The Quest Within A Question

For three weeks, I had been going to the domestic violence/sexual assault recovery center.  I was checking out books from their library in an effort to know if I had done the right thing.  On one particular day, I was checking out the fifth book when the organization’s clinical therapist asked me to come to her office.  I just knew I was in trouble.  I bet that my presence had offended a female client.

I was 19 years old and not wise to the ways of the world.

“I am a therapist here and I noticed that you have been coming here for several weeks,” she remarked.  I was certain that she was about to ask me to never return.  “I wanted to give you an opportunity to know that if you needed to talk with a professional about something that may have happened to you that you are welcome to speak with me.”

“It didn’t happen to me.  It happened to a friend of mine,” I explained.

“Ok, so what happened to your ‘friend,’” she inquired with emphasis on the last word.  It was clear she thought I was the victim and afraid to disclose.  Once we had cleared up the misperception, I went back to my original purpose.

“My friend was raped,” I said.   I was in her dorm room to find out how her date went that night.  She told me what happened.”

I detailed what my friend endured during the rape.  “I have read all of these books and I can’t find the answer to my question,” I exasperatedly said.  “I want to know if I was wrong.”

“Wrong about what?” she puzzled out loud.

“After she told me she was raped, I asked her if I could give her a hug.  She said she could really use one of my hugs.  Was that wrong?  Aren’t I suppose to not touch a girl after she’s been raped?”

The therapist answered my question, “That was perfect because you gave her the choice and control over her body.”   My friend was able to reaffirm her physical boundary.  “So you read all of those books to find that out?”

“None of them could answer my question and I didn’t want to have made things worse,” I stated.

“You really care about this, don’t you?” She inquired.  I nodded affirmatively since my emotions locked up my words.  “Would you like to volunteer?”

These stranger’s words set me on a course where my life would no longer be the same.  I never conceived that a man could advocate in an area I thought men were forbidden.  Let’s face it, men cause the violence and I could play a role in the healing process.  I volunteered for three years conducting training, answering crisis calls, and holding support groups for family/friends of survivors.  I have worked in the social services/education arenas ever since that day the therapist posed that question.

Some twenty years later, I am employed as a Case Manager doing Social Work with the goal to end domestic violence.

Domestic violence is not a Women’s issue; although, the majority of the voices for change have been female.

The organization’s president, where I am employed, has the goal of ending domestic violence.  I had the same thought when I heard my favorite Social Work professor declare that she wants to end poverty.  “Yeah, right!” I thought both times I heard these unrealistic proposals.

Just like the original debate that needled at my heart some twenty years ago, I have mulled over this question: How can I help to end domestic violence?

I don’t have an answer as of yet.

My intentions are to read everything I can, talk with stakeholders, be open to opportunities to grow, and do my best to treat each client with compassion.  The answer eludes me and I choose to embark upon this journey.  With the resources I have, I will use my voice to speak up.  I will use my body to stand up for what is right.  With my ears, I will actively listen to those in need.  I will use my hands to applaud those who need encouragement.  With my heart, I will love my wife and our family.  I will use my feet to exercise and work off the stress such a question may generate.  Lastly, I will use my brain to identify the avenues towards a freedom from domestic violence and unlock the shackles that bind families into generational cycles of abuse.

While I am only one person, I have the opportunity to be that individual who can help guide a survivor to safety.  I will search for the answer how to end domestic violence.  I know this expedition will be full of mental and physical challenges.  Each passage I choose shall provide a wealth of experience and growth that only makes me stronger.

 

 

