We Called Him Friend

We Called Him….Friend

“The best way a mentor can prepare another leader is to expose him or her to other great people.”

—John C. Maxwell

I have been asking myself lately why I felt the need to write about these individuals who made such a big impact on my life.  The answer…..I don’t know.  Maybe it’s because I’m finally emotionally able to write about them.  Or maybe now that this big life change has happened I have had the time to do some soul searching about people who have impacted my life both positively and negatively.  Whatever the reason I write to process these feelings in private because I’ve always feared expressing emotions other than anger or laughter.  One man that knew the trauma I was experiencing and that spent a tremendous amount of time talking to me each week was Dr. Charles Holmes.

I first met Dr. Holmes during my undergraduate work.  I took several classes he taught on both the undergraduate and graduate level.  He wasn’t a man that crossed boundaries.  He was simply a man who loved his students almost like that of a father.  The first class I took under him was the History of Psychology.  Honestly, the class couldn’t have been more boring.  I would have random thoughts like, “Oh my God did I remember to put on deodorant?  Do penguins have knees? What did I wear?  I look like I just rolled out of my hamper!”  That was one class I truly had to suffer through not because of the instructor but the material.  I was secretly thinking, “To have lobotomy by a leper wouldn’t be as painful.”

He taught many different classes that impacted the lives of so many students.  And then…..I took the Psychology of Addiction and instantly I was in love.  At the time, I had never spoken publicly about the puzzling nature of my life.  When I presented the topic chosen in the class which happened to be about self-harm.  I let my peers into a very small corner of my world and proceeded to throw up after the presentation was complete.  I was also still living with my ex-husband so I was very cautious about telling too much.  But with Dr. Holmes it was just different and you knew that by talking to him. He cared and wanted to know how his students were doing personally not just academically.

dr holmes

March 21, 1941-July 17, 2015

He told us about working with homeless addicts and alcoholics on the streets of New Orleans, LA and I hung onto every word he said.  He knew I was living in an abusive situation but didn’t know the extent.  He didn’t pry but rather just assure me that he was there if I ever needed to talk.  He saw me struggling every day with my personal life of addiction but always had an encouraging word.  He also presented the opportunity to speak to other classes and this continued on into graduate school.  These opportunities were slowly making the shame and guilt dissipate while educating others.

After Hurricane Katrina he told me about some work he was doing in the Pearlington, Waveland and Bay St. Louis areas of Mississippi which were the hardest hit areas.  I was already doing some photography for a book another teacher and I were working on about the devastation.  He invited both Melody and I to help on some rebuilding projects through a Christian organization he was affiliated with.  I can honestly say that the work done in those areas was extremely rewarding.  Not to mention all of the memories that I still have from that.  Here were families broken from the tragedy and I was there to help.  My heart and soul lit up instantly.

I pulled him aside one day before class and said, “Dr. Holmes you’re messing up my theory about men.”  He said, “What are you talking about?”  I said, “Well my experience with men truly exemplifies that all men are pigs and extremely harmful.  Why aren’t you?”  He said, “Dana because I don’t see people in a way as personal property or to make personal gains.”  We hugged and I have never forgotten that.  He would soon make it where all of his classes were required to attend my speaking engagements on campus including the Regional Pine Belt Counseling Association where several professional members of the community also attended.

Once Mel and I moved to Albuquerque life got busy and we spoke every once in a while.  But I did tell him when he asked where I was working that it was with the homeless and how much I appreciated him planting the seed.  I missed him terribly and as my mental health declined all I wanted was to sit down with him and to be told, “It’s going to be ok.”

When we would travel back to Mississippi I would always stop by the college and look up these professors that meant so much to me.  And I could always count on a big hug from Dr. Holmes and occasionally I would help “stomp out stigma and stupidity.”  Whether he was in class or not I would peek around where he could see me and he would excitedly stop his lecture and say, “Come on in, Dana.  Class let me tell you about this former student.” My heart leapt for joy each time and seemed to make it all worth it.

One day while Mel and I were planning a trip back to Mississippi his wife accidentally called me.  It was probably a butt dial.  But I called her back as this was odd.  She told me, “Dana doc isn’t doing well and if you want to see him come on.”  My heart sunk into my stomach and I felt sick.  My beloved professor and friend was dying and there was nothing I could do.

