“There is a feeling I’ve been getting lately and I want to tell you about it. I don’t know what it’s called, but I think you will because I know you and you know everything.” Hannah abruptly interrupted our budgeting chat, which had grown a bit complicated. In all honesty, I think we both needed a little break from that business.
My nose crinkled and I laughed. “Girl, I do not know everything! But yes, I’m ready for it. What’s the feeling?” I clutched my coffee and smiled with genuine interest. I’ve grown fond of Hannah’s reflections. When I met her, Hannah was a somewhat surly girl who said feelings were stupid. She had multicolored hair, absurdly long artificial fingernails, and a permanent scowl. Her outward attempts to shock people were endearing to me from the start. In our six years working together, we’ve both grown. I learn so much from my clients--sometimes it takes my breath away.
Hannah continued, “You know when you go to someone’s house and you try to feel all little? Like, you sit on the edge of your seat and if you’re eating you take little bites like a mouse? Well, I feel the opposite right now! In this apartment for the first time, I can get home and sit on my chair and take up space. If I’m eating, I can take as big of a bite as a want and I’m not scared to make some noise.”
“Are you feeling comfortable then?” I asked.
“YES!!! That’s it! I’m comfortable! I’ve never ever felt that before in my life. It’s so nice!!!” Hannah’s eyes were so big and bright, I found that I couldn’t breathe.
Can you imagine being 23 years old and never feeling truly comfortable where you live? This conversation filled me to the brim with honor. I get to witness this. I get to serve this person. I finally told her I was so happy she felt comfortable, and she asked me if I was crying. Yes, without a doubt, I was crying. I joked, “Don’t laugh at me. We were all in our brains with budget numbers and now I am in all the feels. It’s just beautiful, Hannah.” I wiped my eyes and we both laughed.
Hannah has developed the ability to communicate and show her vulnerability throughout our time working together. I don’t take credit for that, but it’s really neat to see. She has struggled. She’s lived in a lot of different living situations--with roommates she didn’t get along with, in a motel, in a car, in a shipping container, in a cockroach-infested apartment, and finally in the apartment where she currently lives. Before that, she lived in a variety of unsafe conditions with people who hurt her.
It’s easy to identify the tragedy in her experiences. While it is important not to deny this, I feel compelled to tell you what she said when she faced my soggy vulnerability in this moment. She said, “I just feel so privileged. I feel grateful and I know I can feel more grateful than people who take safety for granted. Sometimes, I just sit in my chair and do nothing else--I just sit and feel that feeling. I think it’s got joy in it.” Wow. This is a young person who has been intermittently suicidal, who has an extensive trauma history. In this moment, she took my vulnerability and she raised it ten-fold.
We laugh-cried for the rest of the conversation. I was in awe because in that moment, she used her bravery and communication skills to pull me into her bubble of gratitude and privilege. It’s not every day that people get to experience such an astounding ‘ah-ha’ moment of healing.
In my role at Family Care Network, I get to witness these sparks of Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG). I’m referring to the idea that following trauma and adversity, people can make strides toward positive growth that they would otherwise not have experienced without support. Let me nerd out on you a little bit.
A father of the PTG theory, Richard Tedeschi, PhD, explains it this way, "People develop new understandings of themselves, the world they live in, how to relate to other people, the kind of future they might have and a better understanding of how to live life.”
I want to share this with you because it is at the core of our work at FCNI. It’s not easy for everyone to bounce back from trauma, and those we serve usually have a much higher bounce to make than others just to get back in the game of life.
When Hannah started utilizing FCNI services, she did not exhibit qualities important to developing resilience. She wasn’t connected to others, she refused to communicate, her confidence levels were so low she didn’t want to live anymore, she had no goals, and her impulsivity put her in danger. Hannah was on academic dismissal. She had failed so many classes that her school didn’t want her to come back.
But in my time knowing her, Hannah has demonstrated immense Post-Traumatic Growth; she can clearly express her gratitude, mindfulness, confidence, and courage to say the least. Last term, she was on the Dean’s list. Her goals revolve around saving animals and bringing light to the lives of others.
I have the privilege--the challenge--and the joy to serve youth like Hannah every day (and holy cow, sometimes I feel like my heart is going to pop!) As someone who aged out of the foster care system myself, I feel it is my responsibility to share the impact this organization has had on me and those I serve. This kind of work and growth cannot happen without the community. Thanks to San Luis Obispo County Department of Social Services, county and community partners, local funders, and the dedicated staff at Family Care Network, this organization has impacted the lives of thousands of people for over 34 years.
You want to help more, you say? I knew it! Right now, you can help our youth like Hannah by donating to give.FCNI.org in our Be the Difference Campaign running from April 1st-30th. I personally invite you and your family to help spread positivity through Random Acts of Kindness, Community Art Projects, and more! I will be participating and hope you will, too!
Gratitude activities for children - https://positivepsychology.com/gratitude-tree-kids/
Gratitude exercises for anyone - https://daringtolivefully.com/gratitude-exercises
Nerdy articles on Post Traumatic Growth -