As someone who has experienced many years of trauma, I decided to attend the “We Can Heal from Our Trauma” workshop on Thursday afternoon at Alternatives 2011 Conference. Honestly, a part of me was somewhat reluctant, scared and filled with fear about possibly being triggered and going down a not-so-pleasant memory lane. Also, I was not sure what to expect when I walked into the Bocca VII room for this workshop. All I did know, based on the description in the conference’s program, was that the workshop facilitators identified themselves as consumers who have overcame and healed from their own traumatic experiences.
Needless to say, despite my ongoing yearning desire to continue to grow into a stronger, wiser and greater person, I cautiously sat in the back of the room as a defense mechanism. But at some point in the early part of the workshop, I made a conscious effort to have an open mind and interested heart, so my healing could occur despite my sensitivity to distressing issues that cause deep pain. Then before I knew it, I was captivated and awestruck by presenter Sharon Wise’s eloquent and charismatic speaking ability.
Sharon Wise has been hospitalized and imprisoned over 30 times, often by force. She discussed in length about being secluded and restrained while institutionalized, Sharon also shared her experience of abuse, drug addiction, mental health challenges, as well as the pain she endured after giving her only daughter up for adoption.
As a result, Sharon was able to boldly and graciously share all that she learned from her experience and how she got through her suffering. Sharon taught those who attended the workshop, the powerful healing tool of the arts (music, dancing, drawing, film making). Sharon herself is an outstanding artist who creates vibrant, colorful self-portraits that illustrate her traumatic experiences and African-American heritage. Through Sharon’s facilitating of the workshop, she clearly and effectively communicated her strength and hope. She uplifted, inspired and reiterated my own belief that all things are possible. I honestly can say that Sharon comforted and filled my mind, soul and spirit with more aspiration. Her presence alone was warm and peaceful.
Sharon’s son DJ Swagg, boldly and good-naturedly, spoke about his experience being raised by her while she was dealing with personal struggles. He discussed his pain of witnessing all his mother had gone through, and how much he still loves and respects her. Her son also shared how he looked for his sister that was adopted, found her on Facebook and reunited their family together.
The order and process of this workshop was extremely moving. At the end of the workshop, I tearfully expressed to Sharon and everyone else in the room, “This workshop made my Alternatives.”
I truly believe that Sharon Wise is an excellent motivational speaker. Her son being included in the workshop’s course of action made it even more of an amazing process for me. I look forward to next year’s Alternatives Conference, and I hope to attend more workshops facilitated by Sharon Wise. I know her story would benefit others. So I nominate and advocate for Sharon Wise to be a keynote speaker at Alternatives 2012 Conference!
I stepped out into a warm rain as I left the SAMHSA ADS Center meeting this morning. As I dodged the droplets, trying in vain to stay dry, it occurred to me: We at this conference are those raindrops. As individuals we are mere single drops of water. As small groups in our organizations we are a steady rain. But if we can join together on a larger scale, we become a massive rushing river.
Make no mistake, one single drop of water has power — as anyone who has tried to sleep through the surprisingly disturbing sound of a slowly dripping sink can attest. But it pales in comparison to the power of water drops combined into a massive rushing river — a force that can knock down buildings and carve through the hardest of granite.
I can feel the river swelling when I'm at Alternatives, and at meetings like the SAMHSA ADS Center gathering this morning. Over breakfast we had the opportunity to meet and put faces with the names and disembodied voices we have heard on so many conference calls. Even more powerfully, we had the chance to hear about the wonderful projects and creative ways in which these individuals and organizations were helping to change the national mindset about people with mental health issues.
Participants proudly shared updates on projects as varied as poetry for personal power, art as a tool to talk about trauma in a non-threatening manner, films about young adults in recovery from mental health and substance abuse issues, lessons learned from work with different nations of Native Americans, and so much more.
While the projects and outcomes that people highlighted were wonderful, the truly compelling part of this meeting was watching the connections happening around the tables as people spoke. Slowly, and then more rapidly, individuals started seeing connections between the work that was being done. Tools developed for one program were just the thing that another needed to move forward. Problems that seemed insurmountable in one community were offered new solutions from a similar problem in another region.
This is why national gatherings like Alternatives are so important to our work. You see it time and again: The energy changes around the table. People realize they are no longer working in isolation, are no longer the only voice for change. You sense there are others with you in the work. The water drops begin to coalesce into a downpour, and then the downpour becomes a river.
Suddenly, the impenetrable granite wall of public stigma against people living with a mental health issue doesn't look so formidable and unchangeable after all.