I arrived at Windhorse in the fall of 2016. I was 19 years old. After spending 5 years in therapeutic boarding schools that were less than helpful—and did not at all prepare me for the big world of adulthood—I spent a year back in my hometown. The residual trauma from these schools made it hard to work, get outside of the house, socialize, and meet new friends. I have spent a lifetime in therapy and in and out of psychiatrists’ offices since a very young age. I have grown resistant to any form of care that was based on a hierarchal top-down system where my caregivers had authority over me. The world had become a scary place full of danger and unknowns, and previous therapists were less than helpful. They patronized me, talked down to me, and all too often treated me like a little kid.
Coming to Windhorse, it was a satiating break from all the chaos and disarray in the world. I started with a team. These team members were not above me. They were equals. We were friends. Having a consistent connection that I could anticipate and count on, that met me at my level—however I was feeling that day. They would never coerce me into anything that I wasn’t able to do that day. I never had to do anything. Of course, there were things that needed to be done and, at a certain point, I was doing them—not out of a fear of punishment or consequence but because I actually wanted to. I wanted to grow.
This is where Community Programs comes in. Each Windhorse team is an individual household, and there are no standardized expectations across the board for all clients. Coming to Community Programs, I would interact with a wide variety of clients. Some were new. Some had been around for a while. Everyone was in different stages of recovery. I made friends that were building careers for themselves and others who only seldom came and participated to the best of their own ability. Everyone was different. Everyone had their own unique struggles. And the reason WHY we were at Windhorse was never critical to the groups. Many places I have been, therapy is front and center. We would organize, maybe sit in a circle, and have a structured organized discussion about coping skills or setting goals. Talking about self-soothing techniques is great and all, but it’s not real world experience.
Windhorse groups have gone through many iterations and styles of how they are formatted. The majority of the groups are at the office, and it’s a freeform time to meet with likeminded community. It’s usually organized around a central lighthearted activity. Cooking a meal together, for example. Or helping out in the Community Garden. There is no limit to what a group can be. Clients can be active decision makers in what Community Programs might look like.
At a certain point I was ready to get out and meet people. Organized activities around the area would have been too stressful for me. I’m shy, and a tad bit socially awkward, so many of the things I was interested in were immensely scary to me. Community Programs fulfilled this need at the time. I was meeting others in a similar place to me. The groups were a low-pressure environment. I could take breaks as needed or even leave if need be.
As a trans woman, who’s experienced a lifetime of transphobia—particularly in therapeutic settings—I was welcomed with open arms and treated with respect from everyone. I never felt unsafe or ashamed of my true self. My trust in humanity started coming back, slowly but surely.
I got to a point where I wanted to be involved more. I needed structure and consistency in my life. I helped run the Garden Group. Many of the groups back then were far too structured for me, and often didn’t feel appropriate for my needs—or rather, lack thereof. Garden group was great. Nobody has to actually garden. Many people just like the healing effects of sitting near flowers on a sunny day. I ran it for 2 seasons. The great thing about our garden group is that we harvest organic vegetables and herbs that we keep in the community fridge for anyone who wants home-grown tomatillos, squash, or a bag fresh mint to make tea with, as well as whatever crops we decide to plant in the spring—collectively decided by the group and whomever shows up. The group was relaxed and fun. Sometimes we’d randomly break into dance and laugh hysterically at silly jokes. I often would play ukulele while I’d take breaks from pulling weeds.
By far one of my favorite groups was a photography group, run by a client who is a professional photographer and wanted to share his skills. No need for a DSLR camera, we all took photos throughout the week and met up to share our slideshows. It was really fun, and I got to connect with a wide variety of styles and get tips with editing. Some people simply came just to look at others’ photos.
One of the more popular groups is Dinner Club. As I said, it has gone through multiple iterations over the years. For a while, Dinner Club was a group effort. We’d all cook a big meal together—following a recipe—and everyone had something to do: some people peeling vegetables, others stirring a pot of soup. At the end we would all sit together and check in about what we were up to the past week. Afterwards, those who offered to help would clean up the whole kitchen, wipe down the table, and sweep the floors. It was social but centered around an activity.
During the pandemic, the facilitators would work in the kitchen and make something hearty and put it in takeout boxes and deliver it to anyone who was on the zoom call. We would eat our food but connect with others from the safety and comfort of our own house in one of the loneliest times of the past century. Even with social distancing being a factor, I never felt alone in such tumultuous times.
Post pandemic, I took over co-facilitating the cooking group. I’m a pretty good cook, and there were a few abrupt times the main facilitators couldn’t make it in. And I was called up and told to figure something out. People were really liking my ideas, so I offered to co-lead the group and make it more consistent. I help plan, shop, and cook the meals. Most people show up around the time the food is ready, and we make quick and efficient use of our time with what resources are available and who is willing to help. I come up with the meal menus for the most part. I try to think of things that don’t have many steps, are healthy, accessible to a variety of dietary needs, and potentially something people haven’t ever tried before. I love introducing people to new flavors and foods.
Examples of what we have cooked include:
Shakshuka, with a side of Israeli salad, and avocado toast.
Teriyaki portabella burgers with local micro greens, goat cheese, sriracha veganaise, and seasoned avocado on a brioche bun, with a side of fried plantain and roasted broccoli.
