counseling

blood like lemonade

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“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.”Laurell K. Hamilton, Mistral’s Kiss

Once upon a time there was a group of merchants who wanted to go to the sea. A guide was required. They set out in quest of such a man. After finding such a man, they started the trip and saw a temple when they reached a land of wilderness. A man had to be immolated to cross it.

After consultation, the group of merchants said that they could not choose anyone in the company to be killed, for they were all related. The only one fit to be sacrificed was the guide. So they killed him. After performing the rites, they soon lost their way and knew not which direction to go. They then died one after another.

So are the people in general.

Those who seek to fish for treasure in the sea of Dharma should keep the commandments of doing good deeds as their guide. If they break them, they will end their lives in the wilderness and can never be rescued. Furthermore, they will have to go through the Three Evil Paths of Transmigration and suffer forever and ever.

Such men are just like the group of merchants who killed the guide and died in a body as a result….Buddhist Fable.

image credit- peter stein’s faust at marathon theatre
“If one good deed in all my life I did, 
I do repent it from my very soul.” 
William Shakespeare

today’s post is full of allegory. after the recent passing of a friend. i have come to a sort of secret compartment in my life. i was talking about how strange it was to have known someone on both a professional (counselor to client) level and as a fellow community member and volunteer. this caused me to pause for a while and consider the hidden cost of being an addictions counselor working with lgbt persons with addictions (who may or may not be hiv positive).
it is a complete recurrence that gay men (hiv + and hiv -) will appear when they need support and then disappear when they no longer feel the need for support (for a variety of reasons). as a professional there is an ongoing and undisclosed cost of knowing and caring for a person and then having them leave your life just as quickly as they appeared. and my experience is that when the “gay” factor, and the “hiv +” factor are combined, i have found that the boundaries have been a bit less distinctive. i might have cared a little more, or offered a little more support. and of course the disappearance of these folks from my practice has consistently left a deeper impression. but after they leave the treatment cocoon, they enter back into the community arena along with me and the rest of our world. because these individuals and i have engaged in a therapeutic relationship, returning to a friendly relationship is strained at best. i know more about them than they probably would like to admit. they have shared secrets with me. if they did not complete, nor were successful with treatment, then this usually means they won’t want to see me in person, nor see themselves in my eyes. this is perfectly understandable- almost expected. but it does have a price tag- especially in a smaller community. it is not a deal breaker at all. it is simply that i haven’t really looked at my own real needs in all this.
until this week, i have not looked at my own feelings about this whole brief therapy process. with bryan’s passing, i now understand that it has had a price. i have assumed that my skills as a practitioner are lacking at times. i have felt that i am too blunt for people too early. i have even felt that i am too old at times and out of touch with current lgbt culture.

“I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek. That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.”
Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

although all of these are probable and appropriate, i have never considered that i might need some support around the loss this process brings. i now know that i have just hunkered down, trudged forward, cut my losses and tucked those feelings without processing or examining them with any concern. i don’t regret this after realizing this, but i do want to make some changes from here forward. and because of my childhood history of relationship and loss, i have had auto-responses of shutting down when i have become saddened. i have let go of friends because i honestly haven’t figured out yet how to do anything else quite yet.
to be less vague, i now understand that i have a primal feeling that i am not okay, so i assume that these losses are the price i am required to pay for being me-(conversely, there are many benefits to being me as well so i don’t think this as simply dark and morose).
since my work has recently shifted away from cultural specific clients, i have gained some distance and some perspective on all this. this reminds me yet again that situations and experiences in our lives shape, form, and mold who we are. and all the relationships, fabulous jobs, exciting or relaxing vacations, spas, makeovers, workouts, and new clothes in the world won’t really make me any different. i am required to do the work, look at my life and my part in it, feel my feelings, accept them, understand them, and make room for change if needed. and change is probably needed in this case.
i am posting from a quiet place of gratitude today. i hope your holiday brings even a small portion of the grace i feel today. happy thanksgiving.

here comes the sun

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But I wouldn’t be happy anywhere else
Nobody to tell us what to do, all by ourselves
Isn’t this a fine hello, I wish I hadn’t seen you go
It’s always been a bitter pill, the broken mirror’s broken still
The letters never made the post, a thousand more I never wrote
And here on dark unfriendly streets
I find the comfort that I seek
And I’m happy, and I’ve been happy,…shaun escoffery
today, the marketing rep who has been working with our department for the last few months came by today with a photographer to secure images for a brochure and some in house promotions.  the brochure will depict the peer support network that has ignited at our campus. 
the day was full, hectic, and lit by a very positive buzz. there are 4 individual peers chosen for tiny recovery bios, all of whom have been in relationship with methadone for over a decade.  we all took lunch together after the flashbulbs and the labyrinth of portraits. these conquerors that were heralded today let their inner lights shine as they spun tales of old which were braided with the changes upon the clinic and this new network. i am proudest most of the glee and incredulity involved when they talk about the changes they perceive. 
their joy was so big it filled my cup today. and i took a long cool drink. i love days like this. the  particular song posted  i first heard at an early morning jaunt at the endup in san francisco. the]morning light was bright, the sky a perfect blue, and the sense of peace that  encircled me like glenda the goodwitch. 

