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Phoenix Rising. Onbeing27.

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Writing is medicine and has always been the only way for me to reflect and understand the passage of time. This year, I am honoring many transitions and transformations. I know writing this letter will help navigate the tough feelings that accompany this birthday that I’ll celebrate without certain people. This letter is also a gift to myself.

I hold memories of the three of the biggest hearted individuals, men I deeply admired and who we lost this past Fall/Winter. Each of them brought healing to countless individuals and I will never forget what it was like to be in their presence. I know I will continue to learn from them. 

Dear 27 Year Old Me,

This year I know your birthday will remind you of the people who can’t be there to celebrate. You’re missing them. These memories are to remind you of the many gifts this year brought. This is the birthday card, only YOU could write yourself.

It’s time to celebrate your willingness to grow rather than shrink in the face of suffering. Sometimes you take the road less traveled and thought at times it’s easy to doubt yourself, try and remember how many have admired your commitment to yourself and your truth. Here’s to making the hard decision and for your ability to make meaning of life’s detours.

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Two years ago, my life brought me to Smith School for Social Work. The plan was to move across the country with my roommate and longtime love. We broke up the week of my 25th birthday, and a few days later I started my 2.5 year Masters program. I learned about Freud and Melancholia, counter-transference, and parallel process.  I met lots of inspiring friends. Connected with The Icarus Project. Then, I completed a rigorous and intense first year field placement working in community mental health (Shout out to any Waysiders reading this!). As a home-based worker, I faced the devastation of losing a client. He was only a child. I worked with his mother before, during, and after the tragedy. I will never forget her resiliency. I discovered what it means to bare witness and hold space for another’s suffering. I adored my clients and learned everything I need to know about building relationships from them.  I practice self-care like it was a part time job. I mastered the art of The Bubble Bath, healthy eating, afro flow yoga, cultivating community, and therapy (ice cream therapy, that is). I was awarded a JUNO retreat at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies to reflect, integrate, and reset for Year 2. It was an honor I’ll never forget.

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My second summer, I’ll remember as a celebration of a year’s hard work and bringing together Smith friends at my home in Northampton, as well as advocating for more support for students in the program. I was nominated and accepted a leadership position: Field Representative to serve as a liaison between students and the field office/administration.

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A short time later, our community was devastated by a tragedy when a friend and recent graduate died by suicide. My friend’s suicide proved to me just how serious the stigma of being in this field and struggling with one’s mental health can be. It can be even harder to ask for help when you are a professional or trainee with extensive knowledge of mental health issues. You might think you SHOULD know better or you SHOULD be able to figure it out. This is not the case. A study conducted by my classmates found how few students felt comfortable disclosing this personal information to supervisors, advisers, or even professors. This pervasive culture of other-izing and mental health stigma is hypocritical and students must demand change to receive the support and education needed to be effective and safe in this field. More on how this impacted me further down..img_5622.jpg

In the Fall, I journeyed to my second field placement. I was put in a situation that required me to perform far beyond the scope of a trainee. This was guised in a vague terms: a “hybrid” internship for a “highly independent” student. Despite, my confidence having worked in extremely stressful/high trauma situation, I felt physically and psychologically unsafe and unsupported. I can only imagine how I would have suffered remaining in my assigned field placement. The words of the student previously placed there still haunt me: “I prayed everyday for April to come.” My concerns were not taken seriously or acted on for me to maintain any hope that I could make it work despite my best efforts.  These circumstances plus traumatic events at my placement within the first 2 weeks contributed to a paralyzing bout of depression like I’d never experienced.  Despite seeking supports outside of the school, something inside of me knew this was NOT okay. For the first time in my life, my body said NO and I listened.  Months later, I am so grateful for my intuition , integrity, and proud of my courage to speak truth to power. I terminated my field placement, which ultimately, meant I would not graduate with my beloved cohort this summer. The shame and despair I felt at the time cannot be put into words. I don’t regret my decision and I continue to feel disappointed by the institution for not trusting and supporting me. The school teaches trainees to advocate for clients and help empower themselves. I am left wondering how could the school support supports and help them figure out what they need to be successful? I hope that my experience will at the very least inform future decisions to place students at this field site. I will deeply miss spending the summer learning and celebrating together. I appreciate the support I received, especially those who shared their admiration for my taking care of myself inspite of the pressure to “suffer through.” Look forward to being at graduation and cheering on Carmen Leah together!!

