I AM THE COMPOST

I AM THE COMPOST

 

It can be a lonely journey being a therapist. You are often a wealth of others wonder, joy and sorrow. But, you cannot and will not share it in conversation. Sometimes, you hunger for a clinical confidant just to relieve the pressure of being emotionally stuffed with story after story. 

 

I sometimes imagine what it would be like to walk into a room full or every client I have ever been in relationship with. In my mind, its like a formal family reunion. Everyone stands around casually talking amongst themselves, holding ordevorves and drinks in hand.  I am well dressed (of course) in a perfectly fitted black dress, heels and a smashing color of red lipstick. I am a little terrified and excited because some would be excited to see me; we would embrace warmly with bright smiles. Others might smile but hang back, as I am a reminder of their open wounds. A handful would be angry at my presence and continue to project that into my direction with hollow glares. Still, others may not even recognize me and certainly, I may not as well. I imagine that I would feel an extreme sense of overwhelming emotions; crushing moments of joy and fear. 

 

 

Of course, what I would want to know, more than anything, is to hear the rest of each person’s story, especially those that remain angry and hurting. However, this is just a wish. For so many, my relationship with a client or family is just a blip on their journey. I have the privilege to join them on their paths for only a moment and I will not be a part of so much of their life after. So, I used to say, “My job in the world is to plant seeds.” I thought these were carefully chosen words that accurately reflected my role as a therapist. I rarely get to know the fullness of emotional growth that has become of my people.  These words would fall out of me in casual conversation when others reflected kind words about their impression of what kind of therapist I must be. I thought my words about seeds were fair, not owning the process, until one day, I had to change my mind about my words. 

 Image

One wet autumn, I had a transformative experience on the Mountain. At the edge of Georgia, in the North Carolina mountains, I attended my first Unitarian Universalist Leadership Experience. Eighty people read and sat with systems theory for an entire weekend, something that as a clinician who has spent her career excavating the lives of other people using these concepts, made my heart sing! We ended a moment where the entire group came together to share ideas related too a set of provided scenarios. I had the privilege of sharing the systemic concepts that the group understood and it was joyous as the facilitator openly stated that some of the ideas about the system had not even been considered by herself. We later trailed off into our separate more intimate groups and once again, a participant noted what she perceived were the quality of my skills. I blurted out my standard perfunctory seed response and walked away. But this time, it was all wrong…….I was bewildered for hours. I was preoccupied with my need to take back what I said, say something else! But what? 

I am not the farmer in a clients life. I have no business deciding what is planted. I have no place in laying down what will later become the crop. I am something else entirely. I am not the soil either, that is already there, aching to be fertile. Instead, I am the left over food rind, worm and fly larvae all mushed together. I am smelly and dark. I am a living organism unto myself, but I can share of myself to prepare a harvest for another when they are ripe and ready. I AM THE COMPOST. If you give me the privilege of being in therapeutic communion with you, the possibilities to make whole what you see as unholy, are endless, like a well cultivated garden. 

 

Stop The Whine of More Gun Control

Following in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, there appears to be an incredibly high level of reporting and therefore extreme fear of our children master minding deadly attacks at school. Recently, a woman expressed fear in her daughter becoming a school counselor, reporting that she felt it was “too unsafe”. I ALWAYS want to return to another conversation and I invite you to consider the same………….

Image

Nothing is more frustrating than the wave of political and religious statements made after an unexplainable tragedy occurs. In the immediate days and hours following the recent shootings of young children and educators in Connecticut, we have watched a flood of news information followed by words of sympathy and suggestions that we remember to love one another. Quickly it dissipates into diatribes about what needs to change. We make decisions to talk about how we lack discipline or religion and even the need for more gun laws. Although I will never personally own a gun, it hurts to see how quickly we as a nation move to wanting the same thing we always do; a quick fix to relieve ourselves of the anxiety that we experience every time a tragedy occurs.

Now I understand that as a mental health practitioner, it may be easy to discount what I have to say, but I am above all, passionate about people. My desire for every person to lead a life of genuine peace and happiness does NOT require us to seek out therapy. However, I will always remain clear that what we need more than anything else in this life, is clarity around our ability to understand ourselves as emotional human beings. When emphasis is not placed on teaching us about emotions, just like we learn how to read and write, then we are often doomed. When we have little understanding of ourselves in relationship with others, we cannot cope during times of difficulty.

It appears that the rants about gun control and bad parenting become the easy target because we do not want to take a good look at the real issues. If we focus on something like changing a law, then it gives us the option to forego looking at ourselves. And Why Not? Who wants to do the difficult and vulnerable work that it takes? Instead, we talk about how guns are the problem, or the bad parent is the problem. Worse yet, we make another troubled person ‘evil’ or ‘crazy’, all in an effort to not be honest about our lack of understanding or willingness to be honest with ourselves about our own human struggle. If we do not make changes where it genuinely counts, it does not matter if we make hundreds of new laws around guns.

What is going to make a difference, is our own willingness to be honest about what we are breeding like a virus in a petri dish in this country. Why can’t we talk about our emotional struggle? Why can’t we be honest with ourselves and one another about how we feel about ANYTHING? The most common reason people seek out mental health care is not when it is has been one death and loss, but instead many. People wait until the trauma they have experienced cripples their ability to function. What is worse is that the shame that we experience grows because we are have made ourselves believe that we are to be both perfect and capable of taking care of our problems all alone. It is heart wrenching to watch and I am tired of having these two ideas shoved down my throat on a daily basis. So I ask you to listen to your heart and consider carefully what genuinely matters to you and how are you going to make changes that reflect an honest and vulnerable life. Here are just a few ways that allow us to move away from the pretend of perfection and grow towards the kind of life where we value each breath we take and remember that our relationships are meaningful when we genuinely connect on a deep emotional level.

