On Being a Master
Three years ago, I took a fearful but hopeful first step towards pursuing my master’s degree. The experience could have easily seemed like any other person applying, but the day I took action stood as a symbolic marker for me.
In the social work program, or any empathy-focused education, I learned that something usually propels the person pursuing that field of study down that particular path. It is usually some adverse personal experience of sorts.
For me, I decided that I wanted to be a therapist when I was 13-years-old. My inspiration drew up a very complicated childhood. I always wrote about what I experienced, both personally and any injustices I saw around me.
I remember, very vividly, a stranger sitting and coloring with me while trying to get me to open up. Their one-way mirror did not have me fooled. They were studying me. Needless to say, I kept quiet.
A few days later a therapist called to schedule a next session, I answered the phone
and told them I didn’t want to come back. I answered no again after they tried to normalize my experience.
That was the moment I knew.
Although I pushed them away, something about that person simply sitting and coloring with me allowed me to realize the profession I wanted to pursue. I thought how amazing it would be to be able to say you can assist someone having a hard time and it can be a profession. I thought about what I went through and wanted to reach out to anyone who has had a tough experience.
The journey has been 15 years coming —and I am still traveling towards my idealized self.
What I’ve Gone Through
From community college and undergrad working three jobs —I can totally relate to what Liz Gilbert said about not minding eating the “shit sandwich” when you’re pursuing what you’re truly passionate about.
It has not been easy.
I have overcome child abuse of multiple forms, depression, homelessness, domestic violence and more. However, I continued to push. I was trying to ensure the conditions I endured as a minor never followed me into the future and I was going to see to that.
The only thing that almost stopped me, was getting a DUI.
Due to it being broadcast, many who met me prior to that are aware of this. Some who met me after that do not know. Some of you have created such an environment of trust that I was willing —compelled even —to open up and disclose this very fragile moment of my life to you. Thank you.
I was desecrated because not only was I dealing with this crisis in private, but in the public eye where I learned that online bullying can really drive a person to not want to live.
* Queue comments of people saying I should kill myself or I should have been shot *
What’s more is that I had flashbacks of visiting my mom in Las Colinas at 4-years-old and I felt like the past I was working hard to get away from came full circle.
I felt like a failure as a big sister (even if my siblings didn’t see me that way) —and that hurt me to the core.
I could not personally begin to rehabilitate with the news harassing my job, when everyone wanted a say on something they knew nothing about.
I remember Jae dragging me out of the house for the first time, saying I can’t hide forever and how random people recognized me and made their comments.
I tried to make it all go away. It was the black spot on my spotless work history.
What I was once afraid of, I now own.
With A LOT of work —three years to be exact (shout-out to my therapist and supports)—I have come to see that incident as a catalyst for the revolution of Amber.
Without that incident, I am unsure how I would have come face to face with the traumas I was harboring, and I am not sure I would have realized how I was numbing myself (working three jobs, going to bars, etc.) due to those pains.
One therapist offered the most profound words to me, and I think it slowly unleashed the process of owning my experience (key word: slowly):
“It is my belief that the most difficult challenges in life are often visited upon the strongest, oldest souls to provide them with the accelerated spiritual growth they came here in this incarnation to attain.”
And so, my work began.
Assigned readings taught me of learned protective patterns that no longer served a purpose, EMDR, CBT and the most amazing therapist slowly helped me rebuild my shattered reality.
So many times, I shriveled away from opportunities I would normally take because I was afraid of facing that all of my hard work would mean nothing because of this black spot on my past.
Every time I had my therapist and Kymmie push me into trying anyways.
My therapist was like a record on replay, “Amber, you’ve owned up to what happened like I’ve never seen any other person own it. The classes, community service, car device —you completed those tasks in record time.”
I was just trying to put it all behind me.
She would say, “The worst that could happen is that you will be told no, but it’s not the end of the world.”
And then I was told no. Twice. The reasons given were lies, I knew because I had already obtained clearance to work by the very agency they said wouldn’t allow me.
My therapist went on to explain that my personal overcomings would make me an amazing therapist because I would be authentic, and people can sense that, when I try to convey empathy to others by saying ‘I understand.’
Now That You’re All Caught Up…
Which brings me to 8/15/15 —five months after my worst tragedy to date. I found myself sitting at a Starbucks wanting badly to apply to the master’s program but every fear inside of me saying I would never get in because what I’d done. Even having past teachers tell me I couldn’t.I remember beginning to cry and Kymmie giving me the tough love that I so much hated but needed to begin to realize that I was standing in my own way.
That is why waking up from my success hangover a day after graduating from my master’s program is so surreal and is the culmination of everything I’ve ever hoped for.
I have come through a damn lot. And I had to fight for it every-single-step of the way.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have my moments. And my therapist is there —kymmie is there —providing that boost of confidence I need when it wanes because I’m afraid an internship will turn me away because of that past.
Father joe’s provided an extra boost of confidence because I had such amazing clients and staff who were role models that tarnished pasts do not have to be the end all be all
I chose to be silent, on social media, when the news pressed for interviews. I chose that. Because it is my story to tell, and only I would know in the moment when I was ready to speak.
I originally planned to make a short professional film. The videographer selected, the layout conjured up, the money saved.
I remember going over my idea with KP and him pointing out how much it’s necessary because so many people have hidden secrets, I’ve had many people come to me disclosing having DUIs but being ashamed or feeling as though their future is limited because of it.
KP said it would be good to speak out because I’ve gone through the ringer and my message would be the perfect conveyance that out growth does not end in our flaws.
And then, I was assaulted by three individuals and basically used the money to pay for damages. I was assaulted for reasons that don’t justify those actions -nothing justifies physical abuse aside from self-defense. A deep-seated, unprovoked jealousy. I’m making strides in getting justice for that as well (that’s all I will say about that for now). For a moment I almost, again, took on others’ prejudgments of me. I almost said, “I wouldn’t make a good therapist with these types of incidents.” My human angels once again there to remind me I did not ask for that event to come about.
Reflecting back on my experiences with helping professions, my interactions with therapists at the age of 13, my interactions with them during my crises. To me, therapists are human angels and I’m unsure where I would be today without them.
On Being a Master
Which is why I am honored to have the title MSW bestowed upon me. So I can go out and continue on in the magic of this work.
Ironically, when looking for the words that the therapist said to me so I can quote her here, I found in that same email the phrase, “When the student is ready the master appears.”
That is not the first time I’ve heard this phrase, but I definitely didn’t pay close attention when she said it to me. The first time it stood out to me was when my old co-worker Eddie would jokingly tease me when he was mentoring me.
And then came up again on Pinterest when I was deciding what to put on my cap when I graduate.
I have been a student in so many senses. I have been a student not only in school —learning about my profession. I have been a student —not only in work learning how to apply my skills. I have been a student —not only in therapy working past my past. I have been a student —not only to my clients who teach me about their struggles. I have been a student —not only to my brother who opened my eyes to life beyond my own scope of knowledge. I am now learning I have always been and forever will be a student in this journey called life —and each experience that presents itself and growth happens when the student is ready.
And now, in one sense, the Master has —finally —appeared.