02/21/2014 11:51 am ET Updated Apr 23, 2014

Becoming the Healing Vigilante

Ask around and you will find out that I am a vigilante of sorts when it comes to personal accountability and healing. I will straight up cut someone with my unsolicited insight if they do not take accountability. I have a solid belief that if individuals are accountable and heal their crap, they are stronger and therefore, so is our community. And with community, we thrive.

I was not always this way ... I spent many years among the sort that deny or do not know of their crap; those that sweepeth under the ruggeth. It has been a painful, fluctuating, exciting, and somewhat comedic road to become who I am today -- which is an assertive, yet compassionate, bleeding heart who happens to be an actual professional, licensed therapist in Marriage and Family Therapy. Go figure.

When I was growing up, I always said I wanted to be the next Ann Landers (no, I did not grow up in the 1950s). As the years passed, I tried to do that. I was (and probably still am) the person that would ask "why?" versus leave it alone. I ate drama for breakfast and danced with the elephant in the room. I would create the space for you to share your deepest, darkest secret in the middle of a frat party. Naturally, I was the calm among the storm. The list of deep, dark secrets I hold is pretty long (you know who you are). I loved listening and helping others. I liked the connection it created -- the softening of a person's face, the settling of their shoulders, when they released these vulnerable thoughts into the air. I was inspired by it.

Sure enough, I found myself in a career that would allow me to apply my healing vigilance legally: therapy -- the psycho kind. (Psycho as in therapeutic interaction and treatment, not the classic bloodstained shower scene). And despite my endearing tryst with marketing ... I kept finding myself drawn towards healing.

So, at 27, I left a secure corporate job of which I was industriously climbing up the ladder, and turned my focus to therapy. Now, there are ridiculous amount of dollars and soul you have to dedicate in becoming a therapist. But no education or exam can create an effective healer. Perseverance over personal challenges can. And, during that time in my life, my two biggest challenges were 1) healing my own crap, and 2) being a therapist at a women's prison program.

Healing my own crap will be reserved for another blog post. This post is dedicated to my experience in the joint, the pen, con college -- with the inmates, and their little rug rats. Yes, you read that correctly -- by "rug rats" I do mean "children." You see, this wasn't any ordinary prison, this was a yearlong drug treatment program given as an alternative to a state prison sentence. The goal was to rehabilitate these women as citizens, and mothers.

Can you imagine the double take I made when seeing this ad? Women in prison? With their children? I was in! I was fated to get this job. It was the first time I decided to look for an internship, and I found out that it was listed for only a few hours, by accident. My term was for about 18 months and it was an adventure - from my first day, when I drove up as the school-aged children were being kissed by their imprisoned mothers -- to my last day, when I sang "Lean On Me" with the inmates.

It was hell. It was drama. It was dysfunctional. It was offensive. It was incest, heroin, child abuse, sexual abuse, meth, lying, stealing, cutting, gangs, HIV, death, depression, abandonment, rejection -- enormous pain that would lead anyone to want to wash away reality with drugs or alcohol.

It stands to be the biggest challenge -- and best experience -- I have ever had as a therapist and an employee.

Every damn day I had a mirror put up in my face that urged me to be accountable, to do my part to help the community thrive ... to teach accountability, self-worth -- and to help heal whatever was blocking that. There were so many obstacles to overcome for all of us. And there was very little help or insight from authority, and the program was not taken seriously.

My first day was intense. Condescension descended upon me like a torrential downpour. I was shocked and shat upon in many ways ... told I was stupid, to shut up, mocked and laughed at by inmates and colleagues, mad-dogged by a three-year-old, threatened, hit on, told all inmates were liars ... boundaries were crossed all over the place! You would think I might run, like the two previous interns. Nope. I became unbelievably committed. I decided to let the dysfunction inspire me; the shame motivate me! I was determined to be a part of the change!

As I reflect back on doin' time, I discovered that the biggest challenges in life create the most growth opportunities. There were times I wanted to just quit. But instead I chose to step around my fear and frustration, and trust in my challenges. And that is how I healed and subsequently persevered.

The very important and profound lesson: Own and trust in the crap. People tend to avoid challenge, for fear of rejection or failure. But when one chooses to take accountability for it -- that is when the magic happens. Whether it's taking a risk at your job, asking for what you need in your relationship, or an unexpected trauma or loss -- every challenge is an opportunity for growth -- mentally, emotionally, spiritually and/or relationally. Trust in your challenges, even the ones where you feel like you are going to lose it. I learned a lot of powerful lessons during my prison stint ... It was this one -- this trust -- that consistently served as my backbone.