Out of Spiral had been Youth Exchange financed by the Erasmus+.
It was focused on young adults (18-30 yo) who are struggling in addiction, or any unhealthy behavioral pattern they would like to change. It involved 35 people – 4 participants + 1 group leader (youth worker) – from 7 countries of the EU – Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Romania, and Spain.
It had to be moved twice because of the covid pandemic, and in the end, it took place from 11th to 20th of September 2021, in Hopeland, Argos, Greece.
While preparing the project, we took in account following…
Physician Gabor Maté established the concept of trauma as a result of something that happened (or didn’t happen) to you in the past and left a painful scar inside of you, a hollow place. To fill this emptiness, people are adopting different strategies, usually very unhealthy. This is the most common reason for different addictions – addiction to alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, but also sex, porn, ICTs, toxic relationships, etc.
The addictive substances is not an enemy at the moment. It is a solution to our inner pain. The problem is, the addictive substances and toxic behavioral pattern can bring a relieve in a short-term, but are damaging and potentially deadly in a long run.
Therefore, it makes not sense to demonize the substances. Instead of that, in OOS we focused on recognizing and healing the trauma in us which makes us use addictions as a coping mechanism.
Pain of being free
Common pattern for addictions is losing part of a personal freedom. We are becoming slaves of our urges, patterns, compulsive, automatic behavior. We are loosing awareness and the control. We tend to follow what is given to us.
For that reason, we set up the VISION of the project as a FREEDOM and decided to provide to participants as much freedom as possible. Such an amount of freedom has actually its downsides as well and can be pretty uncomfortable and unpleasant, as psychologist Barry Schwartz is explaining in the following video:
How to create a space in which one can reach the trauma deep inside, share it with others, and let it heal?
We used the approach of M. S. Peck, based on his book the Different Drum. In his learning, community needs to have following characteristics: inclusivity, commitment, and consensus, realism, contemplation, safe space, laboratory for personal disarmament, graceful (peaceful) fights, group of all leaders, spirit.
It also needs to pass through following phases:
- Death of the community
It is somewhat (even though not fully) aligned with the famous steps of group dynamics: forming, storming, norming, performing, adjourning.
Personal accountability is more an approach than a method. Yet,from the beginning, we had been promoting personal accountability of all participants. It follows the logic of Victim/Accountable Chart.
An alternative to this model is provided by Launder Zander.
Participants have been given freedom which also entangled responsibilities. You choose your program. You take care for shopping. You take care for cooking. They have a freedom to ask for a support any time. Mostly, they didn’t. They found their way.
Still, there had been limits…
5 unbreakable rules
- no alcohol
- no drugs (meaning, soft and hard drugs)
- no meat
- no ICTs (information and communication technologies)
- no leaving (without persmission)
I have been questioned if it would not be better to set up these rules as an agreements. To give to participants a choice if they want to follow them or what type of limits they want to impose on themselves. It could support their self-confidence. “I am not drinking alcohol not because I have to but because I choose so.”
I don’t know. Possibly. Yet it wasn’t the intention.
The intention was to simulate the conditions of the outer world.
In a real-life, there is always some system, there are always some laws. Even if you are living off-grid, most probably you are part of some state and its rules are implied on you, like it or not. You can break the rules if no-one is watching but if you are being caught, there are consequences.
One participant blamed me: “You are the part of the problem! You are the system.”
Yes. In the given context, I was a system and it was a purposeful choice.
Life and death of the community
Community is being created towards the common goal… even though if the goal is to create a community to establish a space allowing a healing as it was in the case of Out of Spiral. It was really hard for participants to understand this concept. It took up to 5 days for some of them to get their heads around it. Interesting was, they haven’t ask a direct question – Why is this happening? What is the purpose? – they were only complaining in couples. But slowly, the understanding arise.
Second challenge was accepting the amount of freedom provided to them, and the responsibilities coming together with it. There was a resistance of course, complains things could be done better, but the advantages of our approach started to manifest soon.
Participants had been introduced to the Hopeland, the to community concept, and informed the creation of the community had started. It took them several hours of discussing, sharing, and twisting their heads around the concept. Yet they ended the session with the group hug and proposed an evening sharing.
Days started by coming to the nearby village Malandreni to support them with cleaning.
Participants came back full of positive energy. Yet, I have called for a community meeting which lead to another long discussion. I have been criticized a lot for it. They told me I am intervening with the process and I should let it flow. They might be right – the Peck is advising to interfere as little as possible. My intervention might have slow down the process.
As one participant was interested in participating in family constellation, we organized a session at the evening.
From the day 3, participants took the full responsibility for cooking, shopping, and program. We also brought on the table the question of originally planned festival that couldn’t take place anymore.
Participants created a working system on how to take care of practical arrangements (which had its flaws but they were being fixed day by day). Some of them started to be more busy with the practical work around the venue. Voluntarily, they were choosing what to work on. Others started to prepare games for each other – this day, it was trust activities, workshop about sexuality, and ecstatic dance for the evening.
Participants came with the massage workshop, and they asked me to create a workshop on addictions. At the evening, Erato, founder of the Hopeland, came to share her story with them.
Italian group leader is bringing a workshop on behavioral patterns (great tool for snapping out of addictive behavior). The whole vibe in the group is great and cooperative.
Morning is dedicated to the theory on addiction. Yet, the group is falling back to the storming stage. There is a small group which would like to go to the sea but they need the permission from the whole group to do it. And they won’t get it because there is a person who is against such idea. It is a strong reality check for everybody on how they are behaving, what they are taking for granted, and what does it mean to live like a community.
The whole community is rather tense. Events of the previous day are still lingering on people. But it also serves as an initiation to actually start addressing real issues. There is a lot of one-on-one conversation going on and people are getting new realizations with the speed of light. It is supported by the opportunity for manual work as eco-experts arrived and building had started. Manual work provides a great context for contemplation. Plus, the preparation of clean-up of Napflio is in motion.
Group is reaching the peaceful state again. The manual work and individual conversation are bringing results. The group is transforming.
The group organizes travel to Nafplio – which is a great logistical deed requiring from drivers to come there and back to bring everybody. When the bigger part of the group is on the spot, the cleaning is starting. And two hours later, everybody is getting desired reward – possibility to swim in a sea.
The closing is coming. Everything need to be evaluated. What wasn’t addressed until now needs to be addressed. Preparation for departure needs to be made. Goodbyes needs to be said.
And the community needs to be closed.
From all the projects I ever created or took part in, this one might be my most precious. It was unique experience with very powerful results. Everybody – including me – got a strong reality check. Understood is the cost and benefit of freedom.
It might not be perfect on many levels. From all sides, I kept hearing opinions on what could have been done better. I agree with some of them.
So next time, I would do things differently… but only to see what results it can bring. Because I don’t see a mistake in what happened. The very unique result we reached could happen precisely because of the way the project was done. And I find that powerful.