When I first decided to get my MSW it was 2007 and I was pretty quiet about it. The whole process was a really covert operation that was more effortless for me than I’d like to admit. I applied (didn’t tell anyone), got in (didn’t tell anyone), looked for a roommate (didn’t tell anyone) and when I decided that it was probably a good idea to, you know, show my face, I was already regretting the whole thing which made me feel super clumsy. I’ve had this poor-form before with other really monumental events (ahem, marriage) and for these hiding and disappearing patterns I’ve provided for others myself some reasons like: “Why bring other people along for the crazy ride if it doesn’t pan out?” or “I’m independent and free-spirited” or when I’m feeling really defensive: “This is just how I make decisions. Quickly.” Some of this is true. A lot is actually. But that doesn’t mean that I get to avoid acknowledging how it could be hurtful and harmful and silently bulldoze some community. Some of my inner circle people know that I do this, and with gracious ease, they call me endearing and we move along with our friendship-life. Other equally big-hearted people I know have felt big-hurt by the independence that I’ve named. Slighted. Really, really, really left-out. And even though I act like I don’t know, I know. I know that my “independence” when it’s un-closeted, unmasked and standing still can be plain and inconsiderate. The rub happens for me when I’m standing still because I know my heart is begging itself for honesty. I think the rub happens here for most of us, when we’re butt naked and butt ugly and still, called to be heartfelt and ask ourselves- am I going to name this and get on my knees? OR am I going to puff up feathers? OR am I going to be clumsy and hidden? We know the things we do. And If you don’t, read Brene Brown’s work, she spells it out wonderfully. So, if I don’t get on my knees, which is just really hard for me when I have my cool, adventurous, free-spirit costume on, I usually do the clumsy hide and disappear thing. And then I whisper things to myself in my closet like, “I don’t have to be exposed to imperfect reactions and imperfect judgments and imperfect love. And I don’t have to leave safe closet and cool adventurous free-spirit costume and ostensible independence.” Just. Kidding.
Actually, Just. Forgive Me. That whisper would have probably been more graceful.
So in the spirit of retrospection and critique, what I should have said to my dear friends/family/roommates in the year 2007 was, “I really think I need to learn how to be a more alive human, so I’m going to get my graduate degree in social work.” I’m not so sure that this would have spared me the comments about the social workers being secret socialists and the ones about the social workers taking kids from their parents like it was a really fun game or the ones about social workers actually being burned out and actually grumpy and actually not like the soft hearts that they let on to be. I’m not sure that rationale would have spared me those. But now, in 2013, I know that of all the things I love about my work, I love the deep, divine, crack and cranny, nitty-gritty humanness of it. And because ideas about humanity can include ideas about everything and because I have not yet read, “A Theory of Everything” (fyi that actually is a book), good clinical social work demands a lot of looking at your own human self. Like one of my dearest professors said, “In this work, you’re really the only thing you’ve got.” This is scary and awesome. Scary because it can be an ethical/legal/boundary nightmare. Cue the unprofessional. Awesome because human connection is a powerful thing and it begets honest change and I believe that honest change rounds us out. In the same way that husbands and wives say marriage is hard and pitiful and desperate and anxious they also say it’s transformative and gentle and easy and good. And usually, human hearts swell from these kinds of things. On second thought, that is probably the other reason I went to social work school so my heart might swell up and round out a little bit more. On third thought, that probably just goes with being more alive. I really do need to read that Theory of Everything book.
So. I’m finding myself now, in a new social work setting confronted with this I’m a human/you’re a human thing. I am working with veterans. 30’s-70’s. Some PTSD. Mostly substance abuse. Some legal issues. Some really poor. Some not. Remember that thing I said about social work being everything? Yes, that.
My new job intimidates me some and most days the intimidation factor feels like a great workout so it’s doable and even fun. But, when it comes down to it: I just don’t know a lot about drugs, I’ve never worked with men and its different for me, plus I have this idea that I’m going to get the wool pulled over my eyes. I think this fear is rooted in lots of junk but I seem to keep remembering how I loved working with kids because you always knew where you stood. Kids would always say things to me like, “this is really boring right now” or “I really don’t want to talk about that” or one kid actually told me he thought I was really silly and weird and didn’t want to come back. Seriously. The better part was when they were doing so well and talking about feeling better and trying new things. I knew it was sincere. It was rare that the one in front of me was JUST nodding along. Well, teenagers were questionable. I think my point is that therapy CAN be magical but it can also be fake and sometimes I have this nightmarieish idea that me + veterans + substance abuse are all just going to nod along like dead logs in a very fake, very stagnant, very well-documented VA river system.
So this is why I HAVE to be real. I cannot put on heirs or hide parts of my clinician self because I will disappear, like I told you. I start putting on costumes, cramming in closets, building crazy houses in the sky and then I disappear. I think clinicians call it “burning out”, but on the human level, which EVERYONE gets, its a disappearing act (for me), or puffing up act or some thing or another. Throwing silly putty and touching our head to our feet was me showing up for my 8 year old clients. Sometimes, it was the most human, most appropriate, most perfect thing to do. Now I must find fully human ways to show up for my 58 year old veterans.
I’m not sure what this feels like yet but I WILL tell you that I nearly wanted to jump out my chair and hug the man who asked me during group if I knew what it was like to buy crack on a street corner. Well, I didn’t want to hug him at first because he asked me in front of everyone and it was my sixth day and I felt like he was half making fun of me. BUT…I took a deep breath and I told him thank you and then I changed the pace of group for a second and a voice said, “Do this. Because he is RIGHT.” So, I tried to show up. I was not a weird phantom. I stopped talking about thought filters and thought stopping and started talking instead about one of my favorite quotes: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us walk together.” Yep. I went there. And then I told them that they had stuff and I had stuff and maybe some of their “stuff” looks more similar than some of my stuff. But when it comes down to it we’ve all got it. And so we TALKED about this. Like human people. And they said things like, “So if we all got stuff why don’t you talk about yours?” So I tried to answer in the most honest most professional most profound human way I could. We listened to each other. It wasn’t perfect but I really really don’t think it was supposed to be and the same man at the end of group said, “I just want to say that it goes a long way to really work with someone who loves their job.” Not sure if I love my whole job yet but I LOVED that human nugget.
Yep, human nuggets are the best. And this is me, holding on to them.