By Jean Collins-Stuckert, Clinical Director at The Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows
As we were walking thru Croix-de-Bouquets, a metal workers village outside Port Au Prince where artisans transform used oil drums into beautiful art, I came across a metal sign that said “Haiti Rising.” It stays with me. Haiti is rising but struggling to get on her feet. Already one of the world’s poorest countries, it is fraught with corruption, poor healthcare, and poor educational systems. All of this was compounded by an earthquake in 2010 which claimed a quarter of a million lives. Six years later, the country is still struggling to recover.
The Meadows recently sent a handful of professionals to Haiti to present current information on trauma and addiction at a conference in Port Au Prince. The Meadows partnered with the University of Notre Dame and sponsored the conference on Psychotherapy and Spirituality. I was fortunate to be selected among many volunteers to join this well-appointed group.
It was my first experience in a third world country. I was stunned, vacillating between being on the verge of tears to feeling detached. It was too much to take in at times. It has taken me awhile to sort out my conflicted feelings about this divergent country.
Haiti is a contradiction. It is so close—only a one and a half hour flight from the U.S.—but so far away. Haiti is a dichotomy of crushing poverty and amazing resilience.
Rising out of the rubble in Haiti are fierce heroes and sheroes making a difference on both a large and small scale. There are dynamic leaders on the ground, selflessly working to develop amazing organizations. Nancy Sobel, for example, founded the Global Adolescent Project (GAP) assisting orphaned teens. She is a force of nature. Selena Jenkins and Sean Penn formed the Jenkins-Penn Haitian Relief Organization (JPHRO) that is responsible for creating sustainable programs on six different fronts. The Association for the treatment of Alcohol and Other Addictions (AAPAC), the one and only Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) for substance abusers and their families, was founded by two Haitian women, Maggie and Gaetane.
I also include our humble leader, The Meadows CEO Sean Walsh, in this category, who has adopted two sons from a Haiti orphanage. He has great passion for improving conditions and increasing awareness about trauma and addiction in Haiti. He organized and led our team.
I learned more than I taught on the journey. I attended a presentation from one Shero calling for all Haitians to clean up their piece of the polluted planet. Haiti has beautiful landscape contrasted with cement rubble from the earthquake and littered with garbage. She introduced me to a term I hadn’t heard before, “horizontal violence.” She used the expression “You can’t trust a Haitian,” as an example of horizontal violence. She used a bucket of crabs, crawling over one another in order to elevate themselves as a metaphor for horizontal violence. This concept is, of course, not unique to Haiti, but it is problematic. She pleaded with Haitians to lift one another in an effort to elevate the community.
Our team quickly became friends with a handful of Narcotic Anonymous (NA) leaders who were bringing the message of hope and recovery to Haiti, creating relationships, and connecting people with the proper organizations. There are many caring professionals in Haiti attending to pragmatic needs such as food, shelter, and medical care. There are also many who are attending to the needs of their souls by bringing counseling, music, dance and art. Sometimes these organizations are unaware of one another.
These extraordinarily generous people created within me inspiration along with self-doubt, making me wonder what I have done with my life. I’m left feeling uncomfortable in my own skin, in a good way. My brief time in Haiti has created a discomfort that I’m hoping will propel me into more altruistic service.
I attended a 12 step meeting in a foreign land and listened to people share in Haitian Creole and yet I felt at home. Far away and yet at home: another dichotomy.
I was also conflicted residing in an air-conditioned resort with a pool while the masses were withstanding unbearable heat.
I felt combined joy and pain as I observed beautiful majestic women carrying large objects on their heads with such grace in the midst of squalor. Haiti is 95 percent black, so it was rare to see someone white outside of our small group. It was one more way in which my world was a contradiction.
We visited bright university students sitting in classrooms made of fabricated walls with slats for ventilation without air conditioning in 95 percent heat with high humidity. I was so impressed. They were attentive, respectful, and remained after class was dismissed to ask questions about addiction and how they could help their families. Family is a strong value in Haiti. Opportunity occasionally presents itself and when it does most Haitians will take full advantage.
Our last stop was the Apparent Project, through which parents determined to keep their children out of orphanages were making amazing art to earn a living. They were transforming rubble into pottery and making beautiful beads out of garbage. (You can check them out at http://apparentproject.org.)
I don’t miss mosquito nets, being drenched in 100 percent deet, being overly cautious of the food and water, “American pizza” which translates into pizza made with American cheese, the chaotic traffic and feeling like a mark at times. I do miss the openly affectionate warm beautiful people I met while there.
Since returning, I am hyper vigilant of my self-centeredness. I have conflicted feelings. I feel a bit squeamish, a form of survivor’s guilt I suppose, combined with deep gratitude. Simultaneously, I feel incredibly blessed and guilty about the size of my home, my walk-in closet, my job, my vehicle. I have a different perspective on “problems” in the face of true human suffering— what some might call rich white people problems. I feel good about what I did and feel bad about what I haven’t done. I have received much more than I have given; I am in a process of transformation that won’t be complete until I take action. I am changed.
It was an enlightening adventure. I am proud to work for a man and an organization that truly places people before profit and thinks beyond their small piece of the planet. They have had a hand in Haiti Rising.
The Meadows is 40 years old this month! Our first patient was admitted on June 18, 1976 . We’re proud of how much we have grown and expanded in the years since, and of the thousands of patients and families whose lives have been forever changed by our programs.
To celebrate, we’re offering a discount on all of The Meadows programs: The Meadows, Gentle Path at The Meadows, The Claudia Black Young Adult Center at the Meadows, and Remuda Ranch at The Meadows.
