[Tweet “A weed is but an unloved flower. ~Ella Wheeler Wilcox”]
When I last worked as a long-term consultant to a women’s inpatient facility for addiction treatment, I occasionally had the opportunity to use events at the facility to create unusual therapeutic experiences for patients. (I just consider it “good treatment” but I guess that’s why they needed a consultant, right?)
The place was sprucing up for a large event that would bring an influx of family members, alumni, and referents to the grounds. The staffer who had decided to help patients with a garden was “no longer available,” so I got to take a group of patient-volunteers to rehab the garden.
We tromped out to the part of the property the administration was calling “the garden,” and, once there, realized that “rehabbing the garden” was an overly-optimistic plan. First, we were going to have to find the garden. Then it was going to need some radical surgery.
The ladies savored simple pleasures: getting dirty outdoors combined with the opportunity to be in the sun for longer than a 20-minute break proved to be powerful medicine. The conversation quickly turned to fear of doing it “wrong,” along with memories of gardens past.
[Tweet “And then came the magic.”]
Brand new sober ladies, working together on a project started to heal, right out loud. The newest member of the team hadn’t used drugs in about three days; the eldest had almost two months. They dropped the con games and tough girl attitudes as we stripped away old leaves and revealed the tender spring growth. They talked. Sometimes to themselves, sometimes to each other, sometimes to me.
“The weeds are like my addiction, my old habits, and my resentments. If I don’t get rid of them, they’ll kill me just like all this old stuff will kill the flowers. And that’s how I like to think about sobriety. I hear it’s awesome.”
“I went to 12-step meetings a long time ago. Is this what they meant when they said ‘put down the weapons and pick up the tools? I’ve struggled with the spiritual thing, but here we are, on our knees with a group of drunks. G.O.D., right?”
“Some of them are very beautiful, they’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s not their fault. They just don’t fit. Like some of us and the things that happened when we were drinking and drugging.”
[Tweet ““Weeds are like painful thoughts and bad memories.””]
“Weeds are like painful thoughts and bad memories; if I don’t leave them behind I could use them as an excuse to pick up drugs again.”
“I’m pulling out all the awful things the batterer used to say to keep me in my place. I’m not going to carry those around anymore. They have to go.”
They talked as much or as little as they wanted. We chopped and dropped the debris in neat piles where the elements would turn it into compost. When we returned to institutional life, the patients’ garden, formerly abandoned and overrun with weeds, was free to grow and prosper. What had almost killed it now fed its roots, making them stronger and healthier.
Just like the former inmates who set it free.
The Inner Critic Advantage: Making Peace With the Noise in Your Head is a little book full of big ideas about how — and why — you can learn to love “that voice in your head.” The Inner Critic Advantage is now available on Amazon and, if you buy the paperback, you get the ebook for free.
Appreciating the metaphor and how you shared this tender story, Andrea. I was drawn to the title as orchids are weeds, not classified as flowers as most people think. So it’s the reason I use it as my branding image. As women visionaries, I feel we are both weeds and flowers at the same time, and both have a purpose…as you so beautifully illustrate here.
I did not know that orchids “are” weeds. Makes me grateful that each of us gets to choose what we value.
Mihaela Lica Butler
I love my garden just the way it is… weeds and all. I found most of them have beautiful flowers, and to keep the vegetables free from their suffocating strength, I made raised beds. I think weeds have their purpose. Most of them like dandelion and daisies are great medicinal plants, with important health benefits. So I try to keep their reach to other plants in grip, but I strongly believe that they have their place on earth, as nothing created by God is an accident. I noticed they attract more bees and butterflies than other flowers… Maybe what we consider weeds are God’s gift to little beings?
I love this post. I used to work in a psychiatric facility too and it is amazing to watch people learn and grow. Thank you for sharing.
I like the image of removing whatever we no longer need for new growth. I enjoyed reading about your experience Andrea , imagining you holding the space for these ladies as they made their self discoveries.
Sue Kearney (@MagnoliasWest)
And… just like a weed, it can come back. Which brings to my mind (and long-time sober heart) the reminder that today’s serenity (and sobriety) is not built on yesterday’s weed pulling. Here’s a quote from 12-step: “What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.” Which reminds me to keep on visiting that garden and pulling the weeds of the day. They are varied and plentiful. Okay, stopping now, before I drown us both in metaphors. [will share. now.]
Perfect. Thank you. I guess we can only take care of ONE day at a time????
Beautiful story Andrea! Weeds are beautiful in their own way, and needed too as part of nature…same thing in our lives, we need the darkness to see the light, that’s how we grow. Thanks for sharing! 🙂
Love that nature was able to help your clients to find meaning in the challenges they were going through.
Sometimes “noticing” is the most important thing.
Amazing post, Andrea. Beautiful, poetic and powerful. xo, Reba
Power of metaphor with your hands in the dirt. What great work, and earth healing!
Beverley Golden (@GoldenBeverley)
Wonderful post, Andrea. I resonated with the analogy. Yet another wonderful example of how nature has much to teach us, if we are open to learning from it.
Such a beautiful and powerful post Andrea! Thank you for sharing your wisdom here. Love learning from you.
What beautiful work you are doing in the world, I salute both you and these women.
Beautiful experience for you and your gals. It was a welcome change for them and an unplanned therapy session for growth and healing. Enjoyed the read.
Such a lovely, powerful story and message, Andrea! I’m especially drawn to seeing our “weeds” as part of our healing.
I love this post so much. And talk about timing. Last year my husband and I began transforming our front yard – we had a dead tree cut down, over grown shrubs removed, all the golden rod removed, and new bark mulch put down. That was a start. This year, we pulled up everything from the front flower bed, removed a bush to allow the other bushes some breathing space. My husband laid down 3 yards of bark mulch. Today, my husband built a terracing wall and we bought a rose bush and a hydrangea. The plants we tagged to keep will be replanted tomorrow. And I realized that my inner space is matching my outer space (or I’m just in outer space…LOL) At any rate, I realized I completely weeded out all the stuff that wasn’t working for me in the online space.
Thanks for taking the time to comment. I know you’ve been busy “weeding” online… glad to hear you’re seeing the flowers in your “physical” life. Hugs.