Growing up with a terminally ill mother, a mentally ill brother and an alcoholic father is an almost surefire path to become a social worker. Through twenty five years in the field, my colleagues haven’t known that my mother’s death unanchored me when I was seven years old, leaving me surrounded by addiction and mental illness and shuttled from home to home. Grief, gratitude and everyday heroes are my foundation. It’s okay. I know I shouldn’t be here.
Urban Tidepool refuses to give in to the idea of victimization and instead explores the background of a social services professional through the lens of reclamation and forgiveness. Interjected with dark humor, the majority of this gritty manuscript chronicles the time frame between the deaths of my parents. Interwoven with stories of the young people with whom I’ve worked, Urban Tidepool leads readers through moments of desperation, paralyzing fear and high risk behavior to acceptance and then to connection, healing and creation.
I train hundreds of human services professionals and educators each year on the issues faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, with my first address to a national conference scheduled for May 2013. I’ve never faced an audience without wondering what those people might think of me if they knew my truth. It never felt like time to tell my story until the fall of 2010 when a string of highly publicized suicides of young men who had been bullied for their (in most cases presumed) sexual orientation became daily news. Entertainers, authors, even President Obama rushed to assure young LGBT people that their lives would improve if only they could wait out the bullying they endured. I never wanted to speak up, fearing it would change the way my colleagues view me. Since breaking the silence with my completed rough draft, however, my colleagues and the Urban Tidepool Facebook fans insist. People root for the underdog. Everyone likes a happy ending.
It is time to tell my truth. Gut-wrenching stories of youth suicide have become standard fare. My truth is that it is possible not only to survive catastrophic loss by finding humor in a futile search for Christmas tree pants, in the danger of sharks in the closet and in opportunities to help a Gulf State cockroach with his grooming, but to use it to facilitate life-altering changes for a new generation.