The Sun Came Out!

sunrise mural

This week-end marked a new pattern from the usual, eat work, sleep routine. I was off for 4 days for the Easter long week-end. The weather was beautiful. Sunny, clear blue skies, warm weather.

The most perfect weather for Easter sunrise services, gallivanting by bike around the city with my toddler in tow, and planting a new crop in the backyard garden.

One amazing thing about beautiful weather is not only the ability to lift one’s spirits, but also to bring people together.

Since being introduced to Christian communal living 10 years ago in the Downtown Eastside living out the call of radical hospitality has been one of the main ways my family expresses our faith. This call is taken literally from Jesus’ teaching when he was confronted with the role of power and prestige in his day.

Jesus challenged the privileged of his day “When you give a dinner or banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a fast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just”. (Luke 14:12-13).

All winter it seems that I have been living for myself; socializing with the people at work I get along with, visiting family, dutifully going to church. But this week-end was different. This weekend I felt alive again because I was able to live out Jesus’ call of inviting people into our home for dinner who cannot pay us back.

This happened on various occasions every day where friends from our church here in the inner city came and dropped in. I was able to be present most of the time and share friendship and a few honest conversations, including some laughs.

This week-end also included gathering with a few other local churches in our neighborhood for Easter Services who have similar values. I reveled in the collective prayers on Easter morning and the strength of each voice and their diverse emphasize on different parts of God’s work (salvation, creation, beauty, atonement, etc). It was incredibly uplifting to be surrounded by such a tangible cloud of witnesses.

It was enough to jolt me out of my eat, work, sleep haze and remind me that, yes, Jesus still dwells in me and sometimes, I get a glimpse of what it is to live in the Kingdom of God.

Working in your own neighborhood

Although social work has its roots in community development, and being “with” people, with the strengthening of ethics and the discouragement of “dual relationships” many people find it much easier to work in social work outside their own neighborhood, where there is less likelihood of running into their clients in the choir, at the park, at church, at the grocery store, as their children’s teachers, etc.

This is especially true when a person works in a place of authority (child protection, mental health worker who has to certify people against there will) or of confidence (therapist, counsellor).  In these positions you know a lot about people that other neighbors do not that can make interactions awkward and both client and worker may find it difficult to draw clear boundaries between work and home life.

I was recently interviewed for a position working in mental health kitty corner from my house- visual distance.  I am fairly involved in my neighborhood, helping out at a local dinner at a community house and have folks over regularly to my dinner from church who are clients of that team.  If I took that position I would more than likely see clients at the same dinner table often; this could be difficult in mental health if someone already has paranoia that someone is following them.  I loved the idea of working in the neighborhood but in the end I decided not to and chose to stay working just a 15 minute drive away at the organization I currently at, but in a different department. In the end I chose to keep my role as that of a friend and neighbor only; I want to be able to invite people for coffee without worrying that I am somehow breaking a rule by inadvertently inviting in someone who is already on the mental health team and I may work with in filling in for a colleague. I want to be able to fully participate in the community without drawing my curtains in or relaxing in other parts of the city for fear that if I leave my home I will be actually working at not working.

In some ways I want to break this tendency to want to completely separate work and play as it seems kind of artificial.  It perpetuates differentiation in the class and status of worker and client.  For example, if I was in the neighborhood my clients would see my two year-old having a tantrum on the sidewalk; I would feel a little embarrassed, similarly I might see them in the soup line across the street from my house or working as a prostitute at a nearby street corner.  Perhaps this would make all of us a little more real and humble.  Hard to say.

 

 

Through the eyes of a Friend

I want to tell you about the most interesting thing that happened in therapy with a client. I was working with a man who has experienced significant trauma in his life and we were doing a safe place visualization where he imagines a safe place and I ask him questions to enrich the visualization.

One of the questions I asked was “who is there with you”. He answered a friend, a childhood friend. This man reports having no friends and no close family, and no social support in his life but was able to go back to his childhood and find a loving and kind friend. When I asked him about this friend after the visualization I found out that he and his childhood friend both had a similar name.

What a discovery! Inside of himself was not just a friend, but a kinder, gentler, more accepting part of himself an alter ego of sorts, a companion to the blaming, negative “self” that has crept in to dominate his vision of himself accusing  of failure day in and day out. It is incredible what an experience with a good friend can do for a person, even if the friendship is no longer present. It is similar to the experience of the therapeutic relationship; it gives a person a chance to build an alternate reality than they are accustomed one that is trustworthy, and stable that can disrupt older patterns of thinking that have gotten a person or family stuck.

It reminds me of my and my friends personal journey with people in our neighborhood who struggle with addiction and have had abusive childhoods.  For many years we plod along, not perfectly, but trying our best to be loving friends to those who are not always easily befriended, and who need a lot more than we can give.  It can be easy to dismiss these relationships as of such a small value in their overall healing journey.

Afterall, our love for one another pales in comparison to the amazing love and forgiveness that God offers to each of us.  But for some reason or another God chose us to live in relationship with one another and be the bearers of His love for the world to each other.  It would seem a lot more effective that he could appear in visions with bright light and angels announcing his love to each person, but instead he works in mysterious, gentle, and sometimes quiet ways through our broken selves.

Let us find encouragement that through the loving gaze of a friend this man could feel love and acceptance that he would not otherwise feel toward himself, and that our commitment to love can go a long way.

A Vision

Today I had a vision/idea. I have had this idea in my head for some time, but it is now taking shape.

I’m very interested (like most social workers) in the influence of trauma in a person’s life.  The ACE study (Adverse Childhood Experiences- http://www.acestudy.org/) found that adverse Childhood experiences correlate with negative long-term health in generally, poor mental health and even a shorter life expectancy.

In the Downtown Eastside it is hard to find a person who has not experienced trauma.  It seems like drug addiction has become an ingrained coping method that effectively masks the emotional hurt of the past.  We have many health clinics, and outreach teams, and church missions in our area.  However, I wonder how much treatment for trauma is actually taking place.  Pharmaceuticals help with the pain, but I think there is more that can be done.

One of the obstacles in providing any kind of help here is the chaotic nature of people’s lives- which begs the question how much healing can take place within an environment that often recreates trauma (like our neighborhood).  I have a neighborhood friend who I have spent time on and off for the past 4 years.  It is hard to even make an appointment with her to do something fun like go swimming.  How hard would it for her to go to counselling, or even focus in a session?

I wonder about clinically skilled, but harm reduction outreach counselling for those at the margins?  Also: I would love to do this from a Christian perspective as I believe that God has an amazing unpredictable power to heal and comfort that even the best counsellor cannot provide.  I will have to do some research but for now I’m getting in touch with friends who are knowledgeable in this area of work in the neighborhood, and researching online.

I think especially the integration of horticultural and art therapy would be really neat to accompany first stage trauma treatment. When I say first stage trauma treatment I mean teaching skills like grounding, containment, and journalling (see Lori Haskell’s book http://www.camh.net/Publications/CAMH_Publications/first_stage_trauma_treatment.html).  This step is one that some suggest to provide a sense of safety and self-awareness  before they are ready to tackle intensive therapy for trauma like Cognitive Processing Therapy or EMDR with a skilled therapist.

An idea.  Let’s see where God takes it.  I love dreaming.

What is this blog about?

This blog is an attempt to synthesize all the thoughts that I’ve been collecting in my head around social work, faith, therapy, psychology, and the like.

I’m at the tail end of a masters in social work in Canada.  I have had two placements in the area of mental health and addictions.  I also live in a poor neighborhood in our city, and am part of a network of Christians who are wanting to support people around here, creating a new kind of family, and a renewed expression of church.