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Last Spring I met a Smith alum at an anti racism event and this meeting helped lead me to the opportunity to work at Project Place. I love my new job where I  continue to work with a traumatized and marginalized community. I feel supported and engaged and humbled and inspired everyday. Many other unexpected opportunities have been offered that helped me make peace with the issues at school. I received scholarships that have afforded me the opportunity to study Play Therapy course at the Boston Psychoanalytic Institute and at the ARC Training at the Trauma Center ( Fostering Resilience in Trauma-Impacted Youth and Families: The Attachment, Self-Regulation, and Competency (ARC) Treatment Framework). Lastly, I recently took Level 1 Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy training. In June, I will begin leading workshops for survivors at the Cambridge Women’s Center. I feel such gratitude to be connecting with so many influential leaders in the field.

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When I reflect back on the year I think about the fragility of our lives and the power we have and the power we don’t have to control our futures. Losing 3 friends/colleagues in the span of 3 months, I continue thinking about love and life. I wish I could have told my friend David I am here for you. I wish he could have told me how he was suffering. Thich Nhat Hanh writes:

Many people are reluctant to talk because they fear that what they will say will be misunderstood. There are people who suffer so much; they’re not capable of telling us about the suffering inside. And we have the impression that nothing is wrong-until it is too late.

I want to tell him: I want to understand his difficulties and his suffering. I want to listen to him because I want to love him. As Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, the language of love is asking a person whether you have understood the other person. I don’t want to wait until it’s too late to ask people I care about to share more about themselves. I wish I’d told him his presence was a gift to me and to the world. To love someone is to be there for them.

 

As I’m turning 27, I reflect on a long year! I learned to love again, to trust my intuition, to ask for what I need, to surround myself by people who support and inspire me, and to be grateful for so many blessings and  teachers (known & unknown). Thank you for reading and being part of my life (even if we haven’t spoken in years, I’d love to hear from you!)

 

A Favorite Quote by Mark Nepo

We waste so much energy trying to cover up who we are, when beneath every attitude is the want to be loved, and beneath every anger is a wound to be healed, and beneath every sadness is a fear that there will not be enough time.

When we hesitate in being direct, we unknowingly slip something on, some added layer of protection that keeps us from feeling the world, and often that thin covering is the beginning of a loneliness which, if not put down, diminishes our chances for joy.
It’s like wearing gloves every time we touch something, and then, forgetting that we chose to put them on, we complain that nothing feels quite real. In this way, our challenge each day is not to get dressed to face the world, but to unglove ourselves so that the doorknob feels cold, and the car handle feels wet, and the kiss goodbye feels like the lips of another being soft and unrepeatable.

Define Life on Your Terms

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The only definition of success that matters is your own. Your worth is not based on what you do or look like or accomplish, but it is inherent to who you are. Your crown cannot be removed. When we realize that we don’t have to prove ourselves because we are already enough, we can embrace the opportunity to define life on our terms.

My vision for life is about appreciating beauty, being present to the experience of being alive, connecting with people, living my calling to spread love and building a more just, loving world. What matters most to you? Beyond our society’s definition of success, what do you want to live for? how will you live this one precious life on your terms? I’m always rooting for you.

~ Annie Escobar

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The Power of Small Beginnings.

