needed to get on with my healing process.
    As I see it, we can only heal our non-physical wounds when we have this right … and the only people who can recognize and respect this right, seem to be people who have given it to themselves.