Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Love Poem for Alan Marlatt

I read the following at the Memorial for Alan Marlatt on Sunday, May 15th in Seattle.

A Love Poem for Alan Marlatt
by Andrew Tatarsky

How do I honor and celebrate the life and work of Alan Marlatt? He was such an important person in my life personally and professionally and an icon in the world.

I have an image of Alan’s warm gentle face with his impish smile and sparkling eyes in the upper left side of my mind’s eye, floating like a smiling Buddha, filling my heart with love and bathed in my gratitude for what he gave me and brought into the world.

To me, Alan was a rock star! He used his warmth, compassion, courage, commitment, intelligence, creativity, power, relationships and professional stature and position to advance the best of causes. Like Marley he sang beautiful songs of compassion, acceptance and love. Like Dylan he sang moving, persuasive songs about social justice and progressive change.

Alan was my most important mentor, cousin by marriage and a very special friend. Living on opposite sides of the country, whenever we saw each other it was a special occasion. We always brought the best parts of ourselves to each other. He was an elder in my tribe. He was like the big brother I never had, watching my back. I can’t communicate how deeply grateful I am to Alan for who he was and for having him in my life and how sad I am at losing him.

As he did for countless others, Alan saved my life, he liberated me from the ideological delusion that dominates our cultural narrative about substance use, addictive behavior and their proper treatment. Growing up professionally in the age of anti-psychological disease-thinking and failed, abstinence-only treatment, I was caught in the gut-wrenching grip of a paradigm that was accepted as received truth yet failed to be helpful to most. In the late nineties I began experimenting with blasphemous non-abstinence oriented therapy with active drug users and to my surprise it worked with many. I called Alan to talk with him about my experience and he liberated me with the words, “You are doing harm reduction.” He introduced me to this new collaborative, empowering helping paradigm and my career path and mission revealed itself: to draw out the implications of harm reduction for psychotherapy. This deeply meaningful journey has guided my life since.

As if facilitating my liberation was not enough, Alan than helped shape the journey by offering advice, guidance, support and opportunities all along the way. His generosity was boundless. Alan chaired the first panel on harm reduction psychotherapy at the first national harm reduction conference and I gave my first significant talk on the subject on that panel. A year later Alan edited the first professional journal issue devoted to harm reduction psychotherapy and invited me to write my first significant article on harm reduction psychotherapy. A few years later Alan wrote the introduction to my book. He was a founding member of the Association for Harm Reduction Therapy along with me and several others, Patt Denning, Jeannie Little, Fred Rotgers and George Parks. Last year he invited me to have the honor of co-editing with him the second special journal issue on harm reduction psychotherapy.

Like me and you, Alan was a complicated multidimensional human, embodying contradiction, suffering and conflict but committed to growing and healing and transcending the challenges of a difficult past, all the while a giant in American psychology, a trailblazing, courageous scout leading the movement for compassionate progressive treatment in the addictive behaviors field for nearly 40 years. He was at the forefront of controversial change at every step. As he did with me, he mentored and helped establish the careers of countless colleagues who will carry on his legacy, promote his ideals and find inspiration from his life. He had more work to do, he was not done, life was so generous to bring Alan into our lives and so cruel and incomprehensible to take him as it did. His life and his work teach the challenge to compassionately accept what is and who we are while simultaneously striving to grow and evolve toward our highest ideals.

Alan, your guiding life lives as an inspiration for me and the world.

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