“Start where you are. This is very important…What you do for yourself, any gesture of kindness, any gesture of gentleness, any gesture of honesty and clear seeing towards yourself, will affect how you experience your world. In fact, it will transform how you see your world. What you do for yourself, you are doing for others, and what you do for others, you are doing for yourself.” -Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, who writes about mindfulness reminds us of the power of small beginnings.pemachodronquote

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When Its Time to Unfriend on Facebook: Stop Victim-Blaming for fun. #DomesticViolence

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Driving home from a women’s leadership retreat, my heart sank as I saw my childhood best friend’s Facebook post, not just standard victim-blaming, but joking about it with her husband and friends. At first I ignored it for a few days (this wasn’t the first time I had this experience with her). Then I saw my friend post about the Ray Rice verdict, this friend has dedicated her career to ending domestic violence. I decided to take a different approach, and ended up looping the second friend into the conversation. Her viewpoint represent a whole virtual world of people as well as many of our juries, making it hard to convict people like Ray Rice. It’s true that we don’t have to have the same opinions as every friend, but what about when their opinion offends you and the trauma you’ve survived? Scratch that, regardless of my history of trauma, her posts offend me as a human being.

Here’s what happened: I posted an article on my childhood friend’s Facebook page (in response to the offensive posts I had seen on her wall). She replied…

Old friend: Thanks for sharing. Do I think what he did to her is absolutely unacceptable? Yes! Do I think that it’s BS that the repercussions for Rice’s actions were less severe than what Brady got for deflategate? Absolutely! However, I also think that if women want to be taken seriously, in times of disrespect, abuse or hardship, they need to assert their independence, regardless of how difficult that might be. And now that I’ll be a mother, setting a good example for my daughter (i.e. having a zero tolerance policy for domestic abuse) will be especially important. My daughter will need to know that what Rice did is a completely unacceptable way of treating other humans, not just women. She’ll also need to know that staying with an abuser is also unacceptable – that she’s stronger than that, that there’s always a way out and that we are blessed to live in a country where she has the choice to leave an abusive relationship. Many women around the world aren’t even allowed this choice; and I personally believe that it’s those women who deserve my attention and prayers, not the ones who have access to great attorneys and divorce courts yet still choose to stay in such a tumultuous relationship.

(I tagged my friend Mo to join the conversation.) She wrote…

Mo: Sadly, we live in a world where people’s first response to survivors of domestic violence is to blame them. The first question is why didn’t they just leave? They have so many choices and options so when they stay the violence they experience is their fault.  Blaming the victim, as the above comment does, results in devastating harm to the millions of domestic violence survivors who will never tell a single soul about their suffering because they fear they will be blamed. They fear it is their fault. And that is the exact message the above comment sends to victims of domestic violence. That the abuse they have suffered is their fault and when they experience violence society will only shun them as weak and dependent women. Victim-blaming makes many women who blame other women for not leaving abusive relationships feel safe. They reason that if they or their children were in that situation that they would be strong enough to leave. It makes them feel that what happened to Janay Rice would never happen to them. It make make people feel better to blame victims of domestic violence, but it does not change the reality that domestic and sexual violence can happen to anyone regardless of socioeconomic status, race, religion, or national origin.

This paradigm MUST shift. The real question is why did Ray Rice abuse Janay. The real people at fault for domestic and sexual violence are the ones who commit it. Period. No one deserves to experience violence at the hands of those they love. And to suggest otherwise is truly tragic. This is about the actions of Ray Rice. He is the abuser, not Janay.

What our daughters really need to know is that women who experience domestic violence do not deserve it and it is never their fault. Our daughters need to learn that when they have friends who experience domestic or sexual violence, they should support and believe them. And teaching young women to support and understand victims of domestic violence is not mutually exclusive from teaching them to not tolerate violence in their own relationships. And god forbid our own children experience domestic or sexual violence, I hope and pray that the person they disclose their abuse to provides them unconditional support and never blames them for not leaving. This is what we should teach our children.

