Preface

"God, this is enough! We've been hurt enough! Then I realized, if it weren't for my faith, it would have been worse. It's all I have at this stage - the only thing I can hang onto." So says Selma Maree, the mother of a teenager who is addicted to every conceivable drug.

Preface

"God, this is enough! We've been hurt enough! Then I realized, if it weren't for my faith, it would have been worse. It's all I have at this stage - the only thing I can hang onto." So says Selma Maree, the mother of a teenager who is addicted to every conceivable drug.

"Do I have a soul? Is there a God? What happens to me when I die?" These are questions Graham Wessels asks when alcoholism has such a hold on him that he considers suicide.

Where does a book about addictions and toxic relationships begin? With the spiritual or transpersonal aspects of our human existence? With the biochemistry or behavioural genetics? The psychological or social aspects?

What is actually the problem? Why are so many of us so troubled? Are our whole understanding and interpretation of reality perhaps at fault? Are our difficulties with addictions and relationships not saying that we are misunderstanding and mismanaging our human needs on a global scale? Do we still know what it is to be human?

Thus far we have only asked questions, because this is the reality, the situation, with which we are faced when we deal with people in difficulty. These questions behind the manifest problem are also reflected in the interviews with our people. There was a time, maybe a generation ago, when we had answers, or at least thought so. Now we have the experience, the changing reality of our world and our people, indeed ourselves, confronting us with new questions. We are all more fragile than we used to be, it seems.

From all the interviews and stories in this book one thing is clear: we are involved with people, people who are experiencing life intensely in a certain way. Addictions and toxic relationships are not primarily "problems” - they are the experiences of reality of intelligent and often sensitive people. The very people who sincerely want to do something for their fellow sufferers by telling their story so that others may benefit from their experience. This makes their experience meaningful for them too.

They want to help, because they are aware that reality is a living hell at times - for all of us. We are all dragged along by events, experiences and ideas of which we are not necessarily aware and do not always understand. We just hang in there hoping that God or someone will do something or, sometimes, that we may die. In our changing reality, we are all looking for answers to questions new and old. Some answers and habits, such as addiction, lead to even greater problems. Some relationships do not promote growth, but rather lead to the destruction of our humanity. Every person dreams, every person experiences nightmares, but it does not mean that a person should remain in this nightmare! There are answers somewhere, keys to reality, ideas, energy and practices that can give a hold on life again.

Then there are the professional people, who also want to help, but who sometimes feel stuck in an old paradigm and approach which is no longer appropriate or useful. The colleagues who participated in the whole process which lead to this book, took part as fellow human beings and as professional people in interviews, comments and personal support. For this we are thankful.

We have experienced uneasiness when working in areas where the professional and academic lines were vague. But this too is part of changing reality, especially at the growth point of change, and it is to be expected that the boundaries between academic and professional disciplines will continue to change, with much overlap, and this is to be welcomed. We are grateful for the practical and academic support and help from colleagues in various professions.

Dreams for Fragile People in a sense, represents the search for relevant, realistic answers and practices. It does not supply ultimate solutions and it is not itself the solution. It asks questions, and supplies answers to these questions as we perceive and experience them. It offers a possibility of dialogue with the reader, and especially for the reader with him or herself. The answers do not lie in many books or in conversations, but within oneself.

Each of us has a wish and a dream to find the answers to the questions life puts to us. Answers that will change a life of nightmares to a more pleasurable, realistic reality. This is possible. The experiences related in this book testify to this. These experiences and stories depict the situation far better than we could ever express it.

Writing Dreams for Fragile People was, therefore a total experience, an education. At first we had two objectives. The one was to report the discoveries of scientists regarding some of the biochemical bases of behaviour, addiction and relationships and to describe the practical implementations of this knowledge. The other objective was to verbalise and write down people's questions. These questions, as stated above, do not deal so much with "the problem" but rather with: "Who am I? What am I doing wrong? Is this my fault?".

It is almost impossible, and too expensive, to comment on and discuss such issues in a single therapeutic interview. These people are also often in such an intoxicated state, and their relatives are so anxious and angry, that they understand little of what is said in the first interviews anyway. This consequently leads to incomplete therapy and frustration on both sides. A booklet to take home to read, seemed to be a solution. Thus the primary aim of Dreams for Fragile People was (and is) to be a starting-point for continuing discussions.

Once the interviewing began, we realized just how comprehensive these experiences of life are. The people were talking about all aspects of life. At times we wondered whether we have said too much about the spirituality and faith in Dreams for Fragile People. How does this fit in with the "scientific approach"? Experience taught us that these are exactly the issues people wonder about and, far from being irrelevant, is often the core of a person’s worries and tension.

Through these conversations with patients and professionals, it was realized that we are dealing with a new approach to treatment which is comprehensively different. There is, for example, an emphasis on the more natural, biochemical treatment of, not 'the problem', but the fundamentals of behaviour and also of the whole person. This has many small implications which ultimately represent a paradigm shift.

A paradigm, as Casti (1993) states, is the spectacles through which we view the world, the manner in which we understand things. When one holds a coloured paper in front of the spectacles, the whole view changes. Our world also changed. We tried to trace the changes in perception as comprehensively as possible - from biochemistry, to body language, to the development of anthropology in history (and in philosophy), to conditioning and social behaviour. It is also clear, as stated above, that the spiritual and transpersonal dimension of existence is important, and therefore we included this and also the Bible as far as practical.

Now that we have written the book, one can see that the aim ultimately was to give a comprehensive view of everything involved in the treatment of addictions and toxic relations and also some of the implications for professional relationships.

Though we regard this as a coherent attempt with internal consistency as theory, the book is by no means complete or finished for our reality is constantly and rapidly changing. This is good because it leaves room for more questions, dialogue, discussions and growth.

Writing Dreams for Fragile People was never an easy process but, for the fact that it was a pleasant and informative process, we would like to thank the people who told their stories, our colleagues, and the typists and translators who helped us so effectively.

In conclusion, a proverb states: "the purpose of education is to increase uneasiness of mind". We don't want to place ourselves in this role, but we would like to create a certain amount of uneasiness in people's usual thoughts and dreams that may move them to constructive growth.

Daan Steyn and Theo Verwey
Pretoria
1 March 1999.