Thursday, April 30, 2009

Osborne House--35 years strong

I was at Government House today to attend a reception celebrating the 35th anniversary of Osborne House. Osborne House is a women's shelter providing a 24 hour crisis line and emergency short term housing for women experiencing domestic violence.

The politicians gave wonderful and humourous speeches, the board chair gave a recount of the early days of starting up--no government funding was used to start Osborne House. It was created against all odds and now receives strong governmental support. However, the real stars of the show were two women who are passionate spokeswomen for the organization as past participants in the program. They told us of the difficult past they left behind when they went to Osborne House for help, and the tireless staff that provided input to them. One of them, a retired teacher, now does "payback", working in their programs and providing a face and voice to the value of the organization.

She was humourous and strong, clear and bold--a survivor.
The other quietly read a moving poem read on the first anniversary of her new life--confidence and new life oozing out of her.

I was fortunate to end up sitting during dinner with one of the pioneers of shelters in the province, who shared memories of starting a shelter in rural areas. Her city pioneer joined us for dessert, and they laughed at the stories they told. Out of date facilities, ceiling leaks, broken toasters, a dumped bottle of curry in the Thanksgiving stuffing one year...lots of laughter. Bold conversations with politicians, long travel up north, long hours fundraising to make it happen. Lots of strength.

Osborne House is 35 years old. It is the second oldest shelter in Canada. Since the 1970's, the murder rate of women in domestic situations has been cut in half.

50% --that's a lot of lives saved. Yippee for women's shelters...that's huge.

50% as many still being killed--that's a lot of lives still being lost.

In the old days--just 40 years ago, there was no where to go, nothing to do. Too many women who "walked into doors", or "fell down the stairs".

There was a hope shared this evening--that in 35 years from now, Osborne House is not needed. That intimate partner violence be a relic of the past. That Osborne House will be transformed from women's shelter to senior's housing.

The pioneers of women's shelters were confident, outspoken, courageous women who advocated for what they knew was needed...may those of us who follow in their footsteps continue the battle to eliminate the fear of domestic violence.

Stand up. Speak up. Get help. Give help. Talk. Give. Now.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

With appreciation

Last week was Administrative Assistant's week--a chance to formally recognize all the behind the scenes work that makes our practice happen.

The work in the counselling room is the "main course" of the therapy experience. Melanie is the appetizer and dessert. Before a person is in the room with the therapist:
  • s/he had to get information from the website--Melanie updates it.
  • s/he has to call and find out information--Melanie answers the phone
  • s/he has to provide information so the therapist can prepare for the client--Melanie captures the information
  • a new client needs to be welcomed--Melanie is right there.
  • s/he may want to change an appointment or be reminded of the time--Melanie does that too
  • the therapists need copies of things, a supply of books to provide to clients--Melanie does this
  • then I need help with bookkeeping, connecting with suppliers, preparations for the new office--Melanie, again
If you've got the impression that she makes it all possible, you're right. And she does it with a smile. It's fun to come to work because she welcomes us as we come in the door. She is a calming soothing presence on the phone, and provides good information, returns your calls, and looks for the answers and gets back to you if you stump her with a question (and that doesn't happen often). She lets us think that she likes us--and that's a good feeling--and I think she really does, too. Melanie is a gift to Bergen and Associates and the people we serve. If you gather that we are a little fond of her, you're more than a little correct.

I treated her to a special afternoon last week. It was fun to spoil her and remind her of how we value her.

I remember hearing someone say a long time ago that encouragement and appreciation are fuel to a person's soul.

Fuel up someone today!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Perspective 101 - as taught by Donald, age 7

So life has had a few more downs than ups lately--the most and recent obvious one is the rather large and purplish toe on the end of my left foot. The toe that doesn't really bend--or at least without serious discomfort. The toe that is really a small part of my body, but was to have played a rather significant role in the half marathon on May 2nd. This would be the half marathon that I, rather proudly, must say, ran 11 miles on Saturday to prepare for--without collapsing. (Though with more stiffness the next day than I really care to admit). But Sunday I did an ungraceful unintentional pirouette on the stairs that has me hobbling.

