Vulnerability: The Hidden

There are a number of reasons that I have wanted to specifically work with Black Men/Men from the African Diaspora engaging in therapy. There is an overwhelming amount of misinformation about the strong, fierce, angry Black Man. There is also an unacknowledged backstory of why these perceptions have been allowed to exist. It is far easier to continue the lie. Pulling misinformation apart is the long slow and hard road.

Edu-
The Introductory course is styled for someone like myself, willing and able to be vulnerable with others – open to learning about themselves and being *edu-trained with others. It’s the therapy course I could have used when I was 13 or 20 or 37. I could probably do with a black men’s group now! Queue Dope Black Podcast.

Mini deaths x 3
I have 3 deaths that I want to acknowledge in this piece. The one that cut the deepest is the one I will write about last. It was an insidious and traumatic cut that has gone on to hurt many. Possibly does still. I now understand this wound. I can now forgive the persons that have directly and indirectly hurt me. I believe that pain is at the core of the reason for wanting to support others. The many…

1st Loss
My 1st death wrapped me up,
shut me down and
had me mute about the pain of my loss
was the death of my mother.
Back in November 1993
Rita Margaret Drakes.

She died some 25 years ago and her terminal fight with cancer has been a model of my own struggles with Multiple Sclerosis: Part denial, part anger, part bargaining, part shock and then ambiguous acceptance that always seems out of reach. Tantalisingly close but defyingly, just beyond my outstretched arms – unable to connect…

Death 2
The 2nd death is of my friend Ade through suicide. His death was both shocking and hard to accept. Recognising that I had no chance of saving him offers some relief. Only some. He made a choice much like a character in a Star is Born. The incident much like Jude in A Little Life, the encounter with almost dieing happened many, many times before.

Death 3
The 3rd is a story I have not written or talked much about. I have shared with only a few. Some members of my family know.
This death.
This loss is of innocence, of trust and the insidious nature of the harm caused to me. I have held myself in a place just out of reach. Believing that I am wrong, bad, mad and sad. That the harm caused was of my doing and that I deserved it. That I continue to deserve mistreatment. That if I hold myself just out of sight, my hurt cannot infect others. But it had.

Unreported
I was about 6 or 7 when I was sexually abused by someone older than me. The events are uncomfortable to describe and I will choose carefully what I share. Being shown pornographic images elicits an uncontrollable physical response in some people. It did for me! I became aroused and that arousal was used by them to perform their sexual acts.

I recognise the crime committed against me. As well as working in corrections (Criminal Justice) I have seen this pattern replicated for a significant number of men and women I have supported. Abuse happening to them including; physical, emotional, sexual, psychological, financial and domestic and then perpetrating a similar crime against another or others.

Tankerton Reflection

The pattern is of ever diminishing returns and a debased sense of self can be and often is the outcome.

Broken Loop
A person who has been hurt can act out in ways to inflict pain on others. But I feel it is more than that, the person is after. They could be after an understanding of what happened to them first, by behaving in ways that evoke fear, obedience, power and getting a secondary gain from the sense of control this may have over another.

Reconnecting
I write this as an origin story of why I have created a course for Black men to access healing. I write because if I am unwilling to recognise my own experiences of pain and trauma how can I then support others begin working on theirs.

As with most things dealing with change it has to start with us first.
Admitting that the hurt happened is primary to begin the process of healing.

Mend
What comes next is action.
This is where the fun and pain coexist. Getting to decide what happens next, where to go next, whom to speak with after, how to work it through and beyond so that it can no longer hold you from getting there.

There where you belong.

Safe, Resilient, Free, Successful, at Peace.

Resources
Episode 7-10 of New Amsterdam is a must see for the development of a story similar to mine.
Where Shall We Begin. Trauma Doesn’t Like to be Touched
Lisa Nichols
When they See Us

CTA
The Black Men’s Introduction to Therapy begins on the 13th of November.
Visit www.michaelforfiehcounselling.com or www.equilibriumtc.com for more information.

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Review: Shit I Can’t Say

Seeing a one person play spring from the pages of a gifted writer to life on stage is amazing. To have the writer be someone you coached as a basketball player as a teen. An ever larger sense of amazement. To see the focus of the play greet, embrace and thank his son – priceless.

