Three Common Misconceptions About Your Mental Health

Over the last decade, there’s been a significant trend in organizations doing work to raise awareness about the importance of mental health. Historically, there’s been a stigma around mental health diagnoses and treatment. Though things have gotten better, they still aren’t perfect. The negative stigma around mental health continues to create a barrier to treatment for many.

Here at The Next Door, we treat both substance abuse disorders and co-occurring mental health disorders. Every patient that comes through our residential treatment program receives a full psychiatric evaluation within 48 hours of their arrival by one of our Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners. Some of these NPs, along with a few members of our clinical staff, sat down with me to discuss common misconceptions about mental health.

Three Common Misconceptions About Mental Health

  1. If I have mental health symptoms, I must have a mental health disorder
    Symptoms can exist without fitting to any specific diagnosis. We get stressed. We feel depressed. We have mood swings. These things don’t always indicate a mental health disorder. Not everything is a diagnosis. We live in a broken world that can be difficult to navigate. These difficulties don’t always equal mental illness. Sometimes, life circumstances and learned coping methods (healthy and unhealthy) combine in a way that makes life Working through these things in therapy can be helpful, even if there is no official diagnosis. Mental health is something everyone can work on, in the same way we could probably all eat a few more vegetables.
  2. There is a “magic pill” that will fix everything
    It would be nice, wouldn’t it? A person with diabetes can take insulin and live a great life. If you’ve got high blood pressure, there’s a pill that can help regulate it. Sure, there are medications proven to treat the chemical imbalances that exist in the brain. Many are quite effective, especially for diagnoses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder; however, it’s a combination of medication and therapy that is most effective. That “magic pill” doesn’t exist.
  3. Having past trauma means I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
    A lot of factors that play into how we individually manage trauma. It’s different for everyone. Common images of trauma include veterans and victims of sexual and childhood abuse. All of these certainly fall into the category of trauma and may even lead to PTSD; however that’s not always the case. PTSD isn’t an automatic diagnosis based on trauma. Because trauma can be so different for everyone (abuse, grief, loss, war, violence, etc.), it leads to different effects as well. Just because someone doesn’t have a PTSD diagnosis, doesn’t mean they haven’t experienced trauma.

It can be scary to start the journey of paying close attention to your mental health. Processing past trauma, feelings, and experiences can leave us feeling vulnerable and unsafe. A crucial part of the process is finding a therapist you trust and having an open conversation with them. We see the change this can make in a life every day here at The Next Door. Women take brave steps in vulnerability with their therapists, case managers, and each other. If you talk to one of our clients, this is what she will tell you: it will be hard sometimes, but it will be so worth it.

Somebody’s Daughter

Written by Dani Branham, Clinic Nurse

Driving to work today, I heard a song on the radio that reminded me of the clients that we serve at The Next Door—“Somebody’s Daughter” by Tenille Towns. In this song, she reminds us all that we are valued, we have family, and there are always people in our corner rooting for us, regardless of who we are. No matter what is going on in your life, how you are feeling, what you have done, if you are homeless or you suffer from substance abuse, you are still a person. You are “somebody’s best friend,” “somebody’s sister,” or “somebody’s daughter.”

The lyrics to this song embody the environment at The Next Door. It is a safe place for women to come, despite their pasts, where they will always feel listened to and no one will judge them. I am a Clinic Nurse at TND, and I also work as a Labor and Delivery Nurse. One of the main things we see with obstetric substance abuse clients is that patients feel they are greatly mistreated or judged when coming to the hospital. This often causes women to not seek treatment or to stray away from health care providers because with so much already going on in their lives, they do not need one more person placing judgment on them.

In today’s society, it is so easy to be stereotypical, especially with clients in this population who are pregnant. It is easy to wonder why people do the things they do or why they cannot change. What we need to remember is that regardless of a patient’s decisions, she is human. She makes mistakes. She is someone’s best friend. She is someone’s sister. She is someone’s daughter. And now, she is going to be someone’s mother. She has an army of people surrounding her, and her recovery and sobriety mean as much to her as they do to the people rooting for her.

