Sunday, October 15, 2017

LGBT History Month

   Well. The past month has been a whirlwind to say the least.

    As noted in my previous post, I made a plan to put together some information to send to the head of our agency’s Cultural Diversity Committee. Sending that email then turned into her asking me to plan and provide a training on LGBT issues for the agency. I managed to put together over 60 slides worth of information into a powerpoint, including three slides of “further resources” such as worthwhile books, documentaries and websites, as well as seven slides worth of citing my sources. I was then told that the presentation will only be about 30 minutes long. So now I’m looking to see if I can still fit everything in that I want to talk about. The material I decided to cover is broken up into 4 parts:
  •       Background information about LGBT History month – who started it and why
  •         Definitions of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Cisgender - so that everyone is on the same page with what I’m talking about (the presentation will be to the whole agency, not just therapists, as I understand)
  •        Important historical events – the meaning behind the rainbow flag, LGBT victims of the Holocaust, Stonewall, and changes in how it’s defined in mental health
  •        Current  issues that LGBTs still face – substance abuse rates, intimate partner violence rates, homelessness rates, conversion therapy, family rejection, and others.


        I’m presenting it to the Cultural Diversity Committee this upcoming Thursday, and to the agency the following Thursday.

       Early in the month, as a bit of a preface, I sent out to the clinical department, the department which I’m a part of and therefore most likely to see LGBT clients, a mass email explaining a little about October being LGBT History month, and including PDFs of important LGBT figures, as well as a PDF I got from SAMHSA on substance abuse and the LGBT population. At the end of the week, our CEO approached me while I was washing a tea mug in the office kitchen, and asked me if I’d be interested in starting up some LGBT specific services. Of course, I said yes.  I don’t know if anything will come of it – this place is notorious for starting something and it dying off, or else planning something and it never happening.

     In other news, I came out to my birthfather this past Wednesday, 10/11, Coming Out Day. I did it through text because writing is easier for me, and also because with distance, who knows when I’ll see him in person again.  It went better than I could’ve imagined. He basically said that I’m his son, he loves me no matter what, and as long as I’m happy he doesn’t care who I’m with. He also said that if the rest of the family loves me, they’ll accept me for who I am, but if not, he’s there for me either way. I can’t even put into words how good that made me feel, to know I have at least one family member on my side – and on top of that, the family member that my family ostracized and kept me away from for 30 years.


     On top of all this, throughout September and October, I’ve been taking the approximately 4 hour drive from my town to a city on the other end of the state, every other weekend, for a class I need to complete as part of my social work licensing process. As much as I love the information, it’s been exhausting. However, in the process, there’s the slight possibility I’ve met someone who could be relationship potential. I’m taking things very slow, but we’ve been talking mostly regularly since we met, and seem to be compatible in most of the important areas. I’m trying not to get my hopes up, but I feel like I’m in an emotionally ready place in life to put myself out there, and dating can be difficult when you’re a bisexual man in a small town. I’ve had a few dates recently with different guys, but this is the first guy that I didn’t immediately think “No, this isn’t going to work” within the first 30 minutes of the date. So we’ll see. I’m just ready to settle down somewhere, with someone, and I’m tired of the overanalyzing, the overthinking, and all the other things that come with being introverted in the dating scene. We’ll see how things go.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Coming Back

     It's been awhile. As you've probably figured out, I have trouble with consistency. I tend to let myself get caught up in work and other responsibilities, and neglect self-care methods like writing my thoughts and reflections and engaging in other hobbies.

     I'm going to try to change that. As part of that change, I'm going to try to write in this blog at least a couple of times a month. I've come up with a list of topics I've been meaning to write about for a while, but just never have gotten around to. Interspersed with that will be my thoughts and reflections on current events, holidays, and other life events as I so feel led. So basically not much will change except I'm going to try to do it more often. Sometimes I feel like I need to write something because I'm feeling strongly about it, but when I actually get the time, I struggle to put it into words. But I guess that's when I need to do it the most, to remove my mental and spiritual blocks.

