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Trauma-Informed Care and Kicking Off Your Heels

Author: Lisa Richardson

Lisa Richardson, Executive Director of Sunspire Health Hyde Park, shares an unexpected encounter that helped put her priorities as a behavioral health administrator in order.


It was a typical day. I started my morning in a meeting, met with a few staff members, finished some budget numbers, and managed to deal with a toilet that was leaking quite rapidly. Exciting, right?

The thing I’ve learned about working in this field is you never quite know what to expect. I wouldn’t have it any other way though. Each new day is an adventure, and although my positivity is probably just a coping mechanism, I’m a “glass half full” type of gal.

Back to my day. I had a 3 pm off-site meeting and knew I needed to leave right away to get across town on time. I threw on my “match everything” black blazer that hangs on the back of my chair and flew out the back door of our administrative building with the words of my boss running through my head: “Respect people’s time by being on time.” As I was typing in the address of the meeting into my Waze app, I saw her.

She was slumped over with her head resting on her knees, sitting in the crushed stones next to one of our apartments, rocking back and forth. I’d like to tell you that I immediately walked over to her with no hesitation—but I didn’t. I stopped for a second to deliberate the importance of the meeting I was headed to and how upset I might possibly make the person I was meeting with.

I scanned the facility grounds to see if there was someone else I might be able to motion over to help her instead of me, but there wasn’t. So I quickly sent a text message to the person I was supposed to meet with to reschedule and apologize because of something really important that unexpectedly surfaced: it was her.

I hadn’t met her yet, but I read her story on a computer screen the night before. It wasn’t pretty. It made me a little sick. And I pushed it to the back of my mind, knowing that she would soon be in capable hands and would have an opportunity to get well if she would only show up.

Thankfully, she did.

I took a deep breath and walked toward her. I knew I should approach her carefully; I didn’t expect her to trust me, but I wanted her to know someone was there. “Hey,” I said, “Can I sit down with you?”

She didn’t look up, and I could see her tears dropping down to the ground. Peeking through her knees, she stared at my shoes. My JcPenney clearance-sale, boring black pumps became what she fixated on for the next five minutes. I stood there, feet securely planted in front of her, and I waited (and waited, and waited) until I eventually heard a soft voice say, “Okay.”

So I sat down with her in the crushed stones, next to her puddle of tears. I scanned my mind for some type of wisdom to share, but my heart whispered, “Wait for her.”

And so I did. I sat in silence on a bed of rocks, next to a woman I had never met before and waited for her to speak.

Finally, she spoke. “I can’t do this…I need to leave. You don’t know what happened to me, and I need to leave.” In that moment, I could have given her the best-sounding advice in the world, told her not to leave and tried to give her some type of hope. But any words I could offer wouldn’t be an adequate response to what she was facing. All I could say to her was, “I know. I know…”

And so we sat. We sat for a while, and she cried some more.

I was struck by encountering the deep sorrow that can only come from witnessing a truly broken heart and the pain and destruction that addiction can bring to a life. In the sacredness of that moment, the work meeting I was late to didn’t matter at all any more.

All that mattered was her.

Fifteen minutes passed, and I kicked off my clearance pumps, leaned against the side of the house, and waited with her. I waited for her. Finally, her sorrowful brown eyes looked up, flashed me the slightest smile and asked, “What’s your name?”

“Lisa; what’s yours?”

“Kelly*,” she said.

“Hi, Kelly, I’m glad you’re here,” I explained.

“Me too,” she replied.

After we wrapped up, I talked with my clinical team who implemented an appropriate intervention for Kelly. Thinking back on this day, this experience was such an important reminder to me of so many things I needed to remember; one of them being that excellent administrators are not just about paperwork, reports and meetings.

Sometimes, being a good administrator is about kicking off your heels and sitting in the ashes with someone in their pain. Being an effective administrator is about remembering your purpose and passion to help people in recovery above the many other priorities that consume your time.

And for me, at Sunspire Health Hyde Park, being a good administrator is about having heart and not losing sight of the importance of connecting with Kelly and the thousands of other women like her.

*Patient name changed to protect privacy.

If you’re like Kelly and suffering from a substance use disorder and a co-occurring disorder such as trauma or PTSD, Hyde Park is here for you. Call 877-200-HELP to begin your path to recovery today.