Your Life is Now (second try)


Sometimes on Thursday or Fridays I drive from Missoula to Trapper Creek Job Corps. Then I drive back the same day. It’s a 140 mile round trip. Sometimes I have interns with me. The company makes the miles go by more quickly. Sometimes the interns are very nervous sitting next to me for the whole drive and consequently compete to see who gets the back seat. This makes me wonder if maybe I shouldn’t quiz them about theories of counseling and psychotherapy as we drive there together. Although I wonder about this . . . I haven’t changed my behavior. Maybe this means I’m trying to scare them all into the back seat.

This week I was on my own. When this is the case I usually begin wondering why the heck I drive all these miles. Of course, I get paid to go to Trapper Creek. That’s one answer I give to myself. But sometimes I keep wondering anyway. It’s a long day, usually 11 or 12 hours. And when I’m about halfway, 45 minutes into dodging deer with 45 more minutes to deal with Bitterroot drivers, I begin planning my retirement from Trapper Creek.

This is my 10th year. I know the road and I know the deer and I know the Bitterroot drivers, who, in an apparent show of independence, nearly always drive either 10 mph under or 10 mph over the speed limit.

Today my retirement planning ended shortly after arriving at Trapper Creek. There were three straight appointments scheduled for me: three straight chances to do something more than talk about how to do psychological assessment and psychotherapy. And then a chance to observe and give feedback to the nursing staff and a chance to offer my unsolicited opinion to the physician on how to deal with an ingrown toenail and then a fourth student to see and a staff consultation and a meeting and a quick hello to our three University of Montana school counseling interns and wild typing of reports and poof . . . the day is over.

The drive back to Missoula is nearly always better. There are stories to tell, opportunities to second guess myself, and unrealistic hopes and fantasies that maybe I helped someone. The miles melt away.

[The following stories are vague and distorted to preserve anonymity]

Today, with no interns for company my buddy John Cougar Mellencamp joined me for the drive back. We decided to sing together. We sang the same song so many times we lost count.

Your Life is Now

This is your time . . . to do what you will do

The first two young men were graduating from Trapper and moving on to advanced Job Corps training. They needed brief clinical interviews and mental status exams. These two hard working and delightful young men are at Trapper because they’ve experienced poverty and want to improve their lives.

Your life is now

One had a history of having been diagnosed with two severe mental disorders. Before coming to Trapper he’d been on two very powerful psychotropic medications. Funny thing: At Trapper he attained a very high level of functioning without medications . . . for nine straight months!

Your life is now

He had many citations for positive behavior. The staff love him. There was no shred of evidence that he had a mental disorder. So I just told him so. He grinned, looked and me, and said, “I guess that’s pretty good news.” Yep, pretty good news.

Your life is now

The second young man was equally impressive.

In this undiscovered moment

But the third young man really made my day.

We had visited two weeks previously and had made a plan to try some EMDR for his troubling trauma symptoms. He was eager and right on time. We talked briefly to warm up. He chose a memory. We went through various rating procedures included in the EMDR protocol.

Lift your head up above the crowd

We did several sets of eye movements. I did my usual wandering in and out of the “proper” EMDR protocol. After 10 minutes, we stopped and I asked him to reflect on his experience. He turned his head back and forth and said, “My neck doesn’t hurt anymore.”

We could shake this world

Then he smiled and said, “I feel like I can breathe again.” And then, “I wish I’d known about this ten years ago.”

If you would only show us how

Thank you Trapper Creek

Thank you fine young men

Thank you nurses and doctor and interns and staff

Thank you deer and Bitterroot drivers

 Your life is now

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6 thoughts on “Your Life is Now (second try)”

  1. This piece of writing is a thing of beauty. Thank you so much, John, for your years of service to the Corps and your mentorship to us all throughout your career.

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