The Next Door accepts pregnant clients to be admitted up to 38 weeks. These clients are showered with love and support by TND staff to help them maintain sobriety. Clients who arrive at TND later in their pregnancy remain in treatment until they go into labor and return to treatment once they are medically stable after delivery. Returning to TND after giving birth is an emotional time for most women, because they are away from their new baby just days after delivering. A client’s choice to return to treatment following delivery exemplifies her first duty as a mother. Although she may miss the first few weeks, by staying in treatment, she is taking the first steps to be able to stay in her child’s life forever as a sober parent.

I had the pleasure of meeting a pregnant client when I first started at TND. When she first arrived in treatment, she went through the stages that most go through. She was in the midst of her withdrawals. She did not feel well and was anxious, irritable, and often stayed to herself. As the days went on, her personality slowly started to shine through. It was obvious that she was feeling better. She was cheerful and excited about her new baby. She had other children at home that she had felt she failed, but she was eager to take her life back and show them how much she was willing to change. Working at TND is inspiring because you hear traumatic stories from these women and watch them overcome obstacles and make huge strides in only 28 days or less.

I had contact with this client only a small number of times in a few days. Due to my schedule at the hospital, by the time I returned to work at TND, she was no longer a client. Whether she had completed the program or not, I was unsure. A few months later, on a shift in Labor and Delivery, the nurse I was getting report from had limited nice things to say about the patient she was handing off to me. The nurse stated that the patient just got out of treatment and that she and her family were unnecessarily rude. As I walked into the patient’s room, it took me a moment to realize I knew her from somewhere. As the night shift went on, I realized she was the client I had seen at TND.

I did not experience the same rudeness or disrespect that the previous nurse had. As we spoke throughout the night, she began to warm up to me. We spoke about her life, the people in it, her fears about labor, and her excitement for her future. Regardless of her past, we spoke about the endless possibilities she could have, and what she would be doing when she left the hospital. Never once did we talk about her substance abuse. Our connection from TND was not something that was discussed, and honestly, I don’t know if she even recognized me. Her baby was born that night, and I was lucky enough to be her nurse for her delivery. Working in labor and delivery is always rewarding, but it was incredible to see how far this patient had come. The joy in her eyes as she held her baby for the first time. Her accomplishments and pride shining through. It was emotional and raw and beautiful. Her delivery room was filled with her parents, her children, and her grandchildren, all ready to support her and cheer her on.

She was somebody’s daughter.

When Words Fail

Written by Morgan Coyner, Grant Coordinator, and Cindy Birdsong, Art Therapist

Our residential and partial hospitalization clients have weekly art therapy sessions. Cindy Birdsong, TND’s art therapist, curates a safe, nurturing space for women to open their minds and create.

Observing art therapy is not allowed. Cindy requires everyone to participate. That’s how I found myself in a smock, painting a white canvas turquoise, cutting paper, and gluing it onto the background. I wasn’t sure what I was making, but Cindy kept reminding me, “there’s no mistakes in here.” It surprised me how that simple phrase made me feel like whatever I made would turn out well. It gave me freedom to be patient and see what I needed to express.

As I worked alongside the clients, they talked about their lives outside of treatment. I was with the partial hospitalization group, and they come to treatment five days a week but live at home. As they worked on projects, they shared stories and encouraged each other in their recovery. There was freedom in the air, freedom from judgment or expectations. Each woman was free to be who she was. Her struggles, her flaws, and most importantly, her successes.

Cindy says, “The process of creating art in any form is healing for the heart, soul, and mind.  Clients at The Next Door often share their personal journey with addiction not only verbally but through symbolism in paintings, collages, clay-making, and mixed media activities while they are in treatment.  Each client is encouraged to express themselves without judgement in a non-verbal way that tells a story.  Art Therapy classes allow the clients to be independent thinkers, develop self-esteem and self-worth, and find the person they used to be before their addiction took over. I’ve heard clients say things like this in class: ‘My day has felt meaningless. The opportunity to create something of my own has helped me to process my negative feelings and turn the day around.”

