Last week, I was meeting with a client who had been a patient of mine at the adolescent, residential treatment center where I worked for 13 years. “Do you remember the award ceremonies you guys had every Thursday?” She asked. How crazy that after only almost two years since my resignation, I had almost entirely forgotten about the award ceremonies. “Oh, yeah, I forgot about those.” I said, laughing to myself. “I used to love getting those awards.” She said. “You would always give me an award for being the happiest patient of the week or the most creative journal writer. It felt good to have someone notice something in me, even if it wasn’t even true.” But they were true. And instantly, I remembered back to every Thursday afternoon as I would sit in my office, blank sheets of white, copy paper and large markers in every color, and make awards like, “Patient with the Best Family Communication” or “Most Stylish Outfits for Treatment.” I also remembered in my last year, that I became extremely creative with journal assignments and gave extensive journal questions every night that my patients were asked to answer. Typically they were geared for one patient in my group to learn something from, but rarely were they aware, until we would process it in group and they would realize that a specific assignment had been meant to lean in their direction.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if in the real world we had Award Ceremony every week? Growing up, my mother and I would watch the Academy Awards every year and we would talk about how someday I would write a great screenplay, lavish with southern belles and alcoholic fathers, all very Tennessee Williams, with treacherous sarcasm slapped in the faces of the young actors, while my mother would dream about costuming these same actors with ornate gowns designed by none other than Edith Head herself. We would eat popcorn and lay on the floor and scream as each person came onto the screen and we would hold our crossed fingers up to the air before the television. Some years, there were great disappointments, and in others, like the years that Julia Roberts won for “Erin Brockovich” or Hilary Swank for “Boys Don’t Cry”, there were loud screams of excitement. And in other years, such as when Geraldine Paige won for “Trip to Bountiful”, we would practice our acceptance speeches with the same grace and humility. Ahhhhhh…But where else do we find that kind of honor. I thought I would find it when I left the treatment center where I worked. And maybe, because of a few poor choices on my part towards the end, I didn’t get the send off I expected. But it would have been nice, nonetheless. But I got what I deserved. It wasn’t in the small party they through for me, or the flowers or gift card. No, all of that was nice. But it was in one small gesture I received.
For almost the entire time I worked at that treatment center, I had worked with a woman named Cathy. She was a proud, humble, extraordinary individual, who made me feel special every day that I walked into those walls. She didn’t have to, she just did. For all thirteen years, we comforted each other, listened to each other and watched each other grow in our own direction. The last night I worked there, I stayed until 10pm, because it was family night. When I walked down the hallway, I took one last look down at all of the rooms that the many patients I had through the years had slept and had come and gone. And as I watched, Cathy wheeled her chair out in the middle of the hall and began whistling the theme song at the end of the Carol Burnett show, which is how the entire series had ended, as had every show. To us both, it was a true sign of gratitude and companionship. And who can ask for more.
Today alone, I had a client who deserved an award for “Writing a powerful letter to her mother”. A neighbor deserves one for “Always Waving to Me As I Drive Down the Street”. Maybe one for my friend’s Chad and Gracia for “Making Me Feel that My Relationship Is Normal” and one for my boyfriend for dealing with my constant challenges. Each week in treatment, one recipient would receive the coveted “Resident of the Week” for meeting all of the characteristics of a “almost perfect” resident. This week, that would have to go to my boyfriend Alex.
See how easy it is! But we forget. Every day, we forget to make people feel special and make them feel as if they deserve awards. So from here on out, I’m going to take a pad of post it notes with me every where I go and pass out little awards. I think it might can’t on. I think it just might. And who cares anyway if no one understands…We’re on borrowed time as it is!