So, in the middle of this painful toe thing... (Did I mention that there were more than 25 people ahead of me in line at the minor emergency clinic--and that's before priorization. I'm no fool--sprained toes are well down the priority list--it might have been Thursday before I was seen. Forget that.) Anyways, in the middle of the afternoon with this painful toe thing, as I have a half hour of time to kill, an almost empty computer battery, and some electronic marking to do, I stopped at a local KFC for a soda and an electrical outlet. I hunkered down to the grading, and then he came.

He. Donald. Age 7. Adult teeth--too big for his little mouth, and in various stages of arrival that gave him this curious, beguiling grin. He hopped up in the chair across from me and started talking. It seemed he'd driven in from the out of town for some medical appointment. While what I thought were his grandparents were ordering their food, he chatted with me--whether I wanted to or not. (I did not want to) Told me about his school (didn't like it), favorite subject (gym), and a recent field trip into Winnipeg (I didn't quite follow that one). Told me that the people were his mom and dad, not grandparents (Oops on my part). His mom grinned at him and I as she went to the table, not seeming at all surprised at Donald's choice to visit with a stranger. A while later he scampered off for his chicken and fries...freeing me to work (or so I thought). Letting me get back to the work that I so needed to get done (or so I thought).

Donald came back a few minutes later. After a few more random disclosures, he told me that his "real" mom had died when he was 2, and his "real" dad had also died in a violent tragedy, which he nonchalantly described. He couldn't remember his dad, but sorta remembered his mom. He told the tale of how CFS had placed him with his current family. Then he told me about the sister he had with this family. He wants to be a taxi driver when he grows up. He asked me some questions about my computer and my family. He showed me how a person plays badminton. The work I had to do suddenly seemed insignificant as the two of us talked openly with each other in a refreshing and innocent way, he more honest than any adult.

Suddenly, my toe seemed something to giggle about. The marathon--a minor missed opportunity that will come again. The other "downs" lately...chump change compared to the challenges little Donald has and will face. He didn't seem to be aware of the courage he had to face the day, or the pluck he demonstrated in choosing to visit with a stranger, or the matter-of-fact way he faces his life. The conversation changed from an annoying interruption to a life lesson and a new friend.

Half hour over--time to move on. I stopped by his table on my way out to greet his parents, and compliment Donald with them on his charming demeanor. And I headed out to my car. I had the engine running and was about to pull out when I saw him running up in my rear view mirror. One word, with outstretched arms: "Hug". A quick embrace, and he was gone again.

I had a fun evening gait is neither comfortable nor quick, but there was an unexpected lightness to it. Thank you, Professor Donald.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

To Think About

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.
Carl Jung

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day

Earth Day is a reminder to all of us to stop and realize that we are consuming the world's resources and spitting out garbage much faster than the earth can sustain. We are all in trouble, and it's getting worse fast.

I think we are a fairly earth-friendly business. Talking creates no pollution, in fact, it slows people down, helps husbands and wives connect in a low-tech, high-touch sort of way. Good old fashioned human connection--laughing, enjoying each other's company, going for a walk is "green". People who are centered and grounded are able to make wise decisions thoughtfully with discussion--as opposed to impulse decisions which piles up the "stuff" (and racks up the credit card) as an ineffective means to fill the emptiness or calm the restlessness inside. Consumption goes down as people are satisfied with who they are and are calmly able to make choices that feel good, rather than be compelled to consume, rat-race, and spin around in eco- and soul-destroying ways.

So, on this Earth Day, turn off the TV, don't drive to the video store, shut the computer, and connect, face-to-face, in a meaningful way. Enjoy life, don't consume it. Relish the moment, rather than fritter it away.

At Bergen and Associates, we try to be earth-conscious in all sorts of ways. One of the side effects of people becoming more connected with themselves and their partners, is becoming more connected and aware of our earth.

