Thursday, January 27, 2011

Retirement: Leaving a Career, Listening to Stories, Following a Calling



I'm eighteen hours into retirement.  So far, so good.  I have been in the counseling field, whether clinically or pastorally, for a long time.  It's been a wild ride.  I have seen and heard more than I ever dreamed or dreaded.


There was Billy* who abused any obtainable substance--a huffer-- and showed up for our session with spray-paint all around his mouth and nose, assuring me he was clean.


There was Carl and Nancy whose lack of hygiene was unspeakable.  I felt guilty but each time they left a session I would wipe down the furniture and spray air freshener in the room and hallway so the next client would be able to tolerate the atmosphere.


There was Jill.  As we were talking I offhandedly told her she was special and continued talking, only to notice she had broken down and was weeping.  My first impulse was to think I had possibly offended or hurt her.  She assured me that wasn't the case.  Rather, "No one has ever told me I'm special."  She was decades into her adult life and no one had ever said something like that to her.  No one.  How can that be?


There was James.  A pastor who found himself in a deep, dark place.  Suicidal.  A pastor--a messenger of hope, agonizing to find hope.


There was the cop, responsible for enforcing law and order, whose own life and marriage was total chaos, and insisted that his word was the law in their house.  Sir, you can be right--or--you can be  married.


 There was Emma who had been financially exploited and manipulated by another therapist in the community and now didn't know who she could trust anymore.


There was George who swore he'd been framed, that he would never violate a child.  Pleading with me to believe him because so few others were.  Assuring me of  his moral integrity and that he would never do something so reprehensible.  In tears, telling me how scared he was and that  this couldn't be happening.   I believed him.  I stood by him.  And then it was brought to light that the charges were true, and, in fact, he had committed prior acts with others.  George will likely die of old-age in prison--claiming his innocence. 


Ed and Karen.  Married.  Two kids.  Ed loved his kids, but had a special bond with his son, Brad.  They were tight.  Curious as to why a car was running in their attached garage, Ed discovered the lifeless body of his son in the frontseat, a hose running from the car's exhaust to the driver's window.  Ed and Karen and I talked for a long, long time over the course of many, many months seeking consolation and healing and a reason for themselves to continue living.


There was Mary, in her 60's, maybe 70's.  Childhood wounds still afflicting her.  As a little girl, she had never been allowed to play.  Always had to be responsible.  Wanted her mom to read her nursery rhymes before bedtime but that was "childish" and mom was "too busy."  There was something about that, in particular, that she missed so much.  We talked about the inherent worth of that little girl, the God-given value of that inner child.  On rare occasions, therapy is simple.  At the end of one of our sessions I reminded her of the reality and presence of "the little girl" within her presently  and I asked her what prevented her from reading nursery rhymes now.  "Well, nothing, I guess."  She went to the library and brought home several collections of nursery rhymes.  At night she began reading her nursery rhymes and took absolute delight in them.  Once upon a time. . .


There was Mallory who had been sexually abused when a little girl.  She had never told anyone of the demonic horrors, and, instead had stuffed it all her life.  Out of sight, out of mind, so she thought.  Unwittingly, she was living a life of flight, a life of reaction.  After her painstaking efforts to face the shame that was strangling her she began to trust me and she disclosed details of what had been done to her.   She was violated in ways that in moments of my hottest rage and desire for revenge against an enemy I have never schemed.  To this day I cannot speak of her abuse without losing my composure.    

There was Bernard whose job required him to be on the road a lot.  So self-conscious, insecure and ashamed of himself  that when driving down the Interstate if he caught the look of another passing driver he would quickly turn away, in an effort to avoid the feared scorn and disdain of another human being.


There was Jason, a husband and loving father.  He wept as he disclosed to me secrets never before told.  Secrets of his addiction, an addiction neither his wife or kids know about, an addiction that, if he does not address, will rob him of everyone he loves.  And he'll be left with just another one-night stand.


There was Becky, who had grown up in a rigid, authoritarian religious subculture and had been shamed into living a life of rules-keeping, but no relationship.  She came to me with her questions, her doubt, her desperate longing for meaning.  Somewhere and somehow in the counseling process she encountered Christ's love and mercy and experienced the love of God in an unparalleled way, and I didn't even know it til after the fact.  


There have been hundreds and hundreds of other men and women who have trusted me with their stories. We have laughed at the hilarious and wept over the tragic.  Holding hands, agony and ecstasy have walked into my office hoping for understanding.  Confusion has entered, desperate for direction.  Heartache has cried herself into my presence, quietly pleading for comfort.  Buried in shame, many have come in hopes that maybe this time they won't be rejected.  Many have come, no longer believing in God yet desperate for God.


I do not know what good I've done or been.  Two things I do know.  The stories have broken me and blessed me.   And it has been my privilege to serve in this capacity wherein so many have trusted me with their lives, their sin, their pain, their dreams and hopes.  A privilege to serve in my faltering way as a mirror of God's grace and mercy. 

And now my own story is opening a new chapter.  So far, so good. 


* (all names and identifying details have been changed or omitted in order to protect the privacy and confidentiality of all individuals.)



20 comments:

SJ said...

