I have reread Tanya’s words from last week’s post- they have inspired much reflection and a wave of gratitude for my wise friend and colleague. This past week has given me the opportunity to do some thinking as I’ve been flattened by a flu bug. Not much reading, no writing, lots of reflecting… I am a very fortunate person. My life’s most brutal challenges were early on, healing from them over the past decades has brought me more joy than I could have imagined. There were hard times along the way, there is still much work to be done, but I have gone far enough down this path of healing to trust it.
I want to share with you one piece of writing that has inspired me repeatedly over the years. Whenever I begin to feel uncertain about taking on the challenges in front of me I consider Darlene’s words. Can there be more challenging circumstances in which to keep the flame of healing alive? We can heal. Anywhere. As long as we have breath, we can heal.
I am a 40 year-old woman recovering from SIV. Since coming here (to prison) with a life sentence in 1997 I’ve grown beyond the need to self-injure, though the impulse still arises in highly stressful or painful circumstances. The healing I’ve found was self-motivated, not due to being treated while property of the Department of Corrections. Their method of dealing with inmates who self-harm is not much different than some outside ones. Inmates who hurt themselves are punished for it be being stripped and confined for up to 3 weeks in a small bare cell. Of course this is done under the guise of protecting that inmate from themselves. As far as actual counseling, the mental health staff are understaffed and are responsible for so many inmates on each of their caseloads that appointments are only monthly and often cut short after 15-30 minutes. Furthermore, the turnover rate for those counselors is high, therefore once any form of communication lines are opened between an inmate and counselor, that counselor moves on and is replaced by another, leaving the inmate to start all over again with a complete stranger. It’s a vicious cycle with no solution other than the ones we find ourselves.
I found strength by forming my own support group consisting of people who were doing positive things for themselves. Some of those had self-harmed in the past and found other ways to deal with life. As I grew I began reaching out to people who were actively harming themselves, passing on what I had learned. I also took steps to begin healing from my past trauma, sexual abuse issues. I believe my healing there, the self-forgiveness I found, were the biggest achievements in no longer having the need to harm myself.
Thank you Darlene. Again and again.