Therapist Days Hidden in A Treasure Box

At times, this therapist’s work can be lonely. And it’s a rare occasion to experience the kind of positive or negative feedback even a formal performance review may offer. We are instead stuck with the ever constant looming audit from insurance companies and oversight boards. We fret as the “not good-enough” barfs on us sometimes.Tiny letters carry threats to return “their” money in an act of shame for our lack of paperwork perfection. Time and again I want to call my my faceless-nameless overlords and demand they spend time with me and my people before they lay down their box checking judgement.

Yet- the alternative is to become pretentious and only see those who can afford to care for their mental health out of pocket. And for that reason alone- I refuse. As a therapist, I am responsible for serving my community- ALL OF IT. So, (per usual) I own my giant rebellious size 11 personality and do my best work and say, ‘Just Bring It.’

We are good at what we do. But the outcomes are elusive. Did I truly have an impact and participate in my client’s meaningful change? Did I have anything to do with that lifting of depression and anger? Did the examination of profound loss lessen after being carried for years?

What’s even more tricky is that if done well- the work MUST ALWAYS be theirs. And so the gratitude that may show up cannot be gobbled up like you’re some damn super star! My people must revel in their own pride because they are the ones in it for the long haul.

I tell my people that the goal is to no longer be needed. Those are sad days for me. Good! Wonderful! But still sad melting right over the top. It’s not my job to see ‘til the end of the story- but I still wonder. I sometimes still want to hold their hand when the moment is rough shot with pain- but I shouldn’t. And I won’t.

No matter our presence, sometimes dark days will turn bleak and then to death. We have lost many in what would be a seemingly short career, but we are all too fully aware that if we genuinely sit with the shame of abuse, deprivation, rape, domestic violence and not just the exaggeration of life taking but the real fear of being killed; there isn’t always a simple answer out. These are breath taking days, ones where even this avid yogi forgets to breathe. I want just one more chance to tell them that they mattered to me and in my less enlightened moments, believe that somehow my words would count to create a change and the darkness might share a moment with the light.

On many of those dark days when I ache and I am certain the imposter police are coming for my precious credentials and perhaps my whole career, I turn to my treasure box. As many of my people have grown—taken in sweet deep breaths of happiness and moved on, many have given me small gifts and cards. In full disclosure, one did give me a pair of shoes (which is beyond hilarity) and I still wear them when I need to be brave with this often alone world.

I will find a quiet moment, open my treasure box and read my cards and am reminded that although I may feel lonely, I am not alone. Perhaps in that moment I have forgotten that I can do good work or even that my work matters. Reading love notes of kindness allows me to come back home again to myself, taking deep belly breaths.

Even more elusive is this space- my writing. I could just jot my wild thoughts in a journal and leave it just for me. But I have just kept figuring that if I can and do feel alone – Can I possibly be the only one? I cannot be the only human that worries that their work will just not matter? I don’t care if you are the up and coming Mother Teresa or local hired hit man, we all want to believe the work we put out into the world matters! So I write. I write to the masses of crickets chirping but I mostly write – and love – and be my own therapist. The entirely altruistic act fades quickly on me. I am well aware of the deep interconnectedness we experience and just the chance for good will trickle down towards my daughter who I love more than anyone.

My performance reviews are found in watching someone emotionally wake up to their lives and from time to time in a card found in my treasure box.

In those notes I cherish, I will return to my breath and rediscover my way. But like my brave face shoes, there have been a few things that won’t fit snugly in my treasure box. I cherish not the thing or even the card, but the words and sentiment in the giving. If I cared for things, I would have been a banker and fretted over my money rather than people.

Those words are reminders that just perhaps we matter. Perhaps the daily grind does have a purpose. Perhaps I am not alone and I have and can continue to use my transformation in the service of this one little world we inhabit together.

In my previous armored up and angry Mean Self life, it was easier to be confrontational than it was to offer gratitude. It can still be difficult today. So when I receive it or give it in my own words, I relish the bright red glitter magic it brings.

Absolute – PURE – MAGIC.

And for that, I am Grateful.