     The more things happen the last few months, the more I get tired of the bullshit. I've considered myself somewhat of an activist for years, but since Trump's election, especially with the recent events in Charlottesville, VA, I find myself becoming more restless and wanting to do more. I'm getting at that age to where I need to be my fully more authentic self so that I can practice what I preach to my clients. So I'm starting in small steps.

   October is LGBT History month. October was chosen because October 11th has already long been recognized as "Coming Out Day". As my place of employment's most outspoken and most vocal bisexual, I've decided that I'm going to put together a presentation of LGBT historical events and figures, the symbolism of the Pride Flag, overviews of mental health and substance abuse issues LGBTs face in comparison to the general population, and links to other resources, and present it to my company's (admittedly not very culturally diverse) Cultural Diversity Committee for them to distribute to the company as a whole. If they don't acknowledge me or follow through - which is a definite possibility, I'm going to just directly send it out myself, at least to my particular department (the ones most likely to be working with LGBT clients), if not the agency as a whole.  I'm tired of just sitting on the sidelines lamenting the cultural obstacles of where I live right now. I'm ready to act, even if some small way.

Speaking of acting and being my authentic self, I've decided that on - or at least by - Coming Out Day, I'm going to begin my process of coming out to my family. My obvious first step is my father. Since we're still getting to know each other, he's a "safe" person to come out to, I believe, as if he rejects me, well, it won't be anything different than the previous 30 years of my life before we first made contact. A test run, if you will. It also gives me time to prepare the best way. With him I'll obviously do it by phone, text, or email - he lives all the way in DC and so I don't even know when we'll see each other in person again because of finances, time, etc. But it's a little less clear with the rest of my family.

Well, we'll see how this goes. I know that I've talked about writing more often before. Let's see if it sticks this time.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Genealogy

I always thought that my previous connection to Celtic spirituality was, in large part, due to a past life connection to the Irish/Celtic world. More recently, I've come to believe that it's not only that, but also a connection to my current heritage.

A couple of months ago, I took a DNA test through AncestryDNA. I got the results back last week. They were interesting to say the least. It turns out I'm 98% European. No surprise there. What was a little surprising was the breakdown:
-30% Irish
-28% Scandinavian (Sweden, Norway, Denmark primarily)
-16% from the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal)
-11% Western European (Belgium, Germany, France, Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein)
-5% Great Britain (England, Scotland, Wales)
-4% Eastern European (Poland, Austria, Russia, etc.)
-3% Italian/Greek
-around 1% European Jew


And the final 2% comes from the Caucasus region, which is around Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, etc. I guess this is where my Middle Eastern heritage comes in.

I'm surprised that there's no Native American in there, as one family legend was that one of my maternal ancestors was Cherokee. And I admittedly thought my Middle Eastern genetics would be higher, since in my younger, curly-haired college years, I had so many people asking if I were Jewish, and even had a Middle Eastern shop owner ask when I came to America from Israel. I also thought there would be more Scottish, as I always understood Moore (maternal grandmother) to be a Scottish name.

All of this has rekindled my interest in Celtic spirituality and confirmed that perhaps I need to revisit the Celtic deities I felt connected to. I wonder, at times, if perhaps my lack of connection to them over the years has been more due to my lack of balance and connection overall, as I tend to let life circumstances and anxieties take control. My goal now is to make some baby steps towards re-establishing balance.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Prayer Revisited

As I've mentioned before, Unitarian Universalism has a thing called the Church of the Larger Fellowship. It is basically an online resource for UUs who either don't live near a physical UU Church, are unable to attend a physical UU Church, or have no desire to. Or, of course, it can be a supplement to someone's "brick and mortar" church. I admit I don't go like I should, in part since the one near where I now live is so small, so my introversion gets the best of me. In any case, each week there's an online worship service recorded. Each month follows a different theme.