Lastly, I have traveled the world and have worked with survivors of domestic and sexual violence from Uganda to Washington, DC. To imply that some women are more worthy of our support because they have fewer options or choices in life is an incorrect assessment of violence against women across the world. Though women in developing countries certainly may have different resources than women in first world nations, I promise you that the pain, the trauma, the fear, and the tears are equally as real and as raw for all of these women. This is not about comparing tragedies and deciding who is more deserving of our sympathies. And if you think otherwise, please consider the woman burned alive by her husband in Afghanistan while I tell you the story of a women who was set on fire and killed by her husband in the United States of America in 2015. When you read the news and uncover the horrors committed against women across the globe, do not forget that those same horrors happen in our own communities.

To address domestic and sexual violence we have to put a stop to blaming the victims of these crimes and focus our rage on the perpetrators.

Old friend: I don’t disagree with a good amount of your points – a lot of the things you said actually aren’t mutually exclusive to my own sentiments. Unfortunately, trying to have an actual constructive conversation on this type of topic via comments on Facebook won’t get anyone anywhere. That’s why I don’t start conversations about controversial topics on FB🙂 To be honest, I’m not sure why this conversation even started. People are allowed to have different opinions, and I think that’s perfectly okay.

In conclusion, we applaud women who, as my childhood friend suggests, are able—by strength or luck or outside help—to escape abusive relationships; but there is a way to provide support, and to refrain from blaming, when we encounter victims of DV who were not able to leave. What we should teach our children is not that they have failed if they do not have the strength to conquer a very difficult situation by themselves; rather, we should teach them that they have a wide net of love and support that will never judge them for how they handle such a psychologically complicated situation, and we should teach them to be that unwavering support for others, too.

If in your spare time you joke and victim-blame, it’s time to wake up. If your friends post ignorant and triggering things online, either engage in a constructive dialogue when possible or make the wise decision to unfriend them. As Mo advised, focus on places where we can make a difference. It’s their loss, not ours. 

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How Spending a Week Training with Police Officers Changed Me

My Reflection On the Need to Unite the Police Departments and Communities in Preventing Further Tragedies Throughout the Country

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Over the past 9 months, I volunteered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness Criminal Justice Diversion Project (CJDP). The focus is on preventing the unnecessary arrest, detention and incarceration of persons living with mental illness. This project aims to develop a statewide strategy to make high quality training on mental illness accessible to police departments in all 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts. The ultimate goal is to put in place a sustainable approach to diverting individuals with mental illness from the criminal justice system. Below is my reflection on the April 2015 Community Intervention Teams (CIT) training spearheaded by CJDP.
These were my highlights:
  •  Renewed hope in officers who took part in the training, the skills they gained, and their commitment to learning in order to better serve communities.
  • An opportunity to learn about the limitations, frustrations, and culture of police departments.
  • A sense of what policies must change for greater safety for officers and communities alike
  • An understanding of the unmet and significant mental health needs within police departments
    • i.e There’s a risk of losing their jobs if an officer reveals his/her own mental health struggles.
  • Uniting people with mental illness in the community with officers for an honest and open dialogue centered on our shared humanity

As a White woman with considerable privilege and absolutely no real danger, I began the week feeling truly unsafe in a room with armed male officers (there were 3-4 female-bodied officers present). Feeling tremendous despair about the recent deaths of individuals, as well as officers, I feared what I might discover at the training. Instead, I developed compassion and hope for the incredibly difficult work of police officers. I recognize that the sampling size might influence my positive impressions, but perhaps, this reflection will expand your perspective and help us find an end to the tragedies happening across our country.

Nothing will change until police officers and communities come together and listen to each other’s experiences, frustrations, and shared hopes for a world free from violence. For instance, at the training, one officer expressed frustrations that after she helps a person with mental illness get to the hospital, she she’s the same person on the street a few days later. The social worker at the training respond to this officer’s point of exasperation by providing context for the limitations of mental health treatment in our country. Few people stand by the impossibly short mental health treatments that hospitals and mental heath services currently provide: this must change if we are to halt the revolving doors of hospitals and more importantly, prisons where more people with mental illness end up (Read more about failures of the “de-institutionalization” of the mentally ill after the Community Mental Health Centers Act). We live in an era where the average psychiatric stay is about five days and most people who are psychotic never get a bed at all.