All The Shit I Can’t Say to my Father
I went to see All the Shit, in August 2019. A friend, an ex baller, I coached – Abraham Adeyemi has written a modern day sensation. The night was the performance of sublime art.

Charming
The performance was led by a young charismatic actor, Zackary Momoh, who reminded me of a younger Chiwetel Ejiofor. There was something about his delivery that was precise and filled with presence. The audience were appreciative of his deft delivery and intimate bringing to life of Abraham’s words.

Autumnal Feelings

Partial Delays
News broke earlier in July that due to unforeseen circumstances ‘The Shit…’ was going to be changed to just a reading and a performance (How does that work you may ask?).

It’s part rehearsal, part working through of the words to the stage, set and possibly with an audience. The actor reads through the script aloud like a read through. Similar to a sound check for a music performance.

I thought the reading was a brilliant way to introduce the concept of what we were doing there. What we potentially could be see. A one person play engaging and interacting with the audience. Seeing the finessing of the script was seeing a craftsperson work their skills to a High Art Finish.

Throughout the play Zackary read and cast aside the pages almost as though this was part of the play. Him screwing up a few of the pages at one moment (after he had read them). Then came the toss towards a wastepaper basket was thrilling. I smiled ridiculously at that and may even have clapped. I instantly recognised both Abraham and many peoples dream of being a top performing NBA/WNBA star.

Engagement
The show felt both lyrical and compassionate. ‘The Shit…’ entertained me fully. The audience and I, were involved to see AK the protagonist’s journey. As he begins to acknowledge and unravel his taught relationship with his father.

The AK’s father is Nigerian. A Christian. A multi-talented labourer, a craftsman of often obscure and unwanted jobs. It was at this point the flexibility of the play shone. AK asked a member of the audience what her dad did.
She replied “Carpet layer – Handiman”
AK “Yeah, my dad probably did that too”
Audience – Whoops of laughter and applause of recognition.

The father, AK’s father should have been an engineer, but due to the racist notion that countries outside of the more favored commonwealth countries like Nigeria couldn’t possibly educate to the standard of British trained engineers were denied entry to the professions they trained for. Took what roles and jobs that they could and raised their families as best they could.

Off stage
The scene that caught my imagination was of seeing Abraham stand with his father. The moment happened off stage after the crowds milled out. I do not know what was said. That moment being private – Abraham’s and his fathers. What I perceived was a bridge of admiration begin to form. An acceptance of something that had been lost. The awareness that maybe something new has possibly been found. This meeting between father and son, through drama, through ‘All the Shit I Can’t Say to My Father’ is the making of new stories and about letting go of old ones.

My Bridge
I realise now that reconciliation was an impossibility for me and my father. A dream unobtainable. A number of significant changes would have to have happened in both of us first. To have approached a turning point that began a new start for us. The moment of second chances and water under the *bridgedness passed aeons ago and I am invited by circumstance, to allow it to pass too.

Duality
He was a man of the late 1930’s Ghanian, African, lacking in humility, compassion he believed, was a concept for the weak and foolish, arrogance and bull headedness was his way to confront the world. His religion was dual Christian and Muslim. A Ghanian former politician living abroad was how he saw himself. UK politics was of mild interest behind his own ambitions. Fatherhood suffered. 

We never found ground between us that felt comfortable for each other to be on. His death on October The 31st 2016 ended without a neat bow. Ours was not a story book ending. My father left not speaking to any of his children and without making amends for the pain he caused. That will be ours to tidy and pack away.

Reflection
For Abraham the play appeared redemptive and restorative. Like a deep cleanse. I was happy I got to witness that for him. For me and my siblings I hope that the clearing and cleanse happens with acceptance moving on in to forgiveness. The chalice was never ours to sup from.

The intention is set for me to start from near the beginning. Refreshed and unburdened. Again.

Resources

The Dope Black podcast – Raising Kids While Black
Revisionist History – Talking to Strangers
2 Black Guys with Good Credit – Black Power Money Power
The Stoop – Unexpected Family

An Origin Story

Musings on Therapy
I can remember the moment that counselling, psychology, psychotherapy or psychopathology became the most important career choice I ever made. I was 33, this was in the summer of 2007.

