Good Will Hunting

Good Will Hunting is easily one of the greatest movies ever made and one those of us in recovery can profoundly relate to. Matt Damon portrays every Adult Child Of an Alcoholic in a single character. He is overly loyal to those he loves, hard working, funny, empathic, and stoic. He is also a self destructive, sarcastic, and defensive young man who puts himself in harms way, hates authority figures, trusts no one and both fears and craves intimacy. He also happens to be a genius who fears both his abilities and his potential.

When I think about the most talented, intelligent, and creative people I know I see that all of them are in recovery from something. I first noticed this working with homeless teens. I marveled that of the dozens I knew, every single one of them had an artistic ability that was impressive. In retrospect it makes sense that those of us who did not color inside the lines were destined for rejection by conformity driven systems and unhealthy measures of worth.

Many of us still feel shame for who/how we were in the past. (Everything we survived, what we were taught about our worth, false beliefs about the world, and where our diseases took us).

Many of us are afraid to know who we really are today. (What if I’m worse than I think? What if everything I was taught isn’t true? What if my Higher Power really does have big plans for me?)

Many of us are fucking terrified of what we could become (for better and for worse). Marianne Williamson said it best, “Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our greatest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that blinds us.”

My Higher Power has an amazing sense of humor. On a rainy Saturday I re-watched Good Will Hunting and on a rainy Sunday I met a young man who could be Will Hunter, if without the violent tendencies. He’s one more of the many lost boys I’ve met – a young man who was taught he doesn’t matter and lives his life accordingly. He’s a self proclaimed slacker and he’s a great kid. I love slackers – was one myself for a long time. Slackers are usually very bright and talented people who are afraid to put themselves out there because “out there” is scary. We both console ourselves with what we could have been and shame ourselves for what we haven’t done.

The kid tells me he wants to go to college but he doesn’t know what for. He tells me it’s be a “waste of time” to go if he doesn’t know what for. I sarcastically agree that he’s better spending time in his dead end job than getting a degree in anything. Young people are always worried about wasting time when there’s so little behind them and so much ahead.

I ask him what he wants and he tells me what’s expected of him. We talk about his options and there’s too many. He’s overwhelmed. We talk about his priorities and he doesn’t know them. We talk about change and he tells me he’d love to but he doesn’t know where to start. I tell him to take vitamins. He laughs but agrees that’s sound advice. I ask him if he knows what he doesn’t want and his eyes look sad. He tells me what he doesn’t want to be and it’s not surprising that what he doesn’t want is to be like the people who raised him. He’s one of us.

We talk about his parents and how he was raised. He tells me they can’t be trusted and he reasons that if he can’t trust his family then he can’t trust anyone. I suggest that he needs to trust himself. He asks me how to do that?

I ask him how he lies to himself. He’s a smart kid and he tells me that all of his lies begin with “someday.” He has a long list of things that are going to happen someday and he’s powerless over every one of them. They involve other people loving him and being proud of him. We talk about how this would change him and how he knows it’ll never happen but he can’t give up on those who gave up on him (before he ever started). We talk about his father (only the lucky ones have dads) and I ask him what he learned from him. “Just what not to be.” I ask him if he’s angry and he says he is but that he doesn’t let himself feel it (shame). I tell him it’s okay to be angry and that holding it in leaves us depressed and filled with angst, which is like being pissed off and pretending we don’t know why.

He has the weight of the world on his shoulders. His heart is filled with pain. He makes eight bucks an hour helping the severely disabled. He gives away everything he wants to receive. He’s such a great kid and I want to take him to the back yard and play ten thousand games of catch and talk about everything. Instead I tell him that he needs to let go. He’s scared and tells me so. I give him the good news that in the next part of his life he’s going to be scared no matter what he does.

We talk about things that are always a good idea – like changing the oil in your car and drinking lots of water. We talk about going to therapy and how we can become free of the weight we carry and the feelings we buried deep within ourselves. He knows that this is what he needs but he’s trying to see the whole picture. His journey is just starting and he wants to know where it’ll take him and what it’s like there. I tell him about Good Will Hunting and about my journey and he seems pleased to know someone who made it to the other side.

One of the many benefits of maintaining a conscious connection with my HP is that I cross paths with a lot of great people who are lost on their journey. The joy for me is the moments when I get to “pay it forward” by sharing my “experience, strength, and hope.” The kid is a strong reminder of who I was and I suspect that while my HP had some things for me to give him, S/He also had some things for me to receive. I remain at all times a work in progress and however comfortable I may be with who I am; I am often uncomfortable with what my HP has in store next. I plan on taking the advice that I gave that kid. I will keep letting go, keep paying attention, and have faith in both my HP, in myself, and in those placed in my path.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.