Friday, December 7, 2012

A Heart Full Of Thanks

During this season of holidays and festivities, adolescents in our residential programs can tend to form bleak outlooks as they find themselves displaced from families and celebrations they may otherwise be a part of.   

Substance use creates consistent problems within communities as it rips individuals from their homes, peer associations, communities, academic supports, churches, youth organizations, sports, clubs, and other connections.  

While in the recovery program, our adolescents are learning to rebuild these connections, as well as form new connections to their communities to help sustain their recovery efforts.  As a part of the month of November, Adolescents at the Kirksville site engaged in a three-week art program addressing what gratitude means, and how to identify things in their lives they have taken for grated prior to engaging in programs of recovery.

In our first week of exploring gratitude, clients were asked to define gratitude.  Various responses were given including being thankful for things that they have, etc, but one of my favorite responses came from a 16 year old female who stated, “Gratitude is respecting the things that you have, and putting your heart into the things you are glad for.”  Clients were then asked to generate a list of 50 things they were grateful for, which, despite initial resistance toward, was a very insightful activity for them.  Based on these lists, individuals created gratitude collages, reflecting these things in life they have come to “respect” and “put their heart into”.  Here are a few examples of what our clients came up with:

The following week in group, clients reviewed their definition of gratitude, and were again asked to identify at least one thing they were thankful for that day.  Then, a challenge was impressed upon them that if they were not given any art supplies for the group, and were simply given items found in the trash and recycled materials, would they be able to come up with and create an original piece of art?  Essentially, they were challenged to make something out of nothing.  A lot of clients who come to our program come at a very low point in their life where they have lost so many things.  So, when they enter into a recovery program, they quite literally feel as though they have “nothing” left.  This project enabled our clients to piece together bit by bit a project they initially had no vision for, with tools, concepts, and materials they were given, much like the stages and phases of their individual recovery. 

On the third week of our thanksgiving, I originally anticipated our clients to be very bored with addressing the concept of gratitude, as Thanksgiving was a few days away and the concept of “giving thanks” had been drilled into their heads for the past few weeks.  However, I was quite surprised by the hearts and attitudes of clients who were genuinely examining things in their lives they had been taking for granted, and ways they were willing to address and repair these severed relationships and ties.  In this week of exploring gratitude, clients were asked to create an original rap, poem, or short story, depicting thankfulness.  Here is one example from a 16 year old female, who wrote about what Thanksgiving means to her:

Thanksgiving Poem
I wake up to the smells I enjoy.

My friends and family gathering

with joy.

Spending quality time is the best,

with the ones you have missed.

Oh how I feel so blessed.

The turkey is basting,

it will be quite tasty.

I’m quiet excited for our meal.

We dish our plates, while we conversate,

about how our lives have been.

It’s been so long…

That I’ve been gone,

and I realize how much

I have missed…

So on this Thanksgiving,

I thank God for bringing

me and my family back together…

In moving forward through the holiday season, the Kirksville Adolescents are going to be moving into a time of “giving back,” and are focusing on ways they can take things they are learning not to take for granted, and pour back out into the lives and programs of individuals in their lives and communities.

-Natasha VanderWeide 

About the author: Natasha VanderWeide is the A.R.T.C. Regional Coordinator for PFH's Central Region.

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