Letter to E

I wrote E a letter today. I'm not going to send it to her, but I am going to read it to her when I go to work next. These thoughts have been forming and percolating for a while, now, but it took this latest "collapse" to really put flesh and bone to the thought.

And maybe I won't read it to her at all.

Then again, I probably will. One thing that characterizes our relationship is honesty... even if I feel like I'm going to break her by being honest, most of the time... it's such a weird relationship at times. She feels needy, but not in the "I need you" sense. More in the "I need you to be okay because I'm not" sense. I don't know. It's weird. Just... weird. The longer HJ goes on, the more she gets that way. Like, she used to be so strong, and now she's so fragile. Maybe that's the weird thing. And part of me chafes at having to be the strong one, because I need someone strong to lean on. She used to be that for me. Now she's not... and I find myself afraid to tell her the dead honest truth because it might make her sad, and she can't handle any more sadness... lakjlksliurklensksiio!!!!! And that's how I feel about that.

Anyway, here's the letter. I went back and censored it a little. Some. I get a little more gutter mouthed when I'm angrily impassioned... only now I have the freedom to express it a little more. I still like to keep it low, though. I don't want to develop a potty mouth.

"Dear E,

I’m going to be very honest in what I’m about to say, and I need you to listen without offense or hurt or personalization. Don’t judge, just listen.

I find myself in a strange position, working with The HJ. (No, this is not a letter of resignation!) As I’m evaluating my life, trying to bring all aspects of it into balance, I’ve realized that I totally dread leading groups on Tuesdays for the girls. Why? It’s not that I don’t love them; I do, very much. It’s a few factors, really. First of all, I can barely control them. Barely. You don’t see it, because they shut up and listen while you’re in there. But when you’re not, it’s a never ending battle for respect, a never ending battle to get them to focus and listen and pay attention and not get sidetracked in conversations or stories, or what have you. They won’t realize that this is not a social club. I’m not there to exclusively be their friend. We’re there to learn and support each other. Maybe I have the wrong expectations from them. I don’t know. But I do know that I can barely, barely control them during group, and I dread that fight every week, especially when I’m stretched so thin myself. (More on that later.) I don’t have the energy or the reserves it takes to keep them in line, because I’m not operating from a base of health. Every week I just want to say, “F*** it,” and let them walk all over me and run group however they want to.

I don’t have anyone backing me up. I don’t have someone to look to that will emphasize what I’m saying, that will be by my side and lock arms with me. I don’t have anyone to share strength with. I have to give and be 100% of the control, the effort, and the strength. I don’t have 100% to give, except on a very, very good day, and those are rare.

I don’t have training. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. No wonder it’s a social club-- I can’t provide the focused structure that someone with training could provide. I have no infrastructure to work with, no resources to pull from when there’s a crisis, or even a question. I. Don’t. Know. And I hate that. I’m fumbling through the dark. It’s like the blind leading the blind. And I know you have a hard time hearing that, because it reflects on the fact that you “threw me to the sharks”, as it were, but it’s the truth. I am good with people. That’s what’s gotten me this far. But we’ve plateaued, E, and we can’t go any farther unless I know more, unless I am trained somehow. I know you’re trying to encourage me when you tell me I’m good at this, when you tell people I’m a fantastic group leader, but I’m not. I’m mediocre at best, but I could be phenomenal. I have potential, that’s for sure. But I’m existing on potential alone right now, and it’s not enough. You can’t keep telling people or agencies that our groups are being run by qualified, trained peer support specialists. It’s bullshit. I’m not trained, and it shows. I’m just good with people. I’m also good at presenting an appearance, for a limited duration of time.

I feel like I “have” to do this because there’s no one else. I don’t want to let these girls down, let you down, let myself down... so I have to. It’s a good thing, and you don’t not do good things. Right? Riiiight. So even if I don’t want to, it’s such a good thing that I must do it, especially since I’m the only one that can at this point. (Despite the aforementioned points which make it very, very difficult to do.) You know what? That’s exactly the mindset I’ve had for years while “serving the Lord”. It’s a good thing, so you have to do it. Even if you don’t want to. Because it’s good. And if you don’t, you’ll be letting people down. You’ll be letting God down. So do it, already. No, it doesn’t matter that you don’t want to, you have to. That’s where I’m at with this, and I automatically, unequivocally revolt against that mindset. I don’t want to do it even more, just because I feel like I have to. It’s no longer free choice, so I don’t want it. Not to mention the fact that I’ve had that grant money dangling in front of my nose like a carrot for how long now? It’s, like, my only hope, the only way I foresee making enough money in the future to pay off my debts and save up for the wedding without totally burning myself out. I’m economically trapped into this, too... lured by the promise of a soon-to-be paycheck.

I mentioned earlier about being “stretched so thin”. Part of the reason I feel like I “have” to do this is because the HJ is stretched so thin and doing so much. We’re trying to grow when we can barely sustain what we’re currently doing. Do you realize how much bullshit that is? What good can we possibly be to those who need us if we’re constantly falling apart? I’m talking about you and me, E. We’re sick, both of us. Physically. We’re sick, all the time, and why? Stress. There will always be people who need help, because we live in this sick, sick world where people destroy each other. We can’t help anyone, though, if we’re falling apart.