Trauma, the main root cause of addiction for our clients, creates certain neuropathways in the brain that are helpful for survival in that moment, yet these same behaviors end up being harmful when the body is no longer in danger. Art therapy is so effective because it helps a person express feelings that have been so deeply buried that they no longer have words for them. It creates a safe environment to work through pain. As the artist Edward Hopper said, “If I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.”

Providing Hope to Women in Crisis

Written by Tonia Bird, Director of Admissions

I can’t take this anymore. 

I think my family would be better off without me. 

Sometimes I just wish I were dead… 

These statements are often heard from clients when they bravely call into admissions asking for help.  The women calling The Next Door are broken and usually at the lowest point they have ever been in their lives. They are hurting and in desperate need when they call.

Admission counselors take the time to listen to these women with compassion and love while gathering the information needed to determine if the client is appropriate for our treatment services. When women arrive for admission, they are frightened and searching for faces of hope and encouragement. So many people in their lives have given up on them. They are often full of guilt and shame.  We take the time to kindly walk them through those first hours to help ease their anxiety. We want them to know that someone cares and understands their journey.

Life is hard, and this disease is crippling. We understand that the women coming in for treatment are not bad people but have made poor choices because of their debilitating disease. Most people in society are aware of the opioid epidemic but show little empathy for the people suffering.  What people don’t understand is that the majority of these women have come from a long history of abuse and trauma. Often, they are children of addicts. I want women coming in for treatment to know that society may have given up on them, but The Next Door will always be here to support and encourage them throughout their road to recovery. We want them to know that we have not given up on them. And God will never give up on them.

I feel good knowing that every day I go to work I am helping better lives and am impacting society in a positive way. I have family suffering from addiction. It is my passion to help women understand that there is a different way to live and that it is possible to recover from the disease of addiction.  I know what it feels like to lose hope, so it is amazing to get to show love and encouragement to women who have lost hope. I’ve been in some dark places in my life, and God and the love of others are the only things that kept me going.

I want to give back and be the ray of hope for others who have lost that hope.  I feel that God has prepared me through my many life experiences to be in the position that I am today on the front lines, accepting calls from women in crisis. It is a blessing to be able to give strength and hope to others and love them unconditionally, just as God would want me to do.

Introducing The Next Door’s Recovery Care Clinic

Written by Bethany Brummitt, Recovery Care Clinic Manager

How many times have you heard the words “opioid crisis,” “overdose,” or “Narcan” in media outlets within the last month?   Lost count?  Yeah, me too.  In 2019, it’s reasonable to state that each one of us knows someone who has been directly or indirectly affected by the opioid epidemic.  While I could provide countless statistics on the magnitude of this problem, I’d prefer to talk about one way of combatting it.

The Next Door strives to provide the best in clinical practices and evidence-based treatments (EBT).  One undervalued player in substance abuse EBT is called Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT). What is MAT, you ask?  SAMHSA defines MAT as “the use of medications with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat substance use disorders and prevent opioid overdose.”  MAT is quickly becoming the new standard of care in the treatment of opioid abuse.  Many have questioned the use of medication and wonder if this is simply substituting one drug for another.  I’m happy to tell you it isn’t!  The medications TND has chosen to use do not create the same effect as illegal opiates, pain killers, and alcohol.  These maintenance medications assist in controlling cravings and normalizing brain chemistry and body functions which in turn allows clients a greater ability to focus on their recovery.

This greater ability to focus on recovery sets the stage for higher patient survival, increased retention in treatment, decreased illicit drug use and criminal activity, greater ability to obtain and maintain employment and housing, improve birth outcomes among pregnant women suffering from substance abuse, decrease the spread of infectious diseases, and improve chances of parent/child reunification in cases where mothers have been separated from their children due to substance abuse.

TND’s outpatient MAT program is called the Recovery Care Clinic (RCC) and was launched on June 3, 2019.  Our clinic meets weekly and provides on-going medication monitoring, case management services, and group therapy.  RCC clients are encouraged to establish outside individual therapy, psychiatric care when needed, and to engage with a 12-Step recovery community.  They may be enrolled anywhere from a few weeks up to a couple of years, whatever it takes to support them in achieving a healthy, productive and self-directed life in their community.

