Monday, April 7, 2014

Community Meeting

So the at-risk youth program had a community meeting last Saturday. It was like pulling teeth to get my two mentees to confirm they were going and then 1 ended up not being around that day. So I took 14 year old mentee number 1 to the meeting. 

At one point they brought out those papers we had written words on. On the outside were words other people had put describing what they thought of us when they first met us. On the inside were things we'd put about ourselves that next to no one knew about. 

We were in a small group: 5 adults mentors (2 of which were leading the group) and 6 mentees (one of which was a boy). The group was in the back of a school auditorium since all the other groups had similarly been divided. The boy was the first to go. On his paper on the outside it had words like:
... some of which were repeated more than once. 

On the inside he had written that he liked sitting under the trees and being around his favorite color green because he felt healed by it (which I found interesting because the color green and being outdoors are supposed to have medicinal effects psychologically and emotionally on people).

Then the leader of the group (a woman in her 20s who was either a Yoda-master psychiatrist and/or partially psychic) started asking him questions like: Which words on the front of the paper do you agree with? He answered, "Shy and quiet." You could feel the tensions in him. He actually started backing away slowly as she proceeded ask him more questions and draw out what was really going on inside him. She tried to get him to admit to the group that he felt like crap and thought he was "no good". He got pretty close. He said that he didn't like letting people get close to him because he thought if they saw who he really was on the inside they wouldn't approve and they would try to change him. And he said he liked this program because they encouraged him to change himself -but never judged him or told him who he was was "bad". That was the extent of his confession.

The first girl who went was another 14 year old. She actually jumped up and volunteered like she was excited to go. On the outside of her paper she had gotten rave reviews: 
-Great to be around
... and more. 

Then she opened it up. Two long lists of words were written. The first phrase I saw was:
-I don't want to live anymore 

It was the longest list of self-hate I'd ever seen.
-My family hates me
-I don't get along with my brothers
-I'm fat and ugly
-I'm weak
-I'm stupid
-I hate life
-I hate myself... 

They then started asking her when she first started having these feelings about herself. She immediately started crying and sobbing. "When I was 6 I was sexually abused..." 

The girl who had been sitting beside her , a friend of hers, started crying as well. 

"It was my cousin. It happened for years..." 

The leader of the group started asking questions: What did you feel about yourself afterwards? She said, "I felt like I was dirt. Like it was my fault..." 

The leader started talking to her some more and at the end told her, "It wasn't your fault. You don't have to hold on to this anymore. You can let it go. You are beautiful. There is nothing wrong with you. But you have a lot of hurt you need to face and move on from. You were very brave for sharing and we all support you." 

Then the girl who had been sitting next to her stood up, again seeming excited to talk and share. The outside of her paper was a little harsher then the previous two: 
-Bitch (written multiple times)
-Mean girl
-Pushes people away
-Nice to people once you get to know her

Then she opened up the inside. She had written mostly facts about herself: 
-I like wearing gray
-I act tough
-I used to bully people
-I treat guys like shit
-I get along with my family now
-I'm smart
-I'm a lesbian 

Then they asked her when what issues she was having in her life. She said, "I started drinking at around 7. I started bullying people and getting into fights..."

Then they asked her what had triggered it. She started crying. "When I was 6 I was sexually abused." They asked, Who abused you? She said, "My cousin." 

And how did you feel about yourself afterwards? "I felt stupid for not being able to defend myself. I didn't tell anyone about it. When we got back from (at-risk youth) camp I finally told my parents about it and they've been really supportive." 

The leader of the group said, "When you bully people is it so you can hurt them first before they hurt you?" She said yes. She wanted to prove she was tough and strong -especially to guys. 

The next girl who spoke had similar things written on her front page: 

-Bitch (written many times)

When she spoke she shared that her father had hit her mother several times, he had cheated on her, bit now they're back together. She also said that she's been cheated on and now has more resentment towards her father. But both parents were deported to Mexico and she is living with her grandparents. Her mom tried to visit but then got caught, spent 2 months in jail, and was then deported back to Mexico. She also said fighting was sort of encouraged in her family, "Don't fight but if you get in a fight you better finish it otherwise we'll kick your ass..." She said, "I've never lost a fight." 

Then it was my mentees' turn to go. I honestly didn't think she would open up. On the outside of her paper it said: 

-Stuck up

On the inside she didn't have much written. She had been joking back and forth with her friend when she was writing in the paper. 
"What words do you believe are true about you on the front?" She whispered (barely speaking loud enough to hear), "Quiet and shy." 

They asked her to talk about what had happened to make her feel bad about herself. It took her about 5 minutes of saying nothing and "I don't know" to finally open up. She said she had witnessed something in her family when she was 5 or 6.  They asked her what it was and that when the tears finally came out. She stood there like a statue silently crying. 

The leader of the group kept asking her, "What do you tell yourself you are?" She said "Quiet." The leader said, "No. I mean what bad thing do you keep telling yourself you are." She was silent as much as she could be and avoided the answer as long as she could, but then finally admitted, "I'm worthless." She said that she felt like nobody cared about her. 

Then the leader looked at me and said, "Are you her mentor." I was kind of in a state of speechlessness after hearing everything so I just nodded my head. She then asked me, "Do you care about her?" I said, "Yes." She asked, "What good qualities do you see in her?" I said, "She is a lot smarter than she lets people know. She is very caring towards others and very loyal to her friends. I think she just holds back a lot." It was kind of awkward talking about her while she was standing there, but it was the truth. 

After the session ended we went and ate sandwiches. The whole time I wanted to tell my mentee, "I'm proud of you for standing up there and sharing what you did. It may not feel that great afterwards but you'll look back on this and be proud you did." But I couldn't. For whatever reason I couldn't say it. I thought, "When we're alone in the car I'll tell her." Then it was, "When I drop her off before she exits the car I'll tell her. Then it actually was, "Hope you have a nice weekend." I just couldn't say it. I was still kind of in pain from feeling all their pain. I couldn't bring myself to say much of anything.

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