When I met Jason, my husband, I had just gotten into graduate school. I was so proud of myself. I worked so hard to get into The University of Texas at Austin’s Master’s in Science of Social Work program. I know people who applied and did not get in. One of my very best friends in fact. Her GRE score overall was better than mine, although mine was higher in writing. I was lucky (truly, it was through recovery meetings) to know some women who worked in the school who gave me great letters of recommendation. Also, it finally paid off to be an alcoholic. At least one in recovery. I wrote my entrance essays about my story and did not skimp on the details and maybe that was what pushed it over the edge. I do not know that I will ever know exactly why.
I really really really wanted to be a Social Worker. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of others. I wanted to be a low-key superhero, at least on a small scale (this is what Social Workers are in case you wondered). The way so many had been for me on my journey. The only inkling, I had that I may not have been totally cut out for it was when a professor said, “it’s easy to be a good speaker, but Social Workers are good listeners, and some of you may need to work harder on that skill.” Crap…For being introverted, I am a gregariously nervous talker. Also, I have come to discover, that I am a dream client. Seriously, plop me down on a couch and listen, and I will go on for years. This is not the case with a lot of people I have discovered. A lot of clients I have had will plop down and tilt their head and wait for ME to come up with questions, comments, and all manner of insights into their past, present, and future. They want me to do this repeatedly, session after session… I went into therapy under the supposition that I was to process verbally, out loud, of my own accord, my perceived issues. But again, I learned I am somewhat of the exception to the rule. A lot of people are also not in therapy for themselves. They have been urged, forced, nudged, or threatened into it from a concerned love one. And I get it, they are paying me to help them, but therapy only works if it is at least 50-50. If I am working harder than someone (which I did for too long), then when you get plopped back down on you feet after I’ve been holding you up, you will blame me, or someone else for not doing anything because you are right back where you started or worse…I will be panting and sweating my @$$ off, but in some ways they are right too. I shouldn’t have been doing all the heavy lifting. It was my own lack of “okayness” with the silence that led me to jabbering on and trying to carry people through therapy. So, I burnt out. I might go back to it someday, but only if the perfect job came along.
The almost perfect job that I had as an intern was for my Undergraduate Internship at the District Attorney’s office in Austin. My mentor, Manny, was a true hero. He was a Veteran and a Social Worker. I miss him so much. He helped me believe I could do this crazy job. I worked in Victim/Witness Counseling for violent crime with him and about 6 other social workers and countless attorneys, investigators, officers, medical professionals, and office staff in a downtown courthouse. It felt pretty epic. We were all collaborating and trying to bring solace to those harmed and support the scales of justice to rightly apportion punishment to the violators of the law. We were making the world a better place. Also, the clients were on short order. They came in for limited sessions prior to trial and were counseled through the proceedings, the hearing and sentencing and then sent off and referred out for further counseling if needed. It was just the right amount of time for me. I loved it. If we still lived in Austin, I would have applied to work there, for the county, until I got the job eventually (they only come open every few years).
Fate had different plans. I met Jason, he wanted to move to Florida and open a treatment center. I loved him. I never wanted to work in the field of addictions (directly, I mean all areas of Social Work at least touch on it). But I wanted to help him build his dream. Mine seemed, less sure, less concrete, and less profitable, frankly. I knew we were equally ambitious, but his idea for a livelihood meant lifelong security and I knew it. My heart was not in it 100%, but my mind told me to see it through. I am still glad I did. I would not be sitting in a bookstore right now, doing what I want, if it were not for that decision. I would probably still be happy, but I would be tied to a 9-5. I think the cap on that position with the county was around 55,000 a year. There are so many ways to look at freedom and judge a person’s choices. I know, I am a pro at judgement (mostly towards myself). However, I will never fault someone for wanting to feel secure. It is a freedom in itself.
Right after that Internship and before I started Graduate School, I found a volunteer position at a local farm. If I worked one 8-hour day, I got a free bag of veggies for the week. Seemed like a huge win, so I tried it out. After the first few times volunteering, my kindergarten aptitude test came rushing back, and the results were pretty accurate (It said I should have been a farmer). I was a runner, so I was no stranger to the love of being outside, and when I came across the add, I knew I was going to have some free time for a semester between Undergraduate and Graduate School. To say I fell in love with getting dirty on the farm is the vastest understatement. If you have ever watched something grow from seed to harvest and weeded, tended, and loved a growing garden, then you know the magical power of the Unspoken Universal Power in this Unfolding. To watch the Grace of Life, unfurl and become an abundance of tomatoes, kale, carrots, thyme, squash, onions, and flowers bloom and eventually hit your palate, you know the deepest satisfaction in life. To sit with a plateful of your garden’s abundance is not only security, but it is security wrapped in love and deep contentment. To smell the tomato vine on your fingers when you press the plump, sweet fruit to your lips and feel the rush of being filled with what tastes like sweet sunshine, then you know the deepest satisfaction in life. To say that I fell in love with the natural beauty of the garden and the people who tended it, would be the vastest understatement. There are no words to exemplify the wellspring of gratitude and heartfelt love I feel, to this day for my time there.
To this day I have grown food and flowers in almost every home I have had. We just sold our house to move into an RV and our entire lot was a permaculture oasis in the middle of a regular neighborhood. Yes, people thought we were crazy (I mean, they’re not wrong). Yes, we stood out like a sore thumb in a neighborhood of chemical-laden fertilizers and perfectly manicured lawns. Did we care? Absolutely not! Did people stop to talk to us all the time and admire and talk about their own experiences growing food, or their favorite farms growing up? All the time…
Looking back at my burnout and the time I spent working as a Trauma Therapist at our treatment center, I am very proud of my work. I am also so happy to not be doing it right now. That wall went up, and for whatever reason it hasn't come back down. Occasionally I'll take out a brick, and peer through at what I could do. I'll peruse the job postings for Social Workers and think about myself in that position. For now though, at least while the kids are young, my bandwidth for emotional stuff lies only within my family and myself, and of course fellows in recovery and the odd extra help I can give here and there. It is enough for now. It will have to be. I am enough, just as I am. I am enough, even if I'm not helping as much as is possible. I am enough, even though I am afraid its not enough. You are enough, just as you are, wherever you are on the road. Hopefully we can give each other a ride hear and there, ease the burden. C'est la vie. Amen