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  • Carley Crain

Redefining Our Center

By Fred Poisson, Executive Director of Connections Peer Support

Connections has experienced some significant good fortune and generosity over the past few months, and we are beyond grateful as an organization. At the end of February, the Portsmouth Rotary Club began a significant renovation of our Portsmouth Center on Islington St. This renovation has completely transformed the space, making it more spacious, accessible and inviting, and our intention with our reopening is to honor this by redefining the way we are using this space. We have been given a unique opportunity to step up in terms of the services and support we offer to our community and our intention is to embrace this opportunity every step of the way.

For some time, our Center has been making the transition away from being a drop-in center to being a space on intention. What does this mean? It means a lot of things and I will do my best to convey all of it here. Most importantly what this means is that Connections is a space for people to come to when they are looking for support and are ready to have productive conversations in regard to their current situation and the support they are seeking. We foster these conversations by building genuine relationships with the people who come to our Center.

“This connection, or affiliation, is a deep, holistic understanding based on mutual experience where people are able to “be” with each other without the constraints of traditional (expert/patient) relationships. Further, as trust in the relationship builds, both people are able to respectfully challenge each other when they find themselves re-enacting old roles. This allows members of the Peer Community to try out new behaviors with one another and move beyond previously held self-concepts built on disability, diagnosis, and trauma worldview.” (Shery Mead, Defining Peer Support)

At Connections we have honest conversations with each other, we offer and receive feedback and we can support you to understand how to do this. When we learn and develop these skills in a setting such as this it gives us a space to test them out and to try on a new role where we aren’t defined by a diagnosis but rather, we are defined by our actions and language.

A group of Portsmouth Rotary Club members working at our Portsmouth center.

Moving towards being a space of intention means we have let go of our former identity which was very much that of a drop-in Center. With our previous identity we had significant distraction while we were running groups, people coming in and out, people entering and exiting to smoke or to make their lunch etc. As an intentional space we no longer foster this. As an intentional space we ask you to come to our Center with the intention of participating in the groups and conversations, with the intention of seeking support to move towards your goals and your ideal vision of what wellness looks like for you.

Connections is a space for transformation and Peer Support is the modality that allows for this. Our staff is trained in Peer Support, and we work constantly on our communication skills so we can effectively foster all sorts of conversations. Peer Support was never designed with the intent of allowing people to stay stuck, it is a tool of support meant to move people towards a goal. Sometimes this movement is unpleasant and challenging, sometimes it is emotional, it can be rewarding, and it can be frustrating. At Connections we make space for all of the emotions that happen along the way with a recovery journey.

“Training helps us learn to sit with discomfort while we explore the relational dynamics that have kept us stuck, and also helps us look at our own reactivity. It is helpful to understand people’s “hot spots”, and the kinds of situations that feel comfortable, tolerable, or absolutely intolerable so they can learn to negotiate power rather than take it. This then allows us to normalize what has been named as abnormal because of other people’s discomfort.” (Shery Mead, Defining Peer Support)

Creating a comfortable space is not necessarily what we do at Connections, this would actually work against some of the main principles of Peer Support. Does this mean we don’t consider physical safety? Absolutely not, the physical safety of our members and staff is always a concern. What this does mean though is that we discuss a lot of things that would traditionally make people uncomfortable, and we ask that you come to this space with the intention of listening and navigating your own discomfort. This might mean having conversations with other members about where you are at and how their story or experience is affecting you.

A Portsmouth Rotary Club member painting at our Portsmouth Center.

We understand that experiences like this might be new or difficult for you and we are here to support you with those conversations. We can support you to figure out the language to use in order to communicate your experience in the most effective manner possible. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the experience you are addressing is going to stop, but it does mean that a negotiation around what that experience looks and feels like has begun.

We have been given a tremendous gift with this renovation, for which we are extremely grateful, and it will be important as we move forward that we respect the physical space. You will notice that our wall space is clearer and that our Center is more organized. We ask that our members respect this as we move forward. As we reopen our staff will be reminding members to take care of their dishes, their art, and to participate in the cleanliness of the Center. I have asked our staff to be clear with their boundaries around what they are here for, Peer Support, and what they are not here for, Case Management and serving/waiting on people. I have challenged the staff at Connections to set the boundaries that will allow them to build healthy, authentic relationships with our members so that they can support them to move towards their goals and the life they deserve. Our goal is to provide the most effective space possible for you to explore and support your recovery.

In the past we have shown a lot of flexibility with people coming in and using our space as a place of rest and sleep. We can no longer foster this. If you are attending our meetings and events and need to take a break, that is okay and you may definitely do so if there is a space available, but the use of our space requires engagement with our center and what we offer.  

We know that change, especially culture change, can be difficult and can take time to adjust to. We are here to support you through this, to have those conversations that might not be easy. We are here to challenge you as well, to ask you to see the benefit of a shift towards more intention. We want to support you in your wellness, your recovery, and your growth.  We want to share our space with you, to learn from you, and to grow with you.

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