Balance
3 years before I met Laos I worked at Harris academy school for girls in East Dulwich. I had begun an introductory course of counselling at Morley college. The teacher Ian Mendelberg was a great example of Carl Rogers and Fritz Perls, I was later able to appreciate. Ian was able to combine wisdom and grace with humor and presence.

SSCO
I was the school’s Specialist Sports Co-ordinator providing group and individual sports and pastoral care support. I also coached basketball in the morning as a Breakfast Basketball initiative. Within 2 seasons the programme helped beginners take 3rd place in London’s Central Venue League Basketball tournaments. A crowning moment for the team, the school and for me their coach.

Clarity
The crystalisation moment mentioned above was realised at an individual mentoring appointment with a student of the school. My own a ha moment. Goodbyes carry an emotionally laden content that is difficult to contain and manage. A yr9 pupil was relocating to a different school for the next academic year.

By me asking if she was going to be alright she replied:

“I’m gonna have to be aren’t I.?” Her South London brogue attempting to deflect the suppressed emotions of loss and attachment to her school and friends. The tears were kept inside but we both acknowledged their presence with a nod and pleasant ending phrases.
“It’s been good working with you.” I said
“I hope that the course works out for you.” She offered
“I think you can see that it has this effect on people.” I said
“Oh, right, yeah, Mr Opoku. You might be on to something.” Shaking her head
“Shall we end it [the appointment] here then?” I said
“Yeah I think now would be a good time to stop, or I really might start…” She insisted
“Okay then…”
“Good bye then and… thanks…”
And with that she got up and left.

Something…
I have since gone on to complete a Masters in Therapeutic Counselling, courses in Brief Solution Focused Therapy, Trauma Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Rational Emotive Therapy and a course at Westmeria College to become a counselling supervisor. The latest training has been to complete Eye Movement De-sensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) that is reconfiguring, reconceptualising what I thought I knew about counselling and psychotherapeutic support.

The Climb
The interest in supporting others has not yet reached it’s zenith. The craft, this high art has become a greater thing than looking to care for just 1. By helping another the environment around them and the person doing the helping is immeasurably changed. I look back at the moment with the yr 9 student and said yes let’s have a conversation, which lead to many more conversations at that school and took me out of Harris Academy to other change spaces including: A boys secondary school, 7 Probation offices, supervisees, a team of Forensic Mental Health Practitioners, 6 prisons and 6 counsellors in Kent and clients in a range of settings including prisons..

I fell in love with the idea of living my purpose: the Artist repackaged. All day and everyday. ‘This Artists Way’ thing is more than most other things I have been before. Parenting can never be bested. However thinking creatively about Psychoanalysis is what I have been climbing towards. Climbing beyond a challenged past. The journey has been difficult and not for the faint of heart. I have crossed ravines and archipelagos never before seen by me, or that I ever knew existed. I have fallen and wondered about not getting back up. Events have brought me to my knees and I have asked for support in being raised back up on to my feet.

Gifts
This path that I chose has not been a bed of roses getting where I have. The challenges are seemingly insurmountable and I have failed many times. However the successes far outweigh the losses. The smiles, the thank you’s, the nods, the hand shakes all make the art worth it. There is still much to learn and to achieve.

Attempting to support service users that appear blocked and fearful of change. Supporting other professionals to grow outside of set protocols and policies to think creatively and act courageously, to support people in their communities. A drug or alcohol misuse dependency should not determine whether that person could or should get access to good psycho-social support and yet currently it does.

As a friend said in 2016 the person should want change, not the set of difficulties they have to continue. I offer that mental health services could be just as solution focused. Offering a label free, diagnosis opposed care centres treating a person with needs – compassionately. Diagnosis can be limiting. Diagnosis can also be explanatory. It is the person that experiences the difficulty that is to be helped.

Mental health support is about offering change along a continuum. Beginning at a super light spot that’s easier to assist a client experience change. Then graduating the person to access support that genuinely alters self-perception by fractions/degrees. The small changes aspect of psychological support is what I feel is most important. Great distances are walked by taking a single 1st step.

