Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday...

Oye. So on Wednesday, which happens to be a full moon and I find that incredibly cool for some reason, I turn 43 years old. I've never been embarrassed to tell people how old I am. Today, I actually had a student say she thought I was in my late-20s. After I resisted the urge to get up and kiss her on the forehead, I had to remember that she was 16 years old and maybe when I was that age, I too would have been "liberal" in my calculation of someone's age. Although, when I think about it, I've always been HORRIBLE at estimating things: inches of snow, outside temperatures, height, weight, and yes, ages too.
So, what did I learn in my 42nd year? What were the highs, what were the lows? What did I waste too much time and energy on and what should I have paid more attention to? What did I celebrate? What did I discover?
The most defining factor of the past year has been my employment status. As most of you know, it was about one year ago that I was preparing to start my "dream job" at the Wisconsin Resource Center on May 20, 2013.  That dream quickly turned into a nightmare. Overall, I was certainly qualified for the job but what really made the difference in their decision to hire me were my references. One in particular from the brother of the Medical Director at Winnebago Mental Health Institution, who was my internship supervisor and has always been an advocate for me. He knew how much I wanted that job and he laid it on thick while talking with the Clinical Director of the WRC. He didn't lie about my skills or tell them I possessed some magical power that would make me "the perfect candidate" for the position, but he definitely "pushed my ego" while talking to the Clinical Director, of that I'm sure. I will always be indebted to him for doing that, because without that extra "umph" I think they may have gone with another applicant. And this job, at this location, with this population was what I concentrated my Research and Evaluation final project around. I was quite vocal in my dissatisfaction with my current job: not enough hours in a week to see all of the clients I was expected to see, not enough hours to complete all the necessary paperwork; I just really wanted a 40 hour work week instead of a 32 hour work week, but I had been repeatedly told that the possibility of that happening "wasn't in the budget this year" so how long could I remain in what felt like a very restrictive environment?
May 17, 2013 was my last day as the Older Adult Counselor at The Thompson Community Center, which has been one of, if not the best work environment I've ever had the privilege to be apart of. That group was solid. At my "going away lunch" several of my coworkers got up and sang a song about my love of the Packers, my tradition of decorating every one's doors for Halloween and organizing a Halloween lunch for the staff, in costume of course. Each year it got bigger and better and that just made my heart swell with excitement as a bunch of adults got to act a bit more childlike for an hour or two.  When we lose contact with that "child within", I'm convinced we begin to take things too seriously, and what better time of year than Halloween to rediscover the child in us all! We trick-or-treated from office door to office door, showed off our stylish, hip costumes and came together to break bread and enjoy a meal together...something that doesn't happen nearly as often as it should, regardless of the employer or agency or holiday.
After such a grand send-off, I loaded down the trunk of my car with all of the appropriate text books I had lugged into my office in the summer of 2011, training worksheets, handouts related to various conditions that had proved helpful in my work with this population, graduation photos, vacation photos, pictures of my nieces and grandson, of my parents and siblings, even a photo of my dog and cat that I thought for sure would find an honored place on my new desk as a state employee.
"You can't always get what you want/ No, you can't always get what you want/But if  you try sometime you just might find /You get what you  need"
I wanted my "dream job": Going to work every day with a sense of hope that would inspire the inmates I worked with to have hope. To be willing to work hard, uncover the deep-seated motivations for what they had done to get themselves here and to process those feelings, challenge those motivations; to prove them wrong, to accept that they were men who could have meaning and purpose in their lives, despite their current circumstances. I used the "blossom where you're planted" metaphor often with inmates. "You may not be in the best soil and frequently people will forget to water you, but you have to cultivate than inner sense of meaning and purpose to get what you need from this place each day; just enough to carry you through to the next day, and then we'll see what that day brings."
I was an employee for approximately 22 days before that theory smacked me in the face like a cold, wet trout.
Anyone who knows me, essentially knows this story so I won't bore you all by retelling it.
Bottom line: Sometimes you don't know what you want until you know what you don't want.
"Take me in, into your darkest hour/And I'll never desert you/I'll stand by you"
Per what has twistedly become part of the "norm" of my life, my husband once again went into detox and AODA treatment for alcoholism this year. It was kind of weird, but when he wanted to go into treatment in July, I told him he had to wait until August when my state benefits started and treatment would be much less expensive for us. If I think about this decision in terms of him needing a kidney transplant and me telling him to "wait it out until our insurance is better" that would be incredibly cruel, and think what you will, that's exactly what I told him. Again, anyone who knows me, essentially knows this story too, so I won't bore you all by retelling it.
