When I was 19 years old my car was surrounded by three cop cars in a road block in Horseheads, NY, about 20 minutes outside of Ithaca, NY. I was thrown into the back of a police car, yelled at, interrogated, accused of having drugs, being high, being drunk, repeatedly screamed at until they confirmed I was speeding. They wanted more, much more. All my friends were split up into different cars and then accused of being part of a gang.
I did not drink, I was in college at the time at TC3, trying to get into HWS. I did not do drugs due to a seizure condition. I was speeding to get away from a violent alcoholic in Elmira who had started a confrontation with us while we were leaving the area to go back to Ithaca.
After 2 hours of questioning in the back of a police car I was given two tickets, told to appear in court that summer and to never drive through Horseheads again.
Unlike many days of my youth, that morning is clear. The moments where something traumatic happen everything crystallizes, you've heard that before . The times when whatever relative power you think you have is taken away--you remember that. And my first encounter with a sense of total vulnerability at the hands of police is something that I cannot ever forget.
We had taken a trip to Wegmans to get snacks before making the hour long trip back home. My friends in Elmira were ironically in the police academy there. I had stayed in their house the night before, played video games and talked for most of the night. We gathered snacks and left the city. It was hot that day, the sun was beaming down on my 87' Nissan Stanza, the most poetic car ever made. We all felt free and young and youthful. We were between lives and professions. We have never hung out the three of us again. Dave. Bryan and a kid that went by Alexis at the time.
For starters, I did my training in social work. This is the field that brought you the five day workweek. Social workers have a strong and proud history of being rebel rousers and defenders. Over the years we have professionalized, been put under various stereotypes and big hearted folks who making little money and dedicating their lives to service. Calling myself a social worker means I do everything large and small: want me to review your resume: cool. Want to talk about switching jobs, leaving your spouse, calling 30 people to find you housing, helping out a 17 year old plan for college, all in my wheelhouse.
I was always the guy at the party who ended up talking to people about their lives, as opposed to getting hammered. I spent most of my life trying to understand how to help other people before I helped myself. Before the social work degree, I did a MFA in creative writing and all my stories were about social justice or people struggling to be heard. It’s a theme that I still write about in my poetry. After 30 years of walking the earth I knew I wanted to help people, it was the only thing that really made sense.
The training was done at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in Saint Louis. This was a big move from central NY for me, and I made a decision to go there largely because 1) they have me aid and 2) because the school was the top in the nation. I went there on a scholarship and found that the Midwest was a good temporary fit. I did all my training and site placements in places that worked with minority populations such as: diversity administration, international students and finally a bipolar clinic.
Most of my experience Immediately after graduate school was done doing emergency support of students and faculty in an international environment. One of the things I did was work at Cornell University as their international travel safety coordinator. A job that required me to work long weekends and odd hours whenever a small or large event happened abroad. What began to take up more of my psyche and passion though was domestic support of students. I was part of a team of 30 crisis managers At Cornell University, that would counsel and support students who were struggling. When I was told I would have to stop I knew it was time to stop working for Cornell.
in 2017, I began working at Family & Children’s Services of Ithaca. I was immediately in a space where I found my groove. I built a caseload of 25-30 clients a week and fell in love with the work. While I had studied casework and techniques of therapy out of books I found myself naturally developing my own techniques and using my skills as a storyteller to work with my clients. I work with everyone and my age range spans from 17-70.
In 2020 I started my private practice and consulting/coaching company. I still take contracts working for colleges but my real passion is helping individuals.
Some of the therapeutic skills I work with are: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Internal Family Systems, Narrative Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, strength based support and Mindfulness. I talk more about these techniques and how I connect to them in another blog post. If I can say the main influence is mindfulness and I will talk also more about that in another post.
My philosophy is guided by existentialism, spirituality and compassion. I don’t believe people are a system of disorders and diagnoses. I believe we are supposed to go through things in life—to learn. If you refuse the lessons in life then you will get stuck. And getting stuck means you then probably want to talk to a therapist.
So that was the road. Thanks for reading about it.
This photo has always had a special place for me. I had the opportunity to go to Cambodia and do work with agencies that work to end human trafficking. I was a photographer on the trip, two weeks meeting men and women who had endured horrible pain and suffering in this world. I remember taking this shot after my partner at the time, who would later break up with me, had finished her set. We walked into the sun of the facility and there sat a lotus in the midst of this courtyard.
Since this shot in 2011 I have endured. Learned about pain. Switched jobs. Lost a child. Found peace with myself and fallen in love again.
As we suffer, we try to find meaning to it all. It is not easy. There is so little capacity in many of us to just pause and try to go slow. The lotus flower is birthed from mud, this quote in the title is the wisdom of Trich Nhat Hanh. He is Buddhist monk who had helped millions be more compassionate and take their time in life.
Without stillness and moments of great compassion we cannot notice what is around us. That moment in my life fed a transformation and I am still growing.
The process of getting free in your life takes many turns, not all of them a path of light and safety. We begin this process of working towards resolving issues in our life, at times, haphazardly and seeking out connection and love from others. At other times it is wrought with job decisions. At other times it is the drastic escape from family. And so on. Your journey, no matter how ardous or dramatic is made up of many decisions in your life where you seemingly venture between different paths, always wondering what is the right way to go. What is it you are supposed to do.
Along this path you find yourself shacking up with strangers. Finding comfort in new friendships. Trying new things out which may or may not have a lasting impact. For some that is yoga. Others that may be throwing axes. Still others the piano. Whatever it is we begin a path of identifying ourselves based on what we do and what we do not do. Therefore, other people around us become people who "get it" and those who "don't get it." We look for acceptance from both sides. Feel insecurity from both sides. And rarely capture the moments where we, in fact, truly "got it."
The journey begins somehow, and as a therapist I am here listening to the stories of where we all are on the journey. I, having had some paths in my life, relate to the struggle. And I know, and have felt that--when I have had nothing in my life, I could believe in anything.
The sense or depravity and fear we have faced in our life is a tell tale sign that our desperation for life to take a positive turn is one that we would like to vanquish no matter the cost. Having been in places in my life that I would not rather visit, I can relate to this sentiment. I have not made perfect choices in my life. I have tried often to grasp at the idea of something rather than the facts on the ground. When we have nothing—we can believe in anything.
That simple adage has wrapped its way around my mind for many years. It is an adage about hope and foolishness. It is about the wonder of the journey and how, at times we feel that we are totally bereft and lost and then, we stumble upon something shiny and new. Then, we have it again. The path. It is an adage that many if not all of us can relate to.
No matter where you are in the path. No matter whether you like lifting weights, or striking up your bbq, or painting pastorals--the act of trying to understand yourself is the most beautiful process you can wrestle with. It is an honor to work with so many souls in this process. Don't get desperate, just keep moving towards the light inside of you and remember, have fun.
Lex Enrico Santí is a mental health therapist based in Ithaca, NY. He offers therapy sessions in a home practice and can work with clients using a secure telehealth (online) practice. Contact him today for more information.