We raced the clock trying to get there before he passed.  Luckily or maybe something granted by the universe, we got there in time.  I walked into his room where he was connected to different medical devices.  I could see he was struggling to breathe and when our eyes met he said, “Dana?”  I said, “Hey doc it’s me. I told you I would be here if you ever needed me.”  He smiled and said, “Are you still cutting?”  I said, “Really that’s your burning question to ask me after this long?”  He and I chuckled and I said, “Yea doc I’m still struggling.” We had a rather short conversation but I told him before I left, “Doc thank you for being such a good man, professor and friend. You really blessed me and it was an honor to have you in my life.”  We told each other “I love you” both with tears in our eyes and hugged.  I left and he soon passed away.

When it was time for his service I saw some William Carey University professors like Dr. Cotten there and I was trying to choke back the tears that were wanting to erupt in my throat.  Then as the service finished and people were mingling a couple walked up to Mel and I and said, “Hey, I think we know you.”  I was scared to death because I couldn’t recall their names or faces.  Ashamed I said, “And who might you guys be?”  They said, “Your name is Dana, right?”  I just knew that they must’ve seen my face on a wanted poster or something.  Reluctantly, I said, “Yes that’s me.”  And they said, “We remember you from helping to rebuild our house after the hurricane with Dr. Holmes.” I was astonished and had a sense of pride as well.  I said, “Yes he was one of my good friends and I’ll miss him dearly.”

#Thispuzzledlife

Man On A Mission

A Man on a Mission

“When you push yourself beyond limits, you discover inner

reserves, which you never thought existed earlier.”
― Manoj Arora, Dream On

Throughout all my many years of abuse there have also been people who have crossed my path leaving their mark on my life in a way that facilitates growth.  Dr. Paul D. Cotten was just one of those people.  He also crossed paths with my father when he was in junior college.  Ellisville State School was a residential facility for individuals with mental retardation.  As you can imagine, I went with my dad to work when I was little, therefore, being around individuals with many different types of disabilities was the norm.  As an adult I consider that exposure a blessing.

When I started my educational career at William Carey University as a non-traditional undergraduate, I told my dad the names of some of the professors.  As I mentioned some of the names he began to tell me stories about his connection with Dr. Cotten and some of the funny things he would say.  My experience with Dr. Cotten was one that I valued and learned from at every interaction.  He was not an easy professor, by any means, but he knew how to get me to perform at my best.  He pushed me sometimes to tears but I knew that what he was doing was out of love for his students.

dr cotten

I took him for several classes but my favorite and most challenging had to be Abnormal Psychology.  Dr. Cotten was very instrumental in deinstitutionalizing and placing these individuals with disabilities into the community.  The focus of our internship programs were with the elderly and mentally retarded populations.  Yes I was able to do many hours in substance abuse programs but he would not let me make that my focus.  I have stories I could tell about working with these populations and was truly blessed.

Anyone who crossed paths with Dr. Cotten was one where you either hated him or loved him as a professor.  I truly believe that most people loved him because he always challenged you to be your best.  Some of the best advice I was given as a student by him was, “Before you diagnose someone you first have to understand that they are an individual.”  Dr. Cotten also saw clients for evaluations for court commitments.  The stories that he would share would have you laughing but his points were always very clear.  He told us in one of the Gerontology classes  that “Most people retire from something rather than to something which shortens their lives due to complacency.”  He had more irons in the fire in his 70s than most will have in a lifetime, thus, making sure he wasn’t complacent. He milked life of every minute of every day no matter how difficult sometimes.

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In tears, I went to him one day in his office where he had placed a piano that he would often be playing southern gospel music. I announced my arrival and I looked at him and said, “Dr. Cotten I respect you so much why are you pushing me so hard if you know what I’m going through at home?”  I was still married to my ex-husband, at the time, and the abuse I suffered at his hands was immense.  Dr. Cotten then told me, “Because I know that you’re capable of more than what he’s telling you.”  I couldn’t really understand everything in the moment but I took that interaction back with me and I have never forgotten how much that motivated me to finish my degree through the blood, sweat and tears.  I just couldn’t understand why he cared but he did.

He was always so funny but very business-like at times.  I asked him while walking to another class why he was there on his day off.  He simply told me, “I’m here to help stomp out stupidity.”  I could do nothing but laugh because that’s exactly what he was doing.  He also required us to be counselors at Camp Kaleidoscope, which is a camp for children with autism and other spectrum disorders.  I was terrified but I will always give him credit for making us well rounded as students.

When I heard of his passing in 2017, at the age of 80,  I teared up at the death of a man who made such a big impact on my life both personally and professionally.  But most of all, he was a man of integrity and always wanted the best for his students no matter what branch of psychology they chose. He was also over the music therapy program and touch lives everywhere he went. He touched my life at a time that was tumultuous and finding a reason to live was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Thank you Dr. Paul D. Cotten for blessing my life and for seeing more than just a traumatized individual that stood before you.  You have inspired me to continue in the world by helping to “stomp out stupidity.”

