Serene Saturdays: Recharge Your Spirit with ETMA!

Announcement: East TN Mentorship Association, LLC will be hosting “Serene Saturdays” every other weekend beginning on October 23rd, 2021. For the first couple of months, we will follow the route below, and perhaps switch to a new adventure once everyone has had the chance to experience the magic of Piney Falls! Our exact route is described below the interactive map!

A Cup of Joe

We will meet at East TN Mentorship Association (111 Robertsville Road, Oak Ridge) at 0900AM on Saturday morning to begin the day with a communal pot of coffee – feel free to bring breakfast if you’d like to as well. Following a morning chat, we’ll drive around an hour (bring your favorite playlist or podcast and focus on relaxing!) to Piney Falls trailhead and navigate a little less than one mile to the waterfall pictured below.

Piney Falls was one of the first places that I felt a spark of contentedness and creativity during a difficult time in my life, and I can’t wait to introduce ya’ll to it! You can actually walk behind the waterfall, which is surrounded by cliffs on all sides. There’s a little slope during the hike, but nothing overly strenuous. Please ask us questions if you are concerned about the difficulty of the hike, and everyone be sure to bring a bottle of water!

Lunch at a local barbecue

After some time spent listening to the waterfall, we will drive to Lefty’s BBQ in Crossville, TN. They have a delicious BLT and pulled pork, along with a lot of other great options. Across the street from the BBQ hole is a winery called Stonehaus, which we won’t visit as a group, but we can make time for a stop should anyone want to pick up a bottle to enjoy after the day’s events. After lunch, we’ll drive back toward the office, being sure to stop at Ozone Falls for one more glimpse of natural beauty.

A Parting Farewell!

Upon returning to the office, we’ll end the event, but I’ll hang around for awhile should anyone have anything they’d like to discuss. We do hard self-work during our individual sessions throughout the week, and this is meant to be light hearted and enjoyable day for everyone, myself included! Come spend some time recharging in nature with like minded people focused on self-growth! Coffee is included, everyone will purchase their own food, folks are free to drive or carpool at their own discretion, and we ask for $30 per person to help keep the work we do sustainable.

Interested in more experiential activities? Don’t forget, we can help you write a story or a book, or even learn to make jewelry!

Feel free to contact us with any questions, to RSVP, or to book an appointment!

We’re open!

Two days of very little sleep and some of the deepest contemplation and meditation of my life, and I just had the very distinct honor of speaking with my first client in my new office.

My clients are incredible people who want to better themselves and those around them. I’m not sure how this is going to be my life now, but this space is deeply sacred to me and, amidst chaos and unexpected expenses, indeed amidst the highest pressure of my life, I find that I have been tempered by my own mentors to be able to withstand this pressure. SO many blessings in the last few days.

Thanks to my old boss, Michael Massaglia, for quickly getting me a business insurance policy and then for coming to help me jump the truck when it died at the worst possible time.

To everyone who has supported financially or just reached out and encouraged me – every word means something to me and will help me drive the success of this business.

To Heather Phillips, for introducing me to the mental health industry and for believing in me as a healer, leader, and budding entrepreneur, I could’ve never done this without you.

Mostly, to Amanda Stitt, who is always my ride or die, for trusting me to take these risks and to challenge broken systems. When I asked her with silent tears leaking from my eyes “What if I’m not good enough to give these people what they deserve?” She looks at me without an ounce of doubt and says – “You’re too good and you will give them even more than they deserve.”

Lastly, as a person of faith, thank you to God for allowing me to build a resource that exists for ALL sorts of people. Thank you for giving me the gift of discernment and pattern recognition. Thank you for giving me a healer’s heart and sending me on a journey that allowed me to become the most honest version of myself.

There is public wifi locally that will help me save some money while I get the cash flowing. I still need to buy a sign and plug in with the local chamber of commerce, but first I have to pay off the debts associated with opening this communal space. There are decals and tshirts and snacks and drinks and a million ideas that I can execute, just not quite yet.

Ive decided on an old school coffee pot that will be ready whenever people come in and not a Kuerig – symbolism matters to me and there’s nothing better than sharing a pot of coffee. If anyone has one tucked away they’d like to bring by and see the space, I’d love to offer the opportunity for someone to have an impact that reaches beyond the tangible effect of the coffee pot.