  • What is left unsaid in your life? Can you lay your head on your pillow each night and know that every person that you genuinely love knows it. Each encounter that requires your open and honest discussion with the issue has occurred.
  • You remember that you are the only person who can take good care of you. Others will not know what you can tolerate in this life if you are not verbally clear, which will often require your emotional honesty. For example, “I am sorry, but I cannot do that. I am emotionally drained and need a break.”
  • You chose to make clear what your limits and boundaries are. You do not set aside your own needs in an attempt to appear like the good self sacrifice.
  • When you feel emotionally whole, you are genuinely present and ask the tough questions that maybe others will not. For example, “You seem to be struggling, are you feeling down?”

I wonder (IF it is true) how many times Adam’s mother may have needed someone to ask her the right questions about her son? If we do not turn away and hide from our own emotions, maybe, just maybe, this family would have felt empowered to seek out the emotional support they all needed. I will never tout that this choice of journey is easy, but I will say that no matter how many flaws I have, and God knows there are many, I AM ENOUGH- and so are YOU. Just the way you are in this moment; you are Good Enough. Until we move away from a perfection seeking society, one that requires us to hide our emotional and vulnerable humanity, we will not make a world of Good-Enoughs.

It does not matter how many traumas and losses you have experienced, how many times you have tried to stop something that you knew was detrimental to you. It does not matter how many mistakes you have made. We all have the capacity to change. As researcher-storyteller, Brene’ Brown stated, ‘Open the door and walk into the stadium of your worst fears. Inevitably, it is always you that is staring back.’ I, too, had to make a choice and choose another way. Until I sought out therapy for myself, I believed the same as many. I believed that needing to be perfect was a possible destination and I just wasn’t trying hard enough.

Now, I realize that when I sew my lovely spouse’s pants backwards or I yell at my daughter when I am tired and grumpy, it sets me free from the constraint of perfectionism. No gun law will ever set us free. No amount of blame or anger will ever lead us towards that need to feel that we belong; that we belong, just the way we are, flawed, just like everyone else.

Here is the whole truth. If we made the decision to educate and grow insight into our emotional selves, eventually, I would be without a vocation. If you feel there is a struggle to get started on this path, educate yourself honestly about what mental health care is. I wish for once I could stop being called “a shrink” or a person that only “sick” or “crazy people go to” and instead be recognized as a the place in which a person can discover and grow into a whole, healthy, emotionally well human being. If I could loose my vocation due to this reality, I would gladly close shop with a smile on my face. No amount of gun laws will ever change the human heart. Only our genuine human connection can do that.

Truths About Sexual Abuse

Image

There is never a more difficult topic to discuss than the sexual victimization of children. Unfortunately, if we do not discuss this with our families on a regular basis, our children are at risk for becoming victims of sexual abuse.

National statistics of sexual victimization of children are staggering. National organizations providing assistance to sexual abuse victims report that 1 in 4 females and 1 in 6 males will be a victim of sexual victimization by the age of 18. Nearly 70% of all sexual assaults occur to children under the age of 17.

Although society and media often focuses on the stranger who rides around in a car tempting children with candy, the biggest danger is typically within a child’s own family. Some statistics state the between 30 to 40 percent of victims are molested by a family member while another 50 percent is perpetrated by someone the child knows well within the family.

A perpetrator of sexual abuse (or pedophile) will most often utilize the nearest resources and are much less likely to risk luring young or adolescent children through the Internet or some other outside source. Child molesters are often a trusted adult or older child, either family or a close family friend. They typically use what is termed as “grooming”, spending a great deal of time or even money on a child to prepare for the possibility of being able to take advantage of them. The pedophile will attempt to use extra attention, gifts, lies about the family and most often guilt into both starting and continuing the sexual abuse. A victim often believes that their participation in the sexual act is their fault and is too ashamed to tell someone what is happening to them.

Contrary to some beliefs, pedophiles are often “stand-up” citizens and according to some research will not have ever participated in any other criminal activity.

Given the seriousness of this potential danger to our children, it is imperative that we start as parents to teach our children at an early age. As early as the age of two or three, we can talk to our children about what is a “okay touch” and what constitutes a “not okay touch” specifically labeling each of these as how we feel rather than directly labeling good or bad with certain people. It is in our children’s best interest to teach them that with these concerns, their body belongs only to them and it is their right to communicate when something feels good and when it does not.

We can teach our children proper language related to our body and how important it is to tell someone they trust if anyone makes them feel unsafe. When we open the door to this conversation, children are more likely to immediately come and tell us about someone hurting them.

One area of expertise in my eight years of practice has been to help victims of sexual abuse move towards becoming survivors. It is an all too common scenario to have an adult come for therapy, telling what happened to them as a child for the first time. Statistically, there are about 39 million survivors in the country today.

Although healing is a vital option for all victims of sexual abuse, prevention is necessary. We can teach our children about basic safety skills that will keep our children safe. If we can ensure that our children have an open line of communication with us, we can prevent more children from being abused. Know the facts and reality of childhood sexual abuse and never be afraid of protecting them even at the risk of concerning family. Look for unusual changes in their behavior and question them appropriately to ensure their safety. They will thank you for it and potentially prevent your child from being another victim of sexual abuse.