#Thispuzzledlife

Closing The Chaper

Closing the Chapter

12.29.2017

“If you’re brave enough to say goodbye, life will give you a new hello.”

—Paulo Coehlo

Since the end of 2017 is fast approaching and writing has not really been a priority because basic mental and physical survival grabbed that #1 spot this year.  Our little family complete with two little boys that are a beautifully and hysterical mixture of zombie fighter, American Ninja Warrior, chicken nuggets, boogers, poop, sweat, nerf guns, goat head stickers and a nice dose of generalized “Little boy GROSS” seem to be the perfect description for our two little Albuquerque charges.  And it’s because of these two little boys and the love that Mel and I still have for each other that our family is currently closing the chapter here.

Mel and I, for several years now have been looking for a way or a reason to leave Albuquerque.  There are several reasons but mainly because you just seem to know when it’s time to move on.  In June 2009 shortly after completing graduate school at William Carey University in Hattiesburg, MS we set out fleeing our conservative homeland with the goal of one day being parents.  We had no jobs and really no direction but we wanted to leave and leave we did. But not without big dreams for life in the southwest.  I had one personal dream of working as a drug/alcohol therapist with the Native American population which would come to fruition.  We didn’t know what life had to offer but we were ready to face anything or so we thought. And for the next 8 years our life would be about a lot of struggle.

Life was about to teach us some incredibly difficult and painful lessons about facing adversity, our expectations of the word “friendship,” the devastating lasting effects of abuse, the painful sting of death of friends, family and yes both Copeland and Marshall’s twins, a representation of the sad shape of the country’s mental health system, the awareness of how uneducated the legal system is about mental illness, the understanding of how damaging bad therapy can be and the eventual realization that there are still some damn good therapists out there who are truly doing what they love are passionate about for the right reasons. And the true meaning of the words “SACRIFICE” and  “LOVE.”

eagle dancer

We both landed jobs with a temp agency within the billion dollar company Fidelity Investments.   Mel would eventually be offered a job as a Fidelity employee which would include fertility benefits that would make our dreams of being parents possible.  With both of us being adopted, neither of us wanted to adopt but I had no desire to carry.  Mel would be “chomping at the bits” to step into that role.  Having finally divorced a very mentally and sexually abusive 14 year relationship I seemed to just be “unsettled” but tried not to pay it too much attention.  So, I jumped into a doctoral program to help fulfill whatever need it was that I was looking to fill.

I would fall absolutely head over heels working with the homeless.  Coming from small town where the drug problem and crime is more of a nuisance rather than a way of life, we were about to be in for a big shock.  Watching the FOX reality show COPS could easily be achieved by sitting on our front porch and just watching the action.  With a large transient population and our first residence being directly off historic Route 66 in downtown Albuquerque being touched by the crime was inevitable.  I would soon realize, however, that the costs of addiction in every facet I would encounter was at a ground zero status.  This level of addiction would simultaneously be challenging and heartbreaking.  The homeless population I would work with included members of the 200+ gangs in the city, skin heads, murders, rapists, drug dealers and anyone seeking free county funded medical detox.  I would develop a deep down love for working with these men and women who had their own individual needs but underneath their natural edginess and attitude there was a beating heart in their chest.  Very quickly a mutual respect was developed and we looked forward to seeing each other daily.

Soon my ever increasing mental health troubles couldn’t be discounted as stress.  It would eventually become such a big problem that it would turn into a search for answers which continues today.  A few years later all of the strange and at times increasingly debilitating symptoms and a myriad of diagnoses several professionals would concur on the diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder.  I could accept just about any diagnosis but this one.  I just didn’t see how it was possible.  Mel and I both looked at each other like I had just given birth to a baby giraffe.  I can safely say that we were both in denial about this one.

I thought if I just tried really hard that there was no need for this stigmatizing label.  What I learned a few years later is that no matter how much I attempt to be a normal person with normal problems, I just wasn’t.  I can’t even begin to convey to you the long term effects that abuse has had on my being able to function as an adult.  As with most things humor can be found if you look hard enough.  But some of the effects on both the individual and the family can be devastating.

locked soul

My active working career with my brand new degree would be short lived.  This disorder has left me unable to work since our oldest son, Marshall, was born 6 years ago.  Nevertheless both of our little preemie boys and their love for us as their parents can make it possible to “white knuckle” situations longer than you ever imagine.  Many hospital visits, treatment programs and literally blood, sweat and tears later I went to an inpatient trauma program in Denton, TX desperate for help and terrified.  Mel and I began realizing that there are many professionals in that area that actually specialize in treating this disorder.  Complicating this new found information was my intense fear of professionals or anyone in position of authority.  I would meet one at the inpatient program that apparently has the patience of Job and could see right past my spewing venomous rage directly into the pain and hurt.