We raise we.
Not I or you.
Alone.
A simple singular exchange.

For me it is:
Collaboration,
Connection
Community.

Change
I have opted to include the resources in the body of work. Click the hyper links to take you to other pieces of insightful information. Let me know what you think of this and other pieces below and here https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/9V9TYQS Thank you.

Haunted

Unusually Interested

The Haunting of Hill House has captivated me for the 10 episodes of it’s debut showing. This blog will not be a review of the series you, my dedicated reader, will be relieved to know. I can share that I have been avidly engaged and sat with and partly been haunted by.

Magic

The show another Netflix coup of story telling mastery, I started watching out of general interest in pushing my boundaries into uncomfortable story lines and genres. Frightening fare is not usually something I spend my time sitting in front of. Hill House changed that. There is an intelligence to the story telling, a story hidden within the character plots and twists. All things initially feel off, out of kilter, spinning to their own tune. Then the spin appears to regulate like pieces in a watch keeping time…

Travelling

The idea of haunting hit me first as I attempted to write my dissertation to complete my counselling course – ‘A Son’s Journey’. It was Steele that stated that a ‘person’s life can be haunted by ghosts’ that began a discovery into a hidden past that my parents had unwittingly hid and held from me.

Theft

The quote that stood out and began the research with fervor was ‘ Steele (2003) p. 95 Put simply a woman who is still frequently haunted by ghosts from her past is, likely to create, however unwittingly, in her infants experience an ongoing sense of potential terror in the relationship. Hill House offers a layered approach to the idea by Steele. A number of families lives are changed as a result of their involvement with the building. Is the Building, The Family that move in, or the family that first lived there that are haunted?
The House it Moves is a great Moth Podcast episode about a possible haunting in a Parisien Apartment.

Unconscious understanding

The terror was the unknowing for me. Discovering and capturing a truth in ‘A Son’s Journey’ helped to gain understanding and put things into perspective for me about my family’s history. I can face the past, present and future with acceptance and a sense of release that conducting the research offered.

True Fiction

Hill House put a number of ideas to me that stood out. One was the idea of walls and doors holding something of importance for those that live in a building. The other was the idea of knowing the experience of nothingness as in death. A stand out scene arrived in the 9th episode where two of the remaining sisters are driving to Hill House and swerve off the road due to a surprise encounter. The younger sister shares a haunting insight. A stand out scene!

Locked – Release

The 2nd idea that meets the idea of ghosts and haunting is the idea of trying with great effort to keep things hidden behind walls and doors. Wanting to hide from aspects that are painful and shaming is human. The apparent truth to this is there is no way to hide important information or keep things supressed without cost. As a counsellor the idea intrigues me. For we do hide stuff and are often undone by secrets leaking. Better to be open to self and others.

Watching Hill House offers a stylized chance to lose ourselves in an uncomfortable realisation. Truth has a way of surprising and surfacing that is uncomfortable, uncertain and necessary at times. There is a sense that once the truth is out things can return to normal.

Perhaps normal was not the direction or destination of travel originally imagined…

Deconstruct

Can’t fix it – Prison – Criminal justice

Start anew
13th and Eva Du Vernay’s latest Netflix film has further convinced me that criminal justice is a blight. What does the phrase mean – criminal justice? Who gets justice? Does the perpetrator of a criminal act get justice? What if the perpetrator were witness or victims of criminal acts when powerless and young? What justice can be measured against the crimes that they could not stop?

When They see Us
Has turned my stomach, turned my emotions into a heavy drum that reverberates with a sense that Angela Davis’ call of ‘Are Prisons Obsolete?’ are right here, before us, NOW! This is not a review of WTSU. I need a little time to allow what has been stirred to settle. This is a call to remember those who are away, serving time in places called prisons, forensic settings, exclusion units, on probation, in cells, in mental health hospitals and restrained and detained in deportation units.

Cross Pollination is Us.

Almost 10
For 9+ years I have been there. Seeing listening and supporting as a counsellor in Her Majesty’s Prison Services in South London. At Probation Services in a number of offices in and around London and now at a number of prisons in Kent. 