Our medical director shared with staff recently that it takes 18-24 months for the brain to heal from substance use disorders (opiate addiction being particularly difficult).  That’s 18-24 months for proper judgement and insight to be restored.  Think about that.  With that knowledge it is often unrealistic to expect clients to maintain sobriety after 30-60 days of treatment.  TND’s ultimate goal is complete abstinence from substances for all of our clients.  That will not change. However, with the addition of MAT and our Recovery Care Clinic, we are able to extend our continuum of care so that women can stay in treatment with us longer. This is crucial, as clients build relationships throughout our programs-with each other and staff-which contributes to their success. RCC is the lowest level of care, providing women with another tool toward building a life of sustained recovery.

You can help us!  TND’s Recovery Care Clinic takes place every Monday from 12-3pm.  Our team seeks wisdom and guidance as we build a sustainable program for the women we serve.  Would you consider a commitment to pray for five minutes every Monday during that time for both staff and clients?

 

“O my God, may your eyes be open and your ears attentive to all the prayers made to you in this place.”  2 Chronicles 6:40

Everyday Witness to The Sacraments

Written by Amanda Dunlap, Director of Clinical Services

Let it be known right off the bat that I do not claim to be a theologian or pastor by trade, but a therapist by profession, one who is constantly seeking the Lord’s full purpose in my professional and personal life. Over the last six months, I have had many contemplations and stirrings on the subject and action of the sacraments; particularly the sacraments of Healing: Reconciliation and Anointing. Most of us experience the need for healing in our lives at some point and it’s through these Sacraments that healing has the potential to happen.

At The Next Door, women enter our doors yearning for reconciliation and healing of self, family, community… and addiction. It’s not always said in those words; however their eyes tell us they desire something different – making promises to themselves and their families and hoping they can change. They seek realness and grace.

As soon as they arrive at our facility, our staff joins them, walking side by side with them to figure out what this desire and a new beginning looks like. We do this by providing sound clinical and medical expertise, solid 12 step recovery knowledge, and a community that is unwavering. We encourage each woman to begin with admitting that she is powerless and that her life has become unmanageable (Step One in the 12 Steps). This, my friends, is a cornerstone that launches change and hope for a woman seeking recovery. In my time at The Next Door (over eleven years!) I have witnessed this time and time again and it never gets old.

Daily, I am reminded by our incredible team just how to live out the Sacraments in our everyday lives. TND’s foundation has been solid from day one. We strive every day to live out God’s purpose in our work and pass that on to every woman and family that enters our care.

You see, that can be seen as a tall order to live up to everyday; however, being grounded in our core values (Love, Faith, Hope, Wholeness, Community, Respect, and Encouragement), we simply share the grace that has been given to us, i.e. the Sacraments. We do this not to worldly or perfectionistic standards, yet to the standards and mission that we were founded on. The Sacraments of healing are seen throughout our care for our women at TND, and to this, I am humbled to be a part of such true and meaningful work. As Mother Teresa said so beautifully, “Wherever God has put you, that is your vocation. It is not what we do but how much love we put into it.”

May we take these words to heart as we live out our lives, professionally and personally. I know I will try to.

Life-Saving Ministry! 

Written by Kate McKinnie, Director of Development

In the world of development, our goal is to effectively tell the story of The Next Door’s services – whether that is one-on-one with donors, through grant funding applications, during special events or marketing efforts.  One “buzz-word” that is often used is that The Next Door is a “life-saving ministry.”  Because I’m not a clinical team member and I’m relatively new to the field of addiction and recovery, I wasn’t sure what this really meant until recently.