We also put our earth consciousness into action.Our clients often like to drink some water before or during the session--it's always nice to have something to hold or fiddle with when the situation is a little nervewracking--and we use these compostable cups from Eco-Products. They are a corn cup product that look and feel like plastic cups, but will compost in 8 weeks--EIGHT WEEKS!! I won't lie--they aren't cheap.

But our earth is worth it.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Spring and New Beginnings

I love spring. It is my favoritest time of year, without a doubt. Spring is a time of new beginnings, and "firsts"...let me tell you about some.

This last week, Jennifer Heinrichs officially began providing therapy on our team. We are thrilled to have her. She comes to us from the Aurora Center, and is very highly regarded there. She will be working out of our Pembina location...starting slowly as she finishes up a few things, and then will be ramping up in a few months. She works effectively with individuals, couples and families. Those who have worked with her say she is exceptional at connecting with people, and really effective at helping clients engage with her and with the work they want to do. We're thrilled to have her on board.

Then, today I was at our new Smith Street location, getting it ready. The office, as you can see in the "before" picture to the left, was painted in a vibrant tangerine red, which while beautifully vibrant in some settings, just didn't seem conducive to therapy. The interior designer suggested a soft beige go on that wall. To say I was "concerned" about painting a light color on top of that red was understated. But the good people at Benjamin Moore put out this paint which is guaranteed to cover anything with 2 coats. The picture on the right is the "after picture" just after the first coat. Amazing coverage!! The furniture needs to be put in place, and the pictures and shelving need to be hung, but it's already looking great. The place has this urban warehouse feel to it--the far wall is good old fashioned solid brick--that feels relaxed and sophisticated all at the same time. We are going to be ready for the beginning of May, right on schedule!

After painting, I came home, realizing that despite the rain, I had better do something about the yard...I was thrilled to find the trees budding, and after the layers of leaves were raked up in the front garden, there were little tiny shoots pushing up from the ground. The barely-but-definitely-there shoots were SO exciting to see. One of my favorite sights of all time, really.

Other firsts too--first baseball throwing session (we won't talk about that too much--I'm a funny picture in trying not to close my eyes while I'm catching it--makes for fairly ineffective ball catching) and the first barbecue of the season. But mostly, the buds and shoots caught my eye. Our logo, which you see on our website is a seed growing from the mud and dirt...a metaphor for how painful and difficult relationships/ experiences provide opportunities for growth.

I'm exited about this next the earth comes alive in newness and freshness. It invigorates me to see the buds--the potential of life just waiting to happen. I'm excited about the next months at Bergen and Associates--as the potential of new therapists and a new location gives us greater potential to help people see the possibilities of new life for themselves.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Being Surprised by Joy

I woke up this morning prepared to grind through the day--an all day workshop with a meeting downtown that I needed to scramble to during the lunch break. I had a heaviness about me...a Friday that was going to be loooong (followed by an equally long Saturday at the workshop--no weekend for me).

On top of that, I forgot my cell phone and had to go back home to get it. I check my email quickly, and came upon a video. It's a delightful video where Susan Boyle, unemployed, in none-too-fashionable clothes tells Simon Cowell and the others that she wants to be a famous singer. The 47 year old self-profed never-been-kissed woman is clearly object of ridicule as people roll their eyes at her dream. They are laughing AT her...and then their jaws drop when she opens her mouth and sings in soul-shivering beauty that had tears rolling down my face. The judges admit with shame that they had prejudged unfairly, and have little trouble aknowledging that she's awesome. She's giddy with delight. The audience giggles nervously feeling foolish for having judged her.

I realized that the tears were a reflection of the joy. It was wonderful to see someone who has struggled and hasn't always felt esteem in the eyes of others succeed big. There's a part in each of us that feels vulnerable and not accepted--my inner geek felt like one of my own "made it". And if she can make it, then others can make it. If she can make it, there's hope for all of us.

So, I skipped out the door to class, an unexpected lightness in my step. The day was interesting, but I knew it would feel long--sitting for hours on end trying to take in reams of information would be exhausting. Then...another surprise...