Four Tales
Ava DuVernay’s 4 films, 4 tales about the system of continued oppression that a person who is considered ‘other’ may face primarily because of them being in the wrong place, wrong time wholly screws with the idea of justice. 

Fresh Start
How here in the UK a person can grow up in circumstances that are *unsupportive to them as individuals or as communities and make good is an unfair expectation. The recent report in Fresh Start shows what wide spread social investment can do for communities. Lack of support could mean one wrong turn, a bad decision, an argument, a moment of unconstrained fury, frustration, injustice, abuse – explodes and becomes a 35 year sentence

Break It Up
No the criminal justice system needs to be deconstructed. I’ve borrowed Jesse Williams phrase and ire here. Look at the things that feed the causes. Capitalism, guilt, shame, blame and the ideals of equality, discrimination and that of ethics are not achieved and held out of reach, I would argue need be mentioned. 

Replace
In its place a community of activists philosophers, cooks, teachers, faith leaders, prisoners, students, constructionists, film makers, politicians, service users in the community, Artists come together and develop a number of ideal ways to help move a person who has hurt, is hurting, was hurt to grow.

To heal.

That’s what is at the foot of this mountain. POTENTIAL

Together
We don’t get to the top by wishing, or acting against ourselves or anyone else. We get to the top of the Mountain by planning, co-ordinating, arguing, directing, moving, retracing and supporting and being compassionate – be human. To All. For All. Ubuntu

A system that further puts people at risk, hurts them and shames those already embroiled within it’s contorted digestive tracts. A system that cannot support a person to free climb up, out and away. Prison – It doesn’t work. It cannot work. It compounds a problem but does not create solution.

The Obstacle is The Way
The aim is to climb the mountain to establish a fair and equal society for all. That is the dream.
Accepting that perhaps society as it is does not work for all.
Accepting that education systems whilst worthy and reasonably *investable remains a widely separating experience for students of a three tiered system.
Accepting that a system that identifies those who are hurt, who then go on to hurt others, are put into a place where others who like themselves are also hurting. Seems nonsensical!

Medieval
Sounds like an inhumane calamity, if we were able to, allowed to, we would think this has to stop. We would demand that things damn well ought to change and set about making the necessary steps to install that change. Rather than invest in a system of continued pain.

Brave
What does work, is gathering all interested parties and support and time being given to see the hurt child inside and help, not blame, help them to reach higher and be courageous as we also become courage-ful.

At a recent counselling in Prisons Network CiPN conference Philip Wheatley presented a simple truth, risk is a factor of life. Risk can be managed but not extinguished and ruled out of our experience. The police, prisons, probation, nurses and detention centre officers should hold the idea that risk is a factor to the work when supporting those who offend.

The dream is for us all to be okay with wherever we are on that Mountain, living our best lives. 

Resource
Theaster Gates
Ethics Philosophy Bites
Code Switch word watch 1 and 2

Join the mailing list for insights and projects being worked on www.michaelforfiehcounselling.com

The Next Frank Morrison

It’s Complicated: For a Reason

Wrestling Free

Perhaps we are supposed to wrestle with family scripts for portions of our lives. It is possible that the wrestling supports our growth and development of resilience. Maybe understanding what came before helps us know what direction we are to travel or perhaps when we should stop and drop the heavy load.

3rd Layer Down – Winter Fortress

There are a number of differences between who Isaac my father was and who I am being for my sons. An uncomfortable realisation was that he Isaac, was not a consistent presence in our lives. His extended trips to Ghana, caring more for his political interests and party, his letters to parliament, his conflicts with the then local council of Haringey appeared more important and relevant to his identity than being a consistent part of mine and my sister’s lives. In Inception, something important happens on this point in the film: the inception is made.

Perfection

I am a long way from the perfect parent. I am not attempting to get there. Good enough parenting is the aim, not do as bad as Isaac did. What I wanted and needed from my father was to above all talk, be heard, discuss, debate and wrestle with aspects of life, with him either cheering or advising. Relating to me as Adult.

With other family members: Ananta and the New Jersey/New York tranche, I have empowered  conversations, when we meet, we discuss and share learning and debate.  Being good enough, I will be available for my sons to explore that which I did not have with Isaac. My sons call me dad. I referred to him as ‘Old Man Boogie’ as he loved to dance: my Father. Dad is a term of endearment. Offering a sense of proximity and warmth, I could not say dad about him…

It doesn’t seem to fit.