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Why The Phoenix Rises

Five years ago, in 2013, the staff of The Crisis Line and Safe House of Central Georgia took a chance on this survivor/therapist in the hopes of perhaps a little fundraising and likely a whole lot of chaos. To date, we have raised close to 70,000.00 dollars and it goes without saying there has definitely been some chaos. I have this terrible problem of being the kind of ‘Go Big or Go Home’ type of woman and tend to manage to swirl in a little crazy with my philanthropy projects. Still, none of our very committed staff and volunteers cannot say there is no fun going around! Phoenix Rising 5k has become something I believe many in my community take great pride in being a part of.

2013 was also the year I began this Blog, leading down a path of being public about my position as a survivor. I hoped my own coming out and sharing my rising would create a depth of love and support for others in my community. I still continue to feel afraid sometimes when I hit that ‘publish’ button, but I certainly have heard the reverberation from my fellow survivors over these last five years. Phoenix Rising has not only allowed me to continue in my healing process, but has also provided a safe place for other survivors to give back. This was an unexpected gift and one I gather up in my heart every year as I watch so many volunteer, sponsor and pound the pavement asking for donations, silent auction items and support.

In January of 2013, I sent out my first call for support and the responses of love and generosity were tremendous and many continue each year. You will find below that first email I sent and many of the kind responses I received. Today, I do not share these for pats on my back (although I do keep copies of them in treasure box for rough times) but to show you- my fellow trauma survivors- that shame dies when we speak it. We can die to our old selves and rise up again out of the ashes, beautiful and reborn like the phoenix.

January 2013

Dearest Friends and Family,

There was a time in my life when I felt fairly certain that I would not live to be 37 years old. Not because of some melodramatic twenty something drama, but genuinely, that my soul had been taken and would never return. I was sexually abused from the age of 6 to 11 and until college carried the grief and self hatred that not even my enemies would have for me.

In my office bathroom, you will find a movie quote, maybe just a cliche’, but the start of a real life for me. One of my best friends in college was close to his own feelings of suicide and once he returned after a break from the stress of what to make of himself, he said, “You better get busy living or get busy dying.” That is what I have been doing ever since. I am a therapist today as a part of the giving back that I was given. If it weren’t for him and the therapists that walked with me along my journey, I am certain that this path would have been cut short.

So today, I stand at the precipice of one of my life dreams. I have wanted to publicly give back to my community in a way that would model for other survivors as well as create a legacy that we as a community could support. What has been most overwhelming, is that the moment I verbalized to my loved ones that this race was something I wanted to do, NO ONE and I mean, no one, once, questioned me or suggested that I could not.

So here we are….this race is real and I am sending you this email to ask that you consider being a part of my history…..and then, make it your own. One in Four women over the course of their life time will be sexually assaulted and One in Eight boys by the time they reach the age of 18.

All of the proceeds go to support our only Rape Crisis Center in Middle Georgia. I will be happy to send you the shirt from across the miles. If you cannot register, sponsor. If you cannot do either, get the word out. If you cannot run, walk. If you cannot walk, come and be together on what will be one of the most special occasions in my life. If none are possible, be with me in spirit and know that you are with me. I may have known you all of my life, or for just a small amount of time, but we all know that sexual abuse affects us all. I will not remain silent and I will no longer carry the shame of a victim. I am a survivor and this is my chance to create a community of survivors. Please consider taking part now and every year to come……

And The Loving Notes that followed:

I am so incredibly honored to know you.

Words cannot express the depth of gratitude or the love my heart and soul hold for you, Allie. I am not sure you will ever fully understand the critical role you have played and continue to play in my life,not only to help me overcome my own crises and hurts to regain the sense of self I had lost, but also to help and guide me as I strive to serve the young people in our community.

Your email subject, The Phoenix Rises, struck a chord with me which prompted me to want to make sure you know how much you mean to me……..My last tattoo, designed and applied during the time in my life when I was your client, is a Phoenix 🙂 How fitting to me that you, the person who taught me how to rise from the ashes, also chose that same symbol to describe your own journey.