Behind the speaker was a window. We were on the second floor...outside the window was a back lane, and 1/2 a block away at the end of the lane was a school yard. Suddenly it was flooded with children laughing and playing, running back and forth, chasing balls and each other. I couldn't hear them but I could imagine hearing the sounds of children enjoying recess. They came out at lunch and again in the afternoon. The delight of watching children enjoying the spring weather was spectacular...those times were little treats that helped the day fly by.

But the joy wasn't over yet. Tara Sheppard, one of our therapists, is going up north to present a workshop next week to workers at a women's shelter. The work at a women's shelter is hard...the stories that are heard are full of pain and trauma, the women that desire help come with huge needs, and sometimes the fear in them has them resist the very help they ask for, and the resources available are often exceeded by the need. It's tough to work at a women's shelter. One of things we wanted to do at the workshop was have the staff feel a little pampered and cared for. Care for the caregivers, y'know? Melanie, our receptionist, went out shopping to buy some supplies that would allow the women to feel a little special. The good folks at Shopper's Drug Mart caught the vision and ran with it. They gave us little samples of all sorts of things...enough for each of the staff to have little lotions, face mask stuff. COOL!! The kindness towards people they will never meet--heartwarming. I could just imagine the faces of the shelter staff next week. How neat is that!

I feel like I was the one rolling my eyes at the day, and now it has had the last laugh--the long dreary day that it was supposed to be was replaced by one that will be remembered for it's pleasures.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Different Kind of Love Song

One of the wonderful parts of my life is the chance to see couples come in and work through stuff...couples committed and in love with each other. Couples who have a connection with each other that has them decide to work on things, because not working on them is not an option.

Couples who are committed to each other
who extend grace
who receive mercy
who engage in the struggle to forgive
who pull in the same direction
who don't ask if it will work, but how it will work
who wink at the other, choosing not to scowl
who wrestle with the tough stuff, to make something good even better
who have every plan of growing old together.

Having the opportunity to witness that makes me shiver, all the way down to my toes, with joy. That why this song brings tears to my eyes.

Walking her home, by Mark Schulz

Let me know if you can watch without tearing up!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Sometimes a fresh idea makes all the difference!

Allison the turtle was a turtle in trouble.

Allison, you see, only had one flipper. A shark attack had left her with three stumps. When a turtle has one flipper, there is only one option, really--circles, and more circles.

The guy, Jeff George, at the turtle refuge at South Padre Island was clear--
turtles with three flippers can get released back in the wild,
turtle with two flippers can probably make it in the turtle sanctuary


turtles with one flipper...not much hope. They are generally euthanized.

They tried prostheses with Allison--but there wasn't enought residual stump for them to work. She is a one flipper turtle...take it or leave it.

One of the young interns remembered something though. He recalled his days as a kid...rowing with one paddle in an inner tube. Think about it, use your imagination--circles, only circles. Like a one flippered turtle.

But put a kid in a canoe, and rowing with a single paddle is doable.

The difference--the length of the canoe, acting as a rudder.

This intern thought "outside the box", and let go of the prosthesis idea. He worked with a wet suit that had a rudder. They played with the positioning and size, and one day--VOILA!! Allison is a coordinated turtle that goes where she wants in the tank, feeds herself, and decides when to dive and when to surface.

She still only has one flipper.

But ...
someone with a different perspective helped her with some different possibilities. Take a look:

The interview I heard talked about how the handlers continue to marvel at how Allison has "perked up", how she revels in her mobility. She is a new turtle with her rudder--and the single fin isn't so much a problem any more. Reminded me of some moments I've had with clients, when a comment or question helped them see the issue through fresh ideas...they practically bound out of session with fresh energy, ready to tackle life in a new way. It's fun to watch...

kind of like it is fun to watch Allison.

Everyone needs some help once in a while to solve a tough situation in new ways. Ask around. Ask for help. Try a fresh idea.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Discipline and Freedom

The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating--in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

The Way I See It # 76, Anne Morriss as seen on a Starbucks cup.

I dislike paperwork. No, that's too kind. I rather despise it.

If someone had told me how much paperwork would be required to be a therapist before I started, I might have reconsidered my decision.