May we create more spaces that bring us together for conversations to open our hearts to each other’s suffering.

One component of the CIT Training was to introduce members of the community and their families and listen to their their experiences with mental illness and experiences with police departments. In small groups, individuals joined the police officers in sharing about their recovery and lives with mental illness. After, officers thanked the presenters and much to my surprise, they responded by sharing their own experiences with family members and major mental illness, as well as addiction. One officer turned to the presenter and asked, “What would you recommend I do for a family member who is in need of help but in complete denial about the seriousness of her symptoms?” The presenter responded by telling her to be their friend and listen. Additionally, anyone can contact the NAMI helpline at 800-370-9085 during the hours of 9:00 am and 5:00 pm ET, Monday through Friday.

Read Julia Blount’s letter to her White Facebook friends. Remember, “Continue the conversation, ask questions, learn as much as you can, and choose to engage. Only by listening and engaging can we move forward.”

Watch this short documentary, Mental Illness on Trial, on the criminalization of mental illness.

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Dear Officers: Tell rapists not to rape instead of telling survivors that they have to report.

Dear Officer ,

I don’t know anything about you, your reputation in town, your previous efforts towards changing the way officers advocate in their work with survivors of sexual assault. I want to assume your best intentions. Your presence at this event makes me sure you are an ally to our community and I sincerely thank you for all that you do, each and every day. Your sincere acknowledgement of the survivors’ stories was respectful and admirable.

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However, in the same breath that you said “Officers don’t blame survivors for being sexually assaulted”, you sympathetically stated: “I just wish you had come to us.” A survivor on the panel responded emphatically that she had no interest, at the time, in being in the same room as her perpetrator, just the thought made her physically ill. We need to question our reporting systems — not survivors’ decisions to engage with them.

I want you to know that despite what you think justice, accountability, or healing look like, each survivor has her own needs and wants and to suggest that reporting to the police after a survivor speaks out is a reflection of our society’s narrow view of justice after sexual violence: sending the perpetrator to prison. To suggest that a survivor should have done something differently can be re-traumatizing. Survivors are inundated with messages of blame from family, friends, and the media; survivors have to deal with an incredible level of scrutiny of their actions. Your well-intentioned comment suggests that the survivor did something wrong, could have “survived” better, or perhaps that she did not “get justice” for herself.

When “even survivors who do report to the police are often abandoned by the system. Only a quarter of all reported rapes lead to an arrest, only a fifth lead to prosecution, and only half of those prosecutions result in felony conviction,” it’s understandable why survivors might decide not to go to the police.

I’m confident you want what’s best for every survivor. Next time you have the opportunity to hear a survivor volunteer to share her story to educate allies and police officers, remember: your words are powerful. The language and sensitivity the police department adopts when working with survivors of sexual assault matters. Both in terms of your overall effectiveness in demonstrating compassion, as well as impacting survivors who might someday decide to come to the police for help. Lastly, as a leader in your department, please ensure that next time there’s an “Empowerment Victims” event, there are more than 2 men in the room.

In her article on Feministing, Wagatwe Wanjuki concludes: “What I am saying is that we need to respect individual survivors and their decisions in this very personal, difficult process. Just as pro-choice advocates call on legislators to “trust women,” I advocate for us to trust survivors of violence. Why can’t we trust women (and survivors of all identities) to know what is the best way for them to heal?”

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With appreciation,

Jocelyn

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter…in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/america-tonight/articles/2014/5/19/why-college-rapevictimsdonatgotothepolice.html

http://feministing.com/2014/04/11/stop-telling-survivors-they-must-report-to-the-police/

http://knowyourix.org/why-schools-handle-sexual-violence-reports/

http://www.vox.com/2014/12/10/7368829/rape-statistics

http://mic.com/articles/115366/we-have-to-stop-telling-survivors-it-s-their-duty-to-report-sexual-assault

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