Peer respite is a model for how we can become a remedy together, how each of us can be like a drop of medicine. I find it helpful to compare my recent medical crisis to a peer respite experience. It is important, however, to recognize that the over 50 peer respites in the United States have their own sets of corporate values, principles, policies, procedures, operations, and outcomes. See my blog of September 27, 2021, Soteria House and Peer Respite Summit, for some research data on peer respites. https://www.madinamerica.com/2021/09/soteria-peer-summit/
Two months ago, I realized with every ounce of wisdom in my body, mind, spirit and environment that I needed immediate medical attention. I simply told my new friend to call 911 for an ambulance which he did without question, without hesitation. He completely trusted my mind, my judgement, my intelligence, my decision. Obviously, you dear reader are getting the condensed version of the story. My friend had seen me for several consecutive days of not feeling well (and not able to get into community-based urgent care).
The point I want to make is: The individual is always in a contextual and relational field. This is not just about what words we say and the tone we use but it is also what happens in the space between us. Peer respites model mutual relational awareness by being a safe holding space and thus a healing space (assuming the staff and all levels of the organization are aligned with trauma-healing policies, procedures, and practices).
Back to the story. Though my friend was a very new person in my life brought together for mutual business purposes, he had time and could see I needed assistance and he generously offered support. From the moment we met there was a space, an openness, a presence for relational awareness. This was not reduced to the three-dimensional transactions that were taking place but more importantly what was happening in the space between us. When he spoke, the intent of his words and his context landed deeply in me, and when I spoke, I could tell my words and context were received by him. I sensed he was taking in the entire context of my situation as I was doing the same for him.
Another point – In a mutually respectful space (e.g., peer respite) tracking how information lands in the listener is key. When I am in emotional distress or crisis, I need to know deep in my central nervous system that I am being fully seen and heard. I track this in many ways, not only by the other person’s verbal and non-verbal communication but are they aligned with me. Can I feel a resonant space? Can I feel them feeling me? If not, becausethey are busy so my communication is not received – it doesn’t land – then we don’t meet in a higher level of relational awareness and the situation takes on a whole different trajectory. Healing does not happen and more layers of trauma get layered on and our sense of separation, isolation, and fragmentation are reinforced. I sense that for some people there may be a relationship between how fast that person moves through life and how deeply their intent (awarely or unawarely) is to numb their own emotional pain.
If, however, the conditions are met, then we can deepen the relational awareness in this time and space where it becomes safe to feel and be honest and where there is more capacity to relate to our wounds. I don’t have to put the social mask on to protect myself against the constant barrage of micro-and macro-aggressions so ubiquitous in our society. Rather, I have an opportunity to thaw the parts of me frozen in a trauma response, the numb parts I could not feel or look at before. In a safe space I trust myself and the other and can continue to integrate the fragments of myself on a path of becoming whole, increasingly unattached or liberated from the past.
The flow of my entire medical situation was much easier because I
knew I was not alone. I had someone who really cared nearby for whatever assistance I needed. In addition to that my support system was electronically engaged with texts, phone calls, and emails keeping me blanketed with love.
Back to the story: when the ambulance arrived, they were completely focused on context and on me, my situation, how could they get the stretcher into the bedroom where I was. They couldn’t – at least not very easily – so they tenderly asked if I could walk 8 feet to the stretcher. I said I could, but they were so focused on my safety they vigilantly touched or had their bodies and arms (one person on each side of me) ready to help me if I faltered. I deeply felt their care and thoughtfulness; it brings tears to my eyes now. Imagine if this was how people in extreme emotional states were treated in the community.
I told them the hospital to take me to; they did not for an instant question me though two other hospitals were closer.
At the hospital the tenderness, respectfulness, thoughtfulness for my comfort and what I wanted continued. I knew that I was in the right place and therefore I could relax and let them do whatever they needed to do. I noticed the details and there were many as I was taken immediately into a covid isolation room in the emergency department. My life was in their hands and I could give my body to them to be cared for. I didn’t need to struggle any more. I didn’t need to force myself to drink more water to try and stay hydrated because the IV fluids did it for me – they were taking exquisite care of me – body, mind, emotions – the whole package, the whole context was respected in a deep and caring way.
Another point: Peer respites elevate our status so we are full partners, making all the decisions about how we want our day or our life to be and we get support in thinking and feeling our way through the process. Many areas of our society have chosen to not fully recognize people with a mental health label or people in emotional crisis as a full partner.
The story: In the hospital the staff listened with presence, being in the moment with me, which created more intimacy. They had great skill at being able to focus and put aside whatever else was going on outside “us”. The doctor spoke to me as an equal partner, very personable, he wasn’t hurried, he explained my health status and asked if I had any questions. The compassion was obvious. The nurse was observant, without needing to inquire beforehand she simply brought a pair of purple (my favorite color) hospital pants/scrubs and caringly asked me if I wanted them. I think (between us as women) she knew I would want them. After several hours of being hydrated I was ready to be released back into the world away from the 24/7 buzz of a large emergency department with cinderblock walls, beeping machines, and sterile everything.
In peer respites they hold a lot of space for listening so we may digest, reflect, and integrate formerly unintegrated trauma information and thus become more able to meet the world as it is instead of how we would like it to be. We can unravel our own intelligence. Trauma brings fragmentation – my real self gets disconnected from the social mask I must wear to survive in the traumatized waters that the world swims in. My trauma response is the intelligence that saved me. I need time and space to honor it and bring love to the places that have been exiled so I may bring about unification, releasing past attachments that no longer serve me. We don’t need so much protection any longer because we’ve found more safety in our own bones and in building the relationships that sooth and nurture us.
I am pleased to know that an international group of like-minded souls have been moving together and are taking an evolutionary step forward by creating the first ever virtual International Summit on Peer Respite/Soteria Houses to share our wisdom, inspire, and give “nuts and bolts” steps to spread peer respites and Soteria houses.
The Summit is free and takes place every Sunday in October 2021. Over 600 people are registered from 42 states (US) and 32 countries for this interactive series. This is an all-voluntary effort, and over $10,000 towards a $20,000 goal has been raised for future sustainability and information dissemination purposes. If you would like to know more or to register for the free Summit, click here. https://www.alternatives-conference.org/peerrespitesoteriasummit
In closing, I share some questions that I often ponder.
How can we develop presence and stay connected so we can invite healing?
How can we support each other to be together in our process of change and growth?
How can we enhance our capacity to respond rather than react?
How can we learn to better sense our self and sense others in the space deeper than words?
How do we recognize where we feel depleted and tired as an alarm bell indication of when we need to press the re-set button for our own balance, well-being and health?
We can’t do this alone. We need each other. How do we walk this path together?
How do we become like a drop of medicine?
What steps will we take to create more compassion around us?
How do we learn to listen to what our higher self is whispering about next steps?