You are so precious to share this. I would NEVER have known that was in your past. I have actually marveled at how humble and down to earth and transparent you are (rare in a person so evidently intelligent and gifted). I recall when you were doing our ethics

workshop last year, I had a quick image of an adorable, precocious little red headed girl with her Converse sneakers. You are a walking miracle, Alicia. I opened the registration to fill it out and it is the same w/end we have reservations, but I will surely plan to be there next year! I also was molested as a child during an intensive (seemed to me) 6 month period when I was 4 yo. You are a radiant gift from God and I pray the run will be all you have dreamed and that it will grow exponentially over the next years.

The day I meant you I know where was something special and powerful in you. I am soooo proud of you. I would miss it this year but u would be in my thoughts.

Alicia…I have not previously been aware of your survivor status, but am, of course, not surprised given the statistics you mention in your message and given my work of now 40 years as a therapist. Not surprised, but deeply saddened and sorry that you have experienced such trauma, pain and grief. I am very grateful for the work you are doing and for the very public attention you are bringing for the need to continue to bring abuse out of the shadows. I think I am committed to an out of town trip for that weekend. If I can change those plans I will.

Thank you for sharing with me; I had no idea that you went thru that!!  But as you said, you are a SURVIVOR. And that is wonderful!!!!! I have found over the years that so many people do not want to share their“true” life stories. I guess my life has always been an open book because growing up in a small town, everyone knew my family business. I am a HUGE believer in sharing….and I always encourage others to do the same. Hiding behind something does not make it go away. But not everyone is me….LOL!!! You have taken a tragedy and turned it into triumph!!! That is the kind of happy ending I love to hear!!

Alicia thanks so much for your transparency and your vulnerability….it is refreshing and so inspiring. I am so happy for you and that your journey to this moment has brought you full circle to a place of peace and giving. I hope that you will have the time to not only give, but to receive the fruits of your accomplishments! You really deserve it.

See You on Saturday April 1st

Phoenix Rising 5k

Event at 3:00pm, Race @ 6:00pm

Live Music, Silent Auction, Bounce House

Find more information on FaceBook:transformativetrauma

LIVE.OUT.LOUD.

Southern Gothic Dancin’

We rolled into Milledgeville, Georgia in 2002; straight off the little highway connected to many other little webbings of other tiny highways with their distincly black and white signs declaring you have just entered into nowhere land. I will never forget passing onto the street that was one long strip mall of cheap clothes and fast food wrappers. I sank and swore under my breath as I died just a little. I was trapped on this ant farm of tiny highways that led to nothing of substance. This big city girl was being squeezed and stuffed into small town life. I couldn’t breathe and only did some of the strangest things breathe life into my caged up heart.

Milledgeville, it turns out, is an icon in lunacy. Growing up in Georgia meant that you may be threatened with being sent to Milledgeville to live at the Asylum. Taking up some two thousand acres, The Georgia Lunatic Asylum established in 1883 was once the largest mental health facility in the United States. Then called many other less kind things, it housed between 13-15 thousand patients. Practices, much less medicine was scarcely humane and people were sometimes chained to walls, children placed in crib cages and overall treated with less decency than my own pets. Legend has it that some of the less ill could be taken home to clean and cook for you and the residents had their own garden. It was said to have one of the largest laundry services on site making the hospital more like its own city. Some physicians and staff lived in tiny houses settled right next to the massive buildings that housed room after room of mentally ill patients. Without much regulation, most anyone deemed ‘sick’ could be left there and because of the lack of staffing, sometimes the patients became the workforce treating the other patients. Now some twenty five thousand patients are buried on the grounds of the hospital creating fuel for the often haunted gothic stories that have become apart of Georgia’s history.

By the 1960’s a governed decentralization of mental health facilities began and the onset of stabilizing medications for the severely mentally ill along with recognition that mental health issues did not constitute removal from society, created the slow disinegration of the once massive city. By the time I arrived for my volunteer orientation at the Powell Building in December 2002, less than half of the community was being used and many buildings were already condemed and haunted by its past.

I was sent to work with a professor and part time psychologist where the acutely physcially ill were housed and made an apparent impression that quickly led to a paying job, office and a behavioral health partner to work with. Stationed with the severly mentally ill geriatric patients, I was schooled in how many mental health disorders looked in their clearest diagnosis and through this lens, I learned more than I could ever offer them, affording me the ability to learn and understand their world view from living with them eight hours a day, five days a week.