I’m sorry, but I’m getting tired of this. Enough. Enough with the “I’m so stressed, but oh well, I must soldier on” attitude. Enough with being a martyr. That’s one thing that pissed me off about “working for the Lord”-- the martyr attitude. “Dear me, I’m impoverished. It shows I’m serving my cause well.” “I’m stretched so thin I’m about to snap, but it’s all for the glory of God, right?” “I can’t feed my family, but I’m in ministry, so oh well. God will provide.”

Do you really think it gives credit to God when you’re sick, when you’re broke, when you’re falling apart because you’re trying to do all the good things without being sensible about it? Do you? Because I sure as hell don’t.

We’re spread so thin that everything is scattered, everything ends up being half-assed. We can’t do things well because there’s so much to do. And guess what? Money’s coming in, so we’ll have to do more, to prove that we’re worthy of being funded. You know what? We are worthy of being funded, even if we only have one support group every other week. I’m a believer in quality over quantity, and as our quantity increases, our quality is going down. If we continue the way we are now, at this pace, this way... The HJ will crash and burn. No one wants to join a party where people are crying. “God will provide.” Sure he will. But we have to do our part as good stewards. The way things are going now is not sustainable, and if there’s one thing I’m learning while trying to juggle all this stuff that’s shown up in my life, it’s this: you can’t drive yourself into the ground in the present while waiting for the miraculous “someday” that will bring relief. It’s not going to happen. Why? Because you are creating your “someday” right now, while you’re driving yourself into the ground, while you’re training yourself to operate this way. “Someday” is today.

I know this will sound ridiculous, and selfish, and totally absurd, and horrific, but... I think the HJ needs to take a furlough. I think we need to suspend groups for a month or two or whatever to get our personal selves straight, to get the training we (I) need to really make this work, to get everything solid and in order, so that when the money does come in and the grind gets tougher, we’ll be ready for it. We’ll be able to act like the professionals we portray ourselves to be rather than frazzled women doing our best but not able to really do anything as well as it ought to be done. (I’m not saying this as an attack on any of your efforts, because I know you pour yourself wholeheartedly into everything you do for group. But I am saying this as a sort of wake-up slap in the face-- you can only pour so much of yourself into so many places before you run dry. You have to keep giving smaller and smaller portions to each thing as you acquire more things to pour yourself into.) You’ve made sacrifices, and you point that out. I agree that some sacrifices need to be made, but I think you’ve made yourself a martyr unnecessarily. I think I’m making myself a martyr unnecessarily, and I think that’s not what this kind of thing needs.

I need counseling. I have so much crap coming up in me all the time that I can’t see clearly enough to deal with anyone else’s crap. What kind of peer leader is that? I can’t bear the girls’ burdens because there’s no room on my back. Most of the time, I don’t care. Why? Because I’m drowning. I can’t teach them how to deal with their anger when I have not even really begun to acknowledge my own deep, simmering volcanic chambers of anger. I can’t teach them proper coping mechanisms when mine suck. 

You need to learn how to take care of yourself. You can’t tell other people to take care of themselves, then run yourself into the ground. Your body is hurting you for a reason. Pain is a red flag, a warning signal. Fatigue is a red flag, a warning signal. E, you’re sick. You cannot sustain what you’re doing long-term. 

And then there’s God. We’re a faith-based organization. What kind of picture of God are we presenting as we drag ourselves along, pathetically pulling at our empty pockets and scraping the last of our emotional reserves to deal with one more crisis...over and over again? That God wants us to go and go and go because we’re helping people and it doesn’t matter if we’re falling apart as long as we’re helping people? 

E, I don’t want to be a part of that. I left that when I quit Bible work, when I quit church. I fight against those ideas with every fiber of my being. I’ve had my soul sucked out by “good things”, and I’m not about to go through that again, no matter how much I love you and those girls. My self preservation instinct is too strong for that.

We’re doing good things, yes... but there’s also a lot of bullshit. It’s time to get rid of that, to really look at things, and to see that something has got to change. It’s got to. We can’t keep going on like this, and I don’t think God expects us to. Even if you think things are fine, can’t go on like this. I need training. I need a reservoir of strength to draw from. I need tools, skills, help.

I think we need to quit running around like chickens with our heads cut off for a while, and just stop. The world will not end. The HJ is a good thing, and it is meant to be. The world will recognize that. We don’t have to frantically and desperately push ourselves on the world around us until we collapse, gasping for breath. How much more effective would a steady pressure be compared to sporadic thrusts?

And maybe the idea of stopping to rebuild, regroup, regather is threatening to you. Maybe the idea of just cutting back temporarily is more palatable? I saw a billboard today that said, “Stopping for water keeps you going.” If we (if I) don’t “stop for water”, stop for what is so desperately needed, then we (I) will collapse. We will faint of dehydration and be found later, bones bleached in the sun... and those who find us will wonder what happened.

I love the HJ, and I love you. But I don’t want to be a flake, I don’t want to bow out because the pressure is too much, and I don’t want to see the HJ go under because the founder (CEO, whatever) burns out. I don’t want to see these girls not getting what they need because the one who is supposed to be feeding them doesn’t know how. 

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

I feel like we’re going insane, E. I feel like we’re going insane."

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