I spent several years working for a non-profit mental health agency, and during that time, I counseled with kids who’d been given a pretty swift kick in the ass by Life. Children who’d been taken from their drug-addled, abusive or simply unfit parents — whose own parents had no doubt passed on their addictions and unwell cultural consciousnesses.
Some of my clients had just been placed back at home, or else they were living with distant relatives, or foster parents — with mixed levels of commitment to the process of parenting, but whom, heartbreakingly, were often more interested in the supplemental income provided by the state when a child with “special needs” was placed in their care.
One client used to set things (and himself) on fire. He was eight.
The work I did was called “behavior modification” — a term I came to loathe, because it implied that we, the all-knowing adults, could essentially manipulate (“modify”) the behavior of children we worked with into something that made us more comfortable; this was supposed to be “healthy.”
There are about 657 layers of wrong piled into the implications of that term, and they are far-reaching and utterly fucked.
But what I came to realize is that, really, my work was to build rapport. It was to become one adult in a long line of adults who would hear them — and not try to tell them to just get over it, because doing so made me feel like I was doing something, or providing the false (if however comforting) idea that I could control something that, quite frankly, had nothing to do with me.
And my job certainly wasn’t to try to make abused, reactive children and young adults understand cognitively what they were doing — at levels far beyond what their young brains could compute — even though that was the agenda of the adults who were made so uncomfortable by the reality of children who needed so very much, and had been made to behave like cornered, scared animals.
Trust, I came to understand, was the core experience I could offer these kids. Toward the end of my time with that agency, I made it my personal mission to give zero fucks about whether or not I was following protocol (like using scripted language or never ever ever touching a child, even if they were climbing all over me begging to be held), and instead focused on what I could do to communicate an understanding that they’d been given a basket full of reasons to be angry, horrified and sad.
But I also wished to communicate that they were each inherently wise, whole, precious and fully capable — not of doing life perfectly, but maybe, of knowing that where they’d been didn’t have to be a suffocating box they lived in for the rest of their lives.
I trust you, I said to each of them either through words, or by whatever tenderness I could offer, to know that what has happened to you, and who you feel like you are because of those things, is not you. You sit in the Center of all that — You are the eye of the storm.
• • •
There comes a point when we have to release the people we’ve loved like prayer ties into the fire — we do our best to breathe our wishes for them into their spirits, into the hands of the guides and gods that hold them… and then release them into the transformative power of the fire that is Life.
The most loving thing we can
sometimes always do is trust someone to recognize their own power — and their choice — to live in alignment with what is Highest, most loving, and precious about themselves: that they are Divine, bigger than the contents of their stories, bound by nothing so great as to diminish the wisdom that is always whispering to them from within the core of their being.