Anyone with eyes and ears is constantly hearing about the opioid crisis in the news.  Last year, The Nashville Prevention Partnership trained the entire TND staff about how to administer Narcan, which is given to a person who has overdosed on opioids.  As a result of the training, each of us walked away with our own Narcan “kit,” which included a pair of gloves, two doses of Narcan, instructions, and a reporting form to fill out if/when we ever used it.  I remember feeling so empowered leaving the training that I could potentially save someone’s life!  From that day on, that Narcan kit sat in the bottom of my purse – where it stayed for almost a year.

Two months ago, I had just finished what felt like a normal day in the world of fundraising – I had a few meetings, worked on the E-newsletter content, wrote some donor thank you notes, proofread a grant application, etc. That morning, when the TND lot was full, I parked my car on a side street, which required me to drive around to the back of our building, something I rarely do.  As I drove down Clifton Ave on my journey home, I noticed two members of our nursing staff who appeared to be pulling someone out of the bushes behind our facility.  As I slowed down, I noticed it was not a female client they were helping, but a thin male who appeared to be unconscious.  I rolled down my window and yelled, “Emily, do you need Narcan?”  With a panicked look on her face, she said, “Yes – do you have some?”  I jerked my car in park, grabbed the Narcan kit that was in my purse in the passenger seat, and raced over to help.

Because a Nurse Practitioner and a Nurse were the first responders, my only role was to give them the gloves, unwrap the first dose of Narcan, and hand it over.  I watched as Emily talked to the man, telling him that she was about to administer a dose of Narcan and asking him to “stay with me.”  She sprayed the Narcan in his nostrils quickly and there was no response.  I asked her “do you want the second one?” and quickly unwrapped it and handed it to her.  After the second dose, the man’s eyes began to flutter open, right as I heard an ambulance approaching nearby.  Seeing that my non-medical services were no longer needed and that this man was in kind, capable hands, I went back to my car to drive home.

As I got in the car, still shaking, I began to process what had just occurred.  What are the odds that a man experienced a drug overdose directly beside/behind an addiction treatment center?  What are the odds that TND nurses spotted him stumbling outside their office window?  What are the odds that I would be driving by at the exact moment someone’s life needed saving, and that I had Narcan in my purse?  GOD’S PLAN BEATS ALL ODDS!  He was and IS at work in the countless lives needing saving from addiction, which confirms why I choose to work in this life-saving ministry.  At the next stoplight, I took a minute to praise God for using me, Narcan, and TND nurses to save a life that day and to pray that anyone battling opioid or any addiction would seek the help they need to beat the disease of addiction.

On Wednesday, July 24th, The Next Door will offer a FREE Narcan training at our facility from 10-11 am to the first 50 TND supporters who would like to be trained on how to administer this and receive their own life-saving kit.  If you are interested and available that day, please register by emailing:  RSVP@thenextdoor.org.

Impressions Through The Eyes Of A New Employee

By Morgan Coyner, Grant Coordinator

When I came to The Next Door for my final interview, I was surprised to see clients huddled around the front desk. One needed help making a phone call for a ride upon discharge. Another was waiting for her to go get a snack. A few others asked if they got any mail that day, while even more waited for their group facilitator to begin an afternoon session.

The surprise wore off quickly because this shows the heart of The Next Door. Our clients are at the center of everything we do! Typical desk jobs in a treatment facility like ours can make it easy to create a “we” and “they” attitude. We can easily forget the purpose behind the work we do and distance ourselves from the women who seek treatment within our programs. The Next Door eliminates that possibility by the way staff and clients share this beautiful facility. We eat lunch with clients, ride the elevator with them, and through this, we learn their stories. We see them. We know them. We love them. A simple “how are you” can be met with tears after a tough therapy session or any number of responses ranging from joy to gratitude to acceptance.

I’ve only worked here for two weeks, but I can already see the way God moves through this place. After observing parts of the client treatment schedule in my first week, I had the opportunity to pray with a client that her legal circumstances would change, and they did. I prayed with a client that she would find the strength within her to make a better choice than she had planned, and she did.

