Part Two of an Ongoing Series
Last month, we brought you part one of an ongoing series featuring our clinical director, Brian Dunphey, and the way Brian uses movies to connect with clients and to elucidate key concepts of recovery. In the first entry, we discussed The Lion King, a history of trauma, and the impulse to avoid our problems. This week we turn our attention to 2012’s Academy Award-winning musical, Les Misérables. Some might think that a movie based on a 19th-century novel wouldn’t have much to offer young people in recovery. However, with its themes of sacrifice and love, the film is actually fertile ground for enlightening interpretation. With that said, let’s take a look at Les Misérables.
Les Misérables and the Nature of Trauma
Brian begins by saying, “The beauty here is in an early moment where Valjean steals candlesticks from the only person who was treating him with kindness when he was labeled ‘criminal’ for what was a justified crime. Again – something happened to you a long time ago. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right and certainly, it was not just. However, if today you are abusing or depriving yourself or someone else of dignity, belonging or new relationships, you must stop and acknowledge that truth as seek help to heal”. Just like with Simba and his exile from the Pride Lands, Brian is talking about the recurring nature of trauma. It’s a central role in the struggles of those of us in recovery. The nature of trauma is to re-manifest itself in our lives until we find a way to face it.
Jean Valjean and the Bishop
Brian also uses this episode to highlight the self-loathing that many of us feel in early sobriety. (For those not familiar with the story, Jean Valjean, an ex-convict, shows up at Monseigneur Bienvenu’s door, looking for a place to spend the night. The bishop gives him a bed and in the middle of the night, Valjean steals most of his silver and runs off. After the police capture Valjean and bring him back to the bishop, Bienvenu tells the police that the silver was a gift rather than pressing charges and offers his silver candlesticks as well. After the police leave, the bishop tells Valjean that he can keep the silver on the condition he uses it to turn his life around.)
Our Guardian Angels
Brian continues by saying that “Valjean has such a struggle going with the idea that becoming a man of integrity is possible. His belief that he is not worthy nearly wins out and he’s nearly suicidal over it. But the beauty is that EVERYONE has a Monseigneur Bienvenu. There is always a person who didn’t label them “criminal” or “irredeemable addict” but instead helped to fund their rehabilitation. Even if you’re in a state-run indigent place, those people who fund or run the place gave you the bed. We then discuss who the client’s bishop is; what harms, offenses or maltreatment they overlook to understand the way they got to this desperate, isolated and self-centered place; and what they have to shift radically in order to fulfill the contract.”
The Twelves Steps and Sacrifice
“Beyond this,” Brian says, “Valjean works all 12 Steps – it is not enough to just be honest going forward. This lets us talk about what we may have to be honest about even though it can cost the reputation or the well-being of others, and where the line for each of us is. On top of this, the line that slays everyone who sees the musical is the final one, and it’s a core promise of AA: The truth that once was spoken – to love (and therefore sacrifice meaningfully for) another person is to see the face of God. We are able to examine why this line is so hard for many to state that they cry, and to what extent they have loved this way – by service. Especially, it lets us talk about who has sacrificed for us and the concept of parents who have loved in spite of embarrassment, shame or rejection.”
Check back in the coming weeks as we’ll be discussing the remaining two “pillars” in Brian Dunphey’s treatment approach. And if you or someone you love is struggling, please consider getting professional help. Ocean Recovery has been treating addiction and eating disorders since 2002. Call us today and start building your foundation for hope.