New Beginnings: Starting Grad School

Hello sweet friends! It’s been a while since I’ve gotten on here and boy have things been happening! I figured I’d take a minute to lay everything out so you’re up to date and tracking with me before I get so excited that I stop making any sense.

Oh, we’re there already? Ok. Calming breath, here we go:

A few weeks ago I received an acceptance letter to my grad school program of choice. Starting this fall, I will begin the Integral Counseling and Psychology program at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). It’s a pretty intense, 3 year weekend program, and I couldn’t be more excited to start.

And what better way to prepare for all the writing to come, than to share it all with you! I thought it would be fun (for me at least) to document my journey here. Going from being a stay at home mom to a grad student – who’s still a mom – is going to be challenging for sure, and I think that documenting it all here might help a little bit. I love blogging, but haven’t really found the niche space that inspires me yet – and I think this is it. Plus, they say when you can explain a concept – that’s when you truly understand it. So get ready guys.

I figured to start, I would share the autobiographical statement I wrote to get into the program. It gives you a taste of where I’m coming from and why I feel so drawn to this field of work. I don’t really pull any punches here, so you’ll be getting an uncensored look into my past and what has prompted me to pursue this path. So get cozy and huddle on in with me – we’re getting personal here. And thanks in advance for being here and holding this space with me. I appreciate it more than you can know.

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So without further ado, here’s my autobiographical statement (warning: it’s real long):

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I didn’t always plan on pursuing a career as a therapist; I studied multimedia communications and sociology in college, and for a while was perfectly happy working in online marketing following that path. But as I reflect on my life so far, I see many signs and situations that have shaped my passion for pursuing a career in therapy. Some of these signs have been small and subtle – and some less so. My goal with this autobiographical statement is to explain a few of those signs and give an understanding of why I have decided to change careers and pursue becoming a therapist. I struggled a bit finding the right words to do that, because I’ve been trying to find a balance between professionalism and vulnerability. I’ve started this essay and walked away so many times because I’ve needed some space, time and clarity to figure out how to walk that line. Without just dumping everything onto the page, I wanted to give you a look into my past experiences and open myself up to walk you through my story so you have a better understanding of where my passion for therapy comes from, and how I plan to use it in the future.

My childhood is the toughest part to get into, but it’s where I need to begin for you to fully understand my story. I grew up in a very anxiety-ridden and verbally abusive home, where my mother, five siblings and I were all victims of my father’s anger, hostility, and demeaning behavior. As a child I couldn’t know this wasn’t normal or healthy; it was simply my reality and I assumed this was how all homes operated. The tension was always palpable in our home, especially every day as 5:30pm rolled around and we knew our father would be coming home. If everyone’s assigned chore sheets weren’t finished for the day, or he came home to find the TV on, or some other perceived behavioral infraction was committed, we knew we were in for a verbal barrage. I have countless memories of how this played out in different, punishing ways, and I can still feel the dread and fear I felt every day during my formative years.

As the oldest I tried to find ways to shield my younger siblings, but when you’re a child yourself there’s little you can do to help. Whether it was comments about our weight, academic ability, or just something arbitrary he found fault with, my mom, sisters and I seemed to take the brunt of my father’s continual angry judgement. Possibly the most damaging were the “family meetings” that were held every month or so, in which my dad would sit and tell each of us in great detail how wrong and terrible we were for one reason or another. There was always some way we failed to measure up to his impossible standards. It was as if he had placed each of us in very specific boxes, and if we strayed from the boundaries he had created around us, he was disoriented and took that frustration out on us. In looking back I believe the mental issues my dad now struggles with were constantly knocking at his door, we just couldn’t see it, nor did he know how to deal with it in a healthy way.

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I remember in great detail one such episode. I was 15 when after one of these verbal attacks where I began crying in spite of myself and my father responded in his usual manner: complete disgust. In that moment I decided that he would never again make me cry. I was taking back that power, no matter what the cost. And honestly, I didn’t cry again for seven years. It sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s true. I didn’t cry when he verbally attacked me. I didn’t cry when a family member passed away. I didn’t cry when most of my family moved across the country and I was left living with my father, while he was going through a severe psychological breakdown. I completely shut down emotionally to protect myself. And it worked for a time, but then I began to realize than I was going numb inside. It’s true that I didn’t feel any deep lows anymore, but I began to notice I also wasn’t experiencing any highs. Happy events felt just as numb as sad ones, and I was growing afraid of the icy walls I had built up around myself. This realization set me on a journey to thaw out emotionally, get back in touch with my emotions, and heal from the trauma of my upbringing and the repercussions I was noticing in my adult life. I began to seek out mentors to talk to, which was my first taste of a therapy-type relationship beyond just talking to friends about what I was experiencing. Additionally I began journaling intensively and trying to work though the emotions I had been holding at bay for so long.