I’ve heard stories where women get saved and their addiction disappears immediately. I do believe that God is capable of this. However, Scripture often shows God’s people wrestling through hard things to get closer to Him. This is a more accurate picture of treatment at The Next Door. The Israelites wander for 40 years in the wilderness because God knows if they see the struggles that await them when they first leave Egypt, they’ll be afraid. He knows that He has to teach them how to live in community with Him, how to act, how to trust, before leading them into the Promised Land. They have to learn a new way of life. The Next Door is a little like the wilderness, though we’ve got way better living accommodations and a chef who keeps us well-fed on a variety of meals and not just manna. Here, women gain and practice the skills they will need for their Promised Land, a life at home with their families and children, living in recovery.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Exodus 2:24-25, which says, “God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”

It’s one thing to know that God hears us. It’s another to watch Him answer prayers in real time, without delay. This has been one of the joys of the past two weeks for me, watching God show up in circumstances that only He can, changing things and moving things so that it is evident that He is in control. My faith is strengthened daily by seeing God answer prayers at The Next Door. I’m excited to continue my career at this incredible Christ-centered ministry.

Best Graduation Party Ever!

           By Linda Leathers, TND CEO

High school graduations are always a time for special recognition and celebrations, and typically a “what comes next” question is attached. TND recently had the honor to share in a momentous event with Phyllis, a six-year Freedom Recovery Community (FRC) resident and her son Christian. As Phyllis stood before the crowd gathered to celebrate Christian’s graduation, she said, “FRC is a community of women who stuck with me and Christian. It wasn’t easy. At times I wanted to give up. At times, Christian wanted to give up. The community may have wanted to give up, BUT NEVER AT THE SAME TIME. Thank you for sticking and staying with my baby.”

Almost six years ago when Phyllis and Christian arrived, only a very few people believed that this Pearl Cohn graduation celebration would take place. Christian was not happy to live at the FRC. He described his emotions as angry and hurt. He shared that he was depressed the whole first year. He missed his life in Georgia. Times were difficult.

However, no one was giving up on Christian or Phyllis and they had a host of caring people pouring into them. Things began to change when Christian joined the Pearl Cohn football team.  At home, he and his mom began to get into a rhythm. I remember those early years when Vanderbilt football players and Freedom Recovery Community summer interns Johnny McCrary, Torrey Agree and Tre Herndon took a special interest in Christian and mentored him. Those friendships continue to this day. Over time, FRC became an oasis for Christian to call home. He had the unwavering love of a mom and 20 other women cheering him on. He had staff, volunteers, teachers and coaches all invested in his future.

Christian, a tall, handsome, linebacker-looking young man, stood before the group and said, pointing to his mom, “I love this woman and want to thank her for all she has done for me. Through this community I have learned to respect women. I am thankful for this place.” About that time, one of the FRC children came running over and jumped into his arms. Christian embraced the child and lovingly held him up in the air. Another child came running awaiting the same treatment. It was an incredibly special moment.

I am so proud of Christian, Phyllis and The Next Door for being a part of God’s story of a FUTURE and a HOPE. Christian is a loving, caring, kind and wonderful mentor to the other children at FRC. He is joining the Navy as the next step in his future. Christian, Thank You in advance for your service to our nation.

On behalf of The Next Door Board and Staff:  Well done for your accomplishment as the Freedom Recovery Community’s first high school graduate! We cannot wait to see how the Lord will guide your steps in the future. 

 

                                                              Proud Mom and Graduate!

                                Current and Former TND Staff celebrate with Phyllis and Christian

Recycling is Mindfulness

by Kellie Kroening, TND Intake Specialist and avid baker

Recycling is a mindfulness practice. Maybe you know someone who recycles like it’s their full time job. Maybe you know someone who thinks the whole thing is a joke. Unfortunately, the movement for recycling sometimes get a bad reputation because of the way it’s been presented – for instance, “if you’re not recycling, then you hate animals and the eventual disappearance of the polar ice caps is on you and your empty Dr. Pepper bottles.” (Can we all just agree that harsh and judgmental extremes don’t really help anyone?) If the newest research is true, we have already passed something of a “point of no return” with the climate problems at hand, and it doesn’t just have to do with recycling. There are a myriad of contributing factors. Yet, while we will have to put our heads together in years to come for solutions to this issue, it doesn’t mean we should stop doing what we already know to be important.