The differences this time were that he went to residential treatment for a month about 4 hours north of home, then went to a sober living residence for men in northern Illinois, about another 4 hour drive from home, just in the opposite direction. Having talked with the director of the Illinois residence several times, she assured me that "we get into the guts of it here" which is exactly what I thought was needed to get my husband "over the hump" of the mountain he keeps sliding back from. What no one really knew is the depth of the trauma he needed to work through. I don't think Mark was even aware of what would come pouring out of that rusty bucket once he tipped it over. Within days of leaving WRC, he called me and asked me to come pick him up; that he couldn't make any more progress there and he'd gone as far as they could handle. I basically told him to "fucking buck up camper, this is treatment, these are the issues that continually drive you to turn to alcohol so you don't feel what you need to feel in order to heal." In a way I was right: he needed to walk through this trauma and feel all of the unbelievably shitty feelings that go with it and stop running from it, stop hiding from it in the bottom of a beer can or vodka bottle. What I was wrong about was my impression that the sober living residence was equipped to help him through this journey. Two days after his call asking me to pick him up, the director called and told me Mark was at their local hospital due to suicidal ideation, that the level of care he needed to deal with his trauma was more than they could provide and that his belongings were packed and someone needed to pick him up from the hospital then pick up his stuff from their residence. I told her I would leave ASAP and I drove to Illinois and picked him up, then we drove to get his stuff. I was angry, resentful, disappointed, heartbroken, catastrophizing, sad, hurt, confused...I was feeling every negative and angry emotion you can list.
To make a long story short (as they say) Mark's been sober since August 6, 2013. When he got home he started seeing a therapist who specializes in trauma treatment. He's changed in radical ways that three years ago I could only dream of occurring. His change has spurred my own change; we relate to each other in such healthier ways now.  We're certainly not perfect and we both frequently resort to those behaviors that had become "our norm" and "comfortable" for us, but when one of us calls the other out and makes a small step toward the other, we're making progress. We're both changing and growing. It takes incredible courage to approach someone in a different way, when the "old way worked so well" for our dysfunction (another over-used term, I know). We kept dancing the same old, familiar dance and when nothing changes, nothing changes. Now we're changing.
Bottom line: Expect the unexpected. Believe when every instinct tells you not to. Don't give up before the miracle happens.
"Well, it seems like so long ago/But it really ain't you know/I started out a crazy kid/Miracle I made it through the things I did/The things I did..."
On March 25, 2014 the state of Wisconsin granted me full licensure as a Licensed Professional Counselor. I had completed all of the educational and supervisory requirements to hold such a license, but with a history like mine, there are always raised eyebrows, skeptical looks and additional questions to be answered.
When I applied for my training license as a professional counselor, I completed the additional addendum related to "Convictions and Pending Charges", mailed in all the necessary legal paperwork related to my two misdemeanor drug charges, paid $8 to have that information reviewed and verified, and there was no additional work required on my part: the state issued my training license without any delay related to my legal history.
Obtaining my full license and becoming credentialed as a mental health provider with various insurance companies, however, has been another story.
After I submitted all of my application paperwork to the Department of Safety and Professional Services, I was asked to provide additional information in an email which read: "It is your responsibility to submit the following: Personal statement describing each offense listed below along with an explanation of the penalties imposed and verification that you completed all requirements."
The insurance companies generally request additional information with versions of the following email:
"Thank you for disclosing your criminal convictions on our Confidential Questionnaire.  For the review of our Credentialing Committee, please provide detailed  explanations  of the events  as well as any/all official documentation that you may hold.  Be sure to indicate whether the convictions were misdemeanors or felonies." Or, I've received this email as well:
"Regarding credentialing for Kristine Sack: I work with credentialing for (Blah blah blah insurance company) and am reviewing the credentialing application for the above clinician.  Regarding her 'yes' response to disclosure question # 21on the application regarding the 9-21-04  infraction, please have the clinician advise:
·       An explanation of the charge and her response to the charge,
·       how this experience affected her
·       what the legal requirements were and if they were completed 
·       If this information was reported to the LPC  Board."
My first response to a request like the one listed immediately above is: "Really? Do you think I just 'skipped' that part of the application? Like the state wouldn't find out if I just didn't mention it to them?" I mean really, I understand that government oversight happens, but does this particular company really think I just blew past that portion of the application process, expecting that no one would look back at my training license application and overlook an enormous discrepancy?
The kicker for me is the second bullet point: "how this experience affected her." Do they want to know that on January 20, 2003, I clung to my father, sobbing, from an ER gurney while a deputy sheriff read me my Miranda rights? Do they want to know that the social worker who lead the groups on the hospital's inpatient unit was married to the doctor whose DEA number I had stolen and used for calling in my own prescriptions? Or are they more interested in the humiliating six hour "interview" I had with the DEA and DOJ in April 1997 where I felt like I had to serve up my former lover on a silver platter in order to save my own ass?
Bottom line: The past is never gone forever.
In less than 75 minutes, I will officially become another year older. Older, yes. Wiser? What do you think?
"You held me down, but I got up/Already brushing off the dust/You hear my voice, you hear that sound/Like thunder gonna shake the ground/You held me down, but I got up/Get ready 'cause I’ve had enough/I see it all, I see it now"