I decided to catch up on some of the videos this morning in lieu of going to a physical church. The theme for the month of November was Prayer. It has me thinking about what my views on prayer currently are.

Throughout my years as a spiritual seeker, my views on God/Spirit have changed multiple times. I was raised Southern Baptist, with the typical Trinitarian Christian views inherent. When I was in late college years and began my own spiritual journey to learn what I believed beyond just what I was raised to believe, I first looked into Paganism. During that time, I was somewhat of a "Hard Polytheist" - the view that there are multiple gods/goddesses who are distinct beings, just like I am a person distinct from other people. I primarily honored the Celtic Pantheon, with Brighid being a goddess I connected to the most, and I'm still quite fond of. This is in contrast to "Soft Polytheism", which, like Trinitarian Christianity, views all the deities as being facets or aspects of one Ultimate Higher Power. Eventually, I came to Panentheism.

So what am I now? Of course, I consider my primary religion as being Unitarian Universalist. What I love about UU is its lack of dogma. So as far as my own personal spirituality is concerned, I'd have to say I'm a blend of Buddhism and Paganism at this point. Buddhism outlines how I try to live my daily life, while Paganism encompasses my view of nature. I still consider myself a Panentheist.

So what does this say about my views on prayer? I admit actual spiritual practice is something I struggle with in being consistent with, just like many other things in life. I do believe I want to get more serious with experimenting with Buddhist prayer or Buddhist meditation on mantras. I do believe my connection with Brighid and other deities during my more polytheistic days were ways of Spirit connecting with me in a way I needed at the time. Will I end up revisiting Brighid and the other deities as a way of connecting with Spirit? I've thought about that. And perhaps I will. For now, though, I feel like I need to further develop the Buddhist aspects of my spirituality. That is what's calling to me as of current.  So for now, I'm going to start meditating more, and perhaps see if I can find a Buddhist prayerbook to add to my collection of spiritual materials.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

(Re)unions

    Well, it finally happened. I met my birthfather this weekend for the first time in almost 34 years. I know I don’t get to write in here often, but be forewarned: this blog entry may be long and rambling, as I’m using it to both update close friends/people I trust on the latest events, and writing to try to piece together all of the information I have to try to make some sort of sense of it all.

    A crash course refresher first: I’m an adoptee in a stepparent adoption. I was born in November 1982, to my mom and birthdad, who I’ll call “CD” (any people I talk about other than myself, I’ll be using initials for the obvious privacy and anonymity reasons, should anyone in the random interwebs stumble upon my blog).  They were never married. A few months later, about 6 according to my mom, she left him. When I was 3, she married my adoptive dad. He went through the adoption process to give me his last name. They proceeded to not tell me any of this until I was in 7th grade. At that time, they told me his name, that he was a dangerous, violent alcoholic, and had threatened to kill both me and mom at one point. 

    Through a series of events, about a week or two after I found out I was adopted, I learned that a girl, “TD”, who was in some of my classes that year, was a cousin of mine on my birthfather’s side of the family.  Soon after, my mom tells me that he called wanting to speak to me, and she said that if I wanted to when I turned 16, I could. As a side note, I confronted her about this years later and she denied ever saying that.

    Here and there over the years, I occasionally saw TD until she apparently dropped out of high school and I never saw her again. When she would see me, we never really talked, but she would always tell me how much CD missed me. Soon after I located CD, I learned that TD got arrested when we were 18ish, skipped out on parole and went to Ohio, had a kid that died, had another kid, was arrested for participating in a robbery with a machete and sledgehammer, and in 2014 was killed by her boyfriend in a murder-suicide.