I dislike it so much that when I sit down because it is time to do it, I find myself looking for one more little distraction before I hunker down. Or, I look to find myself a reward that I can give myself when I get a good chunk of it done.

Hence, videogames. Just solitaire or a game of Scramble with a friend on Facebook. Twister is a good one too.

The problem was, was that I often I didn't do "just one"...I got sucked in, and spent too much time doing these games instead of getting down to the job at hand and getting it done. Then I'd be frustrated with myself when, a while later, I still didn't have my paperwork done, was no closer to the end of the day's work, and I was running short on time.

Lent is a time when one can choose to abstain from something--a time when one can become connected with sacrifice or suffering, and free up time to focus on matters spiritual. This year, I chose to give up solitaire and all manner of computer video games. I'm not under the illusion that there was any suffering happening because of it, but I did have a sacrifice--I could no longer fool myself in the way I had been.

I'm not proud to realize how often my impulse was to go to a game rather than face the task I needed to do. I was sobered to see how often I would have gone to a quick round of something rather than tuck in to the job. But I had the freedom of getting work done quicker, which allowed me the feeling of accomplishment as the tasks didn't hang over until later, and the choice to use the saved time in any number of ways. The liberation of this commitment was more remarkable than I anticipated.

This time of Lent, then, was a complex time interwoven with spiritual growth, honesty with myself over something that I had rather been fooling myself about, and the satisfaction of maintaining discipline toward a set goal achieved. I did it. Not one video game for the entire period of Lent.

Lent ended today. I still haven't played one. Tossed the idea around a couple of times I or don't I? While my commitment has ended, and my original goal achieved, I'm thinking that the advantages to maintaining my "electronic solitaire fast" outweighs the lure.

I still don't like paperwork, but recognize it as a necessary responsibility for the privilege that I'm allowed to walk with people through the most important work in their lives. If someone had told me how much paperwork would be required to be a therapist before I started, I might have reconsidered my decision.

I'm glad no one told me.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Cup wisdom

Seen on a Starbuck's cup (The Way I See it #198)

You can shower a child with presents or mondy, but what do they really mean, compared to the most valuable git of all--your time? Vacations and special events are nice, but so often the best moments are the spontaneous ones. Being there. Every moment you spend with your child could be the one that really matters.

Reminds me of a mom I know who asked her child what was their favorite moments of the last year. The top two answers:
1. riding bikes (last spring) to McDonald's on a Saturday morning for pancakes
2. playing Monopoly.

Presence--availability, accessibility, responsivity--is what is important to provide a child with memories of security in childhood.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Suspicious of Grace

This video is a testament to our culture:

Watch and giggle and think.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

It takes a crisis to raise a village

I was listening to someone talk about volunteering north of Winnipeg in the sandbagging efforts. She talked about what a great time she had. She specifically talked about how a group of strangers so very quickly came together to do the job, and that there was "none of the awkwardness" which so frequently arises when in a situation that you are unfamiliar with the people and surroundings. Interviews in the media have people enjoying themselves, marvelling at all the good food that others have brought, and "feeling their muscles" knowing that all the energy went to good use. They've seen exhuasted and overwhelmed people cry with relief as busloads of people come to help save their home.

I was listening to an interview with a Hutterite woman, who came with a vanfull of fellow Hutterites from an hour's drive away to help. The interviewer asked her something to the effect of, "So, what would you tell people when they might ask you about why you and the others have come from such a distance to help out when you're clearly safe, and you're helping other strangers? What would you say?" (opening the door to some profound wisdom, a mini-sermon, or a commercial of some sort for the Hutterite lifestyle) The woman said simply (in that wonderful accent she has):

"Vell, da people need help, and ve can help"

She didn't understand the question like a fish doesn't understand water.

She experiences the value of working together, the comfort found in facing adversity together, the fun and laughter of many hands tackling the problem. She knows, from the inside out, the value of community.

Pity, it takes the risk of imminent flood for the rest of us to figure this out. Even more of a pity that many of us will forget until the next crisis comes along.