Symphony of sights

Mrs. Glasser made us handwrite all of the spelling words twenty times each.  With the use of cursive letters, I absorbed the ability to spell holistically.  Why does that matter thirty-five years later?
Obviously, I do all of my written communication by typing.  If one ponders how we type, most people can type and see the letters on the screen.  Some do have to hunt & peck keys with the use of their index fingers.  Cognition theorists hypothesize for how we retain the knowledge of which keys are associated with specific fingers to allow someone to type fluently.  Does the repetition the develops muscle memory?  Do we envision a map of the keyboard and rapidly relay signals to our fingers?
I have the added challenge of the computer reading what I type aloud.  I can become so engrossed in where my sentences need to venture that I completely lose where I am in my thoughts.
Recently, I had someone look at my screen as I typed out a word.  The particular entry was not read audibly.  It was a relatively simple word but I spelled it incorrectly.  The person was kind and removed the extra letters I attached.  I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was not intelligent.  In fact, I obsessed on my grad school experience where I had to ask Jennifer, my wife, to spell elementary words.  I could easily pound out “psychodynamic” on the keyboard; yet, I struggled to spell “thoroughly” without repeated requests to pronounce the letters slower.
How could this be?  Why would I immediately experience self-doubt and agonize on a simple error?
Trudging through a second Master’s degree, I must have enough IQ points to be articulate, right?  Dyslexia?  No.  I focused solely on the capture of the correct keys, I did not have the presence of mind to realize I had my right hand in the air and traced out the word in cursive.  I created a visual picture of what the word should look like in order to then send the signal to my fingers and then to the precise key.
Spelling, the way I learned, was a visual kinesthetic experience.  Why would that cease upon the loss of my sight?  Unfortunately, there is no User Manual on How To Become A Functional Person Who Is Blind nor is there a manual on How To Be A Functional Person.  I survive the way I know how: try, make mistakes, reflect, and do better next time.
Based in the images in my mind, I perceive the world and map out what I understand to be there.  I became aware that I have only imagined caricatures to match the voices of the new people I meet.  As I produce a concept in my mind of the person in front of me, I have not incorporated hair.  Some much of an individual’s personality, hair color, length, and volume play no role as I construct the whole  identity of the individual’s character.
I assign a voice with certain qualities that line up logically to match with a visual construct.  One person, I have just become acquainted with as of late, has the best vocal characteristics of a Pixar figure.  The person makes noises out of frustration, joy, and sincerity that has developed a warm three dimensional personality for me to envision.
Although I still dream visually, any new person in my life has no visual embodiment.  I have had two types of dreams where I am blind and I see how I am perceived in a sighted world.  The other type of dream is from my perspective with very limited vision where I tend to be assisted by a white cane for mobility like a person who is blind.  I might be able to discern the outline of a person.  In these dreams, I am unable to see facial expressions.
Like the dynamic of a person’s hair, the imagery in my dreams lacks the depth.  Vivid colors may overtake a landscape but there are no fine details.  I project into places where I have been in my travels like Ireland or Egypt.  The only intricacies that exist happen to be objects I physically touched.  As I actually stood on a layer of one of the Great Pyramids, my dreams retain the rough granite exterior as the background is blurry since I have no concept of the surroundings.  My imagination must fill in the whole picture.
Music generates colors and shapes like the visualizations one might see on a PC’s music player.  Even with the pulses of light that dominate my visual senses, the melodies & harmonies draw brilliant soundscapes with precision thumps, pulses, and splashes of shapes, colors, and hues.  Obviously songs that evoke an emotional response pull my focus upon the laser light display in my mind.  Typically brought to my ears with headphones, the tones register a warm or harsh density of color.  Bohemian Rhapsody (by Queen) creates playful displays like the Fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.  Enter Sandman (by Metallica) erupts with layers of fiery reds and thunder crashes of electric white bolts in my mind’s eye.  What A Wonderful World (by Louis Armstrong) blends shadows of warm colors and soft shapes in a cascade of peacefulness.
I may try to picture what is before me or imagine what a song has in the soundscape, I do not connect my preconceived images when I listen to a person while I do Social Work.  I only take in the information they share to comprehend the influences that encompass the individual.  I snap together pieces of a puzzle of how the person lives and functions as they understand life to be.  I have no concept of what the day in and day out of their life must be for them.  The palate is empty.  I assemble the pieces by presenting what I heard them say in the truths they hold dear.  I meet the person where they are and ask them to color in the picture with their own crayons of perception.
While I cannot see them with my eyes, I assert that sight can give a limited snapshot of a person’s story.  I see someone in my head with the words they convey and the emotions expressed.  I do hear sounds with my ears but I listen with my heart to accurately appreciate and honor the person in front of me.  The voyage I have undertaken has brought a wealth of experiences that may not have made sense or appeared to have a purpose.  Sight might actually be a disadvantage during this leg of the trek.    We use what information we may have to paint a picture but we must grasp that it is solely from the painter’s perspective.  It is in the process to understand and respect another’s point of view that should bridge a gap of empathy.  It is in that connection where the new path may give the individual freedom from isolation.  The process to see with my brain and listen with my heart only makes me stronger

And…ACTION!

Perry, Chad's guide dog with his legs crossed.
Perry, Chad’s guide dog with his legs crossed.

 

“What would my character do?”

