Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Behind Closed Doors...

Botticelli....The Three Graces
I remember when I first really got the urge to work with women who have lived with violence. I was in my thirties and at the end of my own violent marriage.

I graduated from college in 1995 but it took another 6 years to land my dream job. For me, it had the best of both worlds. I was an outreach counsellor for women who had lived with abuse. I loved the work as well as the freedom of driving to several outlying areas.

I still remember my first few days of starting out. The boss-lady showed me my desk and handed me the Policies and Procedures manual to read. Between the manual and an outdated 40 hour course for volunteers, that was the training I received to prepare me for counselling.

I was NOT prepared at all; in fact, I was quite green. I did everything I could to understand how to do what I needed to do and, do it right. I'd say, I did pretty good considering the circumstances but I never felt good enough and that never changed.

I carried out my role the best I could for over seven years. Unfortunately, in the end, there was nothing left of me.

Through those years my health began to decline to the point when I could no longer carry on. But my eyes and my perception remained very clear.

Working for a not for profit organization has it's ups and downs. I won't speak for all agencies but I saw a lot of corruption, hypocrisy, favouritism, bullying, lies and a real lack of boundaries.

Eventually I learned that the boss-lady's priorities were not for the clients but for her to boost her own ego. During my last few years, I'd wonder why she pushed me for my yearly stats when I knew she was boosting them anyway. This of course, would make it even more difficult to top last years stats.

From the outside, the agency gives the appearance of a great place to work. We looked like one big happy family. But behind closed doors it was anything but. If we were a family, we'd be considered a very dysfunctional one.

I hadn't been working at the organization for very long when I started getting phone calls at home, insisting that I show up at the boss-lady's drunken parties. This became quite regular until I fell out of favour with her...thank goodness!!
As there were virtually no boundaries. It was not unusual to be partying at the boss-ladies home with members of our volunteer pool and board members (staff and volunteers were not to mingle during private time). Most of the board members had been on the board for years and the boss-lady had them wrapped around her fingers.

The boss-lady always liked her alcohol and though she hid in her office during Centre Events and I can't remember her ever speaking in public on the Centre's behalf; she never had a problem going out to one of her drinking establishments or fighting with her partner in the middle of the street.

After a few years I secured our own outreach office space. The boss-lady had talked for years about wanting a satellite office. Once the space was confirmed the boss-lady made every point of letting me know that this was NOT a satellite office but just office another community.

She validated her statements by making sure I never had a land line or internet connection. Many days, I was unable to make or receive calls with my cell phone. This was not only frustrating but also considered a safety risk to me.

I loved my new space though and even managed to create a food cupboard for the people I saw. It made me feel good every time I filled that cupboard but my body would pay the next day. I eventually bought myself a cart as the organization refused me. It did help somewhat but eventually my body gave out.

We had a very strict safety policy...or so the binder said. This also went completely downhill over the years to where it didn't make a difference half the time if anybody knew I'd made it home at night.

Staff meetings stopped and there was no support what-so-ever for the front line workers.

I had quite a few high risk clients...people who I felt needed more than I could give them. But that's not how it worked. I needed numbers for the funders. I always felt like I was just treading water.

It all came to a close at the end of 2008, when I had a work related incident while on outreach. What made it worse is that I realized once again that safety procedures had not been followed at the office end and; had I been killed that day, which was a good possibility, nobody would have known.

Naturally there was no support from the boss-lady with the heart of steel and when I left, I was not only dealing with this recent incident but the fall out of the last seven years. I was very bitter and it took me a long time to let it go.

This is not one of those "Poor me" blogs. Quite the contrary. I'm really happy now that I had that experience. I made a few good friends who remain my friends to this day and I learned a lot about myself.

I learned that I do have what it takes. I also learned to give myself more time in relationships for building trust and to never again give my power to anybody.

Life is a journey and it's filled with important lessons. What is really important is that we learn from them and become stronger.


Anonymous said...

Deb, I just read your story . It reminded me of 2 of my friends' place of work, one of them worked for a home care facility, the other for a veteran homeless shelter in the US. Your story could have been their story. It's almost identical.
I also learned a bit of who you are.
You are a very deep,caring person with high values.
Nice to know you.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Deb. Unfortunately, I think this happens more than it should! Good for you for surviving! You are awesome!