Sometimes Healing Means Cutting Away the Dead & the Dying

Years ago I worked with a tragically beautiful man who was a gifted artist and addicted to opiates. He’s been on my mind each of the 31 days I’ve been in this hospital bed. He shared so many extraordinary paintings with me. I confronted him that each canvas only showed what he wanted to feel and not what he felt.

When he took up the challenge, he painted a tree in a very difficult environment. Parts of the landscape were healthy and supportive to growth. Others were putrid and toxic. The tree itself showed such strong shading – as if it were three different colors. He explained it simply: Part of it is dead, part of it is dying, and part of it remains strong and vibrant.

We decided then that the tree needed pruning and that there must be ways to draw in the positive aspects of his environment while protecting against the parts that blocked change and healing. It might sound a little touchy/feely therapy but it wasn’t. The drugs, the users/fiends, the dealers, the hustling,, dealing, and conning needed to go.

That meant that the fears had to be faced and the pain had to be felt because everything that the drugs took away would come back. Unfortunately, a lot of things that should have been healthy and supportive of his growth (family) were not. Sometimes the hardest thing to let go of is what never was.

I am an artist who has let go of a lot. I find myself in a powerless place in which parts of me are dead, parts are dying, and yet the overwhelming majority of me is vibrant and healthy. I have come to feel like that tree. They’ve started pruning me. Pruning hurts a lot.

Allow me to conduct a brief experiment. If you’re squeamish just skip to the next paragraph. Ok, ready? They cut off my toes. Yup, that looks every bit as weird as I thought it would. I’ve had parts of my foot cut off on three separate occasions. Tomorrow if things go well I will not long have much of anything below my right knee. If I am especially blessed, I will continue to heal until they can close and I will get a prosthesis for a below the knee amputation (worlds better than the above the knee that I fear).

I’m blessed in so many ways that some of them are hard to notice. I have a healthy fear of developing new addictions and am delighted to find that I cannot stand opiates.

I understand addiction very well. There are some aspects I cannot relate to – but they’re simply things I was fortunate enough to avoid experiencing and/or things that I did not learn to like. So far today I have been fed large doses of Morphine, Dilaudid, and Fentanyl and while I appreciate the role they play in making my pain more manageable, I cannot stand how they affect me mentally and emotionally.

My doctors keep telling me I am concerned about something too far down the road (dependence). I explain that I have served countless addicts who got their start precisely where I am today. Saying things like that makes them uncomfortable. I get it. It’s just one more thing for my Higher Power and I to guard against.

I’m looking forward to how I’ll be when the pruning is over and I am healed. All of this hit me out of the blue. I am drained, exhausted, and have tolerated more pain than I knew I was capable of. But ya know what? I’m still here, still healing, and truth to tell I’m not fighting a damned thing.

The surgeon may be cutting parts of me away but in the end it’s God that does the pruning.

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.