    My teen years and college years were understandably difficult. I hid it well in public, but I had anger issues. I was a very angst-ridden kid. My mom reacted with threats and comparing me to CD, intending it to be the biggest insult she could possibly think of (I.e. “You think you have it so bad, I should send you to live with your father! Good luck living long enough to finish high school!”) . When I was around a senior year in college, I finally felt emotionally ready to pursue meeting him, and asked my mom about it, hoping she would have some contact information. She refused to give me any, if she even knew it by that point, and swiftly told me that if I contacted him I would no longer be a part of the family.  I didn’t pursue it because I was scared and isolated, and not to mention had no clue of how to find or contact him because without any information from my family, I had no way of knowing whether or not he still even lived in my hometown. I had talked to my grandparents before talking to my mom, and they were equally unforthcoming - my grandma strongly discouraged it, citing his heavy alcoholism and violence (even though at the time I was born she had been sober for less than a year herself); my grandpa, while he understood as a fellow adoptee, strongly discouraged it as well, as he had been disappointed with his own reunion experience.
   
    Fast forward to around October 2012. Like I had done so many times before over the years, I randomly did a Google search for my birthfather’s name. I stumbled on the obituary for TD’s father (TD had told me her dad‘s name when we were kids), who had apparently died recently of alcoholism-related illness. In the past, I had never turned up anything definitive. His name was somewhat common,  and I didn’t even know what he looked like. This time, I knew it was the right one because there was a link to one of those memorial websites, where there were pictures of TD as a kid. I learned through that obituary that CD lived in Maryland. After a few months and going back to therapy, in January 2013, I got the nerve to mail him a letter. On the day he got it, he both emailed me and called and left a message. I still have the message saved in my voice mail box. I called him, and we talked for about 30 minutes. He told me “If you want to know what I look like, just look in the mirror”. He described a picture of me he’d seen on facebook, and told me he had been keeping tabs on me all these years. Apparently my mom had told him the same thing she told me - that when I turned 16, I could contact him if I wanted. Because I hadn’t before that point, he thought I just didn’t want to for all of these years.

 For the next four years, we emailed each other occasionally, especially near the beginning as we were starting to try to get to know each other (for some of this next section, I’m re-reading old emails to remember, as I have never deleted a single email I’ve gotten from him). We both loved the ocean. We had the same type of camera. We both were into genealogy and family history, although I got farther - about a month after I located him, I actually even found a family tree he had created, listing me as his son, on ancestry.com. This confirmed to me that I should contact him.  He sees my mom as “the one that got away” and still loves her to this day. The hardest day of his life was her walking out the door with me. Even with everything, he never once had anything negative to say about her. For whatever reason, his name wasn’t on my birth certificate, and two lawyers told him that because he didn’t have his name on my birth certificate (I don’t think I’ve ever seen the original birth certificate, as the one I have has my adoptive last name and adoption laws make things very difficult in NC), he didn’t have any choice but to sign away his rights - which is curious because research I’m doing as I type this suggests that if a father’s name isn’t on the birth certificate, he doesn’t have any rights to begin with, really. However, my research also suggests there are ways around this, and after meeting him, I fully believe that he just didn’t know that he had options and wasn’t educated or well-off enough to get legal advice, and she took advantage of that.  He admitted to being married to another woman at the time he met my mom, stating that the marriage was already over emotionally by that point. He admitted to getting upset and violent when I was in and out of the hospital with my seizure disorder (which, as it turns out, he also had as a baby), explaining that he was upset and worried about me. She never opened up to him about her own childhood, and apparently only told him about an ex who liked to play poker.  He married again at least once after everything happened with me and my mom, but is single now, and never had any other kids, as he didn’t want to risk going through all of this again. As the next four years progressed, our contact honestly became pretty sporadic after having the whole “what happened back then?” conversations finished. Probably because both of us seem to be pretty strong introverts.

    Fast forward again to this past weekend, Labor Day weekend 2016. My close friend, BH, and I were finally able to go up to the DC area, in part just to get away, but in large part for me to finally meet CD. We got there on Friday 9/2. On Saturday, 9/3, the two of us met CD and his close friend and roommate, SL at the Holocaust Museum. It was a little awkward at first, but incredibly insightful. Fortunate for us, BH and SL are both extroverts, which eased the tension and helped us engage in conversation. 

