Say Goodnight Gracie

Sometimes when I lose something, it's not the pain of "I never appreciated what I had"---instead it's the pain of "I really valued this connection and now it's broken. Or at least it will never be the same." So it was with a tiny teaching job I had at an addiction clinic. Since September 2010, I've showed up there most every Wednesday, barring illness, travel for poetry readings and visiting family, and the holidays that fell on the Wednesdays when they were closed. Before the tiny teaching job, I worked there as a full-time addiction counselor from May 6, 2009 to July 30, 2010. Yes, I still remember the exact dates.

In my most recent capacity in the tiny teaching job, I went there to teach patients about trauma and its strong link to addiction for 1 hour per week. I used a curriculum I wrote, with the help of my wise and trauma-literate therapist husband, and went through the 8-part series numerous times, refining it and adjusting it for the patients in the room: for the questions they had, the comments they needed to make, and the personal stories they sometimes felt compelled to share.

About one month ago, I decided to ask for a raise for the tiny teaching job. I learned that other therapists with the same gig at the same clinic were making more than me. Substantially more.

Now this is not the kind of thing I'm normally good at--asking for what I want or need. But something about moving deeper into the decade of the 50s has awoken a spark that whispers, "There isn't much time left. What are you gonna do about it?" And as part of this aging journey, I came to the conclusion, with help from friends and colleagues, that I should be paid what I'm worth. Money is one way we demonstrate compensation and appreciation for a job well done in our capitalistic society. I can't say I'm a fan of dealing with money and numbers, but that's the barter system we use.

So I told the clinical director that I wanted to ask for a raise. She came back to me to request that I write a few paragraphs about why I deserved a raise. I wrote about my accomplishments and contributions to the clinic, and mentioned that I get paid quite a bit more for my teaching when I do it at other venues. I even dared to ask for close to that amount. No, I didn't expect to get that amount at all---just a recognition that I stay at this clinic because I love the work, the patients and the staff, and that I deserved more, even $10 more than what I was making, to match what at least one other teaching clinician was making.

Well I didn't get the raise. And one month later, this past Wednesday, I was asked to meet with the clinical director, who was visibly upset.

"This is really hard for me to say," she forced out of her mouth with tears in her eyes. I started imagining that she was going to share some personal, painful news.

"I have to let you go," she said. Yep, I was stunned. There wasn't a sliver of my viscera that felt that coming. I knew it wasn't the clinical director's decision--it was management's, including someone I used to work for directly. The counselors at this clinic have watched and questioned several decisions the management has made over the years, and been disgusted by how they've treated employees they decide to get rid of. How could I possibly have thought that I would be immune to their style of business as usual?

What was even more stunning was the grief and sadness I felt. Even though I was being "let go" due to "financial problems," it was obvious that my request for a raise was getting a slap down. When I asked if anyone else had been let go, the answer was no. When I asked if I was the first person to be let go, I was told yes. Ah. I see.

So I cried. The clinical director cried. We hugged and promised to keep in touch. I took my file folder filled with my eight presentations and handouts, stuffed it into my backpack with my laptop and left. I walked the four blocks to my office along K Street, the DC street name that gets demonized as the home of fat-cat lobbyists. I don't work with any lobbyists. I don't even know any lobbyists. And I watch the every-day-working-bodies walk up and down this street each weekday as I walk with them.

Back at my office I sat in silence. I texted a couple of friends. One of them called me right away. "You're not taking this in, are you?" she asked. "It's hard not to," I replied, but I got her point.

It was never about the money. It was about the people. And now this place that had been a part of my working life since 2009 had been ripped away. It took a few days for the grief to subside and for me to ask the only question: What message is the universe sending me?

The truth is that it's time to move on. I've been lost, floating in my own personal version of the Bermuda Triangle for months. I've been grasping on to the same piece of abandoned wood in the ocean without ever making it to shore when it comes to my career as a psychotherapist. I've been treading water like a child who doesn't know how to swim and I'm tired. I don't know what's next but I'm doing what I know to do: get to yoga classes, meditate, pray, talk to friends and sit with an open, albeit it waterlogged, heart.



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