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Connection, Community, and a Kiss on the Head

September 06, 2019

I recently had a close family member who needed a very urgent and serious surgery. Right before he was wheeled back to the operating room, his mom planted a loving kiss on his forehead and said, “I love you.” During an otherwise intense moment, the nurse and his mother were able to utter a little laugh, as they both looked at the bright pink kiss mark she left on her son’s forehead. “I can wipe it off,” she said, but the nurse quickly responded back, “Oh no…you leave that right there! I want all of the surgeons to know that your son is very loved and important to someone. That will help them to keep their focus during this long surgery.”

Hearing about this event deeply touched my heart for several reasons. It caused me to pause and think about the long, grueling surgery for the doctors, and how a kiss on the forehead would help to remind them that their patient is loved. I thought about a mother’s love for her child, even when grown, and how painful it must be to see your child struggle. I thought about the need for the mother to let her child go into the capable hands of doctors; not wanting to let go at all, but knowing that it was necessary to help her child heal. Lastly, I questioned if the doctors really needed the reminder of a lipstick mark on the forehead, and if that truly helped them, or if they had the internal motivation to complete the best surgery possible regardless of who was in their operating room.

Other sweet goodbyes

Every day at my workplace, I get to see another type of, “kiss on the head” and sweet “see you soon” goodbyes by family members of our patients when I look outside my office window. At first sight, I was caught off guard; it was like I was observing an intimate moment that I wasn’t meant to see. The strong father crying, shielding his face because he didn’t want anyone to see. The wife holding her 3-year old daughter’s hand with one arm and the other wrapped around her husband, trying to stand strong during a time when she feels so weak. A tired mother who has given too much, and fears this might be her son’s last hope, holding on for a hug that she didn’t want to end. During these goodbyes, I’ve decided to stop what I’m doing. I put the phone on hold, stop writing the email, slow down for a second….and watch. I allow myself to watch the goodbye just for 10 seconds, not to pry, but to allow myself to see it and to witness some of the pain and beauty associated with families who release their loved ones into treatment for addiction. These moments I discipline myself to stop (because I’m notoriously moving too fast to actually stop and do things like this), I am so very touched. I’m reminded of the importance of family, affection and love. I’m reminded of the pain and sorrow experienced by so many friends and family who struggle with addiction. I’m reminded of the power and purpose of what my staff do every day.

Connection and community

For patients who might not get a kiss on the head or a long hug goodbye, the importance of a treatment center community rallying around them can’t be minimized. While medication, therapy and supportive services are effective, there are truly powerful aspects of patients belonging to a larger community and finding a connection with others. One of my favorite quotes on this topic is by Brene Brown, who states that, “rarely can a response make something better, what makes something better is connection.” SAMHSA’s 10 Guiding Principles of Recovery lists “purpose” and “community” as vital to the recovery process. I truly believe that in the coming years, we will find more research and programs that are designed around these important principles as keys to recovery.

Lisa Richardson

Lisa Richardson is CEO of The Ridge Addiction Treatment Center.

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