“Throw Flour On the Invisible Man”: Toward locating recovery function and assessing recovery quality

Can the presence of recovery, or the level of recovery function, be somehow detectable when it is unspoken and not overtly displayed?

Can recovery be intuitively recognized or somehow felt in another person?

Can recovery be intuitively recognized within an interpersonal space?

Can recovery be present and sensed in the atmosphere?


Sixth-sense, Spidey-sense, Radar

When you walk into a room, do you ever pick up on any unspoken content, themes, trends, or the basic agenda of those in the room?

What is felt? What is perceived? What is apprehended?

In life it seems that sometimes, somehow, we can latch upon and perceive the unspoken content of others. Somehow, in the room we enter, we sometimes register the collective assumptions, world view, goals, or direction of those assembled in the room.

Our human heritage and social epigenetics have seemingly equipped us by developing within us such radar and radar capacity.


With 32 years of service in residential addiction treatment programs now behind me, I think I can say that I have at times experienced the sensing of the dormant agenda in a group of people – when I come into the room.

Likewise, some with long-time recovery can sense the:

1. presence and level of health/vitality of recovery, or

2. presence and depths of the collective mental relapse process,

that is latently present, yet unspoken, in the collective gathered for a meeting.

I’ll go ever further and say that sometimes the basic content in the room (of recovery, or of relapse process) can be sensed – even when those in the room that are holding the agenda are seemingly unaware of their own content.


Objects, Background, and Open Space.

In life, objects influence us.

The physical objects around us, the content we consider in our minds (objects of thinking), and our deep assumptions about life that we do not consciously consider (buried mental objects) exude their influence.

Do these objects and the processes related to them effect the atmosphere around us? (And therefor others around us as well?)

I described the importance of the background within a work of visual art in an essay titled Negative space. What is shown other than the main object represented in the art?

A simple solid color, a blue sky, or a complex crosshatch weave of various colors might serve as a background that the object in the art sits on, or sits in front of. These are examples of visually representing “negative space”.

In that essay I also highlighted both the concrete content and the aesthetic quality of the background – even of a seemingly plain background.

Paradoxically, the content of the negative space in art – while represented concretely – is itself without an overt object.


The Feel of the Negative Space

Does the group room, meeting room, or counseling office have a negative space? Yes. The negative space is the open atmosphere, in the background. What forms its quality?

Suppose someone experiencing active addiction illness has family members living with them. Do those family members experience the second problem of a toxic negative space within the home?

If the object of the drug itself and the object of the process of active using are removed – a toxic negative space might form. Unless, perhaps, recovery fills the void in the person, the family members, the atmosphere, and the negative space within the home.


Where is the invisible man?

Can we sense addiction illness, or relapse process, or recovery, when we enter a room?

Are there objects deposited by addiction? Are there objects deposited by recovery?

Does a mental relapse process unearth objects prior to use resuming?

What objects does recovery raise?

Toward making these discoveries we can explore locations such as:

  • What is non-observable (not visible)
  • What is non-discursive (not in shared words)
  • What is not symbolized or represented by symbols
  • The social system
  • The unconscious
  • Multi-generational structures

What do the family members and the one with addiction illness experience in the atmosphere during:

  • active addiction illness
  • periods of unwanted abstinence
  • recovery?

For the sake of others, I wish our recovery science was sufficient such that we could “throw flour on the invisible man”, locate recovery function, and assess recovery quality.


Suggested Reading

Aristizabal, M. J., Anreiter, I., Halldorsdottir, T., Odgers, C. L., McDade, T. W., Goldenberg, W., Mostafavi, S., Kobor, M. S., Binder, E. B., Sokolowski, M. B. & O’Donnell, K. J.  (2020).  Biological Embedding of Experience: A Primer on Epigenetics.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 117(38) 23261-23269.  DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1820838116

Buber, M. (1923/1937/2010). I and Thou. Martino Publishing.

Cole, S. W.  (2009).  Social Regulation of Human Gene Expression.  Current Directions in Psychological Science.  18(3): 132-137.

Hollis, J.  (2015).  Hauntings:  Dispelling the Ghosts Who Run Our Lives.  Chiron:  Asheville, NC.

Lewis, J. & D’Orso, M. (1999).  Walking with the Wind:  A Memoir of the Movement.  Harvest Books. 

Mello, C.V., Vicario, D. S. & Clayton, D. F.  (1992).  Song Presentation Induces Gene Expression in the Songbird Forebrain.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 89:  6818-6822.

Roberts, R.  (2011).  Psychology at the End of the World.  The Psychologist. 24(1):  22-25.

Sänger J., Müller, V. & Lindenberger, U. (2012). Intra- and Interbrain Synchronization and Network Properties When Playing Guitar In Duets. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 6:312. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00312

Wall, H. (2011).  From Healing to Hell.  NewSouth Books. 

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