    At one point, CD and I got separated from BH and SL, and between things that CD told me and things that SL told BH that he then relayed to me, I gained a lot of insight.

    CD told me that, in 7th grade, when TD told him that she’d made contact with me, he made her bring a picture of me to prove it was me. She used a school yearbook picture that she somehow got, which he said he still has. Soon after, he ended up getting a new computer. He called my mom wanting to give me his old one. She wouldn’t let him, even though he suggested that she didn’t even have to tell me where she got it.  Over the years, he drove by my house fairly regularly, just to see if he could see me and check on me. He moved around frequently trying to find work, from NC to AZ, to AL to CA back to NC, and eventually to MD where he lives now (not sure if in that particular order). He was essentially an almost homeless wanderer after he left NC. He moved to MD, met SL, and she and her family took him in, about 13 years ago, and helped him sober up. He only got along with one sister, who still lives in my hometown, and didn’t even go to the funerals of most of the rest of the family as they passed away.

    While we were separated, SL gave BH a fair bit of information too that he then relayed to me. According to her, CD was, of course, extremely nervous about meeting me and afraid I would hate him because of the past. He took the whole week off of work just in case I wanted to hang out more while we were in town. Apparently, at one point my mom supposedly cheated on him while they were together. He has maybe a 6th grade education.

    After the museum, we went to lunch at this Afghan restaurant and learned more similarities. The same health problems. The same picky eater habits - we actually ordered the exact same thing for lunch, except for ordering different sodas. CD and SL travel together a lot. After lunch, we toured the National Cathedral, before they took us back to our hotel and parted ways. SL paid for anything that cost any money the whole day. After a nap, BH and I went to a local gay bar, which was a wonderful experience.

    On Sunday, BH and I attended one of the local Unitarian churches. After church, we visited the Lincoln Memorial and attended a concert on the Capitol Hill Lawn. We invited CD to join us, but he backed out. That night, we went to another local gay bar, which was decidedly much less wonderful than the first one.

    On Monday, we spent the day at the National Zoo. We had a late lunch, then took another nap at the hotel. We went back to the Lincoln Memorial to see it at night, after first going to the Pentagon City Mall. CD had said he was going to join us, but once again backed out, citing stomach troubles, which had me nervous and disappointed and wondering if I‘d seen and heard the last of him pretty much. I told him we were probably going to see the Arlington Cemetery on Tuesday to walk around a bit before heading back home. He not only joined us, he showed up an hour and a half early to make sure he didn’t miss us. Apparently he had been talking to the security guard, because as we walked by he excitedly told her that I was the son he was there waiting on.

    While at the cemetery, he told me a lot more about our family. He had cut off contact with most of them because of the dysfunction. TD had a tendency to maliciously call DSS on her dad and lie on him, which is why CD didn’t believe her when she said she’d met me.  He mentioned an uncle (or maybe one of his parents, I can’t remember exactly) who took care of his grandma when she became sick near her death, and then charged her $20,000 for it. Or maybe it was a brother taking care of their mom. I just know the money bit. When TD’s first child died, they tried to get her for murder, but it didn’t stick. He never did hear the full story of why that was. He had heard that her death was drug-related. When he tried to look into his own family history, everybody refused to tell him anything. TD's living son was adopted out of the foster care system by a very nice family.

    I was about 3 months old the last time he saw me. He says he remembers my mom giving him a look, kind of a “death glare” knowing that he would never see me again. His last words to her that day was that if anything ever happened to me, he’d find her no matter where she lived (guess maybe that’s where the death threats came from, and she conveniently left out that part).  His dad didn’t want his stepmother to be buried with him, and the other relatives tried to do it anyways, and he (CD) threatened to dig up the body if they did. He had a lot of behavior issues in school, jumping out the windows of the classrooms to sneak away. He was drunk pretty much six months straight after my mom and I left him, and he injured his fingers on the job. At one point, he and all of his co-workers, including his boss, were always showing up to work drunk.  Honestly, he seemed less surprised that my family waited to tell me about him until I was in middle school, and more surprised that they told me anything at all, as she’d told him that I would never know he existed. Conversely, he wasn’t at all surprised to know that I haven’t told her about us meeting - although he perhaps thinks I should. And I’m sure I will confront her when the time is right. But that’s another blog for another day.