Around this time I discovered yoga and the whole idea of a mind-body connection. I was fascinated with how your body can hold onto deep-seated emotions, and how our minds and bodies are so interconnected that healing one can lead to healing the other. After seven years of severe emotional blocks, this inner mind-body work began to pay off. I remember vividly the first time I cried after that. It was a normal night, I was alone in my apartment washing dishes, and suddenly I felt the biggest wave of emotion come over me. I completely broke down. It was as if seven years of repression were all coming to the surface at once, and I was finally able to deeply feel it. I found myself sobbing on the floor of my tiny kitchen, and in that moment I felt overwhelming relief. It’s not that everything was better or healthy, that was still a long road, but the first steps had been taken and I began to slowly recover the emotional openness I was seeking. This experience was the first time I felt a calling to become a therapist. I wanted to help other people experience the freedom that can come with becoming more healthy and whole as a person, despite your upbringing or circumstances.

My first job after college was at an international non-profit organization, where I started out as an administrative assistant and eventually worked my way up to running their online marketing department. It wasn’t the marketing aspect I enjoyed so much as being a part of work I truly believed in. While working for this organization I got to travel to Haiti to visit our projects at local schools and parishes where we ran school scholarship programs, and it was my absolute favorite part of the job. I got to connect with people and talk to them about their communities and way of life, what was working well and what we could do to help improve different aspects of their lives. This trip reaffirmed the calling I had felt before to pursue a career in therapy. A career where I wasn’t behind a computer screen all day, but instead, directly connecting with people face to face, on a deep and personal level.

When I moved to San Francisco in 2014 I had just gotten married, and my husband and I decided to move from Florida to California for a fresh start and to pursue our career interests. I began working for a real estate marketing company since marketing was what I knew, but I honestly dreaded the work. I found no satisfaction in helping people buy and sell multi-million dollar homes. The calling I had felt drawing me to therapy was stronger than ever, so I began applying to programs in the bay area. I was accepted to an MFT program in San Jose, and right as I got my acceptance letter I found out I was pregnant with our son. In talking through our options in becoming a larger family, I decided it was best to not start a new program with a newborn on the way. Since I wanted to stay home for the first few years with our son, it worked out to defer for a while until after he was born and we were settled a bit into parenthood. In the long run I appreciate this gap because it gave me time to reflect on what I wanted to do with my life, and therapy was always at the forefront of my mind when I considered changing careers. At the same time it gave me the time to research all the different programs available in this area, and when I found CIIS, I deeply identified with all of the ICP program teaching objectives and have been very excited about the prospect of eventually studying there.

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Motherhood has been such an amazing experience that has truly tested me to the core, but along with its challenges has brought immeasurable joy into my life. My son is about 20 months now, and over the past two years I have never felt more tested, isolated, challenged, or rewarded than I have being a new mom. I feel like I came out the other side of infancy a stronger and more empowered person, and now feel the confidence to keep moving through each developmental stage with my son as we build on that foundation. I had mentally prepared for the physical work of motherhood, that is, the diaper changes and tummy time, the sleep training and nose wiping, the pediatrician appointments and play dates. But what I hadn’t seen coming was the complete merging of myself with another human being. For the first year and a half, I felt as if I disappeared, and my entire life was wrapped up in caring for this new person. On top of that, my labor and birth didn’t go as I had planned, (does it ever?) but I felt as if I had some emotional healing and reconciling to do in the weeks and months after giving birth. This experience of childbirth and becoming a mother was in some ways extremely empowering, but was also filled with self doubt and loneliness.

Now that my son is a toddler, I feel as if the haze of infancy has cleared. I’m back to getting a full night of sleep, and have gotten back to dreaming and planning the things I want to do in the future; it’s been deeply replenishing and revitalizing. The whole experience of becoming a mom has given me so much empathy for what new moms are going through. I understand on a personal level how tough it can be, and it lit a new passion in me to focus my career as a therapist on moms, specifically new moms. I think there’s such a need in our society to validate women who are deep in the trenches of motherhood, because it’s often a thankless job. I remember the first time I talked with my therapist about this and she told me, “it sounds like you’re a great mom” after we had talked about some of my experiences. The encouragement and life it gave me to have someone validate the small battles I fight every day was amazing, and I immediately longed for  all other moms to have the same experience. My vision casting since that day has focused specifically on moms, and that vision has been reaffirmed with each new mom I meet and have the chance to talk with.

Which essentially, leads us to today. I’ve seen and experienced firsthand the healing effects of therapy in my own life, and it inspires me to take time now to pursue this career I feel so passionate about. I look forward to the education I can receive at CIIS and how it will give me the tools needed to be a warm, open, and empowering therapist one day. I’d like to focus my practice on women, specifically mothers, and work to support them through their own journeys of motherhood. As a woman and a mother, I understand it’s important that women are seen for themselves – not just in relation to who they love or are related to. We’re more than just wives, daughters and mothers; women are strong forces of nature in their own right. But it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees of everyday life – the diapers, meals, balancing schedules, and the everyday work of being a mother. As a therapist I would love nothing more than the privilege of helping women find themselves and feel the strength to go boldly out into the world as empowered world changers.

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If you hung in there through that whole thing – you’re a champ!

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