When you admit to The Meadows between now and June 30, you’ll pay $45,500. That’s 20 percent off the regular price. It’s a great deal for the quality and level of service you’ll get at one of the nation’s most established and well-respected behavioral health and addiction treatment centers.
Call 800-244-4949 today to take advantage of this offer. Spaces are limited.
Dan Griffin, MA is a Senior Fellow at The Meadows and an expert in men’s trauma and recovery. The following essay was published on his website in 2015. You can learn more about Dan’s workshop at The Meadows, A Man’s Way™ Retreat, by calling 800-244-4949. You can also find his books online.
I hated my father for a very long time.
Of course, when we are honest with ourselves most of our hate comes out of deep hurt. And that is exactly what it was for me: I felt deeply hurt that my father was never quite able to be the man that we seemed forced to celebrate every Father’s Day. He was never quite able to be the father that I needed. If he made it through the day’s “celebration” without getting drunk and/or yelling or berating one or all of us it was a good day.
I do not say this to defame or castigate my father. He was a much more complicated man than his alcoholism or his abusiveness. He was brilliant, talented, creative, funny, a good provider, and even sensitive.
Though I can probably count them on both hands, there are times when my father showed up as the father I believe he truly wanted to be. The man beneath the armor.
But it would be disingenuous to act as if there was not a much darker side to my relationship with my father.
Inextricably connected to my ability to be a father has been the healing work I have had to do around my relationship with my father who, sadly, lost his own battle with chronic alcoholism twenty years ago, at the age of 54.
His tale is one that has been told far too often, written in the Book of Men and Masculinity throughout the ages. These tales lack a Hallmark ending and no two dollar card can make it all okay.
As a man in long-term recovery from his own addiction, I am not only changing my story but I’d like to think I am even changing my father’s story.
The more I have been able to free myself from the pain and hurt of my fractured relationship with my father the more I have been able to see him as a human being who was full of suffering, trapped in the armor of masculinity in which he ultimately suffocated.
The process of forgiveness in my own relationship with my father has not been about forgetting him or even “the good, the bad, and the ugly” experiences, but simply letting go of the hurt. The more I have been able to let go, the more I have been able to emerge as my best self.
It has not been perfect. There are vestiges of the best parts of my father and the worst parts of my father still inside of me. There will always be. For that I am actually grateful; all of those experiences have helped to create the man – and father – I have become.
A lot of what I learned about how to be a father I learned from my father. I learned a lot about what not to do and how not to be. Every young man watches the men around him to figure out how to be a man. How to treat women. How to treat kids.
My father was not a horrible person. He was just a very sick person. He had a lot of childhood trauma that I had no idea about until after his death. My father didn’t talk about his daily life so there was no way he was going to open up about some of the most painful experiences of his life. So he just went into the basement and listened to his country albums. Or spewed the toxic poison of his pain all over the people who loved him the most.
Such is the sad experience for so many men with trauma. I found a worksheet from his time in treatment where he stated so simply, “I’ve never thought anyone would even care about my problems.” My heart broke when I read those words while cleaning up his office shortly after his death.
The real truth? I miss my father. Not a week goes by that I do not think of him and what we could have had. I talk to him all of the time. I have spent the past twenty years asking him to be the father he never could be while he was alive as I have navigated the inevitable trials and tribulations of life.
My relationship with my father has transformed over the years since his death as I have matured. As I have gotten glimpses into my own darkness. As I have come to realize how people experience me versus how I want to come across. All of that has brought me closer to the father I never met.
I think about the father he wanted to be versus the father he was. I think about who he was in his heart of hearts. That is the father I celebrate – and grieve – on Father’s Day. The truth is, I never hated my father. I just hated the fact that I never really got the chance to meet him.
Lori was in a deep, dark depression after her marriage of 27 years ended. She was filled with fear and was experiencing suicidal tendencies. The Meadows helped her learn to sit with her pain, process it, and find hope for the next chapter of her life.
Learning how to accept and release negative emotions is one of the keys to overcoming depression, addiction, and other disorders. At The Meadows we give you the tools you need to find your balance and your inherent self-worth. Call today for more information at 800.244.4949.
The following letter was written by a woman who attended The Love Addiction/Love Avoidance workshop at The Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows. At the end of the workshop, participants were asked to write a goodbye letter to their love addiction and to the walls they had put up around themselves as a result. You can learn more about the workshop by calling 800-244-4949 or by sending us an email. Those who register before June 30 will receive a 25 percent discount!
Dear Soul-Sucking Newly Identified Issues,
First, I'm going to dismantle my wall one brick at a time. I will remove each brick and grind it into dust. I will then reform the dust into something useful, like a bird bath that I will place in my garden where the wall used to stand. I know I will occasionally feel the need to start a new wall, but I will only need to remind myself that maybe a short, temporary fence can serve the same protective purpose. A fence is something that two people can lean on and talk across until they both decide that any kind of barrier is unnecessary.
While I am dismantling my wall, I am also kissing the fantasy goodbye. Rumor has it that men are mere humans, unable to leap tall buildings, and that their ability to read my mind and fulfill my every wish without a word from me has been overstated by both Hollywood and Harlequin. Given that I've been duped by mass media once again, I'm going in search of a better story. There's something to be said for that thing called reality programming! Instead of holding out for the glass slipper, I'm putting on my hiking boots and starting the search for this creature they call a perfectly imperfect human man. You can no longer keep me captivated with stories of happily ever after. I'm willing to strive for "really good" after a lot of hard work, knowing that some days are still probably going to suck.
So, Fantasy Life, I say this: Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it's off to reality I go.