The following is a piece I had published in the most recent edition of the American Academy of Psychotherapists’ journal Voices. A digital copy of the Summer 2015 edition is available online through October 31. I was a volunteer at the Academy’s 2014 Institute and Conference and the published piece is a reflection of my time and experience there.
It’s difficult to remember where this ended and where it began. I remember when we had more volunteer offers than positions available. I remember wanting to go and secretly hoping the other “last call” person would back out. That didn’t happen. I’m glad she came. I remember telling her that I would have loved to say that going to this conference “meant the world to me,” but that wasn’t true. If it were, I said, forgetting to register wouldn’t have been so easy.
Hours before we left, the weight of the pilgrimage ahead still hadn’t set in. i was busy churning out the final stages of the Psychology Department’s new website and shuffling my individual therapy sessions and practicum hours to accommodate what most people surely believed to be a “vacation” for me. Finally I clocked out, gassed up, and we hit the road. Three hours into the drive the first wave of excited chatter died down and I was struck by the first assault of what was to become an ongoing question: What am I doing here?
I don’t remember much of the drive. I’m sure I dissociated somewhere along the 15 hour journey. We arrived in Austin in the early afternoon and got settled into the hotel. That night we were invited to a nice dinner. I found myself wary of interacting. should I play the safe role of “only a volunteer”? Was I obligated to take advantage of the prosperity and perils that might come with “spirited participation”?
Thursday arrived with little rest and a splitting headache. The first plenary discussion was interesting, but my faculties were soft and inattentive. I started the afternoon sitting in on a group titled, “Who is your practice?” I practiced listening. A communication error found me walking in most unwelcomed to what I later understood to be a “tender” moment of another group’s processing.
Friday was a blur. Engagement with and of the volunteers was brought up in the Community Meeting. I anticipated an onslaught of insincere thanks for “all I’ve done.” I was grateful that didn’t happen. Volunteering was not my work. Volunteering was the price I paid to go and find my work. I took the afternoon off to sleep. Driving through downtown Austin that evening with a dear friend, I realized, at the confessional of my steering wheel, how the unconscious works, how our repressions come forth. no one said this stuff was easy or even that it would make any sense. yet, still I asked, “What am I doing here?”
Saturday was host to a series of powerful and provocative interactions. The dance party that evening brought levity and eased the mind, bu the night was heavy. We had our final volunteer process group Sunday morning and tried to debrief. Our time together undoubtedly changed us. Yet, nothing was left settled. The container of this combustion was falling away. Another 15 hours on the road, here we go. Was I ready? What had I done here?
Haedicke, A. (2015). Sigil of a Storm. Voices, 80–80.