I also need living room style furniture for the waiting area – specifically, a couch, maybe a small dining table, and/or some shelves for books and displaying Amanda’s candles and my jewelry.

Things are going splendidly and even as a writer I’m hard pressed to express my gratitude and love of the life I’m building. Many of you appreciate this resource, but none of you know how much it heals me to be able to help others navigate their lives using the lessons I’ve learned.

Thank you all so much. 🙏🙏🙏 You may know that our motto is “Earn your sanctuary” – well this is mine, and I will endeavor to earn it every day until the end of my days.

The Importance of “Precedence” in Maintaining Healthy Relationships

The issue of social precedence can be incredibly technical to navigate, but I believe this 8 minute introduction can make a difference in someone’s relationships and perhaps change their life at large.

Establishing Identity: How to Become the Author of Your Own Story

For a human, what could be more important than self-actualization? Discovering our purpose and meeting our own potential can occupy a lot of real estate in our minds, but that doesn’t make it an easy thing to accomplish. According to psychologist Dan McAdams (2013), while it may not be as easy as a simple infographic would imply, there are really only a few steps to reaching our own potential.

First, we have to learn communication and social behavior. Next, we have to develop goals and a sense of purpose. Finally, we digest our life experiences into a narrative, develop a plot that leads to our idealized life, and take action to move the plot forward.

If you’re lucky enough to be on the path to self-actualization, all that’s left is to help others do the same!

Mental Health: A Crucifixion Industry?

Can we talk about how the culture of the mental health industry is essentially that healers should allow themselves to be ground up like beef in a meat-grinder, and only be attentive toward their own needs when they’re in danger of suicide?

What about how, as a mental health worker, when I say “No, really, I’m okay – happy even!” other industry professionals look at me like I must be putting on a facade or like they pity me because “I shouldn’t feel guilty for not being okay.” The fact of the matter is that, done right, a mental health practitioner should be able to maintain a personal balance WHILE helping others find a balance of their own. This work can be tiring of course, but while there can be painful moments, the work itself shouldn’t be painful.

In fact, since mental health struggles can be contagious for the empathetic (reference this article from Nation News), it should be considered a healer’s FIRST duty to take care of themselves. Chances are their clientele are an empathetic lot, and they’ll be able to see behind the face a sick healer paints on moments before a session.

From Bad to Worse

Mental health systems were already overwhelmed before COVID-19 even started, and the pandemic has resulted in a worldwide reassessment of the importance of mental health. The industry is surging not only to meet new demand, but to make adjustments in the ways we deal with mental health as individuals and as a society. Amidst those adjustments? Therapist are working themselves into burnout, depression, and worse. According to one USA Today article, many therapists have no idea how to approach treating the unprecedented mental health side effects of the pandemic, and they carry guilt for not knowing how to support their clientele.

Our Western world runs on regulation and policy, on ethics and boundaries. In Tennessee, we take new college graduates, subject them to 3000 hours of supervised client interaction, and send them into the world as licensed therapists. How does that prepare them for self-regulation or for dealing with unprecedented situations such as a pandemic? You can’t regulate resilience, and you can’t write wisdom into policy as a requirement for therapists. So what do we do?

The Path Forward

Our mental health systems might be flawed, but there are a lot of amazing humans working within that flawed framework. Since the United States remains a free, capitalist society, the answer is clear: we need more options for resources, and it should be up to the consumer’s discretion to decide which resources are worth their hard-earned dollar. As new resources develop, consumers can decide which therapist, life-coach, mentor, preacher, or healer is right for them, and they should do so with an attitude of empowerment, knowing that if it works for them, it’s a worthwhile investment.

According to a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation article, the number of people seeking training as a life coach has tripled during the pandemic, and life coaches are seeing a record number of clients as well. Since there is no governing board that oversees the life-coaching industry, a few bad eggs have earned life-coaches the reputation of being “would-be therapists that are too lazy to pursue licensure” or even “sharks who sell fake friendship to the sick.”

