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Living the Dream: Working Through Trauma
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This is Gloria Dickerson’s personal story about how work has become a tool for her recovery. It is the first of a recurring series of journal entries about Gloria’s work experiences as a Recovery Specialist. Gloria finds her work as a trainer and writer to be empowering because the job requirements are a great fit between her abilities, skills, interests and future goals. Over time she has learned to endure doubt and hold down her first full-time job in 35 years. Working with hopeful people in this welcoming environment validates her hope for the future.
Living the Dream: Working Through Trauma

Gloria Dickerson is a Recovery Specialist with the Homelessness Resource Center (HRC) and the Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) Technical Assistance Center. A regular contributor to the HRC website, Gloria has begun to journal her experiences of work and recovery. The “Living the Dream” series will appear regularly.

As a child, I was not blessed with safety, security and the experience of being loved. I do not have the stability that comes from a childhood that instilled a basic sense of being safe in the world. My world view comes from childhood experiences of trauma and living at risk. It is characterized by trauma-induced paranoia. Although daily experiences at my new job where I feel accepted and supported are challenging my old world view, it is still deeply imprinted with trauma. It drives my first impressions that I am being victimized and sadistically persecuted. This thinking functions as my default mechanism. When I perceive a threat, how I think is filtered through my trauma memories. This makes living in reality hard.

I am working hard to reframe my world view. However, this requires me to vigilantly check my thoughts. I have to consciously insert a non-paranoid explanation or scenario to reframe my first impression. People who live without early childhood trauma seem to have a more neutral or positive world view. I am longing for and hoping that this reality will become mine.
At work, I have encountered people with optimistic world views. This is a great place for me to test out more positive ways of viewing and behaving in the world. My colleagues like other people and go out of their way to help them. This is a new frame of reference and it produces a lot of anxiety. It is easier for me to view the motivations of others negatively. In the past I have had to function positively by using an impulsive Pollyanna approach to life. This helped me escape fear and have the courage to do new things, such as apply to college, go to work, and move out of my parent’s house.

Being a capable worker has proven to me that hope for my future is now based in reality. I used to long for relationships where my opinions and needs were valued. At work, I am finding new opportunities to affirm my value and abilities, meet my needs, and strive for new heights. The possibility of future success is a powerful motivator.

Diversity among co-workers has exposed me to people with different temperaments, communication styles, personalities, and world views. I am learning how to find my place in this collection of workers without losing myself.
I have learned that as a worker, my responsibility is to judge when my trauma is distorting my perceptions and to minimize the negative impact of my symptoms. I practice riding the waves of mistrust, doubt and insecurity. Then I ask questions and check in with others to test out my first impressions.  I don’t act on my first fears and I try to withhold negative judgments. In the end, like most people I try to do my best to assess situations and work collaboratively. My goal is to meet the expectations of my supervisors and the organization.

I routinely meet my daily challenges full of doubt but I persist and continue. This is major for me. I feel strong and capable. I don’t always do a great job but I am trying and this puts me square on the path that I want to be on. I am living better because I have a reason to fight off despair and to look forward. Maybe one day living to work won’t be enough but for now it is - and even better than that - it is enough.
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