    He's a bit superstitious. Got to talking about ghosts while at the cemetery, and I told the story about how on my mom's side, I'm a direct descendant of who was the town fortune teller. He told me how a psychic predicted that he would learn what I looked like, without him actually telling her he had a son, about a month before TD approached him about me. He seems to be just as much of a religious seeker as myself, although more on the conservative side versus my liberal side. As SL put it, "if you can be baptized into it, he's been a part of it".

    Since all this, BH and I have been trying to piece everything together like a puzzle. I’ve gotten a lot of the pieces, but now I have some new ones. It was actually BH who, after meeting both my adoptive dad and my birth dad, put together that my mom seems to pick lesser educated men (my adoptive dad, God bless him, has maybe a high school education) who are easy to manipulate, and a lot of our issues stem from the fact that I can’t be easily controlled. In any case, she certainly has never been straightforward with me about much and absolutely minimizes her role in the things that happened back then, even though even the worst relationship problems are rarely one-sided issues.

     Now I guess I have to see where things go from here. It’s going to be difficult to develop a real relationship with my father beyond just digging up old skeletons, particularly because for one, I don’t know who or what to trust right now, and for another, we’re both such introverts. He may be going deep sea fishing in October and said I’m welcome to go, and BH and I are inviting him and SL down for some Christmas activities in December, so that’s a start. I guess only time will tell.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Privilege

Recently, a series of events has me in a reflective mood. Last weekend, I watched the History Channel remake of the miniseries Roots. Also, last weekend, there was a shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL. 49 dead, 53 injured. Some of my friends knew victims.

I don't understand how people can say racism isn't a thing, or else minimize the role racism plays in our society. And yes, I know racism works both ways, but seeing as how I'm a liberal, modern, white person, I'm giving my perspective as such.

Think about it. Slavery really wasn't that long ago. My mother was born in 1962, a mere two years after the Woolworth's sit-in in Greensboro, NC, an event considered one of the starting points of the Civil Rights movement. While I don't recall the exact year my grandmother was born, I know it was no later than 1942, and in rural North Carolina, deep in the South. That means she had been around a full two decades before the Civil Rights movement even really began. Current studies show that the brain doesn't fully develop until about age 25. This means that my grandmother, who is still alive today, spent her most formative years not sharing a bathroom, a water fountain, even a sidewalk, with a black person. According to http://ncpedia.org/history/20th-Century/school-desegregation , schools in North Carolina weren't fully integrated until the 1971-1972 school year, a mere 10 years before I was born. This means that, more than likely, not only did my grandmother not attend school with a black person, but my mother, who again is still alive, possibly didn't until at least 5th or 6th grade (disclaimer: I do not consider anybody in my family to be racist. However, this is the society they grew up in.) Today, yes, we are more aware of classism. But statistics still show that a black person and a white person can still commit the same crime and get different sentences. Because Brock Turner is a rich guy, he got off easy. Because Brock Turner is a rich WHITE guy, he may have gotten off even more easy.

“But OJ Simpson!” For every OJ there are thousands of Corey Bateys. One outlier does not a rule make.

What people don't understand is that society changes at a glacial pace. Heck, many traditions that are part of white culture have been around for centuries, if not at least 1,000 years. An easy example is our holiday celebrations. White Christians essentially just took all of the pre-existing Pagan tribal traditions (bringing a Christmas tree inside, lights, etc.), slapped a nativity and Baby Jesus on it and called it a day. The laws may change, thanks to some dedicated lobbyists and activists who fight for the change, but that doesn't mean society changes WITH the laws. Society just gets more subtle and adapts. Why else do so many outreach organizations target kids and young adults? To change the mind and influence those young enough to learn. And that is how society changes – fight the older people to change the laws, influence the younger people to change the culture.

