It’s not uncommon to be intimidated or even frightened at the thought of attending a support group. Opening up in a room full of strangers takes courage. The value of connecting with other people cannot be understated, and you might be surprised who you can learn from along the way. Sharing experiences and being a member of a community is a valuable recovery tool.
Trying to find reasons to avoid listening to people should be an Olympic sport at The PEER Center. We hear all the time from our associates that they are misunderstood, no one can relate to them, and there is no reason to attend “that support group” because they have “nothing in common” with the other participants.
Gabe and Juliet Are Very Different
My name is Gabe Howard and I am the Director of Development and Marketing at The PEER Center. I work for Juliet Dorris-Williams, the Executive Director. If you take a look at the picture accompanying this article, you’ll see that it doesn’t take much to come to the conclusion that we are very different.
Starting with the obvious, we are different races and genders. I am a tall, redheaded, white man and Juliet is a short, African-American woman. I am younger than Juliet, as well. Even upon visual inspection we are incredibly different.
Frankly, those are the least of our differences. Juliet is very educated, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees. I tried to drop out of high school until my granny stepped in to stop me. Juliet is a parent; I am not. I am not at all religious and she is very spiritual – so much so that she attended seminary and is an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church. While Juliet is very quiet and introverted, I am boisterous and very extroverted.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that Juliet is not a fan of 90s alternative rock and I have never heard of many of the gospel singers on her playlist. So, what does a quiet, well-educated, spiritual, African-American woman have in common with a loud, informally educated, not-at-all spiritual, white man?
Juliet and Gabe Are Not so Different
Turns out, Juliet and Gabe are not so different. We are both realists. We both care very much about the people we serve. And, while I certainly overthink things more than she does, she hasn’t escaped the middle-of-the–night, grandiose, racing thoughts.
We don’t back down and we both fight our own inner turmoil. We both have had traumatic incidents in our pasts and both can be filled with self-doubt. We both strive to be moderate in a world filled with extremes.
Her life experience has given me a different perspective on my own, and that has been incredibly helpful in my own recovery. Had I decided I had nothing to learn from her, I would have missed out on a great many positive things. What we have in common is considerably more valuable than our differences.
Being “so different” gives us the opportunity to learn from one another. In our work life, I do the talking, she keeps me focused and accountable, and we both work toward the same goals in our own ways. Our differences didn’t prevent us from learning from and supporting one another. Indeed, they are what allow us to do so.
Visit our webpage at www.ThePEERCenter.org to see a list of our support and educational groups.
According to our website, “The P.E.E.R. Center is a drop-in wellness, recovery, and support center. Our mission is to provide a safe place where individuals receive respect, encouragement, and hope that supports and strengthens their recovery in mental health, addictions, and trauma.”
Sounds good, right? But if you have never been here, you might be wondering what our facility is actually like. Our goal is to be open and welcoming to everyone, so with that in mind, we want to give prospective visitors some idea of what a day at The P.E.E.R. Center is like.
The P.E.E.R. Center has two locations, one on East Broad Street and one on West Broad Street. There are some differences, but the way things run and the services we offer are the same. It is a relaxed and informal environment; we want you to participate (or not) in your own way and at your own pace. You will never be pressured to do something you find uncomfortable.
Walking into The P.E.E.R. Center
When you walk in the door, the first thing you will see is our sign-in sheet. East has a green sheet and West has gold. We like to have some idea of who is visiting and how many folks come through in a day. How many people are at the Center varies a lot from day to day, and even from hour to hour. Sometimes it is slow and sometimes it can get pretty busy. If a staff member doesn’t realize that you are new, don’t be too hard on them. We see a lot of faces.
After signing in, you are welcome to explore the Center at your own pace or ask for a tour. In our main common area, where you will usually find folks playing cards, reading, having a snack, or just visiting over coffee. If you would like a tour or have questions, find a staff member and they would be happy to help.
Please keep in mind, all of our staff members have lived experience of mental illness, addiction, and/or trauma. So we can relate to your struggles, because we have had them, too. We are all equals, working through this together.