The loss of our beloved Sarah Pardue in 2015 to cancer has truly left me feeling completely alone and floundering with no direction.  She was my YODA and a voice of reason that I would actually listen to. Her loss brought me to my knees and feeling like someone had figuratively broken my back.  Every since I’ve been in a downward spiral that leaves both me and Mel in awe that I’m here to write about it.

The challenge then became how do we get me access to these services from Albuquerque where we seemed to be forever bound.  About 6 months later our answers would be revealed.  One thing kept gnawing at me….Why did those people at that treatment center care?  I was so loud and flamboyant about who wasn’t going to make me do shit.  I was on a locked until which is a huge trigger for me since part of my trauma is from being or feeling trapped.  So, I’m usually just a pain in the ass for that type of staff. They didn’t tuck tail and run which made me do a double take.

So for the next couple of months it would be having Mel drive me and the kids to Dallas for a session and then turning around and making the 10 hour trip back to Albuquerque.  The compassion and expertise we finally found was something that we would come to realize that would be a necessity for my ultimate survival.  That would mean leaving our trusted therapist of 8 years here, in Albuquerque, who had been the only evidence of consistency we would experience here.  Another inpatient stay in Denton, TX with completely different circumstances and the results were disastrous. I could do nothing but cry.

puzzle piece blue

My soul and heart ached and longed for the wise words of Sarah.  “What the hell do I do now?!!!” I kept saying.  I couldn’t imagine what she would say because it was in this moment that I needed to hear her talk and that wasn’t an option.  At some point among the tears I remember very clearly Sarah saying, “Dana there will be times when you have no idea what to do next in life and I won’t be around.”  Panicked I would ask, “Well mom what the hell do I do then?!!!” She looked at me and said with that comforting smile….”The next right thing whatever that is.”  I would always ask her, “Well, what the hell is that going to be?” and she would say “to let life show you what to do next.”  I had no idea how profound that conversation we would have at different times would be for me.

It would soon be suggested that I look into a new and upcoming treatment facility called Healing Springs Ranch in Tioga, TX.  I have to laugh because even now I think what the hell is in Tioga, TX?  Once you see how really small of a town they are tipping the scales at 886 for a population.  And I’m pretty sure that more than once I communicated with some of the local residents by saying, “MOOOOOOOO!!!!”  But deep in the heart of a big ass pasture there is a magical place that has healing vibes complete with fishing, kayaking, paddle boats, golf, swimming and other activities while surrounded by wildlife that doesn’t seem to fear humans in any capacity.  I mean those little animals don’t even fear Chef Corey who can make a mean dish out of damn near anything.  More than once I felt guilty for eating those plates that were like portraits.

Having been in the nation’s mental health system for the majority of my adult life treatment centers don’t typically exude compassion with many staff much less those in charge.  Healing Springs Ranch is no ordinary place. From the minute you darken the doors compassion and passion seems to ooze out of every pore that makes up that place.  Hey, you know for me the term “Open Campus” vs. “Locked Unit” took me very little time to make the decision to go directly back to treatment.  They also said that individuals with Dissociative Identity Disorder were also treated there.  Boundaries were made very clear and I began to thrive.  I hungered and longed for boundaries but wanted the freedom from being a typical psychiatric patient.  It proved to me very quickly that compassion, boundaries and freedom from being “trapped” can do a lot for someone who struggles living life through trauma colored lenses.  Sometimes all you need to treat a sudden case of anxiety is a beautiful walk and a smart-ass comment from Charlie the Squirrel.  Or the sight of that one special therapist coming to work that stops her car on the path that goes by the cows just to say, “Good Morning cows! Today I will not eat hamburger.”

And now that she’s gone life showed us answers just like she said.  And now under the heading of SACRIFICE and LOVE, Mel and I have decided that the best thing for our family, after years of looking for a sign of hope, that I will move to Texas to do this work individually. They will move back to Mississippi for the support that they need while I make this part of the journey with someone who will be one of the most powerful coaches of my life surrounded by a chosen family of trauma survivors.  As we close the chapter on Albuquerque and 2017, with tears in my eyes I’m cautiously optimistic and yet terrified in the same breath.  Life is very scary for this adult teenager.  I’m heading back east knowing confidently one thing…..that I’ve always been coachable. That I’m doing the next right thing and I’m positive  that Sarah would give her stamp of approval on this decision.  My statement in life is this….”There’s no way that I can fail now.”

#Thispuzzledlife