And it was the little things that even school could not teach me that informed me of their world view. It is true that with the onset of major mental health disorders like schizophrenia and Bipolar I disorder, the brain is more suspectable to dementia due to the malformations occurring physiologically. Some clients liked to hoard wads and wads of paper while others wore their lipstick wild, drawing farther outside of the lines when less stable. Others signed their name as famous presidents and during the difficult times, many would yell, call me names and wildly run naked through the hospital. I loved them all dearly.

Over time I would find ways to be supportive without being overbearing. I learned to slowly slip out some of the garbage hanging about my patients clothing. Of course it always gave way to more later, but at least there was room made for the hunt to continue later. I would politely ask to help adjust my patients makeup as she went for a big outing like a dance at the auditorium or to shop. And I considered it a compliment to receive a good tongue hammering from one of the once stotic church ladies who kept loads of waded up tobacco in her mouth while spewing her ugly fuck language at me. Perhaps I learned a thing or two about flinging around my foul language from her.

I realize now what a debt of gratitude I owe them. Being a part of their lives gave me the foundation for what I continue to use today as I am in relationship with so many who will never exhibit the extremes I have known, but perhaps, like all of us, have a touch of madness that can be connected to those that showed me what it was like to live with in its most pure form. We would like to believe we are really somehow eons away from the Central State Hospital resident. I believe this is a disservice to my people then, as it is to us collectively now.

I would be entirely remiss to not mention my fellow behavioral specialist and friend Charles. He was known as the quienessential ‘jack of all the hospital trades’. It would not be odd to see him on his way to a treatment team meeting for a resident with three different tools in his hand and some part-a-sum-em that he was steadily fixing that broke. He had his way of making life in the hospital run smoothly, whether it was to create a calming effect on an irrate resident to fixing the dishwashers so the cooks could carry on with their work day. He would often make sure the once entirely too godly church woman had her tobacco, a vile behavior to her visiting friends. We were amused at her way with cuss words, especially when the tobacco ran out. I learned so much about how to be a good human in his presence and offer love where it often faded away in our quiet and isolated world of Central State Hospital.

All these distant memories occurred long before my own kiddo was born and in just these past few weeks did the two collide……And I promise, this next thing, I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried.

Fast forward to 2016. It’s a cold and dreary evening and my daughter and I are so excited to get ready for her first middle school dance. We prep with a new dress from Grammie, ballet slipper style shoes and a sparkly purse to make all the pretty things shine. Just a week before we execute our marvelous plan, I realize where we are going…….I am taking my kid and dropping her off to the newly acquired auditorium AT THE CENTRAL STATE HOSPITAL. RIGHT NEXT TO THE MAIN BUILDING ENTRANCE. I have died and died laughing. I wanted to call up Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess and beg her to listen to this story. I always understood that southerners joked about happily parading around their crazy, but I had no idea that they would send my kid right up in it!

As we ride into the back side of the campus, I squeal in delight showing her the building I worked in, where my office was and the people I adored there. I can see her rolling her eyes from the back seat as she says, “Mom is taking herself a trip down memory lane.” She is not amused and said, “This is why everyone said I was going to a dance at the asylum.” Lawd. What could I say but ‘Yes honey, yes you are.’ We passed the main hospital where residents stayed when they were physically ill and told her stories of life on the inside.

We cruised right by the Powell Building, the main entrance and I pointed and said, “This was where the residents went if they became actively psychotic.” Lyra gasped and said, “That sounds scarey! Did you have to handcuff them?” I unknowingly but nonchalantly said back, “Nah, we would sometimes just wrap them in a sheet, especially when they got naked.” Silence. And the next building over is the drop off point………… I swear, I swear, I CANNOT make this shit up. I still remain amused and astonished all in one.

Still….none the less…How can you not be in love? ❤ ❤

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                                                                   LIVE.OUT.LOUD.

When Father Comes Around,Part I

I last saw my birth father in 1994 at the age of 19 when I was getting ready to leave for college. Somehow my grandmother got in touch with him, mostly a mystery as to how, and invited him to come see me before I left. Memories of him for the most part are iconic, as if I quickly painted a portrait crystallizing the moment because I knew there would be so few.