I think I stopped breathing and only started again as the tears were rolling down my cheeks. Life is cruel but it's the people that make it so.

It takes a special person to be able to walk with people afflicted, to listen, to show them they are special and to help them take baby steps back to the world, to show them that not everyone is the same.

You are that person and although your calling now is moving in a different direction I feel it will always be your calling. May the rest of your life journey for you be one that enhances your life as much as you have enhanced others.

Jessica Brant said...

Powerful I can see where your profession would drain you and exhilarate all in the same breath. Please keep sharing your stories

~Jessica~

Bongo said...

An awesome post ...it's rare to be able to see what goes on inside that room....To see it from the therapists eyes...thank you for giving us a glimpse inside...I'm sure you have many stories like these to tell....Please keep telling them.....As always...As always...

Steve said...

SJ, thanks for your kind words and your blessing.
Jessica, you describe it quite well. I promise--I'll keep sharing my stories.
Bongo, As always. . .

Jim said...

Hi Steve,
I follow and read a lot of blogs to get a wider image of this world and the people that make it happen.
I'd just like to repeat what Sarah says above-"It takes a special person to be able to walk with people afflicted, to listen, to show them they are special and to help them take baby steps back to the world, to show them that not everyone is the same.

You are that person and although your calling now is moving in a different direction I feel it will always be your calling. May the rest of your life journey for you be one that enhances your life as much as you have enhanced others."

I don't think I could ever have done what you have. "It takes a special person...."

Kathleen (One Tree Past The Fence) said...

With all the kindness in the world, I echo your words... you don't know what good you've done?

You must know.
You must know that every time
you opened that door to someone
who needed to be heard ...

you listened ...
and they were ...

you did good.
you must know that.

If you don't,
then with all the kindness that I began this with .... I tell you ...

You did good every time you opened that door... you opened your heart

...

heart listening is the best therapy in the world.

You did better than good.

YogaSavy said...

They were meant to be in your life. You gave, loved, cared and held them when they needed you. You were there for them. Absolutely beautiful and it brought a little tear......
You saw them as a person/being with hearts that needed fixed or just to be heard.
Not many can do that. You took your profession one step further. You extended the hand of humanity.

Steve said...

Jim, thanks for your affirmation.

Kathleen, I am savoring your words and wearing them. They're like a warm fleece. You're very kind. And you have a beautiful way of expressing yourself.

Kathleen (One Tree Past The Fence) said...

They were sincere.


Warm fleece.
Nobody has ever described my words
as warm fleece.

Now I'm smiling.


you did good again.

sweepyjean said...

Congratulations on your retirement. Also, thank you for the service you provided. Certain professions are made for certain people. Not all of us could take on the burden of listening to so many broken people. Now is your time to be free with your own thoughts. Enjoy.

Pamela said...

Yes, many lives you touched, helped to heal, changed for the better and yet you probably have no idea how very much. Congratulations on retirement and your blog!

Jan said...

Thank you for the years you put in being someone the wounded could trust. Thank you for sharing your stories. Congratulations on your retirement and enjoy many years of love.

MJasper said...

I wish you well...and safe travels...

alejandro guzman said...

A true human can listen without judging. It amazes me that you survived until retirement. I know thatnI would of had to have had a strong drink after every session..

Happy retirement mate. A

Mary said...

I worked in an adolescent unit for most of my nursing career. It was one of the toughest things I ever did in my life. I wanted to help everyone! But, in reality, there were some that I couldn't touch. We were limited as a nurse in what we could do, but talk therapy was available 24/7.
I commend you for the people you have helped throughout your career. It is a job that takes a unique individual to be successful and still be able to function in their own life.

Steve said...

YogaSavy, thank you for your kind words.
sweepyjean, I hope, in time, I will be free with my own thots. thanks.
Pamela and Jan, thanks for your encouragement and for reading my blog.
MJasper, I plan to write again about the forthcoming Honduras experience.
alejandro, The last 6 months I was downing shots DURING, not after, each session. :>)
Mary, you know, don't you. Thanks.

CHERYL WILLIAMS said...

Whew! That was powerful. I like it when you said, "Many have come, no longer believing in God, but desperate for God." What a loaded statement. As far as knowing what good you've done or been, I believe you answered your own question. You tried to do God's work and that's the best any of us can do.

Happy Retirement!

Steve said...

Cheryl, As I think about that statement I made, it reflects my own struggles with faith. There have been and are times when I could walk away from it all and there are times when I'm clinging and grasping with everything I've got. Thanks for your reassuring words.

Widow_Lady302 said...

My husband was a counselor for almost 30 years, different kind than you but he helped changed lives. When it became apparent that he couldn't go back to work because of his cancer, he sat with me and I his despair was palpable and he said "I wish I could have done more, done something great." It blew me away...

For every person he helped here was a family behind them benefiting from the help the person he counseled was getting. A father who wouldn't have to worry. A daughter who might have their father around. A wife, a mother...and so it goes for generations. What more could he have done? What more could you do? Thank you

You touched thousands, generations, and for that I thank you, and wish you God's blessing for the next throng of people who will have hope because of you.

Blessings..

Steve said...

Widow_Lady, thank you for providing a larger perspective from which to view the potential impact of these years behind me.