Letter to E, Revised

I went back and revised that letter, now that I'm not so "in the throes" and that I've had time to mull it over and make my points to a couple of other people. Here it is, in all its more coherent glory! (And this time, there's not a single swear word, thankyouverymuch.)

Have you ever played Jenga? 

With Jenga, the tower starts off solid, then as players remove blocks to stack the tower taller, holes appear. The structural integrity begins to dissipate.  It becomes wobblier and wobblier until it falls over, and the last person to have placed a block loses.

E, I feel like the HJ is a game of Jenga, and our tower is about to collapse. There are a number of reasons I feel this, and I do have a solution in mind. I’m not sure you’ll like any of this, but I know that we both value the honesty we can bring to this relationship-- both working and friendship-- and I feel that I need to be honest with you about this at this point in time.

First of all, we’re trying to grow as an organization. That’s fine and dandy, except that there are only two of us, and the few volunteers pulled from the pool of our survivors. We both know that survivors have crises. It’s what happens when you’re on the healing journey. However, many survivors expend so much energy just getting through and dealing with the normal activities of life that there’s little to give elsewhere, and so they’re easily overwhelmed. 

As far as you and I go, we’re both stretched thin, especially you. We’re both sick from stress all the time, we’re frazzled, we’re running around like chickens with our heads cut off. That is not healthy, nor is it a sustainable practice for lifestyle or organization.

I sincerely hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but you used to be so strong. You were a bulwark-- rolling with the punches and coming up with your fists drawn. Yes, you were worn down and burnt out by the injustice and the politics and all that junk, but you were still so strong. It seems to me that the longer you work with the HJ, the more fragile you become, and it worries me. Your body is sick and hurting you in so many ways, and you’re way, way too stressed out. And don’t think that a day here or two hours there is going to fix that! Mom and I both agree that you are the first person to push someone else to take care of themselves while running yourself into the ground, and that cannot be allowed. You can’t be hypocritical in this area, E. It’s like what you tell the mothers-- if you’re okay, then your kids will be okay. The HJ is your baby, yeah? So if you’re okay, it’ll be okay. But you have worked yourself out of being okay, and you’re sick. That’s not okay.

And I’m not okay, either. I’ve come to realize that I’m in a strange position, working with the teen group. First of all, even if I should decide that I can’t do it anymore or whatever, I can’t leave. At least, I feel like I can’t. As I have discovered lately through self-reflection, I am not comfortable leading group anymore unless I have actual training of some sort, but I’m trapped by the fact that there’s no one else to take my place. During group itself, I can barely control the girls. You don’t really see it, because they clam up and pay attention while you’re in there, but they have a hard time understanding that I’m not there to just be their friend, and they’re not just there to hang out and play games. I’m stretched so emotionally thin, and I dread that fight every week, and really 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, “Screw it,” and let them walk all over me and run group however they want to. I’ve come to dread group, and I don’t like that.

There are a couple other things in that regard. Firstly, 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.

Secondly, I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t have training, as I mentioned earlier. 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, 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, because it’s not true. 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. 

Our position as an agency is very precarious right now. The director/ceo/cofounder/whatever it is they call you officially is sick and stressed and hassled, her assistant is untrained, sick and stressed and hassled, and I know that when the funds come in, you’re going to feel like we have to be performing even more and better and growing so that we can prove 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 Healing Journey 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 see things this way: The HJ is a good thing. We’re walking in faith, and helping people. But we cannot help people if we have killed ourselves, or if we’re barely managing to sustain ourselves, and walking in faith also means being good stewards.

It’s so easy, in ministry, to think that you can never, ever stop once you start because people need help and if you take just one break then someone won’t get helped and then it’s your fault that their life is ruined.

I’ve come to realize, through much pain and darkness, that sometimes it is only in stopping for a while that you can really help people.

E, I think it’s time for the HJ to stop for a while, take a hiatus, and build our tower of blocks up nice and strong again before it topples completely. It doesn’t mean quitting, and it doesn’t mean giving up. It means being healthy and creating a good foundation for a sustainable future.

We have about a month before the funding comes in, yes? Why not take a hiatus for 6-8 weeks? Take 3-4 weeks with absolutely NO HJ stuff-- focus on getting better, on de-stressing, on you and your family and getting enough sleep and eating right and taking walks and listening to good music and going to church and going out with friends and going to the doctor and doing arts and crafts or whatever makes your soul smile. Take the next 2 or 3 weeks to create the curriculums, write that newsletter, set the financial plan firmly in place, get our resources together, get whatever paperwork filed that we need to,etc. Then, when we start groups up again, we can stride out confidently and work from a calm, organized base of strength and preparation, rather than the haphazard, scattered way in which we are doing things now.

Yes, it may seem like we’re shortchanging the ladies. But really, I think that long term it is a good plan of attack

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 the staff 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, and I feel like we’re going insane.

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