He sat in my Gram’s rocking chair out on the enclosed porch of her Kendallwood house. It was one of my favorite homes and we shared it for eight months before I shipped off to Alabama for a southern style college life. He always wore one of those grey fidora hats with a fancy feather in the side to cover his bald head and this time a pair of boot leg jeans with his blaring red beard. He always said my mother was the cause of his baldness from the early days of beauty school, but I know better. We drove around in his gold dated Honda and he showed me how his police detector worked, illegal in California, but that was always part of his problem. He played Pink Floyd from the CD player and when he learned my appreciation for the old school, quickly gave it to me. It is the one and only possession he ever gave to me. He told me how proud he was of me and wanted to know all my big plans. He always spoke of his big changes, plans of stability, frequent phone calls and relationship.

It was AWKWARD. All awkward. My relationship with my mother was strained, yet as we drove by her neighborhood in town, I felt like I was betraying her and my Dad. My step-Dad–DAD- the person who had shown up for me during the worst of the unconsolable adolescent years. And I knew, despite wishing for real wishes and magic, this would be the end. The only thing that frequently changed in my father’s life was his address.

The years rock by along with years of therapy. During the end of my first round in college I recall my therapist suggesting seeking out my brothers who were last known to live in Texas. I suppose I was not ready and only did many years later. For us siblings, we are a reminder of him, our one and only vague link to each other and understandably, not the brightest of subjects to discuss. With a little energy, I found them and once again- the father.

You might imagine I attempted to find him through various ‘where are my people’ searches, but instead, I knew where to look. Arrest and conviction records often tell a succinct story and one can always hope that the gaps are the bright spots where he fell off the radars of law enforcement. The luck of living in a small town affords me the ability to ask for a first look help. But how do we openly invite that kind of shame into our lives? No one would fault me for a convicted felon father, but they would also just know. And just wonder. Hell, I couldn’t blame them, I certainly wonder how a man with an active drug addict and felony conviction a mile long (probably not much exaggeration there) have any part in the life of a successful therapist; much less partnered for 19 years with happy kid and no arrest record to speak of??!!!

I recall lining myself up along the pew of the jail. Literally, and I hope you can see the irony in the church pew as your place to sit as you await your fate at the jail. It was a visiting day and people came from all around to love their orange jump suited people through the heavy glass. There were creases in every inch of the officers uniform, but the people were sloppy and disheveled having honest reason to loose track of themselves while the orange people blared ugly in their lives. My blue sear sucker suit and red sude heels stood out. Clearly, I was not them and yet had my life been about chasing orange uniforms, me and the thick glass would have been best friends.

Apparently the officer supporting my ‘let’s conquer the daddy issues’ had read one too many of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo books and as he began considering fishing around in the dregs of my life, he asked me what my purpose was. The dragon tattoo girl sought out her father to kill him. I think I was past that stage, but did have to giggle that my life could reflect a fiction thriller. And so the online pursuit began and eventually he popped up in jail….and then prison. Again. A petty theft led to more probation time and I very shamefully write that his love affair with the police was very short tempered and he allowed a dog to attack an officer. He went off to prison for that bullshit to complete his time and when I arrived at this knowledge, he had been released with no further probation and a last address.

I sent a card. I wanted him to know he may be lost, but I was not.

He had a successful daughter and grandchild. I couldn’t want anything from him.

But it was returned, floating between here and there for weeks.

And many more years collected dust on the relationship table of me and him.

Then, just this year during the cold dark days of January, the phone call came from a nurse named Esther. A little biblical and breath taking. I assumed she was Jesus’s messenger and delivering the news that he was gone and I was the only connection left, the glue that held what was left of my Gregory family. I was panicked and alone. My namesake, one that I have kept unchanged, was potentially further broken down while I waived in the wind of the Gregory name.

As I picked up the phone to call back, my hands shook in fear and anticipatory sadness. Was it just easier to keep him the iconic memory and could I withstand the change that was about to plop like wet poop into my lap? I just didn’t know……But my silent sister Glennon Melton (that gurl NEVER calls me) tells me that we can do hard things and I say that if the next step makes you squirm and uncomfortable- its likely the next right one.

So I called to hear the voice of Esther and learn of the news she had to share. Either way, the dust would rise and make noisy floating specks in the suns rays on our relationship table…………