Identify what is most important )0( Eliminate everything else
The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world. Dr. Paul Farmer
The suffering of others is not alleviated when no one knows about it.
There is no one right way to live. Daniel Quinn Ishmael
The only thing that you need to start an asylum is an empty room and the right sort of people.
We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be. Kurt Vonnegut

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Most of the time I am fine.  My new-now life is grand and I appreciate every moment.  It would be a nearly perfect life if not for holidays.  In that other life, our house...I almost typed home, but it was that only in the way that we tried to make it.  Despite the effort of both of us, it never quite made it there.

Holidays were the times when the wishes and pretending were real.  As miserly as he was, holidays were the exception.  Well, holidays that included lots of outside people.  Family.  It is only now that I realize (like, really, right now, in this exact moment of heart-wrenching clarity) that he never allowed for his people to be there.  That does not mean his family, because they were always around, but his people, the ones he truly cared about, were his friends and co-workers, most of whom I am guessing were also friends.

This is not what I want to write today, but, man, how is it possible that this is a brand-new realization for me.  Nothing even close to this has come to me in any counseling.  He had a card club with some of his work friends.  They would meet at each other's houses each month.  The wives would make elaborate appetizers and meals, serve and then disappear.  My guess is that sort of thing happens in homes all over the place and has for as long as there have been people with co-workers, homes and some kind of game.  Anyway.

Yeah, anyway.  I have been struggling at my new job.  I feel dis-empowered there.  Well, I do, if that is a real word, but I have come to understand that I am not able to back up parts of the program that are my responsibility.  It goes round and round.  I remind the women of their house responsibilities, they do not get done, I remind and then am reprimanded when things remain undone.    I like circular, although this one hurts because I know that I am not doing a good enough job.  It also feeds knowing how ineffective I am about so many things, but there, at the shelter, it is important to not be ineffective with people who count on you

So, when asked what I was going to do about it my first thought was one of my two default behaviors.  The first is humor, but there is nothing funny about this right now.  It will be hysterical later, though, I am guessing.  The second is to run, like quit and wander until something else comes along. 

Although neither of them serve me, I do them.  And, neither of them are helpful here because I love that job.  I love every part of it, even all of the paperwork.  I love the counseling aspect and the opportunity and ability to connect with our women and their children.  I love being the person who helps them find their own solutions to some of the crap that brings them to us.  I love sitting and giving them that safe place to say anything, knowing that it stays between just the two of us.  Oh, sure there are parameters and their understanding that sharing some things will be shared.  I often think that they choose that method to make known things that they find difficult to talk about.  I love being able to advocate for them when they let me know that is what they need.  I love being the place to vent about all kinds of stuff, problems with their abusers, the other women in the shelter, how boring the food can be, how difficult it is to find the resources they need to get back on their feet, find their way to a now-new life of their own.

I love that it becomes easy for them to trust us.  I love working with the women who simply cannot find a way to trust anyone, but are still willing to talk, knowing that they are safe doing so.  That is pretty sacred and cool.

So, I did the right thing and talked to my immediate supervisor about how I am feeling completely ineffective, and I trotted over to the shelter before I could lose heart.

I shared, mostly spewed, all of my frustrations about how I am just not doing a proper job, and that I hate reading about how I did not do/finish/facilitate/complete something concerning work with the women.  B listened and then shared that everyone is having the same difficulties.  Everyone.  The exact same difficulties.  Everyone.

WTF?  I am not saying it is systemic, but everyone?  And, at pretty much the same level of incompetence and frustration and feelings of self-defeat?


So, the conversation continued, with much sharing and a definitive discussion of documentation and follow-through.  I left feeling much better, especially since it was my intention to offer my resignation at that meeting. 

I still work there and I have a renewed energy, which has helped me set some tentative boundaries with the women.  One of the feedback issues about which B has talked to me is allowing the women to dominate most of my time.  She must have discussed it with R (DV Therapist) because she talked to me about last week, too.  So, I did that.  One of R's suggestions was offering a time limit when someone came to chat.  I may do that, but my preference right now is to share that I have some other work to finish and then remind the woman at the point when she begins to repeat herself.  So far that is working.

Another boundary is that they are still welcome, heck, I even encourage them, to vent about house issues and what they perceive as problems with other house residents.  Share it and it loses its power.  What I stopped yesterday was the beginning of an intense examination (as in ripping to shreds) if another person.  It is happening with only one resident and despite my attempts to change the subject, she just barrels on.  When given a time limit to share her current activities, she barrels on.  When reminded of the time limits, she barrels on.  She also continues to talk her way out of the office, through the outer office and down the hall. 

When she started on her roommate, I said that we would not be discussing her roommates .  She continued and I interrupted to say that we would not be discussing this person.  She continued at least seven more times...I counted, whilst being attentive :)...and I replied the same each time.  She made a simple, neutral, non-judgmental comment.  I smiled.  She was shocked, and probably a little offended.  I was fine, because we now have a boundary.  I am sure it will be tested; I am ready for that and happy to reinforce it because it is best for both of us, most especially the resident.