If there is too much going on in the main lobby, we have quiet places at both locations. We also have rooms for groups and meetings. Both Centers have computer labs, a television, and we always have coffee – lots of coffee.
Everything We Do is Free to our Community
Help yourself to a cup and our staff will help you with cream and sugar. So come on over and play cards, watch a little TV, go online for a little while, or just sit and chat. If you want to get to know some people better, check out our webpage for our monthly calendars of peer-led support groups. We have groups for veterans, anxiety support, women’s groups, even a knitting class. There is something for every interest and many different needs. Attending a group can help you better get to know other associates who have similar interests and struggles.
We hope that you enjoy your first visit with us and that it helps you with your recovery. And if you do have a good experience, we want you to come back! When that happens, we ask that you sign-up as one of our “associates.” Associates are the lifeblood of our organization and is the term we use for the people who use our services. Becoming an associate will only take about 10 minutes and ensures that all of our services stay absolutely free.
We hope to see you soon. And we’ll have a pot of coffee waiting!
Recently, winter has made its presence known in central Ohio. We’ve had snow, ice, and freezing temperatures for the past couple weeks and it has put a damper on many people’s outdoor activities. School age children seem to be the only group that isn’t complaining about the frigid conditions.
“Seem to be” is the key phrase is that sentence. When it snows hard, the first thing I think about is the effect it will have on my car. I then think about how happy children will be if school is cancelled. These are the prominent thoughts in my mind. I will be the first to admit that, on the coldest day, I didn’t even want to drive in to work. The idea of getting in a cold car in my garage, driving it 30 minutes to my destination, and walking the ten seconds to the front door was simply too much for me.
Then I considered some of the people we serve. Not everyone we serve has a car, or stable housing, or even housing at all. When the weather turns sour, they aren’t focused on the drive to work; they are focused on staying alive through the night.
Using Our Lived Experience to Make Decisions
This is an excellent example of how we, as people, view the world around us. We view it from our personal vantage point, through the lens of our own experience. It is an understandable human trait, but to truly help someone, we can’t apply our own experience to theirs.
Pretend for a moment that I don’t work for The P.E.E.R. Center and I have been tasked with “solving” the winter weather issue. So I invest in more snow plows, more salt trucks, or even covered roads! I invest money into heated tunnels, cars that warm up faster, and subsidize garage parking to keep people out of the cold. Based on my understanding of the problem, crafted entirely from my life experience, I have solved the issue.
Listen to Others' Lived Experience
In this scenario, I did not intentionally ignore anyone, I was not being manipulative, playing politics, or trying to be non-inclusive. So when the criticism starts that I don’t care about the homeless or people who don’t have heat in their houses, and only care about people with cars, I become defensive. Those accusations are simply untrue. I wasn’t intentionally doing any of those things.
I was, however, short-sighted and ignorant. I did not ask people what they felt they needed. I did not investigate the entire scope of the issue. I did not get anyone’s thoughts on the issue at all. I just assumed that everyone saw the issue the exact same way as I do.
Had I taken the time to ask people what they needed, I could have designed a solution that helped more people. To truly help people, we must talk to them. We must consider everyone’s life experience. Assuming that your worldview and life experience will help everyone is the equivalent of thinking a coin has no back because you can only see the front.
This is why at The P.E.E.R. Center we always ask people to share their experiences, as well as their values and goals. It is for these reasons that we never ask, "What's wrong with you?" Instead, we ask, "What happened to you?" We believe in self-directed recovery because no one knows themselves better than they do.
Volunteer Spotlight: Singer Priscilla Woodson
The P.E.E.R. Center is very fortunate to have an amazing community of people who support us. Whether by donating money, volunteering time, or providing needed supplies (like coffee), these kind, caring people support us on a daily basis. One of those people is Priscilla Woodson, a local recording artist, singer, songwriter, mentor, radio personality, and actress. She believes in the power of music, art, and healing.
Priscilla has been volunteering with us for years, lending us her beautiful voice at our Recovery Celebration as well as singing at our first annual fundraiser last year. Every Thursday, Priscilla comes to The P.E.E.R. Center and sings to our associates, staff, and anyone who happens to be there. She doesn’t stop there. People make requests, sing duets, and even perform solos, all with the guidance of a professional singer and performer.
