Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Learning the Changes

            Change is a currency of my work. In social work we sometimes measure our effectiveness by the amount of desired change we are able to help bring about in the lives of our clients, and by the amount of negative change we help them to avoid. Much of it has to do with the ability to change habitual ways and modes of thinking. And, it has lots to do with overcoming the discomfort of change: feeling those different feelings, allowing the aches of newness, awkwardness, fear.

            Trauma leaves its imprint throughout the lives of the youth I work with. And trauma can be so hard to recognize when it comes disguised as the everyday, as the stuff that marks your progress into adulthood and respect. Denizens of the streets, the shelters, the walk-in centres are expected to have survival stories and losses, and conflicts and betrayals to recount, and to rant or laugh about. They are expected to share in the common pool of hard experience that makes life what it is, that shapes the accepted norms, and endows the common knowledge of the community. Trauma is rampant among these street kids, in all its manifestations. But when the abuse you’ve suffered  - and inflicted - is the common stuff of growing up, it doesn’t command the attentive and empathetic ear of your listeners.

            In a few weeks, a colleague and I will begin convening what we’re calling The Change Workshop. It’s meant to be part seminar, part support group and part resource sharing. We’ll be introducing concepts and tools relating to change, and laying out a variety of strategies for personal growth. I hope that the workshop will achieve the nice balance of challenge and embrace that characterized a Twelve Step group I attended regularly years ago. That group developed an intimate and almost symbiotic process, as those of us who gave up our dependencies at roughly the same time learned whole new ways of being social beings.

            We intend for the workshop to be a place where members can feel safe to honestly explore what change means to them, how it frightens, inspires and eludes them, to enumerate its costs and its fruits, what they’ve learned from it and suffered by it. Its bound to be a very mixed story, and the complexities won’t diminish as we dig deeper; rather the emotions triggered will become more palpable and universal and ripe. And ripeness means many things.

            So, I’m thinking a lot about change, and the role it’s played in my life. In my own case, there’s never been enough change. I’ve always wanted more, and the fact that I haven’t had my fill sometimes leaves me with a feeling almost of having failed. In this workshop, I will have to guard against being too pro-change, and perhaps not sensitive enough to the losses others will have experienced.

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