BY REILLY REBHAHN
"Without community, there is no liberation."
Audre Lorde’s words stare at me from my felt-rainbow-letter-board hanging on the wall. It’s been almost three months since I chose that quote from a random post I’d seen online. “If I surround myself with positive messages in my office, everyone I meet with will feel better,” I thought back in August. My first few weeks at Empowerment, I decided to invest time and energy into creating that “good vibes” space. I started printing out any inspirational image I’d see online. “Oh,” I’d think with a tear in my eye, “a kitten on a branch and it says ‘Hang in there,’ this is perfect.” I felt myself forcing it. I wanted my office to be a lighthearted space-- and not to mention, my high-functioning anxieties over whether I was qualified enough to do my job were somewhat soothed with retail therapy. Volunteer life had been out to a rocky start, and I couldn’t remember why exactly I got this job.
I am working as a Care Manager at The Empowerment Program. We are a mental health and substance dependency treatment program, where women and some men receive trauma-informed care. This looks like one-on-one support in the form of therapy or addiction counseling, and we offer support groups or classes going over topics such as Trauma Recovery, Anger Management, Self-Esteem/Seeking Safety, and Relapse Prevention, among others. Sometimes this work is really heavy. My coworkers are motivated and passionate about their work, almost all having a license in social work or certification in counseling on top of personal experiences and a sense of professional boundaries. They have their own roles and exceptional competence to help women, I’d heard it from the participants themselves. Who knew the most about this, who was the best person to talk to about that, whose classes are engaging and whose are boring, etc. Me? I felt as random as the Audre Lorde quote on the wall, with only a little bit of knowledge about resources in Denver and the nuances between mental health and substance dependency.
My caseload quickly counted about 15 women, 6 of whom I had struggled to even get in contact with after their initial orientation. “Am I not doing enough?” was a question I was constantly asking myself. I call and check in on my clients almost daily, and regularly meet them in my office to assist them in making plans to reach their goals in personal growth and stability, sobriety, and probation progress. The more I overthought my conversations with them, the more I would be nervous to consult with my coworkers. Afraid that I was not enough for my clients, I forgot about the feng shui of my office and started simply showing up for clients. Now, when they need to cry, I hold their hand. If they need to lay on the floor in order to regulate themselves, I lay with them. I began to see that my office decor is not what matters, what matters is the fact that I’m a good listener. What matters is that I’m joyful and have faith in the idea that kindness heals and being a survivor is beautiful. I got this job because I have hope that people can change. The more I am open and honest about my experience with coworkers and Denver Loretto community, the more I understand that trauma stewardship is a journey. The truth is, I am equipped with the compassion and understanding to do my job. At the end of the day, we help each other heal. Overthinking my qualifications may have distracted me from following my heart. But following my heart brought me here, to my community, where healing, trust, and learning grow in our garden at home and my office at Empowerment. Recognizing that there is nothing random about that Audre Lorde quote brings me peace, and I can’t imagine a better place to let that sink in than with Loretto.
Reilly Love Rebhahn (she/her) grew up in Syracuse, NY and has called the Bronx, NY home for the past four years at Manhattan College as she completed her bachelors degree in History and Peace & Justice Studies. Reilly loves the outdoors and making smoothies with lots of fruit. She is passionate about dialogue, healing, and traveling, especially meeting kindred spirits!
In Their Own Words
We invite you to get to know Loretto Volunteers and the program here. Volunteers introduce themselves and reflect on their experiences.