How does one describe a transformational experience and do it justice? The last two and a half years have indeed been transformative and while this phase of the fellowship is at an end, my internal process is just beginning. (I include the six months before learning of the award because the soul searching during that application process was not for the faint of heart).
To begin...what would I have liked to know before I started? First let me describe my excitement and gratitude on the day I found out. I experienced shock, many tears, a multitude of prayers, calls with loved ones, my mind racing miles per second, more shock, new fears of inadequacy emerging, and a fierce boldness that I would resolutely steward this opportunity in a way that changed my life and as many others as I could. What I still had to learn was that to work in a transformational way absolutely required that I was transformed. For me to be transformed required that I had to have hard conversations with myself...to explore thoughts and ideas that were uncomfortable for me, not just for others. I had to better understand who I really was, what I had become, and how that person was going to "be" in my future. I had to challenge my own goals for the Fellowship and why they were chosen in the first place.
And so...the first year was a significant amount of time reflecting. I reflected on my humble beginnings, my lost and gained relationships, and my move back to Minnesota. I even had new gratitude for the childhood trauma I experienced and for the years of silence and shame that held me hostage...contributing to mental health problems, self-image issues, a lack of confidence, and a concurrent and unyielding drive towards overcoming obstacles. All of that history contributed to the journey of the fellowship and the moments as they evolved. I am grateful I did not know any more about the process than I did when it began. That provided me with a clear canvas upon which to make meaning of so much. And my canvas had never been clear. So this was new. And it belonged to me. That part alone was stunning, intimidating, and the beginning of a deeper discomfort that accompanied me in year two. So yes, 2017 was tough, and 2018 was much tougher.
The second year was about truth. The truth in myself. The truth behind my understanding and misunderstanding re: what gives me strength and courage. The truth behind my judgements and my criticism of self and others. The truth behind why I chose to learn certain things and avoid others. Without a doubt, what I was learning was far deeper than "integrated health and increased access to addiction treatment" (my goal for the fellowship). I found that my best learning took me to people, places, and industries that were not closely connected to the healthcare industry. Insights from the wisdom of others created more questions for me, richer dialogues and intentional listening. I realized quickly that I was not in the right professional environment even though I was in one of the sharpest addiction treatment programs in the nation. Taking this to scale, opening access for others to care, and making sure I could reach hundreds of thousands was going to require a shift. In year two I changed jobs and moved into a community health environment where I could focus on the pressures of historical trauma, poverty...a lack of access to life, period, not just to addiction treatment. Now I can reach hundreds of thousands easily, worldwide, and in a meaningful way. I can learn from medical anthropology, from technology advances, from creativity in low resourced nations...I am no longer in the "addiction treatment environment" but am exposed to a worldwide forum of thought leaders who can make me smarter and better after a three minute conversation. And what did I learn about me in this process? I learned not to be the smartest person in the room...not to be in a place of judgement re: those experiences others valued. When I separated myself from criticism and blame of others and was able to stand back from that well-worn place; I saw how prevalent that thinking was with everyone. Standing outside this circle contributed to me being alone more often, far more introverted than I had ever been, and far more effective.
This experience has lifted me to a place where I am slightly off balance, routinely uncomfortable, and learning...learning every second...suspending my expectations about others...ceasing the ignorant cycle of criticism and negativity, and finding endless time available for life altering change to take place. And I love it.