Thursday, May 29, 2014

Mentoring homeless young adults, one mentor's musings.


Like many others, I entered Trusted Mentors eager to make a change, build relationships, and be a positive support system in someone else’s life.  The time between my initial training and match was about the span of six months. During this time I pondered how I would be making a difference once I connected with my mentee, and how all would flow from there. I had anticipated some difficulty, but had not deeply considered the roadblocks and challenges that I would soon face.


I remember it like it was yesterday; it was, in fact, the night before Thanksgiving of 2013 when I was introduced to my mentee. We met at a quaint coffee shop with our Mentor Match Manager present, and immediately hit it off after a few minutes. She said I was not what she expected and I smiled, hoping this was a good thing. We talked briefly about our similarities and sparked up a strong connection about a common passion we shared. She was, to me, a bright soul bursting with potential and from the very first day I was excited about building our relationship. We exchanged phone numbers and made arrangements to meet the following week.


At our first meeting together we sat in a quiet space and as we began to continue the journey of getting to know each other, she revealed more about herself to me. She also asked that I do the same, and I obliged. As I am usually a private person, I felt happy to reveal myself to her in order to start building a connection and hopefully earn her trust. I was in awe of her ability to be open, inquisitive, and optimistic. I thought that, for a young woman, she had such wisdom. We smiled and laughed as we sat sharing with each other our thoughts, our lives, and our struggles. I encouraged her and also gave her my full support, letting her know that I was there to help her through this journey and would be happy to do whatever I could.  She acquiesced and we had made a plan to meet again the next week.


The next week came and I was excited about our meeting, I could hardly wait. We had bonded almost instantly, and got off to a rocket start. I had in mind things I would do to enrich our meetings, books I could give her, movies I would recommend, and places we could go for a shared learning experience. I was disappointed when I was unable to meet with her that week, but we had confirmed that we would speak again soon.


Many phone calls later I finally reached her. Disheartened by our misses, I asked that she make an attempt to touch base with me once a week, and she consented. When this did not happen I began to feel more disheartened. I could not understand why, if we had such a good connection and had what felt like the perfect match, she was not more eager to sustain our bond and utilize my offering of support.


This was the beginning of challenges as our conversations became infrequent. We had a meeting one chilly evening at a coffee shop where we outlined her goals, and both wrote down what we wanted from our relationship. We then both signed this paper as an agreement that we would honor. It did not take long before she could not keep up her end of the bargain. Frustrated, I crouched in doubt and cynicism, which is a default emotion for me when I cannot figure something out to my liking. I began to slowly close off myself to the possibility that this would be a success story or bloom into anything substantial. I had tried to help and was turned away; my attempts to make a difference felt futile.


I received news the following month that my mentee had been hospitalized. It was then I realized that there were bigger issues and challenges that I had not completely taken into factor. I had always considered myself to be versed in the area of trouble, having gone through some devastating emotional tribulations, but there were other things that I could not know, like what it felt like to be physically homeless, or to grow up watching a parent being abused, or being abandoned by your caretakers.  


This sweet girl had gone through so much of that, had seen so much in her life that she had not even the space to process it all. She had been abused and frightened, and had learned how to do what most of us do to survive, and that is to shut down our insides. The people and systems of support she had needed to trust had let her down when she needed them the most. There were all sorts of social, emotional, mental and spiritual challenges that I had not fathomed that she was still working through.  Trust was not something that was easily available to her in her vocabulary of being.


And it dawned on me. Who was I then to think that I could come in parading my abilities, my save-the-world ideals, and think that I deserved to be trusted. I had, in fact, not earned her trust and though I had tried, it was not going to be as easy as I thought.  What it took for me then was a paradigm shift and a commitment. I had to realize that if I was to earn her trust, I had to demonstrate that her trust was worth earning. I had to be patient, open, and willing.


Change is not easy, and any of us who have challenged an addiction, a habit, or sought to change something at the core of our lives know how difficult this can be, and how between relapse and resolve we have to learn self-compassion and patience. This is an art, which if we master in ourselves will help us to do that for others. But in truth, many of us have not, we are somewhere in the middle, learning how to have compassion with ourselves and with others too.  It is a great balancing act. This, however, in true perspective can give us more grace as mentors, as fallible human beings who are reaching out to help another fallible human being because, though we may not comprehend all of their pain, we know what it is like to hurt and to cry and make mistakes. We are all living yet another day in the one-day-at-a-time program of life.


To date, my contact with my mentee is gradually coming along and that is enough for me.  I have pillared myself in the process, to be here whenever she needs me, as long as I am able, without having to dictate when that need may be.


I am willing to wait and to be hopeful.