A dance on the delicate frontier between self-awareness and identity. The dancer appears to be dancing on a bottomless mirror, while her reflection is blurred. The illusion of a clear self fades, representing mental unrest.

On this day

A simple act: the turning point that gave Rémy the courage to free himself from addiction. With this story, Friederike Rass demonstrates that the most powerful moments of change are often hidden in the unpredictability of life.

By pure chance, I ended up sitting at the same lunch table as Rémy at our specia­list hospi­tal one sunny autumn day. He’s a char­ming chap with a conta­gious laugh, who had come to the hospi­tal to pick up his medi­ca­tion and have a check-up. 

It didn’t take us long to get talking. Before I knew it, he was telling me his story. The kind of story that makes the world stop around you for a moment. He had been young when his wife and baby were killed in a car acci­dent. He told me that he’d headed to Platz­spitz Park or ‘Needle Park’ the very next day – this was during the heyday of the open drug scene in the centre of Zurich. He took whate­ver he could get his hands on to numb his pain. Losing his life would have just been an added bonus. But his body was resi­li­ent and so his serious drug addic­tion went on for seve­ral years.

When he was on his way to one of the city’s lega­li­sed drug consump­tion rooms one day, he bumped into a friend with a puppy in his arms. He had been heading to the vets to have his pet vacci­na­ted but, an addict hims­elf, he quickly aban­do­ned that plan and deci­ded that he wanted to join Rémy instead. 

It was a trivial encoun­ter, really. And there must have been plenty of simi­lar moments in Rémy’s life around that time. Medi­cal appoint­ments missed by him and his friends, family ties cut and coun­sel­ling sessi­ons skipped.

But on that day, Rémy deci­ded to take his friend’s puppy to the vet for him. He actually told me what made that moment diffe­rent from all the others: ‘You know, it was the first time that God had once more trus­ted me with another life to look after that wasn’t my own. I didn’t care about my own life at all by that point.’ And the rest is history. The friend handed his pet over to Rémy, who took care of the dog until it died ten years later. Rémy mana­ged to over­come his heroin addic­tion and the path of self-destruc­tion he had embarked upon. 

His story only lasted a few minu­tes but it chan­ged ever­y­thing. It’s diffi­cult to describe the natu­ral ease of his laugh and his deeply trus­ting nature. Rémy sat with us at the table, full of life and happily discus­sing the best way to eat the Swiss roll we had for dessert (he sett­led on using his hands).

Resi­li­ence has become some­thing of a magic word for our society recently. Some­thing to strive for that combi­nes so many hopes and dreams in one. We’re living at a time when we some­ti­mes need to find the words to express the casca­ding crises in our society. Our world order is being desta­bi­li­sed, from the global level all the way down to our family units. We’re noti­cing this at our support centres, where we’re seeing an obvious uptick in people who had previously been mana­ging to func­tion in society. For the first time in a long time, we have young people who are using intra­ve­nously at our emer­gency youth shel­ter. With ever­yone feeling vulnerable, there’s a big push for a magic bullet that can protect us at a time like this. 

We know that there are ways to build resi­li­ence. Things like self-care, healthy boun­da­ries and resourceful­ness. These are all tools that have been carefully rese­ar­ched and docu­men­ted. And yet they stop at the indi­vi­dual. What saved Rémy was his ability to take care of another being again after years of physi­cal and mental exhaus­tion. He was supported and sustained by the world around him, even though he perhaps hadn’t always been accepted by that world when he was over­come by despair and hatred for it. But the support was there as he star­ted to escape his addiction.

Every day, we can make a diffe­rence for oursel­ves and the people we inter­act with – we just don’t always know what that diffe­rence will be. For me, this refu­sal to give up on oursel­ves or our loved ones is the one defi­ni­tion of resi­li­ence that really matters. Its social dimen­sion that turns it from a self-impro­ve­ment tool to a secret weapon for a commu­nity that never gives up – whate­ver the odds.

Frie­de­rike Rass studied theo­logy and philo­so­phy in Tübin­gen, Hamburg and Buenos Aires and has an Execu­tive MBA from the Univer­sity of St.Gallen. She holds a PhD in Philo­so­phy of Reli­gion, having studied in Zurich and the United States and gradua­ted summa cum laude. She went on to work as a project mana­ger in inter­na­tio­nal colla­bo­ra­tive inno­va­tion at the State Secre­ta­riat for Educa­tion, Rese­arch and Inno­va­tion, before heading up the Foun­da­tion for the Evan­ge­li­cal Society of the Canton of Zurich. The 38-year-old has been the CEO of the social work orga­ni­sa­tion Sozi­al­werk Pfar­rer Sieber since 2022.

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