“So how how did you come here tonight?’ Dr David Allen asked a young woman.
“This woman next to me invited me” Then the woman next to her said “I noticed her going by my place most days by herself and looking sad. She continued “I wanted to speak with her, so finally I knew her schedule, walked out to talk to her and asked her if she wanted to come in. And she did."
The young woman said.“I was planning to hang myself that night.”
The crowd of thirty plus people in the room gasped. Then the whole story was told. I had gone to spend some winter with my friend and his wife in Nassau, Bahamas, what happened that night was not expected. Dt David Allen is a highly respected psychiatrist in the Bahamas, the US and around the UK. He has taught and spoken around the world but in his home country he has created a special way to help hurting people and it is called “the family.” In the room were hurting, damaged people, just like all of us. Also there were several counselors and therapists
who facilitate the two hour meeting.
There are thirty groups in the islands and a few so far in the United States where they meet on a weekly or monthly basis. It is group counseling but with an amazing twist. The therapy is not based on individual needs but the group needs, community, family. In the last 20 years the Bahamas has been through a cocaine crisis, financial crisis, immigration from Haiti and gang wars, all in the shadow of Atlantis and Tiger Woods’ millionaire playground, Albany.
These family groups are able to heal wounds and redeem people who otherwise would be living in fear, condemnation, shame and depression. A major component is that they understand how the brain unpacks and repacks memories. When you remember an incident in your life you unpack that memory and then put it back in your brain, but in a different place. The miracle is that you can affect the remembrance in various ways. If each time you repack you get angrier, the memory festers but if you remember it in a caring, empathetic way, with others, it is less vitriolic. It slowly becomes a black cloud with a silver lining where each time, the silver lining gets bigger while the black cloud gets smaller. That leads to understanding redemption and healing.
Dr David Allen had been teaching, counseling and writing about the “hurt self” for many years and began this interesting use of group therapy. As the young woman told her story, she related that she had spent two years in prison for hitting and killing another young woman with her car. She was remorseful but the prosecution, in the course of her trial, showed her tha picture of the dead woman’s body. She said that each night since, she could not sleep but she would see the woman standing in front of her. This is where the counselors put her invitee friend in a chair in front of her and told her to speak to her as the woman she had killed. She told her she would gladly trade her life for hers if she could. By the end of this time, the young girl, who had kept a way from direct eye contact throughout, had found that the advice from the “Family” was to not end her life but to use it to help other avoid her mistakes, that she could be forgiven and that her life was not an accident and God, plans for her. The time ended with a prayer and singing of Amazing Grace.
Then, for the first time, she stood and beamed a huge smile, hugged and thanked the other attendees. She was told about the lyricist for that hymn, John Newton was responsible for the deaths of many men, women and children along with putting many more into the chains of slavery. He then became a devout christian and worked side by side with William Wilberforce to end slavery in the British Empire. She said she would be back every week to be in the “Family”
This model needs to be replicated in so many places where people are disconnected, shamed, alone and lacking hope. When mankind first socialized it was for our protection and mutual benefit. Now it seems that we all can be alright “on our own”, but this is a lie. We thrive or fail together and the more we depend on each other, the more we thrive. The Family in the Bahamas focuses on the poor and disenfranchised and the unstable, but there is a lesson for all of us that we need each other and we depend on each other.
The Family project is based on the Contemplative Discovery Pathway Theory (CDPT), which motivates persons to move beyond their hurt, pain and shame to experience the discovery of their authentic self based in love and gratitude. A developmental model, CDPT postulates that the self follows the step-wise path from the natural self at birth to the shame self and its antithesis, the addictive shame false self, leading to the development of the authentic self and eventually, the contemplative transcendent self (Allen, Mayo, Allen-Carroll, Manganello, Allen, & Singh, 2014).
In The Family, all of us are hurt and have shame experiences. We believe that our hearts and psyche are like a sponge which absorbs the hurt, shame and pain of a lifetime. And even though love surrounds us, there is no space in our hearts for it.
The Family seeks to create a contemplative atmosphere of silence, acceptance, love and non- judgmental listening. As a result, persons are able to share their stories of pain and shame, releasing the hurt from their heart and making space for love. This is not a one shot experience; it takes time, trust and insight. Eventually, a healing bond develops among those who are sharing and those who are listening. This allows our self to become enveloped in the love that never lets us go and the face that never turns away, giving persons a sense of meaning (purpose), identity and value (the authority card). This is manifested by the appreciation of solitude (the joy of self acceptance to experience the adventure of our inner being). This results in a vulnerability and empathy which allows us to be compassionate to others and develop meaningful community. The internalization of love creates a prevailing sense of humility in which we appreciate others without devaluing ourselves. Humility is a validation of the realization that life is a mystery with many variables and all we have is a result of God’s love. The highest expression of the appreciation of that love is gratitude. When we experience being grateful, it means we have moved from being a victim of our shame and hurt to the discovery of the glorious freedom of our authentic self based in love and gratitude.
The Family’s mantra is summed up in this quote: “Each person’s life is a challenging journey from being a victim of their shame false self based in fear and anger to the discovery of the glorious freedom of their authentic true self based in love/compassion, humility, forgiveness and gratitude”. The Family is a place where we tell our authentic stories to empty our heart so that we can absorb the love coming from the contemplative environment of the group. All love comes from God, ‘the Love which will never let us go and the Face which will never turn away’. When that love enters our life, we change our mind, change our life and change the world. As T.S. Eliot said “we shall not cease from exploration and the end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”.