My colleague, Rick Dauer, and I recently presented our evolving ideas about improving men’s treatment to an audience of over 250 addiction and mental health professionals in Minnesota. Shortly after, I received a lengthy email from one of the attendees – a man who has worked in the field for over twenty years. He thanked us for our training but more importantly he shared the impact that it had on him personally.
Our training is not like most trainings out there when it comes to working with men. We do not avoid the tough topics. One of them is Sex. Even more than sex – is the topic of pornography. And we put it right out there: How can you support a man in looking at barriers to sexual health and his ideas about sex if you, as a professional, are sleeping around all of the time and taking no responsibility for your behavior or constantly looking at porn on your computer? You can’t. With incredible humility and courage this man wrote how our presentation called him to account and that the next day he took his computer in and had all of the porn erased from it. He acknowledged that while he was sober some time he has been struggling with that issue and knew that it limited his ability to help other men. More importantly, he alluded to what it has been doing to his own life. You see, that is the real tragedy: How often we men short change our own lives and our own experience of how good life can really be.
You can never heal what you cannot see or talk about. And we cannot help the men if we are constantly denying their reality or defining it for them. And, for those of us men who went through treatment and/or got sober in the recovery community, we are going to find it difficult – and may even resist – having those difficult conversations with our fellow travelers if nobody held our feet to the fire and challenged us to look at our use of pornography. Or our homophobia. Or how we treat women. Or the role of grief in our lives. If we weren’t shown the way how can we expect to show others the way? We cannot. We will not. What became clear in our friend’s acknowledgment is that there is an opening not just for the men who will receive these services but also to the men and women working with men. As is often the case in the social services field, the real message is not: “I will fix you. I will save you.” The message is: “Physician, heal thyself!” and in so doing, we create an opening of healing for others.