At the same time, there were other things going on. Abolition (pre-Civil War and during) and later segregation were not the only issues. While blacks were fighting for their right to use the same bathroom as whites, have an equal education, and sit at the same lunch counter, women were fighting for the right to vote. In the late 1800s/early 1900s when Irish immigration was at its highest, Irish immigration faced at least the same forms of discrimination as Hispanic and Middle Eastern immigrants face today. Society is not a linear “ok, we cleaned up this problem, on to the next!”. Someone can be a victim of racism AND classism AND homophobia AND Islamophobia AND.... so on and so on. Someone can get hired for a job because he's white, and then fired because he's gay. A black person can be well-off financially and have a good job making good money, and still get pulled over in "nice" neighborhoods because the neighbors don't trust a black person in the neighborhood (I've had black co-workers tell me first hand experiences of this). It's not “either/or”, it's “and”. All minimizing does is invalidate someone's experience and worth. We don't know what someone has been through. It's not our place to tell them they haven't been a victim of racism, or homophobia, or classism, or any other “ism”. It's our place to listen and help where we can. To be the change we wish to see.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Timehop Contemplations


     I have the Timehop app on my phone. Timehop is an app which showcases various status updates, pictures, etc. from Facebook (and instagram and other apps if that's what you would like) for you to post on Facebook again. Like "Throwback Thursday", it's a way of remembering things. As I am once again in the process of moving (another blog for another day, I know I have a lot to catch up on!), it has me thinking about the last several years. Particularly in regards to finances.

     From February 2008-February 2013, I worked, first full-time(2008-2010), then part-time(2010-2013), at a residential treatment facility for teenage boys with behavioral problems. Basically a mental hospital. They housed the worst of the worst. Sex offenders on one unit, boys with general aggressive behaviors on the other. It was basically run like a prison. To this day, it is the worst workplace environment I have ever worked in.

     Around May 2009, there was an incident. I was left alone on the general aggressive unit. A patient assaulted me. I was left with a broken nose which required surgery to repair, a black eye, a busted lip, a bruised ear, and a concussion from having my head slammed into a concrete wall. On top of that, the whole incident was basically covered up, and the patient received virtually no consequence for the whole thing except to be moved out of the facility a week or two later - but even that wasn't until after he managed to get needles from the nurse's station to try to stab people with. I still have a bit of PTSD from that incident to this day. I still get nervous when people walk behind me at work - a bit of a conundrum working in an environment focusing on Trauma-Informed Care, where we're supposed to be mindful that our clients don't want *us* walking behind *them* either, and I have to walk with them to my office for assessments, etc.

     From then on, my focus became doing what I had to do to get out of that hellhole. In August of that year, I began graduate school. During that first year of graduate school, in addition to classes, I had two jobs - the mental hospital full-time, and a low-key group home part time. But my grades suffered because of having so much on my plate. So I had a choice to make: possibly flunk out of school, or cut back on work. Knowing that a proper grad school education would be my best chance of not only achieving my long-term career goals, but also getting out of that dangerous work environment (I applied to other places multiple times to try to leave that job, but there were very few opportunities I was qualified for that would also work around my school schedule) , I chose academics over financial stability. I quit the very low paying (a mere $8.25/hour) part-time group home job, and went part-time at the mental hospital, so that I could essentially make my own schedule of availability to be able to work around classes and internship. I relied largely on my meager paycheck (they were fond of sending "extra" people home due to being "overstaffed", and I often went home - good for my sanity and safety but not my bank account), as well as financial aid overage checks.

     And that's where the post from the Timehop app comes in. I graduated from school in May 2012 with my Masters in Social Work. At the end of July, I was essentially evicted. I moved in with my then best friend, Kim, and slept on her couch for 7 months. A mere days after being told I had to leave, I was offered my first full-time, Masters Level job. Moving in with Kim is what I consider my first true financial mistake of this time period. In hindsight, I should've told my roommate (the homeowner whose room I was renting) the minute I got the job offer and tried to see if he would let me stay, with an increased rent to pay him back missed rent during months that he had worked with me because of my work/school situation. But I was prideful.