It was my first theater audition.  I went to the tryouts without a clue about the process.  I didn’t know the play, either.  I stuttered through my cold read and did not even walk toward the piano to sing yet somehow I got a part.  The production was Babes In Toyland and I was cast as a non-speaking role of a teddy bear that walked with the toy soldiers.
For hours I stood posed. At some part of the play, a floppy eared rabbit and I walk around and wake up the other toys.  The director made a good decision to put me in a role that did not speak or have much of any development.  I didn’t know how to act so I pretended.
 
At the full dress rehearsal, I was put in makeup and a plush bear costume.  I finally felt I could channel Bru, The Bear.  “What would my character do?” I thought.  With lights and music, I stayed frozen in place.  On cue, the rabbit and I followed through on our blocking as we ushered in the parade of toys.  
 
The Opening night performance  had some technical errors. The music hit and we began our blocking but the other actors were no where to be found.  “Improvise!” the director whispered from the side of the stage.  “What would my character do?”  I grabbed the rabbit’s paw, tucked my arm around her, and we tangoed from one side to the other.  It got a great response from the audience of kids and parents.  We tangoed and spun until the toy soldiers finally arrived.  I learned, when in doubt, tango!
 
It is one thing to be a character and it is another to have character.  Character can be molded and formed, but the only true test is when character is put under pressure.  I have been put in a moral dilemma by the state agency charged with the employment assistance of people with disabilities.  I feel ethically compelled to be upfront that I am blind.  The state agency does not want me to discuss my disability and remove any mention on my cover letter.
There are government regulations, statutes, and industry practices in regards to non-discrimination and the reasonable accommodations for the disabled.  The Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Education Code oversee workplace and academic assurances of equality.  The laws are only as solid as the person’s choice to respect the legislation.
“You wouldn’t tell them you are in a wheelchair, would you?” friends have presented to me as a counter balance towards being forthcoming about my eye sight.  
 
The argument to remove my carefully articulated paragraph about my blindness is this:  the Human Resources person can discriminate before any consideration for a position.  It is a valid point.  As that point is made, the next logical conclusion is the person that will  discriminate upfront will discriminate at any point during the process.  In other words, if a person is morally bankrupt they will find a way to reject my application and/or me.
 
Social Work is a field where character is paramount.  Any employer may internally wonder, “If Chad didn’t disclose about his disability, what else is he not telling us?”  In a profession where Social Workers must adhere to a Code of Ethics and Core Values, Integrity is the bedrock.  
 
I have control over myself and my code of conduct.  Ethics have been woven into my character as far back as I can remember.  I would rather be unemployed and moral than use justifications to play fast and loose with what I know to be deceptive behavior.  “A person is only as good as their ‘word’ and if you can’t be trusted, your ‘word’ means nothing.”  My father told me those words in middle school.
A year & a half after graduation, I remain unemployed.  The last interviewer had a look of shock, according to my wife’s observation, the interviewer’s mouth dropped and took a moment to recover as Perry & I came forward for the interview.
“What would your character do?”  I have played a number of roles in my life.  I sang and danced as a butcher in Fiddler on the Roof.  I spoke yiddish as a deli owner in the Dilly.  I was penned down and tickled by Craig Brewer as a pirate in To The Edge of the Earth.
Now, I have the lead role in a documentary.  I play a guy rebuilding his life after blindness.   What would my character do?  My character will find meaning in struggles, choose to be known as having integrity, and not give up.  Until I am cast in a full time role as a Social Worker, I know exactly what to do in the meantime:  Tango!

The Disability Advantage

We arrived early at the testing location and my professional exam reader had not shown up.  In fact, the proctor was twenty minutes late.  During those twenty minutes, I hinged my success or failure on the exam results as direct reflections on my career prospects, my efforts to prepare for each course, my intelligence, and my worth as a person.  My core insecurity was after all the struggles, could I back up the bravado about my abilities.  I took teacher certification and GRE exams but this carried more weight.

The desire to run blindly away or burst into tears was so powerful that the indecision kept me paralyzed.  As the reader showed up, my mood lightened up as the native Texan eased my fears after I heard his clear pronunciation.

During the last two years, every Social Work exam was completed on my computer.  Having a human proctor was nerve racking.  “Would they keep a mental tally of how I am doing? Will they check the correct box?” I lathered into a volley of “What if” questions.
Shuttled off to a private room, the testing center would audio & video the exam along with recording my answers.  The proctor began to read the computer screen.  On top of the profuse number of prayers I had said, I got in one last one as I meekly said, “I’m ready.”