I just have to share that I am feeling more confident about my abilities today because my intent in working there has been subtly altered by my conversation with B.

I stopped back at the shelter on Thursday afternoon to deliver a couple of food donations I received and the advocate on duty asked if I could stick around to talk.  She told me that she was ready to walk out.  I sat back and listened and what she shared is almost exactly what I had share earlier that day with B.  Holy crap.

We talked for a long time, in between helping the women, fielding phone calls and drop-ins and all the dozens of moments of a shelter day.  The exact same thing happened when I went to work yesterday.  A brief conversation with the advocate who had completed her shift.  Two other advocates initiating the same dialogue. 

I have no idea where any of this conversation and concern might be going, but if it serves only to give relief to us, then that is just fine.

And, I found some of the Asian noodles I bought to make a dinner for the women, which I will probably make with them the next time I work.

An interesting aside is that the advocate from yesterday asked me an interesting question.  I had asked to women to think about what favorite foods they would like to have once in a while, especially as related to Easter Sunday, and I had provided the extra ingredients not available through our commodity food deliveries.  There was a crate of fresh foods and other ingredient mixes I made for them and she asked why I do that, bring in fresh foods or do art with the women.  Was it for them or was it for me.  I thought for a moment and answered that I did it for both, for all of us. 

But, I had to think about it more, I found, when it dominated my moments of down-time during the day.  Why do I do that?  And, I know.  I have greater resources than many of them.  More than some of them will have for a long time, as they regain their lives.

The shelter gave me refuge when I had nothing and no where to go.  They gave me a place to recover, to be safe and to find the strength to have my new-now life.  I have a responsibility to repay that out into the world, and into the shelter and its residents.

It is my responsibility to give back, and part of that is to increase the women's comfort by the teeniest bit that extra foods provide.  Through all time, food sharing has been one of the strengths of society building, one of the core tools to bring people together, for health, for family and community, for peace-making, problem solving and soul support.

Living in a shelter means giving up just about everything. Some things by choice, but most by necessity and for safety.  Had A not asked me that question, I would not have had to think about why this is so important to me.  A small amount of a familiar and comforting food can make all the difference it needs to make.

Fancy sugars and spices to transform commodity apples into warm and fragrant crisp.  Fresh vegetables and eggs to elevate corn bread from cornmeal and water.  Fresh butter as an occasional change from big tubs of margarine. 

Heck, fresh eggs for anything is a precious and rare ingredient, highly coveted, a very high value resource.  A couple of eggs.  We struggle with the issue of eggs all the damn time.  They are expensive, big picture-wise, and the use issue comes in because they are not available as a commodity item and we have to buy them ourselves.

I cannot eat them lately.  They cause intestinal distress, so I do not buy them.  I was thinking yesterday that there must be a way to buy more every week from my own budget, and then I get caught in the big-picture stuff and understand that balance is the most important thing on which I need to work right now.  Maybe part of shelter living is to adjust to not having everything you want to be a part of your life.

I know that shelter living and shelter supporting, working and advocating is how I repay the help I have received.  I do repay, but the truth is that all of this is essential to me and my own healing and recovery.  My therapist was concerned that being there, on the other side of the desk, would bring triggers to the return of my past experiences and how I struggled through all that time.  Depression, PTSD, more depression, self-doubt, self-loathing, even more depression.  It has not, and it bears mentioning that the experiences of other people, especially women, do not trigger me in any way.

I will continue to buy extra stuff, mostly food, for the shelter and its well-being.  I will continue to set appropriate boundaries for myself and for our women.  I will be a support for my fellow advocates and I guess that I will write about the holiday issues that brought me here tonight some other time.  I think that I will indulge in one of my high value resources and make toast...real butter...and some hot cocoa. 

And, I am going to keep in mind that what comforts us is as unique as each of us are.  I am hoping that I develop more comfort supportive behaviors and techniques to support my need to feed our women. 


  1. J, I was thinking of you and the shelter over the Easter break as holiday time is often a really bad time as there is a lot of drinking going on resulting in many cases of DV and I thought you may have been really busy. I am glad you have sorted things out in your mind and was able to enjoy some comfort food...toast with real butter and hot cocoa! :-)

  2. Holidays are difficult. People relapse to their substances, not just alcohol. Women return to their abusers, with promises that things will be better. Residents act out their loss and fear. If you think about it, it is like a family, just on a larger screen.

    This job is going to be a constant learning environment. I knew that, I just did not imagine that it was going to be complicated by administration staff, which I am beginning to think is part of the training process. We will see.

    I hope you and everyone had a nice holiday. It was good to be with family and I will eventually write about that whole thing.