Monthly Archives: May 2016

When Your Heart Is Too Big


“Happy Mothers Day! Thank you for everything you’ve done for me. Have a great day today.”

I received these words via Facebook messenger.  I saw them while my daughter was still asleep and my husband was still out buying me flowers.  I smiled widely while a tear may or may not have been slowly gliding down my cheek.

The message was from a former client in my job as a substance abuse counselor and in many ways, the son I never had.  And, because his mother died when he was very young, who knows, maybe I had become her understudy.  Either way, we have a bond that came out of nowhere and took us both by surprise.

My job has meant the absolute world to me.  It has become part of my identity.  I have thrown myself into it with a bit of uncertainty and a whole lot of faith.  In one year, I have marveled at how I have been able to draw out the men on my caseload in ways that they have admitted that no one else has done before.  It’s an innate skill of mine.  A friend once said to me that I can learn more about someone in 15 minutes than he could in years.

The halfway house is an incredibly welcoming place.  When the guys come home from work they come into the office and sit and chat about their day.  They ask about our days.  There’s no push to get them out.  As a matter fact, it’s those who don’t do this that gets the attention of the house manager.  When he sees one slip into the house without stopping to say hello, he’ll bellow, “What the hell are you hiding from?”

On the flipside, with so many overdoses and deaths, I found myself beginning to have anxiety and panic attacks every time I parked in front of the house.  This has never happened to me in my life.  When I heard over a weekend of the death of a 25-year old on my caseload my husband held me as my body shook. When clients saw me in tears after a death, they would ask me if I’d be okay.  Others would warn that getting too attached was a liability in this field.  When I just saw my doctor she said that the stress was throwing my body out of whack and gently advised that maybe this wasn’t the best environment for me to be in.

Recently under the very watchful eye of a new supervisor, the mood of the wonderful, somewhat fluid boundaries of the house began to change.  It was strongly suggested that the guys don’t come into the office for too long, that they should be redirected when they asked about our days into us saying things like, “It’s not about me.  How was YOUR day?”  When graduates stop by to say hello, instead of greeting them with our customary hugs, it has become this very stilted dance of a non-physical greeting, or I tell them to come outside where I could hug them, as always.  I didn’t care.

As this continued down a path of more and more restriction I would come home and vent to my husband.  A few weeks ago, as we lay in bed and I was getting more angry and upset, he said, “Your heart’s too big for that place.”  And he was right.  It was at that moment that I knew I couldn’t stay.

I’ve been walking around for days mourning the absence of my old identity.  I have part-time writing work lined up and am doing everything in my power to find a volunteer opportunity in the field where I can interact, freely, with those who struggle with substance abuse.  I will continue to fight the good fight in any way I can as this crisis of addiction gets worse every day.

The day after Mother’s Day, I came into work to find a card propped up against the phone on my desk signed by all of the guys in the house.  Front and center was this:

“While we are here, you are a mother to all of us.  Thanks for the love and care.”







Living The Dream?


Last weekend my husband and I sat side-by-side as he showed me pictures of a boat that he loved.  It had a lower deck with room to sleep 4, a cool little kitchen with a table to sit at and some other things that as a boat lover, made him slightly giddy.  It was nothing fancy, no crazy yacht, it was gently used and somewhat reasonably priced (or so he tells me).  He talked about renting a slip and taking little trips in it to wherever these types of boats can go.

HGTV’s “Tiny House Hunters” was playing in the background.  I have become sightly obsessed with wanting a “tiny house”, parked on a magnificent piece of land on water somewhere as a weekend home.  I get real estate listings from a town in the Berkshires with cheap houses for that dream of a second home. I speak about this as though it can actually happen.  And that gorgeous English cottage above?  It’s actually on a street named “Fairy Tale Lane,” somewhere in England.  That is the ultimate dream and I understand that that’s all it really is.  Just a dream.

We live in what I think is a “tiny” house.  It’s under 1,300 square-feet with really low ceilings and small bedrooms.  The fact is, it has absolutely everything we need and has an extraordinarily large backyard.  The previous owners planted beautiful flowers including two of my absolute favorites.  But, I find myself dreaming of higher ceilings with enough room to install ceiling fans in every room .  I want central air and a finished basement.  I want a “she shed” in the backyard so I can go somewhere and write.

Right now, we’re living the reality of cobbling together and doing that shuffle game to cover bills and to uncover places where we can cut back.  We’ve gotten better at this.  In a year there will no longer be a significant monthly payment that will allow us to breathe a big sigh of relief.  My husband is on the fast-track to ongoing promotions of potential significance.  So, we wait, for small and gradual windfalls that may allow us some small luxuries that we’ve worked hard for, for me to stop working at a job that I adore, but creates panic and anxiety that I’ve never had before, and be able to travel with him to cities that I’ve always wanted to go.

I have always worked with underserved populations, the homeless, incarcerated women, and addicts who have lived under bridges.  They DREAM of owning a home and see my life as “living the dream.”  And they are absolutely right.  I know I will never get a $3.7 million book advance that Lena Dunham just got.  I know that I’ll never own a apartment in Manhattan.  But some of those other things I’ve mentioned?  I see high enough ceilings for a ceiling fan.  Central air, easily done.  Pre-fab sheds are not impossible to turn into something that could work as a place to write.  Finishing the basement for my husband’s man cave?  Totally doable.

We all have dreams, they push us forward and if we have to compromise somewhere between a cottage on Fairy Tale Lane and a gently used boat, that’s okay.  We’ve done just fine.