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Postcard sentiments inspire client conversations

May 5, 2015
by Thomas M. Greaney, LADC, CCDP, SAP
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Tom Greaney

Don’t Worry About the Future

The Present Is All Thou Hast.

The Future Will Soon Be Present.

And the Present Will Soon Be Past.”

It began innocently enough, but has grown into a passion and an opportunity to connect with others in a creative and meaningful way. In the early 1980s, I was the news director of a radio station in Norwich, Conn. During our banter at the conclusion of a 10 a.m. newscast, I mentioned to the deejay that I had begun collecting antique postcards of Norwich and was interested in expanding my collection. I related that I wanted to learn more of the history of “The Rose City of New England” and had found other collectors to be a font of information.

My collection had been given a jump-start by a co-worker at the radio station who had generously given me a shoebox full of cards that had been sent from his mother’s Irish-American family in Waterbury, Conn., to her family in Norwich. The voyeur-like peeks immediately drew me into the past, exploring the lifestyle of persons in the early 1900s via a running dialogue based oPostcard 1n family happenings, conveyed in plain language and written in pencil.

I had never been a “collector” of things. But as a child, I had sat on the corner of Main Street and Route 9 W in Stony Point, N.Y., watching the cars go by. With my eyes, I “collected” the out-of-state license plates of vehicles and documented on colorful construction paper the day and time I first spied particular ones, noting the phrases on the plates. The viewing came with an education component. Illinois was “The Land of Lincoln,” Delaware was “The First State,” and so on.

Within minutes of turning off my radio microphone, I received a phone call from Dorothea Gould. With a warm and gentle voice, she said she had a collection of postcards of Stonington Borough, Conn., and she invited me to meet with her to pore over the cache of historical gems. Thus was propelled my enthusiastic 30-year fascination with postcards of Norwich and so-called occasion cards, those depicting colorful and hopeful sentiments of the dawning of a New Year, the whimsy of Valentine’s Day, the Irish pride of St. Patrick’s Day, etc.

A yearning for simplicity

In September 2014, I celebrated 15 years as a recovery counselor. I see myself as a conduit assisting others in healing and growth from dependence on alcohol and other drugs, nicotine and dysfunctional relationships. A year earlier I noticed a shift in my collecting of postcards, from holding them to giving them away to family, friends, clients and complete strangers. I learned in the giving that the cards brought smiles and appreciation of the often simple yet profound sentiments, and the artwork emblazoned across the front of the cards.

Life sped up my first full year as a clinician, as I tried so hard (too hard perhaps) to help others. As this experience Postcard 2became increasingly intense, a longing for simplicity and a return to the innocence of my youth took hold. Watching films from the 1930s to 1950s on Turner Classic Movies fed my nostalgia, and after a hiatus of more than a decade of actively collecting cards, I got back into it with a newfound zest.

Today, I use the cards to provoke thought, introspection and recognition of both joyful current life experiences and painful realities of a client’s past. There’s a card for everyone among those I serve: teenage students, young adults, parents, couples, grandparents, single men and women, and divorced individuals. Guided by the belief that creativity resides within all of us, with all things and in all situations, I stay open and vigilant to the next opportunity to find the creative and explore my own creativity.

During my individual (and group) counseling sessions, I extend this creative flow outward. I place a card in the hands of the client and ask him/her to read the words aloud. What ensues is a stream-of-consciousness conversation about the meaning of the words, the impact of the artwork, recollections, and the relevance to the client’s experience of the here and now.

I find that I can broach many beneficial topics, such as relationships and gratitude, in a comfortable, non-threatening way. A card that has resonated with clients is one that reads, “So many things to give thanks for! Our blessings they seem without end. But I’ll not forget to give thanks for the dear, blessed love of a friend.” Client Dan said the gratitude expressed in the card resonated with him. “At first it made me think of Thanksgiving,” he said. “Technologically I’m very old school. I like to hold a book and send letters in the mail.”

Be cheerful and pass it on

As a strengths-based clinician, I often challenge clients to assess their abilities and envision the benefit of surrounding themselves with “nutritious” persons in forming a network of sober support. Being our own best friend and advocate in the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle is paramount. I consider self-care to be the ultimate form of loving kindness toward oneself. The dividends are enormous and a prerequisite in living a life of integrity and authenticity. This positive self-regard has never been more important as we are assaulted daily with media reports of human suffering in the latest news of terrorism, war, bloodshed and threats of pandemic disease.