Let Me Introduce Myself!

For the bulk of 20 years, I had a very clear career path that I was on. I studied for it, I volunteered for it, and I got paid for it. I was convinced I’d be doing this same type of work for the remainder of my life. However, when I hit 40 years old, I had just slogged through some hefty disenchantment. I began wondering to myself, “What do I want to do when I grow up?” I posted something along those lines on social media. A few days later, I received a phone call from my step father-in-law. He had made the switch from a successful food service career to social work. He shared with me what that massive shift was like for him, and he continued – “I think YOU should consider social work. I think you’re built for it!” We spoke for quite a while. After hanging up, I was convinced that I wanted to make that same shift. I became a man on a mission, applying to grad school, researching everything I could about this career that I knew little about. From that phone conversation to this very point, I have not had ONE red flag about making that choice. I have zero regrets about shifting from church-based youth ministry to becoming a clinical social worker, with eyes on behavioral health and school social work.

This adventure so far as a social worker has been incredibly enriching, challenging, and affirming. My unique gifts, abilities, & strengths make a perfect cocktail for serving those who need a leg up, who could use an advocate, and who are looking for help along their own journeys. My whole life certainly paved the way for me to place great value in skillful mental health professionals – From the death of my mom when I was a teenager to the divorce from my first love, from severe depression to the threat of alcoholism, I have experienced quite a few devastating events that have shaped the way I feel about myself, my world, and my relationships. I am deeply grateful for the friends who picked me up off my face & who urged me to get professional help. With the one-two punch of therapy and medication, I have been able to navigate the challenges of my depression and anxiety, with just a few bumps in the road along the way.

I am also extremely grateful for my wife and life partner, who is the most live-giving person I’ve ever encountered. Her support, encouragement, and love have fueled my desire to become the person I’m designed to be. We have two young sons who remind me frequently that life is an adventure, and that laughter, hugs, and pranks are an important part of a mentally healthy life!

I am a man of faith. My spiritual journey has had more twists and turns than a Colorado mountain stream. But as I have made it through to this side of things, I have been able to brush aside a lot of the extraneous man-made, cultural “stuff” that obscures a clearer look at Jesus. I want my life to continually be pointing toward Jesus, and I want my life to be characterized by that same radical & ridiculous love that I have experienced.

My work is not Christian in nature, but I am Christian in nature. What I mean is that I will come alongside anyone who needs help, regardless of belief, creed, color, race, sexual orientation, or favorite football team. This works amazingly well because I am not in the business of providing you the answers to your problems; rather, I help you discover your OWN solutions to your problems. My faith, instead, gives me a measure of compassion, empathy, and kindness.

What have you encountered along your journey? I would love to encourage you. I’d love to equip you. I’d love to empower you. Let me know how we can connect so you can have strength for your journey!!!

EQUIP – It’s What I Do

Freshman year of college, I was living in the dorms of a community college. Just like most first-year students, I was hungry one evening. I dug through my personal “pantry” in my room until I found something I was interested in – some chicken and rice soup. I couldn’t wait to dig in! However, I was ill-equipped – I couldn’t find a can opener anywhere! No big deal. I have always been resourceful. Not wanting to bother anyone for a real can opener, I grabbed my set of dorm keys. My room key was thick and sturdy, and I just knew that the can of Campbell’s didn’t stand a chance against my key. So, I began attacking the lid to that soup can with fervor. I got a hole poked through, and I began sawing with the jagged edges of my key. However, that didn’t last long. After a minute, as I was hacking at the lid, my invincible room key felt weird in my hand for a second, then *bam*! My key broke in half, with the long-end of the key falling into the abyss known as chicken and rice. Frustrated and hangry, I went to the dorm office, and asked if I could borrow a can opener AND get a new copy of my key. Not the way I intended to spend my evening that dark and hungry night. (I did eventually get to eat my soup, though, so that’s a good thing).

When it comes to our mental health, we are not “plug and play.” We don’t come out of the womb, EQUIPPED to handle crises, trauma, stress, and negative emotions. Many of us learn maladaptive behavior, ways to ease the effects of stress that are not quite healthy. I have several “keys,” or staples that I use in my practice as a social worker.

That’s why the role I play in social work as EQUIPPER is essential to the success of my students and clients. Once we have developed a rapport, and through the backdrop of ENCOURAGEMENT, I am able to build a trusting therapeutic relationship, then we can do the work together of adding tools to the mental health toolbox. This is one reason why mindfulness and breathwork is such an important foundation to going from emotionally dysregulated to emotionally regulated. Mindfulness trains our minds to become aware of what’s going on in our minds and our bodies, but without us getting carried away by it. It allows us to see, focus on, and enjoy the present moment as opposed to being stressed out about the future or perseverating about the past. Engaging in breath work is paramount to becoming able to shift gears from negative emotions.

Another key to becoming EQUIPPED (see what I did there?) is to live a life of gentle reflection. I have kept a journal for nearly a quarter of a century, and it has been the most effective tool in helping me grow in self-awareness. What does self-awareness do for us? It helps us to know our emotional triggers. It gives us the ability to look objectively at ourselves and to learn what our own strengths and weaknesses are. In later posts I will share with you the power that comes from living a reflective life. Additionally, putting into place your Living Mirrors is vital to becoming self-aware. This tool is so important – having a small circle of trusted friends who have permission to share with you what they see in you. My first experience of this was incredibly life-giving! That group of 4 friends saved my life, and deeply enriched it! We met weekly over coffee (at the coolest coffee shop in Colorado Springs). We would talk about philosophy, theology, mental health, and just life. We were open and transparent with one another, and we genuinely enjoyed each other’s company during my few years in southern Colorado.

Now, once I have sufficiently connected with my students and clients through ENCOURAGEMENT, I don’t grab my “handy-dandy algorithm for mental health success.” I tailor my course of treatment based on my client’s needs, personality, and ability to engage. But two staples in my treatment are breathwork and gentle reflection. These will look different for each person.