The first five questions went smoothly until I noticed the proctor had switched words.   The first time he read the question with the word “discuss” as part of the sentence.   The second pass morphed to “disclose”.  Had someone been monitoring my hemispheric activity, there were more electric strikes than a Texas thunderstorm.  The entire meaning of the question had shifted.  Knowing I had only answered five out of 170 questions.  Each grain of sand that fell through the hourglass seemed to weigh my hope down.  I had the proctor run through the question a few more times until “disclose” had been repeated the most times.

Rather than read A, B, C, or D, the proctor only said the answers. One answer option was “Transactional” followed by the next option of “Analysis”.  Together, I heard “Transactional Analysis” which is a legitimate answer.  I felt a cold bead of sweat slide from my neck down my back and the contrast made me shutter. “This question only has three answer choices?” I puzzled out loud. The proctor stated there were four choices and said the answers once more.

I attempted to remain calm and role model how I would like the answers read back to me.  “So, ‘A’ is…’B’ is…” The proctor continued to mash the answers together.  Occasionally, I could not tell when the question ended and the answers began.

The proctor could not find what number question we were on.  An increased frequency of word fumbles became common place.  My optimism had all been drained from each pore.

I hit a threshold and my confidence in the answers had drifted.  I pondered, “If the testing center is monitoring, how come they have not come in and replaced this proctor.  Should I stop the test and let them know what has happened thus far?” My insecurities infiltrated my thought patterns and I had tremendous difficulty comprehending the questions.

Reasonably deducting that I had missed more than half, the proctor destroying each question, and the insurmountable number of questions left, I wanted to throw in the towel.  “Since I’ll have to take this again, I might as well hear the rest of the questions,” I decided.

My sense of humor washed over my fears as I started to count how many errors the proctor would make on each question.  This distraction actually served to keep me focused.  I paid attention to what the proctor said and decoded what the question plainly asked.

At the last question, an overwhelming feeling of relief and dread showered me.  My hands burned like I was digging for the last Diet Dr Pepper in a deep cooler of ice water.  I heard my heart pound.  I just knew I missed the mark but I was dying to know by how many questions.

The testing center monitor came in and escorted the proctor and I to the front.  The proctor signed out and stood in front of me.  I asked the testing center staff person if I could find out the results.  As I was handed my results, I asked, “Did I pass?”

“We are not allowed to verbalize if a candidate has passed.  I am sorry.” she said with a genuine tone.
With my persuasive smile and the most pathetic expression I could muster, “Could I waive that right and ask for an accommodation please??

The staff person leaned in and whispered “You passed.”

It was as if my body had just walked outside on an August summer day in Texas.  I felt the rush of blood return to my hands, my face burned red, and I could not stop smiling.

I left the testing center and found a quiet place in a hallway.  I sat on the floor and wept.  I had done it.  The little boy inside of me stood taller.  I had joined the legacy of remarkable role models and agents of change.  In my soul, a flag of victory had been raised up.  In that moment, I became a Social Worker.
I called my wife, Jennifer.  I cried so hard and vapor locked as she answered.  I shared that I passed the licensing exam, “We did it.” Anyone married to a graduate student should earn an honorary degree for the support.  Jennifer played so many roles to keep me focused, motivated, and prepared.

Twenty minutes of breathing deeply and sighing, curiosity swelled and I returned to the testing center.  The staff person saw me opened the door, called out my name, and asked me to stay in the hallway.  “I know what this is about,” she reassured me.  “The testing monitor observed your exam from the beginning and called me over.  She was alarmed by the proctor’s errors and mishandling of the exam.  We are filing a grievance with the Social Work Board.”

“You all knew he was messing things up at the beginning? Why didn’t you stop the test?” I inquired with befuddlement.

As she explained the legal ramifications of halting an exam, once an exam has started, any disruption would nullify the exam.  I would have had to reschedule in 90 days and advocate aggressively to get my fees returned and applied for the new exam.  Luckily the high from my success squelched any feelings of injustice.  The proctor would be banned for the failure to read the exam accurately.  With the knowledge no other candidate would have to endure that lack of competence.  Her reassurance left a sense of validation.

In the days and months that followed, I grew grateful for what I experienced.  I would never want to deal with the confusion over the wording of the questions.  I was forced to decipher the whole question.  I explored the use of each word choice and determined if the proctor had replaced the word subconsciously, or, more accurately, unconsciously.

No client or employer may comprehend what it took to earn my Licensed Master of Social Work.  I will know exactly what I had to do.  One year to the day, it remains the proudest professional achievement.  Personally, it serves to remind me that I am worthwhile.  I do have value.  I would not change a thing.  I am a stronger person without my sight than I was as a sighted person.