My Story

Say what you wanna say/ And let the words fall out/ Honestly I wanna see you be brave

These lyrics continuously run through my mind. They are from the Sara Barreilles song, Brave. Normally I loathe this type of pop music but this one stuck. Ironically, the first time I heard it was at The Haven. I was doing a course, The Power of Balance. We focused mainly on the virgin journey/archetype and briefly discussed the hero journey.

After the workshop, I proclaimed, “I unknowingly turned the virgin/hero story on its head!”

I realized that one of my fictional characters, ‘the virgin’, succeeded through the destruction of the hero. This is, of course, not how the journeys usually intertwine. My life has been the opposite of the usual story where the virgin’s success is partially dependent on the hero. This is also true in my writing. As is often the case, in my life it would be many more months, perhaps even a year, until I had done the same. But the seed had been planted.

That workshop was not one of the core programs at The Haven, so I was able to let go of my usual role and the ways I was used to being looked at. Rather, looked down at.

But now we must go back seventeen years.

I first went to The Haven when I was eleven or twelve for the kids’ program. At first it was fun, it wasn’t until later when I started having problems in life that my relationship with The Haven grew into something dysfunctional. Furthermore, as I got older and became a junior leader, it became increasingly clear that it was a popularity game. This is normal for teens. However, it was a popularity game where the leader of the game was also the adult running the program. I was extremely introverted, anxious and odd–it was not a game I could place in. But it wasn’t my personality alone as I never had this experience in school. Many kids seemed to be intimidated and desperate for the approval of the leader.

While I prefer being creative there is a reason I am posting this online rather than writing up a story or essay. The story is too messy and recent for me to write an essay. I will stick to the facts.

I did the adult Phase One program when I was fifteen. This was rather confusing as I was both treated as a child and yet expected to participate in very adult discussions and roles. I often felt smothered and confused. However, it was better than being at home, but I will come back to that and the Phase.

I also continued to be involved with the kids’ program throughout my early teens. It was then when I first fell prey to the savior dynamics that ran rampant at The Haven. Without any sense of ethics, and with many things being hush hush, things can easily become dysfunctional and incestuous. The leader often asks the most troubled kids and youth to move in with her and advises them on which courses to take in university, even which careers to aspire to. I hear this still happens.

I was given prescription medication not prescribed to me from the leader. Meetings were often held about me without my awareness. Much later I heard rants on who actually was the one who helped me, who actually understood me… I felt like a pawn. This leader also took over my life later. She contacted my parents, asking them to pay for something without asking me first. She held hostage my adoption records for over two years. She had me write online graduate courses for someone else. This was at a very vulnerable time in my life. Whenever she began to plan out my academic future, if I showed any resistance, she would say, “What else can you do? You can’t do anything else!”

Later when my life was again falling apart, I received bursaries to do programs at The Haven. The programs were great. My relationships with other participants were some of the best relationships I have ever had, and that is still true this day with the ones I keep in touch with. My relationships with faculty continued to be dysfunctional and enmeshed. I fell into the role of the broken child with them as the hero, often taking over my life entirely. Criticism, advice that lingered on control and condescension were so frequent they became all I knew.

At one point we were asked to imagine healers. I imagined healers I didn’t trust. This should have taught them something.

After one program, while I was homeless, I was asked if I would stick around for a work/study program. The program didn’t previously exist, they were creating it for my sake alone. Because I was lost and afraid, I agreed. I also agreed because I was frequently told that if I left the safety I had found at The Haven, surely I would screw up. I needed to learn what relationships, safety, etc, were all about, and only they could provide this. This was the message I was frequently given. Often I was told what to do in life, how to do it, what to say and how to say it. Given that I had lived most of my life without a voice, it was easy to play along. I was often taught that my only value was in being young and broken so how could I not play along?

All I really needed was space to be scared and to move on from there, in my own time, with my own choices, etc. Most professional treatment centres (at least not twelve step oriented), acknowledge this to be the case. The Haven does not have the same training, many of them have about the same education as I have. As they reject outside ideas, have no formal ethics, no professional boundaries, all of this can quickly turn to dysfunction.