Implant

Tangle
Complicated Lines

Coming back to Inception, the goal was to plant an idea into the sleeping awareness of the target – Robert Fischer. An illegal act, but one that we are to notice as consumers because we are victims of Inceptions as well.

Think fast and note what:
hair product brand,
mortgage company,
car insurance logo or phrase,
drinks manufacturer,
comedy show,
vehicle company,
shoe brand,
grocery store,
furniture company,

Soap opera,
holiday provider,
mobile phone manufacturer
or life insurance brand
springs to mind as you read these words. I wonder what happened for you as you read the above? 

Asleep

We are brand loyal, TV show advocates and label devotees for life! We even introduce brand loyalty to our family and friends. Look upon those who are walking differently and often away from, as though they are the ones losing out!

In actuality it is us who lose continually: Money, time, worry, often distracted, procrastinating, disappointed with our lot, ill at ease and diseased, demotivated – depressed, perhaps?

Extraction and implementation has happened to us a million times.

Inception’s point was in reversing the process of extracting information…

Nudge

The plant was to have the heir of a power corporation recognise that he was his own self-determining person. The aim to live beyond the idea that he was a disappointment to his father and could make choices that were his alone and no-one being able to influence him!

The subtle switch.

Arc

Planting a challenging idea in a way that organically grows to overtake the family script. I notice that my disappointment with my father is that he could never appreciate the who I was. That I was very different from him. He only saw me as a representation of his ideals not being met. Not as a person in my own right. Free to make choices and mistakes of my own. And learn from them! I became what I ought to have been: an Artist, a Psychotherapist, a lay Philosopher – emancipated from his outdated idea of what success is.

4th Layer Down – Ocean Decay

We arrive at a fundamental understanding of being human. Generally we seek to make our parents proud of our achievements. To have them look on us fondly and recognise that we are going to be okay with whatever life throws at us. We have learnt to adapt and roll with it. Get up and keep going when knocked down. That we have earned the right due to experience to be independent and resourceful. My role as a father is to support my children’s development and recognise them as younger individuals carrying their own important agendas into their futures. My wife and I are guides, providing love, information, support and ideas for them to navigate their way through life.

I can understand that Old Man Boogie’s life and mine were starkly different and as a result his father ship felt different to the one I have been able to offer to my sons. I am told that I am strict. Just like my father was with me. But feel that I differ considerably from his Ghanian idea of raising a male child. I provide love, boundaries that are flexible when necessary and firm when important. I can be silly and playful whenever and wherever possible, knowledgeable and capable of sharing what I know in ways that my children can learn something from. “Aw dad are you lecturing me again?” Sharing my views of the world with passion and in a measured reasoned way mostly is a job I hold preciously. My passion can short circuit my intentions and there are moments when I can be short sighted and short tempered. 

Delicate Balance

The game is a difficult one to temper, like walking a tight rope whilst juggling seven burning batons and dodging cannon fire. It’s a fine balancing act that I have good days with and some horrible crashes – where I get caught by a cannon ball, drop a baton, or fall off the rope. Mostly it’s a case of all three! The attempt is to live and love well. Be good enough but not perfect. For Isaac good enough was not possible, not attempted and not achieved, at a loss because of his own unmet *potentia. Within Inception, arriving at the final dream scenes: beat up, washed up and old speaks to an undeniable self-script: We would all like to live well, long and happy lives, leaving a legacy, an indelible mark for those that follow.

Analogy of Parenting
Fire Juggling

In our dreams as well as in life – there is always potential.

When we realise that our family scripts are ours now to manipulate and fashion for ourselves then we can move into a newer *betterer now.

Family scripts, are complicated because they determine who are to become over time…

Resources

Grief cast No1 with Cariad Lloyd and Adam Buxton 

Philosophy Bites Podcast Death and the Self and Philosophy in Africa

The Stoop Podcast So Hard to Say I Love You

Loving You

Tim Ferris and James Altucher discuss saying No and Family Scripts