28 May 2011

Report from Third Shift: Want - versus - Need

   Suzy refuses to go to bed, insisting instead on making noise, writing furiously in her journal, and whispering sotto voce about our failures as counselors, as care providers, as women, as human beings.   And the more we try not to engage with her behaviors, to behave consistently and calmly, not to get caught up in the misty grey cloud of fear and anger Suzy is spewing out all around her - the more visibly frustrated she becomes.  What she wants - to get rid of her uncomfortable and seemingly unbearable feelings - isn't what she needs.  She HATES all of it.  In this moment she particularly hates me and my co-worker.  And even though Suzy can't see it - I hate it too, particularly hate my powerlessness to do more than I can do.

   Of all the nights to have to simultaneously notice my reactions and my emotions vis-a-vis one of the girls' acting out behaviors, of all the nights to need to monitor my boundaries - a night of too little sleep during the day and, consequently too much worry about retaking  the physical crisis managment training later in the week.  Yet I can't do what Suzy's doing - can't project my anger onto someone else, spew my own mist of fear into the air.  All I can do is teeter along the path between wanting to behave like Suzy, like the child who still lives in me and wants to be parented, and needing to behave as the caring adult that both Suzy and my own inner little girl need me to be.

   This being a grown up sure ain't what we think it's gonna be when we're kids.

21 May 2011

Rapture - Not

Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are only princesses waiting for us to act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence something that wants our love.
Rainer Maria Rilke

   Two a.m. on the morning after the promised Rapture didn't come.  Even though we joked about the possibilities inherent in watching the righteous rise up bodily as we sat on our porches sipping gin & tonic and smoking, there must have been some small part of me that believed this might just be the time.  I must have believed, even just a miniscule amount - because I find myself rather glad to still be here, as if maybe I was afraid that there wouldn't be any more chances to do what I'm here to do (whatever that is), any more learning opportunities.  Hmmmmmmm.
   I'm thinking of the Nelson Mandela quote, that "our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light . . . that most frightens us."  That sure is what the Rilke (above) reminds me.  Even at two a.m., at work, all the girls asleep, and me struggling for the right words to express what I think I am here, in this job at this hour, to learn and to offer - I can get a glimpse of how afraid I am of feeling my power to maintain and hold a safe environment for both the sleeping girls and the awake me.  Is this making any sense?
   See, I've tended to think that power is only strength, is comprised of doing, that power means big and bold action.  It does frighten me to be learning that acting from my limitations, my vulnerabilities, from where I'm AT without trying to be anyone or anywhere else, really constitutes the authentic power of being me.  Learning that just being authentically me is enough, is more than enough, is really, even . . . wait for it . . . important to me and to those I encounter - well, what a lesson.
   Guess that's why I feel a little relief that the world didn't end yesterday.  This learning to love and accept myself, to love the fearful and trepidatious in me - it's taking a while.  Today I'm grateful for the opportunities to keep on learning.  And though I don't know, sitting here at two a.m. after checking on the sleeping girls, how my learning might benefit anyone else, I have a sense that the learning itself is what I'm meant to love.

11 May 2011

Nothing to Hang On To

The bad news is you're falling through the air, nothing to hang on to,
 no parachute.  The good news is, there's no ground.
-       Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Yes, it feels like falling, what’s happening in my life these days.  Yet I realize that it was I who stepped off the cliff into this new job.  It involves working with adolescent girls who’ve been victims of trauma for all or most of their young lives, girls who’ve been shunted and shuffled through the “system” of foster care that may have lacked any real caring, that often has been unkind, and certainly been inconsistent and unsafe. 

The feeling of falling comes from the questions floating around and inside of me.  How will I respond to the triggers of my own emotions as I observe these girls’ struggles?  What will I do with my anxieties when, as will surely happen, one of the girls tests my capacity to care by acting out, perhaps violently?  How will I take care of my own needs during an eight-hour shift in a place where trauma and its effects color the environment?  Such questions make me long for a parachute, something to slow the descent so I can take time considering these questions.

It feels like falling as well because I did fall, during training in physical restraint and take-down – skills I must have to work in this place, and which I will need to use to keep the girls, and myself and others, safe.  In the fall I sprained my fifty-nine year old ankle – there certainly was ground under me then, on which my foot twisted and bent wrongly.  Since then new questions have arisen.  Will I be able to, at my age, use these skills without getting hurt again, or hurting one of the girls?  Am I too old to even be attempting this work?  WHAT was I thinking in accepting this job?

It seems that all there is to hang on to is what’s inside of me.  And throughout my life I’ve not trusted what’s there – even as I’ve gained experience and knowledge, pursued education and worked on healing my own traumatic wounds.  Throughout I’ve wanted, even believed I’ve needed, something or someone else to grasp on to for safety – in order to believe I was o.k. 

     Experience tells me that I've got what I need to hang on to even as it all feels scary and unsafe in this free fall.  And if I could ask each of you, in person, who have supported and encouraged me over the past several years as I've learned and risked and changed I know you'd reinforce my "enough-ness", tell me to trust, to keep on risking.  And you'd tell me to how fortunate these girls will be to have me working with them.  And you'd be correct.

     Hmmmmmmm - something to consider - that won't add to the anxiousness - as I fall.