The Next Door has recently started a recycling initiative called The Green Team, which I am honored to be involved in. We’re a small group of people who go around the building once weekly to collect recycling and take it to Nashville’s many drop-off centers, in addition to brainstorming ideas of how TND can be more sustainable and focus on how to reduce, reuse, and recycle. However for me, there’s a bigger picture to why I recycle. I’m hoping that as TND participates in the Green Team’s new efforts, the conversation can turn toward mindfulness and how recycling aligns with some of our core values. I believe that recycling actually impacts how we interact with other human beings in the world. Let me tell you why.

When I was in 4th Grade I went to a magically special school called School in the Woods. In the middle of the Black Forest on the Eastern slope of the Rockies in Colorado, there exists a haven for fourth graders where you spend 80% of the school year outside, with the goal of learning how to be a naturalist. A naturalist is a type of biologist who studies the impacts of living species on each other and the environments in which they live. So, a troupe of 10-year-olds including myself spent the year walking around this piece of forest observing, notating, drawing, studying, identifying, counting, quantifying, qualifying, and appreciating the ways that all parts of the earth interconnect and impact all other parts of the earth. This experience was extraordinarily formative for me, and I carry that naturalist heart with me into all facets of my life. As an adult, I came to realize that this is why I was drawn to be a counselor; because counseling is really just naturalism. It is observing, listening, identifying, and appreciating all the ways that each part of someone’s life impacts each part of their own “ecosystem.” How, perhaps, someone’s childhood trauma impacts the beliefs about the self, and how those beliefs impact behaviors, creating gaps in emotional regulation, and how maybe, like for our women and many others, it may result in substance abuse or other dysfunctional coping mechanisms. We can study how the family system can be incredibly resilient even through the harshest blizzards and how the most frozen hearts thaw with enough time spent in the glow of a new sun. Or how when the lightning strikes one too many times, it may set someone’s whole life ablaze. The counseling relationship is there to give witness to all the life and death, growth and change, and to mindfully love the system through the process.

One very important lesson that naturalism taught me was that for the whole ecosystem to be healthy, each part must work in healthful cooperation. This is one of the things that brought me to the Next Door – it attracted me originally because it felt like the sort of place that encourages all parts of the whole to be healthy and to give and take, when needed. For instance, the core values encourage that if we want our women to understand values such as love, respect and community, then we need to also demonstrate love, respect, and community. Health begets health. Love begets love. Respect begets respect. You (be)get the idea.

Which brings me back to recycling. I believe that recycling is a mindfulness practice because for me, when my body makes that habitual motion toward the trash can with something paper, plastic, metal, cardboard etc. in my hand, I pause, and bring my awareness to the moment, instead of mindlessly letting go my waste into some hypothetical landfill. I could throw it away. No one would know. Would it make a difference? Does this one piece of paper or this one straw really matter in the scheme of things? Maybe not. But did you know that every person produces about 4 pounds of waste a day? (Don’t ask me to do the math on that; as you can imagine, School in the Woods didn’t help much with my math issues.) In that momentary pause, I consider that waste begets waste.

So, I mindfully turn my body instead to the little box where I collect recyclables. Because even though I’ll have to make an extra trip, and even though I’m just one person, recycling begets recycling. It is an act of love, and respect, and community because it says “I know that YOU live here too, and for the ecosystem to be healthy, all parts must work in healthful cooperation.” Maybe we are past a point of no return in climate change or melting ice caps but the naturalist in me urges you to believe that we are not past a point of no return within ourselves. It’s what we ask our clients at The Next Door to do every day: to believe that they are not past the point of no return, but that there is still hope that change can happen and that it does matter. Think about the impacts of living species on each other and the environments in which they live, and how that does start with you, within you, sitting at your desk, or standing in your kitchen, practicing mindfulness, and knowing in the grand scheme of things that whether you recycle something to be repurposed or just throw it away, it does matter.