When someone gives so much of themselves to other people, it is important to share their story. We sat down with her before one of her Thursday performances to learn more.
Music, Art, and Healing with Priscilla Woodson
Question: We know you are a talented singer, but we don’t know why you volunteer for The P.E.E.R. Center. Can you explain?
Answer: I have battled with depression but no longer suffer from it. Because I come from a pathology of mental illness and depression this disease is near and dear to my heart, so I understand the struggle many of your people are going through. That is my connection to The P.E.E.R. Center and I want to give back.
I also see many people in the artistic community suffer in silence. When they are performing, they feel alive and safe; but when they are alone, they succumb to the loneliness and they are broken. The stigma of mental illness and addiction prevents them from seeking help. Since no one can spend all their time performing, we lose amazing people, because they don’t know how to fight their demons.
While I do believe the best of artists are born through unhappiness, it doesn’t mean they want to suffer. I know what pain and suffering is and I know that music and art have a role in healing. Art allows people to connect to other people, and that has immense value in recovery.
Question: What advice do you have for people working to reach recovery?
Answer: I take a holistic approach to health and wellness. We have to be right in our mind, body, and soul. We have to fight against the odds and follow through with our convictions. We all must aspire to greatness!
Question: Now that we know a little more about what drives you to volunteer, tell us who or what inspires you to sing? Favorite artists, types of music, and favorite instrument?
Answer: I don’t know that I can name favorite performer; there are so many and such a range. I love Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald and I also love Adele and Whitney Houston. I have a genuine love for music and I can’t say I have a favorite, because all music moves me. Music is beautiful.
I don’t play any instruments, myself, but I love the acoustic guitar. It is the true essence of the music and it allows you to understand the full content. When a singer is paired with an acoustic guitar, I can listen for hours.
I am a gospel and jazz singer and I love that style of music a lot. Again, so difficult to pick a favorite. I can, and do, sing most styles.
Healing Never Sounded So Beautiful
In September of 2014, Priscilla left her corporate job after 20 years, a decision she says has made her happier than ever. Her contributions to the artistic community are massive, including releasing five albums with a sixth album and a book being released on January 31, 2015.
As the interview was wrapping up, I asked her if I could pick the first song she sang that day and, ever not the diva, she replied with an excited, “Of course!” I truly felt inspired that someone is out there spreading joy and inclusion and connecting with other people. It only seemed fitting that I choose, “At Last,” by Etta James.
She belted it out to a happy and energetic crowd and, as if to prove her point that music connects us to people, whenever I hear that song in the future, it will remind me of that moment – and all the people I shared it with.
Please visit Priscilla Woodson on the web at www.priscillawoodson.com
"Make a career of humanity, commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in." – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
One of the unusual things about us is that we don’t exactly fit perfectly into any particular category. We do offer support groups for our associates (our name for the individuals using our services) with mental health concerns and groups for our folks with trauma and addiction concerns. So, does that mean we belong in mental health services or addiction services? So far, trauma services isn't an option by itself, let alone part of another whole.
Our mission statement clarifies that we are a place “…where individuals receive respect, encouragement, and hope that supports and strengthens their recovery in mental health, addictions and trauma.” Our approach, quite simply, is to meet people where they are and welcome everyone who talks through our doors.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream was for everyone to be equal, including having equal access to the things they needed to be happy and to be well. Throughout his life, he spoke to the idea that kindness for one was kindness for all. His famous quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” resonates with us here at The P.E.E.R. Center
. We feel strongly that when one of us achieves, we all achieve. We are all linked, for better, for worse.
We didn't invent the model of welcoming all people and treating them with dignity, respect, and compassion. We haven’t even perfected it. Every day, we keep our minds open and listen to the people we serve, and through that partnership, we change and grow. We give people what they need and help them achieve their goals.
We are proud that we don’t fit into a single category, because people don’t fit into a single category
. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood this and spent his life showing us the power of loving each other. We don’t claim to have all the answers to the issues our society faces, but we are proud that we are willing to play our role and to set an example that caring for our fellow humans lifts us all up.
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