     My second mistake was staying with Kim. What I should've done, in hindsight, is stay on her couch long enough to save some money to be able to afford a security deposit and regular rent with another roommate renting out their room. But again, I was prideful, although maybe cautious. I had dealt with several bad roommates over the years by this point and didn't want to put myself in another situation where I could be kicked out virtually on a whim. Even though by this point I knew Kim wasn't the *best* roommate, I went into a lease with her when this 3-bedroom, 2-bath house came along. We both signed the lease, and I made sure all utilities, etc. were in my name, because I figured if I wanted things done the right way, I would have to do it myself.  Kim would pay me her part of rent, and I would make all the necessary payments. Besides, I didn't think I could do any better. I've struggled with low self-esteem for my entire life, but during that point it was particularly low - almost back to square one from progress I had made since 2006, another particularly damaging year for me. I was dealing with a lot - I was living on someone's couch; I had located and made contact with the father I've never met, bringing up a plethora of childhood issues that I thought I had resolved; and I would soon begin to finally accept myself in regards to my sexual orientation. My one real self-esteem boost I had going for me was getting my initial licensure making me an LMSW. Although that was a huge success, at the time it was drowned out by all the negativity I was going through.

     Kim turned out to be ridiculously unreliable. Whereas I gave my former roommate a heads up if I couldn't afford rent, or had to pay rent late or in installments, she just gave me a check and let it bounce, leading me to regularly overdraft into the hundreds of dollars. I finally had to make her pay me in cash only. I gave in to the payday loan trap trying to make ends meet. I'm still in the middle of a bankruptcy process because of all of this (only because I'm saving up for the final expenses).

     To make matters worse, I was in several car accidents during the years of 2013-2014, in which I was deemed at fault. Which I was, I'll admit it. Distracted driving and everything I was going through, and I wasn't paying attention and rear-ended someone at a stoplight.

    Things finally started to turn around, at least financially, in 2015.  I got a job at a foster care agency, which paid better than the job I was in at the time and was a step up on the career path. When the homeowner decided to sell, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I was approved for a two bedroom apartment. I found a roommate to share the expenses with. Kim was finally out of my hair as of March 2015 - I may should have taken her to civil court for all the financial damage she caused me, but as I knew she was moving to Ohio, I didn't feel like it was worth the trouble. I was just ready to be done with her. The big downside right now is that I've still had to borrow money on a couple of occasions due to emergency situations. I'm not able to save any money, almost every penny goes to bills and other regular living expenses.

     Now, my lease is almost up at the apartment. I'm in the process of moving out of the area, in with my partner. The cost of living is cheaper up there. I got a new job that doesn't really pay better (actually, my paycheck will probably be lower than at the foster care agency, after taxes, health insurance, and the required retirement fund withdrawals are taken out [I'm a state employee with this job, and SC has a mandatory retirement fund for state employees]), but I have the added benefit of getting my Addictions Counseling certification as well as the needed supervision for my LISW, the next stage in Social Work licensing for SC, at no cost to me as an employee benefit. This will do wonders for opening up further job opportunities in the future. My accidents of 2013-2014 start coming off of my insurance this year, so my insurance will start going back down. I'll be able to save at least $100-$200 a month into a savings account to work towards fulfilling my 5 year plan of moving up North (NYC, DC, etc.) and finally getting out of the religiously and politically repressive South for good.  It may not all happen this year. It won't happen overnight. But 2016 is finally the year that I'll be able to start getting my finances where I want them. And maybe my emotions, too, for that matter.

Did I make mistakes? Sure. Everyone does. Do I regret any of it, or apologize for any of it? Not for a second. I've become who I am today because of my experiences. And after 33 years, I'm finally learning to be happy with who I am.