When it comes to mental health skills though, a combination of practical experience and education can be more effective than education alone. If you’re going to war, would you want the advice of a war veteran or an academic? Personally, I’d want both, and that’s the idea behind East TN Mentorship Association. As we grow, the intent is to vet capable resources so that consumers don’t have to – and to build a reputation as a dependable resource for anyone who needs some extra help in navigating their next steps.

Experience is what gives us the confidence to navigate difficult and unprecedented situations. Living through divorce, grief, ideation, addiction, abuse, and more and learning to self-regulate the conditions that follow is surely as educational as reading about said conditions in a book.

While the mental health industry is bound to continue to grow and change, the first hurdle facing young healers is gaining the experience necessary to be able to self-regulate and to help guide their clients without feeling like they’re crucifying themselves to do so. There are no saviors in mental health – there are practical skills, hard work, and trusting relationships – but the most important relationship a healer can have is their relationship with themselves. Otherwise, if it’s just the sick healing the sick, we’re sure to find that we have more than one pandemic on our hands.

Finding Purpose in Trauma – A Lesson from Missionaries of Another Faith

My wife is a smart woman – a nurse with a background as a paramedic and pharmacy technician. Despite her intelligence, she’s incredibly gullible when nice people want to sell her things. We have a rainbow vacuum, an ADT alarm system, and more that we own all because some nice people demonstrated how their products could change our lives.

Sales folks aren’t the only ones who have tried to change our lives though; a couple of years ago, my wife encountered two Mormon missionaries. I’m more of a spiritualist than she is. Where she works in healthcare, I work in mental health, which, to me, is synonymous with spiritual health. She waited for me to get home to begin the conversation with the Mormons in earnest.

I like to make people feel welcomed in my home, so I opened with a joke- “Oh, hi! I LOVE Mormon people!” With a background in military intelligence, I know how daunting it can be to “cold-call” a new person in hopes of accomplishing something. They laughed at my joke and began to describe their culture.

Mormon young adults often travel to share their truth with others. As a veteran, I know what it’s like to leave home for a cause, and I’m always curious about peoples’ faith, so we invited them to return and tell us more. We met weekly (completing readings between meetings), and they asked us thought provoking questions.

We even met via video during the early stages of the pandemic!

We’d ask our own questions over dinner, and we soon developed a friendship. One day, after several weeks, they asked us an unforgettable question.

“What’s your favorite blessing from God?” My wife, always too kind to me, told them that hers was me. I paused to consider their question – I had no interest in wasting anyone’s time, so I wanted to be entirely truthful. It didn’t take long for me to speak from a place of conviction – I’ve spent a lot of hours pondering matters of substance.

“I’m sorry if this is a little heavy, but my favorite gift from God is – well…pain.” The two barely-adults exchanged a look, and I tried to explain before they got too uncomfortable. “I’ve been through a lot. From growing up in broken homes wrought with physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse, to grief, divorce, military trauma, the effects of addiction, fostering children, and more…but I wouldn’t change any of it. Everything I’ve been through has been nothing compared to what I did afterward.”

“I looked back and re-lived my traumas over and over again, dissecting each experience to learn the lessons they contained. I learned who (and how) to love, what I believe, and my purpose…I learned when it’s worthwhile to be uncomfortable and when to push myself toward the next breakthrough. There was a time when I wouldn’t have given the two of you the time of day, you would’ve never asked your questions, and I never would’ve arrived at this place of acknowledging how much I appreciate my own trauma. My favorite gift from God, irrevocably and unequivocally, is pain.”

The well put-together missionaries momentarily lost sight of their lesson plan and looked at me with blank faces.

“Wow,” was all one of them could muster. They looked like they wished that they had endured enough trauma to know themselves as I did and to be comfortable with that level of vulnerability. Personally, I wouldn’t wish that pain on anyone, but I also wouldn’t change a bit of it.

I’m not a Mormon person. In this case, neither myself nor my wife “bought” what was being sold in the way it was being sold. We didn’t join their church. This time though, instead of my wife acquiring something from courteous strangers who knocked on our door, it was me that did. I learned to let go of the resentment I’d held toward God for all the “bullshit he’d put me through,” and to be comfortable with old Christian texts that had grown to trigger me because of the way men taught them. Most of all, I was reminded that truth doesn’t need to be put into a box, and that it can come from anyone – even if it was my wife’s gullible kindness that brought them into my life.  

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