Safe, Heard, and Known
by Daniel Ramos (THRIVE Program, Resident Mentor)
*** NOTE: Names have been changed for privacy ***
One day I got the opportunity to head home to the THRIVE House earlier than usual. As soon as I got home, I was hungry and decided to see who was inside the house to grab dinner. One of our residents was sitting on the couch. For a bit of context, the past few months have been incredibly difficult for and with this resident. He wasn’t home much and was emotionally distant. There were many times that he tested both me and Brandon [the other in-home mentor] by saying some things that were honestly quite rude and hurtful at times. Both of us tried connecting with and redirecting him multiple times, but the resident would just brush it off. He also had recently gotten a new full-time job, which was causing him to be more tired than normal – understandably. Because of the disconnection of our schedules, the only times I could typically interact with him would be at our All-House therapy sessions or THRIVE Night. I had tried reaching out to grab lunch, dinner, or coffee multiple times in the past few months to see what was going on, and each time, something came up (circumstantially or not) that prevented us from spending time together.
When I walked into the house and saw him sitting in one of the chairs with Brandon and a visitor in the living room, I was taken a little off guard, since the resident was rarely home. But I decided to reach out and I asked him if he wanted to go to the local fried chicken restaurant, which has become a THRIVE favorite. His face brightened up and he said, “Yeah bro! That sounds great!”
As we walked out the front door he goes from being excited to being serious as looks at me and says, “I’m actually really glad that you asked me to go to Holdaak [the chicken restaurant] with you. Thank you so much. I’ve actually been meaning to talk to you.”
The following minutes as we drove to the chicken spot, he opened up to me about how he had been abusing marijuana. To be honest, that did not surprise me whatsoever, as both Brandon and I have observed different behaviors that pointed to the possibility of marijuana use. But he told me how that led to him actually losing his job that day since someone at HR caught him on camera smoking with another worker. He told me that they were going to give him 30 days to come clean and then if he did, they would love to bring him back. They really liked him and saw a ton of potential in him. What the resident did not know was that his employer was sitting in an OC United Trauma Training Session and had a long conversation with the facilitator. Originally they were going to fire the resident to teach him about responsibility and consequences. But after the training session and a long conversation, they realized that what would be most beneficial to the resident would be to give him another chance, but with appropriate boundaries.
After he told me about losing his job he said, “Honestly, I had been smoking for a while and I wanted to tell you guys, but I just felt like I was letting everyone down. I felt like I was letting you and Brandon down, Jim and Amy, my dad, everyone. So I just kept it to myself. But now I’m going through and I’m coming clean to everyone that’s close to me. I’m sorry for letting you down.”
I looked at him and said, “Dude. There is absolutely no way that you could ever let me down.” He looked really surprised and shocked. I continued, “[The worksite] is giving you another chance because they see in you what I’ve always said I’ve seen in you: a ton of potential. Now, the only way you could do that is if you’re being a jerk. And quite honestly, you’ve acted like a jerk the past few months. But now I understand why. You were carrying that burden and working a lot, which was causing you to be tired, along with making sure you were going to group therapy and THRIVE nights, while also trying to remain social and spend time with your significant other. I get it. Now while there’s no excuse for being rude, I don’t mind, as long as that ends. As for everything else, dude I don’t care if you’re smoking weed, or if you lost your job. That’s sad and I’m sorry that happened, but what I care most about is that you felt like you could be open and honest with me now. I am incredibly thankful, humbled, and honored that you would trust me with that information. I will do whatever I can to help you get through this. You will get clean and you will get your job back. We at OC United will make sure that we will help you with anything that we can to support you. You have so much potential, which I have told you since I’ve met you. All you need to do is lean into that. I know you have dreams and goals and weed is obviously one of the things that is now preventing those. But that’s okay. We all make mistakes. This is only one bump in the road, even if it feels like it’s worse.”
I could see the stress in his body leave as he began to feel safe, heard, and known once again. The following minutes were filled with tremendous encouragement from me and thankfulness from him. Working with OC United the past two and a half years have taught me the importance of listening. At first, all I did was listen to the resident, even when I wanted to butt in and give my own thoughts. But I listened to him and helped him feel heard. Then I told him some truth. I told him that when the worksite gave him another chance, it was because he has so much potential. All he needs to do is lean into that potential. Recently, he hadn’t been leaning in. He had been pushing back on others and himself. But I was able to provide him with encouragement, and gentle, loving correction. Before, I would never have confronted him about his previous behavior. I was recently reading Your First Two Years of Youth Ministry by Doug Fields where he said something along the lines of, “If you truly love and care about someone, you need to challenge them and confront them when necessary.” If I truly didn’t care about this guy, I would not have pushed him to be better. Further, if I didn’t truly care, I also would not listen to him and make him feel known and heard first. I firmly believe that when wDe first make someone feel heard and known, then we gently challenge (if needed) and support them, they are able to feel safe. When we connect before we correct, then someone can feel safe and loved. When someone feels safe, then they can truly do anything they set their minds to.
Previously we had another resident total his car for the third time since being in the house. The first two times, he broke down and lost his job under toxic stress. The third time he got a new vehicle along with a full-time job within the next week. When asked how he was able to do that since we were so incredibly proud of him, he stated, “I was only able to do that since I realized that this house and the support I have provided me with a safety net. I’m not going to be homeless. I’m not going to be hungry. I’m safe.” This is the real goal of the THRIVE program. We provide our residents with a safety net along with relational mentors to help ease the burden. As Spider Robinson says,” shared pain is half the pain. Shared joy is twice the joy.” It is important for everyone to feel known and heard within community. Thankfully, we are able to help provide that.
THRIVE Program, Resident Mentor
Interested in getting involved with the THRIVE Program?
Go to www.ocunited.org/thrive