here’s to life

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No complaints and no regrets.
I still believe in chasing dreams and placing bets.
But i have learned that all you give is all you get, so give it all you got.
I had my share, i drank my fill, and even though i’m satisfied i’m hungry still
To see what’s down another road, beyond a hill and do it all again.
So here’s to life and all the joy it brings.
Here’s to life the dreamers and their dreams.
Funny how the time just flies.
How love can turn from warm hellos to sad goodbyes
And leave you with the memories you’ve memorized
To keep your winters warm.
There’s no yes in yesterday.
And who knows what tomorrow brings or takes away.
As long as i’m still in the game i want to play
For laughs, for life, for love.
So here’s to life and all the joy it brings.
Here’s to life, the dreamers and their dreams.
May all your storms be weathered,
And all that’s good get better.
Here’s to life, here’s to love, here’s to you.
May all your storms be weathered,
And all that’s good get better.
Here’s to life, here’s to love, here’s to you.

i wrote about an encounter with someone who was deeply lost in his drinking last week. 4 days later he had died. i was very saddened by it all. feeling quite helpless and ineffective is just a fraction of the things that i have tried on. it’s better today. i am accepting and letting go. it is a process though.

the flip side of course, is that the struggling soul- my friend- is struggling no more. he doesn’t have to hate his hiv and his hep-c any longer. he doesn’t have to deny that he doesn’t feel his best.any more. he doesn’t need to imbibe till the blackness rolls in any longer. and he doesn’t have to hide who he is and how he is. he is free.

this space i now find myself in is part of my reality. strangely, it has been for half my life-in one way or another. in the 80’s and 90’s it was the virus that was taking out many of my contemporaries. drugs and alcohol took out a few too, but it was mostly aids. now i find the opposite to be true. working within the hiv field, the virus takes out a few, but more than anything else, i see multiple earth departures fueled by substances.

i am practicing staying grounded as i continue to remember that people die. this death is not an isolated incident. thankfully, it is not a daily one, but it happens more than i would like. i am thankful i am able to available for others. the 80’s found me numbing out myself. today i am listening.  i honestly am changing. one day at a time.

“There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.” 

the gift

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image credit…. kristofj and sean
I need to go outside
I need to leave the smoke
’cause I can’t go on living in this same sick joke
It seems our lives have taken on a different kind of twist
Now that you have given me the perfect gift
You have given me the gift

today someone told me a secret about their life. they clearly didn’t want to talk about it, but at the same time they really really did want to talk about it, too. i let them make up their own mind without asking. and i didn’t press for details.

it was painful for me to watch and listen. it wasn’t my pain, but it was full of pain none-the-less.  it wasn’t a pretty story. nor was it happy. it didn’t have a happy ending and it’s doubtful it ever will.  there is much shame and guilt around it. there were first pleasures and lost boundaries. and  left on the floor are broken thoughts and jagged memories.

i watched tears roll softly and pointedly as the details unfurled. the teller kept reminding me how okay they were with everything- which couldn’t be further from how it seems. what seems more likely is that the teller has become accustomed to the twisted feelings and somehow thinks (as survivors do) that this is how it always is.

i inquired about whether this wounded one had ever considered self-forgiveness. i was answered with a seesaw response of “i have forgiven myself” followed quickly and painfully by”i don’t know how”. from what i could surmise, both are true, with the latter overshadowing the former in accuracy.

today, i am reminded once more that the bullshit i ran away from in my childhood, used anything and everything i could heavily to drown out reminders, and then uncovered very clumsily in early sobriety has been transformed. i no longer lead with shame and self-degradation as my calling card. though they are definitely still there, they have been recessed to a back shelf where they provide backbone for empathy and and echo chamber to help me listen when working with others.

i understood today’s fractured fairy tale quite well. i felt blessed that i could be with someone as they allowed themselves to remove some of their armor and feel.

i am not the man i had mostly planned to be. thank god. i am just the guy i have become. it truly seems a gift.

