By Steve K.
Step 12 of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) suggests that “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”
A vital aspect of our own recovery from addiction is the inspiration to help others suffering from the same illness or condition. Through the process of the 12 Steps and the support and guidance of others within the Fellowship of AA, we are able to transcend our addiction and suffering to the extent that we can support and guide others towards their own personal process of healing and recovery.
Freedom from active addiction to alcohol and other drugs doesn’t necessarily mean that we have overcome the associated wounds and underlying causes of our illness, or that further healing and recovery is not required to become fully whole and healthy. To a certain extent we shall carry the wounds of our past suffering with us in our efforts to help others and our journey towards a fuller recovery. We will have become a classic example of the “wounded healer”.
The following passages are a collection of writings by different authors on the concept of the Wounded Healer:
“The notion of the wounded healer dates back to antiquity. Plato, the father of Western philosophy, stated that the most skilful physicians, rather than being models of good health, are those who have suffered from all sorts of illnesses. Such physicians become eloquent examples of “the wounded healer.”
The Greek myth of Chiron, the wisest of all centaurs, can help us to understand this concept. The Greek gods Apollo and Artemis taught medicine to Chiron. Chiron was wounded by an arrow from Heracles’ bow. He did not die (because gods are immortal); instead, he suffered excruciating pain for the rest of his eternal days. It was because of his grievous wound that Chiron became known as a legendary healer in ancient Greece.
In 1951, Jung first used the term wounded healer. Jung believed that disease of the soul could be the best possible form of training for a healer. In a book published days before his death, Jung wrote that only a wounded physician could heal effectively. In so doing, Jung drew upon the myth of Chiron, making it one of the most fundamental archetypes of human history and modern medicine.
There is no reason for wounded healers to be ashamed of their suffering. Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist who managed to survive the Nazi concentration camps, teaches us that, just like destiny or death, suffering is a fundamental of human experience. For Frankl, if life has meaning, suffering must necessarily have meaning too. The way in which a person accepts his destiny and suffering provides his life with a profound sense of meaning.” (1)
Serge Daneault, MD Ph.D
The Wounded Healer in Recovery
“One of the foundational ideas within the history of recovery support is that of the wounded healer – the notion that people who have survived illness, trauma or suffering might use that experience as a foundation to help others in similar circumstances. This idea, first introduced by psychoanalyst Carl Jung and later amplified by Henry Nouwen and others, provides a rationale for the legions of recovering people working in addiction treatment organisations and those fulfilling service roles within addiction recovery mutual aid and recovery advocacy organisations.
Carried to extreme, it is posited that only an addict can help another addict. This proposition is challenged by the experience of people in addiction recovery who are not effective healers and those people who lack personal or family addiction recovery experience but prove themselves exceptional healers. All humans are wounded, but only those who find ways to transcend such wounds seem to possess these healing qualities.
In the history of Alcoholics Anonymous, Ernie Kurtz noted many non-alcoholics who had played important roles in the history of AA – Dr Silkworth, Sister Ignatia, Sam Shoemaker (Oxford Group), Willard Richardson, Frank Amos, Dr. Harry Tiebout, and Father Ed Dowling (Bill W’s spiritual advisor), to name a few. Ernie described how these individuals did have something in common:
Each, in his/her own way, had experienced tragedy in their lives. They had all known kenosis; they had been emptied out; they had hit bottom… whatever vocabulary you want. They had stared into the abyss. They had lived through a dark night of the soul. Each had encountered and survived tragedy (Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous, p.143).
Wounded healers, regardless of recovery status, enter helping relationships with others with conscious awareness of their own healed and healing wounds. Such awareness allows us to serve others from a position of emotional authenticity, learned humility and moral equality. We are indeed all wounded, and what we can bring to the most wounded among us is our presence, our compassion, and our testimony that survival is possible and that a life of meaning and purpose can be found on the other side of such experiences.” (2)
‘Recovery Rising’, by William L White
“People have been healing each other since the beginning. Long before there were surgeons, psychologists, oncologists, and internists, we were there for each other. The healing of our present woundedness may lie in recognizing and reclaiming the capacity we all have to heal each other, the enormous power in the simplest of human relationships; the strength of a touch, the blessing of forgiveness, the grace of someone else taking you just as you are and finding in you an unsuspected goodness.
Everyone alive has suffered. It is the wisdom gained from our wounds and from our own experiences of suffering that makes us able to heal. Becoming expert has turned out to be less important than remembering and trusting the wholeness in myself and everyone else. Expertise cures, but wounded people can best be healed by other wounded people. Only other wounded people can understand what is needed, for the healing of suffering is compassion, not expertise.” (3)
From “Kitchen Table Wisdom” by Rachel Naomi Remen
“The wounded healer was one of the most important archetypes identified by Carl Jung. He viewed Chiron as the ultimate example of how we can all overcome the pain of our own suffering by becoming compassionate teachers and showing others how they too can transcend their own pain. You see the wounded healer is someone who has gone through great suffering and learnt from the experience. Through transcending their own suffering they are drawn towards the path of service leading them to help others. This process strips away the selfish ego-based feeling of being alone and isolated in their own suffering and woundedness. Instead, through seeing the wound through different eyes they can see this suffering in others and they can therefore lead others to find ways to overcome their own suffering. Their wounds may never fully heal, as Chiron’s didn’t, but they can help heal the wider ailments of humanities shared life.” (4)
From the Wounded Healer, blogspot by Danny Crosby
“Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity… So how do we begin to heal, to live whole lives? Well first of all we need to know our own pain our own darkness and to not be afraid to show our scars.
Our scars our wounds are symbols of the lives we have lived and we ought not to be afraid to show them. Not in some form of vainglory but as symbolic of our shared humanity. To show we have lived and have healed from our wounds, although not without one or two scars.
Sadly there is a growing tendency in our age to cover up our imperfections our blemishes. Some even go as far as having intricate tattoos on their skin to cover up past physical wounds. These though are only superficial and do not really cover up the lives we have lived. Neither do they offer much to others, as we remain locked in our own shame about our own only too human imperfections. As beautiful as the tattoos can be I see a greater beauty in what lies behind the scars.
We are all wounded and we all carry the scars of our wounds, no matter how hard we try to cover them up. These wounds aren’t always physical either, they can be emotional, spiritual and mental too.” (5)
“The Doctor is effective only when he himself is affected. Only the Wounded Healer heals.”
Jung, in Sedgewick, 2000
“So wrote Carl Jung in the last century. Some say Jung was a visionary, a man before his time whose dreams and immersion into the unconscious, both personal and collective, brought us wisdom and teachings we ignore at our peril. The archetypal wounded healer himself, Jung was the first to state that undergoing one’s own thorough analysis was the path to being able to heal others or, more accurately, to help others heal themselves. His courage to enter the dark night of his own soul left us a legacy we can see and read [today].” (6)
Chiron in the 21st century: Wounded Healers Today
I would like to end this blog post with a quote by Henri Nouwen from his book ‘The Wounded Healer‘.
“Who can take away suffering without entering it? The great illusion of leadership is to think that man can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there.”