Asian Fusion Night: siu mai dumplings, bao, vegan kung pao, lotus root, tom yum soup, edamame, tofu spring rolls, with mochi for dessert
Quinoa bowls with rotisserie chicken and roasted yams
Mac and cheese bar – with Swiss macaroni and cheese and green chili mac, as well as a vegan option, a side salad
Brunch for Dinner – broccoli quiche, green chili frittata, muffins
Make your own Burrito bar, and baked potato bar as well.
It is really fun to lead. I love seeing people’s smiling faces when I cook. The next day is Lunch Club, and we heat up any leftovers from Dinner Club, so they don’t go to waste. We have good conversation and check in about life, and it usually ends with a Scrabble showdown.
And, of course, there is Art Group. We always have an optional prompt, but I often bring a bag full of art supplies and make some really interesting stuff. I see Art Group as people in the Windhorse community who are artists in their own way, having community. I love everyone’s unique takes on my art, and it’s a welcoming place to receive input and tips from others.
And, of course, you can’t forget holiday gatherings. Many people are alone during the holidays and don’t have anyone to spend time with. Many stores are closed, and the holiday season is on the colder side, so summer activities are off the table.
We get together and set up tables, and it’s a holiday gathering like no other. Good food, good conversation, and spending authentic time with wonderful people. My holiday gatherings growing up were absolutely awful for one reason or the other. My family is very big, very social, and very loud—and sitting in a room full of loud people can be a bit much for me.
Chosen family is still family. My childhood wasn’t the best, and despite the family I still have around being wonderful, having a community of friends that absolutely care about me and are always there for me to sit around the table, converse, and enjoy each other’s company is one of the best things I could ask for.
I really want to emphasize how Windhorse is egalitarian. We are all equals, and both staff and clients can learn from each other and grow as people. The staff who work at Windhorse are not in a position of all-knowing, and highly successful in every which way. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Nobody is perfect, nor should they be. People and humanity itself can’t be summarized by such a simple statement as “perfect”. Society is messy. Friendships can hit a rocky road every so often. Windhorse is not here to sugarcoat life itself as a “perfect” place. It is not designed to organize in such a way that you will be ill prepared for the reality that is life. I’ve made friends and lost friends. I’ve felt included but also left out. I’ve gotten into arguments. Sometimes we work it out. Sometimes we don’t. And that’s okay. That’s life.
Sometimes you show up to a party, and you don’t know anyone, and you feel awkward and shy. That’s okay. And Windhorse provides a safe learning environment to learn how to approach these situations. And while I have grown a lot as a person, and I’m capable of so much more every day that passes, there will still be things I can’t do. Or maybe don’t want to do. I’ve never been promised that when I leave Windhorse I will have a 6 -figure job and a time share in Vail. There is no track you follow with a consistent end result. You get what you put out. I know for a fact that a 6-figure job isn’t in the cards for me. But there is so much more I am capable of, and I will only reach that if I put in the willpower myself. My team is not there to guide or teach but assist and join me along every step of the way as an equal.
I currently am living life to the fullest. When I came here, I was depressed and moody. I had no aspirations or goals for where I’d like to be in 2, 5 or 10 years. I had to take every day, day by day and push through. In the past year, I have gotten off almost all my medications, doing almost everything myself. Any support that I have at this point is merely a check-in about my week. Five months ago, I started trans hormone replacement therapy. Every day keeps looking up, and I’m finally getting to be the grown-up mature woman who has been hiding inside me my whole life. I’ve become extremely outgoing, and I make new friends all the time (which I never thought would be my reality 2 years ago). Windhorse has restored my faith in humanity and shown me that there are good people out there in a time in history rife with mass shootings, racism, and societal disarray. Windhorse has helped me, not able to feel, but feel love and compassion towards all. I always say if you kick a dog enough times’ it will either become very aggressive or whimper and hide in fear.
That was my life for so long. I was like that dog that would hide under the table when the mail man knocks on the door, hide in my room when guests were over, and when in public scanned the world for possible threats. I was hurt. I was wounded. This hyper vigilance was exhausting to endure, and I often would go to bed early and nap all day. My level of endurance has improved to the point where I go on road trips with my partner, and I’m seeing the world from a brand new light. It’s not as scary, not as unpredictable. It made it hard to work, run errands, or do my daily house chores.
I’m at a crux in my recovery at the moment. I am starting work for the first time in 5 years and genuinely excited to start. I am capable of so much more. Ten years ago if you asked me if I am happy, I would probably have said my life is absolutely awful. I don’t even know if I was aware of how bad it was then. My reality since I came out of the womb was perpetually scary and traumatic. I had never experienced anything but that. I saw others my age going to college, getting married and living the traditional tract of life. I never saw the success I’m experiencing now as an option. It seemed like suffering was the only option in life that was available to me. I felt empty and numb and was full of fear. I avoided friendships and close connections out of a fear of abandonment. I have lost so many people I have been close to. Community Programs gave me that consistency. I began to realize that there are people who actually like me and like having me around. I’m not a terrible person, and I have a lot to offer to the world.
And that’s what I’m doing and continuing to do. Thank you Windhorse and thank you Community Programs.