return to oz

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image credit… jasper goodall
He said is this the return to Oz?
The grass is dead
The gold is brown
And the sky has claws
There’s a wind-up man
Walking round and round
What once was Emerald City’s
Now a crystal town
It’s three o’clock in the morning
You get a phonecall
From the queen with a hundred heads
She says that they’re all dead
She tried the last one on
Couldn’t speak, fell off
And now she just a’wanders the halls
Thinking nothing
Thinking nothing at all
(lyrics.. scissor sisters)

today i talked with someone who is in the middle of the insanity of cravings. she has been substance free for about 2 months and has found herself adrift in her own emotions. the waves of feelings were visibly crashing upon her self-esteem. she seemed worn out from the pitching side to side that she must have been feeling.

i felt unequipped to console her in her process. one can’t continue to pick a scab if one wants it to heal without scar. but this message may not have been heard. there is not much ease in sharing logic with someone who is wearing their “emotional” outfit.

i recognized the combination of frustration and fear that she wore. it didn’t fit, but it looked familiar on her. she ended our chat abruptly and escaped as quickly as she could.

yet again, i understand that i am not the great and powerful oz.

smattering

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image credit… pieter heinket


“The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.” — Kahlil Gibran

i have been working as a counselor for a few years now. it is not the samo samo thing at all, really. i mean, most of the people i encounter are stuck somewhere in their lives. many have been stuck for a very long time. what i am learning about my work is that it continues to be more about helping them see that there may be another way, and not necessarily about helping them find it.

in someways, it seems that if they can actually “see” that there is another way, or a way out, they will muster the where-with-all to journey forward and do things a little differently.

but as humans, we are definitely creatures of habit. this being true, we without fail love our own pain and discomfort. if stuck, we have probably been numb to our own pain for some time and have forgotten that it it even hurts. often, not hurting is more frightening than hurting.

it continues to be fascinating to me- this process of education and counsel. there are definitely successes as well as distinctive misses. there is a mosh pit of unclarity sometimes around boundaries, professionalism, and my own human-ness. this doesn’t appear often, but it does appear. people who are in flux or stuck are often rife with drama. and drama is compelling for me. it makes life interesting. it makes the days go by. and i am comfortable with drama, because i grew up with so much near by.

i have let myself forget once or twice that i am on my own journey. those i work with are on a journey, too. part of the work is allowing these two arcs to play themselves out without trying to steer. oh this is without doubt part of the work. 


these days, it is my fashion to discuss the infusion of loving-kindness meditation when working with others. this concept resonates with me because it is frothy with empathy. we breathe in loving kindness for ourselves when we are struggling, and conversely we breathe out loving kindness for the others in the world who are also suffering  as we do. this exercise seems to have the power to remove fear and the “victim” mentality and replace it with inclusion and connected-ness. 


Loving-kindness is a meditation practice, which brings about positive attitudinal changes as it systematically develops the quality of ‘loving-acceptance’. It acts, as it were, as a form of self-psychotherapy, a way of healing the troubled mind to free it from its pain and confusion. Of all Buddhist meditations, loving-kindness has the immediate benefit of sweetening and changing old habituated negative patterns of mind…. reprinted from www.buddhanet.net

“The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes. ”
Pema Chödrön

a simple matter of pride

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he stopped by today to get a letter of support. the change in him these last few months is rather astonishing really. he has been sleeping regularly, has ceased using speed ad nauseum, and has been eating regularly. his eyes have become clear, his thought process has become understandable, and his smile and laughter have returned as if they had gone to afghanistan and had finished their tour of duty.

he has been in residential treatment these sixty-some days and has sparked a new interest in self-care. about 4 weeks in this process, he was told by a couple of employees that he would be restricted from doing his chore work by either cooking or washing dishes. the inference was that since he was hiv positive, he might endanger the rest of the residents if he were near the kitchen.

this had upset him naturally. it has been some time since he had been stable enough to think about standing up for himself. he had spent the last 3 years or so just trying to survive- mostly depending on the kindness of tricks and strangers. as i listened to him tell me this, i could hear the tone of “victim” in his voice. i recognize it well.

i asked him if it bothered him. he indicated that it did somewhat, but he did not want to take the chance of stirring up trouble. i understood this, however i felt it a duty to nudge him to talk to his case manager about the situation. he could relay how the restriction made him feel, and he could underline the fact that this policy is not logical nor legal. i would be happy to help educate the staff  if needed about the facts and the myths about hiv as we know them in 2011.

as we chatted today, he told me that the counselor had listened to him, would research the issue, and get back to him- which he did in 2 days. he told our guy that he was right and he would be talking about the issue at the next staff meeting. yesterday was the meeting, and both the staff members that did the duty restriction came up to him individually and apologized.

his eyes lit up as he lightly savored self efficacy. he almost oozed the joy of being pleased with himself. i don’t often have such a joy-filled disneylandesque experience.  my days seem to be mostly much more complicated. but today, it certainly made me happy to see someone else happy.  for a minute, i got to be lighthearted and witness a beautifully simple (and drug free) pride parade.

 let the rainbow flag fly…:D