When I first started coming to Trillium in 2008, it is safe to say that I was very fearful of most things in the outside world (outside of my home). I only came to the Center for an hour at a time and I only sat in the front area which was close to the staff. I felt the safest there, and safety was everything, whether I could put my finger on it at that time or not.
An explanation of physical safety seems straightforward. In an environment meant to foster recovery there should definitely not be any unwanted touching, for instance. If you want to hug someone it is best to ask. Through the years, a set of rules came about for using the services, or coming to, Trillium and it spells out no unwanted touching or harassment of any kind, including verbal harassment. Not feeling physically or emotionally safe is a form of abuse. We won’t tolerate that at all. I really don’t think there would be a Trillium without our understanding and enforcing of emotional and physical safety.
One way that I explain emotional safety and how important it is to Trillium is when I explain that every person coming into the doors of the Center, whether member or staff, has a mental health challenge and is working on their mental health recovery. We have done a great job through the years of weeding out, if you will, people that have come to take advantage and who are not coming to Trillium to work on their mental health recovery. A person may get to Trillium by bus, foot or car and I would even point out that the outside world is not the greatest, but when that person gets to Trillium and walks in the door, it feels like a different place, a haven from the world.
It is a place that is governed by a set of rules, that we have printed large in two separate places in the Center. It is also a place that is monitored by people who have mental health issues themselves and have reached at least some or much in their recovery. We’re called Facilitators at Trillium and many of us are certified by the state of Virginia to be Peer Recovery Specialists. What that all means is that we have been through mental health issues, and continue to work on our recovery and most especially know what it is and what it feels like to be a person with mental health challenges. We’re talking about such diagnoses as Depression, Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, Dissociative Disorder, Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective Disorder, and other illnesses. We’re all about championing the cause of mental health recovery.
Emotionally safety, to me, is one of the most important things that we at Trillium can offer to another person. It is a feeling of kindness and boundary keeping. When a new person comes to Trillium I always read the first two rules off of the big rule board that’s right there in the hall. First, is that you have to be a mental health consumer to receive our free services. The second rule mentions respect for all staff and members and that comments that are racist, homophobic, and so forth will not be tolerated. At the end of that second rule, I also always add that we don’t allow cussing at Trillium because it doesn’t fit in an atmosphere of emotional and physical safety. It just doesn’t make people feel good. We as facilitators will gently remind someone and you would be surprised how one falls into their ‘Trillium voice’ and learns to leave the cusses out.
Our mission statement is: “To provide a stress free, stigma free atmosphere for mental health consumers age 18 and over.” When you see us working on mailings or playing pool or watching something delicious being make on the Food channel, or using the computers or sitting and talking with one another, you can be sure that it is all part of recovery. The gentlest, most kind souls want to be here because they find support, not hassle, and they find people who have been through a lot, just like themselves, carving out a good life for themselves. We can all get better, and its due in no small part to having an emotionally and physically safe place to go.
So what happened to that person that was so afraid of the world 15 years ago? Well, I drive myself to work (Trillium) a few days a week. I was helped those first few years of working there by our Executive Director to find my strength and resilience. I have been a speaker. Best of all, I know I’ve got this, which is an absolutely lovely turn of events.