It became clear that the work/study would not work. It involved neither work nor study. I was labeling things for food, essentially. As I was understandably confused about my role, my future, and the way that everyone seemed to look down on me, this naturally lead to panic on my part. This was always met with insults. They called it being ‘personal’, I call it insulting. It seemed that daily my flaws were picked apart. Everything I said or did was picked apart. ‘Narcissist’ seemed like the most favoured insult. I was also called untrustworthy. My silence was criticized; when I spoke up that was equally criticized. Even the way I walked was criticized. Either my head was too high in the air or too close to the ground. I could never win. Someone else always had the authority on how I ought to walk.

So I learned to crawl.

Much of the problem seemed to stem from communication difficulties between faculty and staff on the purpose and function of the work/study. I felt like I was caught in the middle. And who else was as easy to blame as I was?

Since there are no boundaries between roles, power is never acknowledged. We acknowledge that it is somehow worse for a CEO to insult a minimum wage worker of the same company. We know this intuitively. By claiming to make everything personal and equal, they are denying those with lesser power the dignity that professional structures and safeguards provide.

How could I speak up? To whom? At times I was indeed warned not to speak (specifically about what I saw as problematic in the kids’ program). And leaving never crossed my mind. I had lived most of my life, or not lived most of my life, having other people run the show. Everyone at The Haven told me they cared. That I needed them. That I didn’t understand everything that they did for my own good.

I actually recall one debating me on whether or not I should change my name. I recall wanting to shout, “It’s my name!”

I didn’t. This type of condescension became so familiar that I slowly stopped noticing it was even there. There was something safe in it. The Haven has never, and I don’t think ever will, acknowledge how this particular pattern is an issue for them. I have been in many other institutions, none have provided me with the same endless list of enmeshed, dysfunctional, condescending relationships. The good things that I have seen at The Haven, I have seen elsewhere. Not true of the dysfunction. When I finally broke free, I had every symptom of leaving a cult.

I would like to say that there are still many things I like and respect about The Haven. I have had many interesting, inspiring, and useful experiences there. In fact, for a long time I avoided speaking openly for fear of fueling negative misconceptions about The Haven, things any islander has probably heard at one point or the other. It is true that most people I know are benefited greatly. Believe it or not, I still tell people to go do a program. After the program, however, I insist that they get on with their lives and do not stay in contact with faculty. Especially if they are someone like me who is used to placating heroes. It is only those who are taken under the Haven wing who see its incestuous underbelly. Make no doubt about it, we do exist and its time one of us spoke openly.

I broke free not because I found faith in myself but because I stopped caring if I had faith in myself. I couldn’t live that small any longer.

The Haven has largely been uninterested in this. I went from The Haven to the arts community where my voice is valued. It has been going from one extreme to the other. It has been overwhelming that people today actually value my input.

I have skipped over many things. Indeed, most things. It’s a long story. I have a whole closet full of Haven stories involving questionable ethics. Haven leaders have often referred to themselves as my mom, mentor, employer, friend, counsellor, simultaneously, without any sense of how incestuous that is and how I am meant to form my own sense of self within that, or have the power to find my own way in life, without being told what to do and how to do it.

It took me much longer to speak about it without guilt. There is a huge amount of hypocrisy in this, in how discouraged we are from speaking about negative experiences with The Haven. I have never been in an institution that deals so poorly with criticism. Whenever I disagreed with a model that was presented, I was told that I just didn’t understand it correctly but that one day I would. There are many different ways of looking at things, and the models developed by Ben and Jock are only one way.

I will outline some of my philosophical concerns and ethical concerns following this and I hope to add to it over time, as well as hear any comments. I am willing to hear both sides.

There are issues that need to be addressed that will not be addressed until someone starts questioning. I have heard many associated with The Haven gossip about these incestuous dynamics but never seem to be willing to speak openly, there seems a general fear that criticism will lead to losing one’s position. A fear that is not unfounded in a system that has no formal structure for protecting those who wish to speak.

I am not trying to teach anyone, impose any new model to conform to, nor change the institution as a whole. At first I was angry and wanted change. Now I am merely finding my brave.