I hope you have had a happy Thanksgiving holiday and are ready to enjoy the Christmas spirit in the weeks ahead.
As I’ve reflected on what to write about this week, I have been drawn to the topic of unconditional love. Perhaps it may be due to the holidays and the focus on thankfulness and charity for each other, or perhaps it may be due to my work, teaching me that love is a healing energy that leads to recovery; but lately, it seems to me as if everything radiates the spiritual message of love.
I have been thinking that, on a spiritual level, I often meet pioneers who are expanding love into unknown territories of being—people who love under the most extraordinary of circumstances. I will share an encounter with unconditional love, so you can understand what I mean.
Although the experience I want to share is about a mother of a patient, I also think of my patients as spiritual pioneers, who are expanding their life experiences through extreme circumstances. Their life journey requires great spiritual courage and humility.
My work, in all of this, is to help lessen their suffering to the extent that I am able. In my own way, I am also learning about unconditional love, vicariously as an observer, and experientially, as I continue to love my patients and their families throughout their healing journey.
I hope that sharing this experience will help you to continue your own life journey as a spiritual pioneer in this infinitely loving universe.
On Unconditional Love
(Names have been changed to preserve anonymity)
Ben had been psychotic since college. In fact, he graduated from Princeton, while still psychotic. He was brilliant, musically talented, and socially gregarious. But his illness had taken much from him over the years. His paranoia and unstable mental state have shrunken his social circle and ruined his prospects. Though he did quite well during the time that I had worked with him, I have not seen him for almost four years, after working with him from 2010 to 2013.
His mother, Liza, has cared for him, through several hospitalizations since then, with the consistency of a saint and the love of an angel. I have been meeting with her over the past few months, as a consultant, without charge, to help her support Ben.
Liza bought him organic food, and over the past few months, had begun to add hemp oil, containing cannabanoids (CBD), to his other nutritional supplements and medications. The amount of CBD that Ben needed cost over $1,000.00 per month—more money than Liza could afford. Ben’s sister willingly supported her brother by covering the cost of her brother’s medical expenses. Through the use of CBD, his mental health has been improving.
Liza had been decreasing her son’s antipsychotic medications on her own initiative, going from two antipsychotics down to one, as she increased his dosage of CBD. Although I had initially told her about CBD, I was quite surprised at her success with it and was delighted to hear how well Ben had been doing while taking it.
Liza had a broad smile on her face as she recounted the positive changes she had observed over the past few months in Ben. For many months while ill, Ben did not believe that she was his mother and had refused to look at or to speak to her. He had lost his sense of identity and had claimed a different name. She watched him spend hours in front of a mirror talking to himself, leaving spit on the glass surface.
During his worst episodes, he would leave home and try to walk barefoot for miles, and she would drive around frantically, trying to locate him, or get a phone call from the police about finding him walking along the highway. But now, even while taking less medication, he has become increasingly self-sufficient, gradually acknowledging her and then recognizing her as his mother.
More recently, he has been able to be left alone and could follow a schedule, calling his mother to let her know that he has taken his supplements and medication. Finally, one day he agreed to come back to my practice.
And now they were sitting side by side in my office, and she had her arm around his shoulder, radiating unconditional love for her son. He would lay his head at times, on his mother’s shoulder, and the love between them was profound and deeply moving.
Later, during the session, he looked at me, with eyes filled with sadness and remorse, and said softly, “Dr. Lee, I’m so sorry about everything.”
I suppose he was referring to a time in the past, while paranoid, when he had lost his temper with me. My heart overflowed with a combination of tender regard for him, sadness at his suffering, and joy over his return, and I gave him a big hug.
I had intended to write about Liza’s unconditional love, but in the midst of my writing, I realized that his sister and I have also given and loved unconditionally. Through Ben, we have all come to a better understanding of what love is. Our love for Ben helped us to transcend the need to forgive. It was as if love was a hand, sweeping away suffering and heartache, like clutter off a table.
We had come to understand that love didn’t require any acknowledgment or recognition. Liza continued in hope and dedicated herself to Ben’s wellbeing throughout the years, in spite of his refusal to even look at her. Her light kept shinning in the darkness. Selfless. Strong. Ever filled with faith.
This kind of love reminds me of the verses in the Bible on charity:
4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.
7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
(I Corinthians 13: 4, 7)
At the end of our last session, Liza whispered confidently to me, “I feel that this time we will be successful. With the love that we have, and what we know now, it’s going to work this time.”
For all of us, I had hoped so. But for Liza, who has mastered the art of unconditional love, I believe she has already succeeded no matter what the outcome may be.