'Homeless to Harvard:' Child of Addicts Counsels Youth in Spirituality

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Spirituality may take the form of religious belief, but it goes beyond that, according to Miller. "It's a two-way relationship in which you are part of something more and are buoyed up as a part of that oneness."

Miller's program involves the Best Self Visualization Method (BSM), which uses a Tibetan Buddhist sound bowl a dish that emits a hum that helps with meditation, deep rhythmic breathing, visualizing the "ideal self," and sending and receiving loving kindness.

"These therapies have the most traction with those kids who have built-in inner resources," said Miller. "Beyond being the object of abuse and poverty, these Covenant kids go very deep. They know themselves in a truer way as valuable and worthy."

"This is not a fringe thing," said Miller. "If a person's spirituality is supported, it can be a robust form of resilience."

She said Covenant House youth show compassion and optimism, despite their psychological wounds.

"For having suffered so much, they have deep and open hearts," said Miller. "These are beautiful kids."

Miller said her new student Murray is a shining example.

"She sees things with clear eyes and glory and sees the splendor in her life and inherent goodness and brightness in the world," said Miller. "She is a very kind and encouraging person to her classmates."

But Murray knows the pain of homelessness first-hand.

She and her older sister had grown up with a schizophrenic mother and an intelligent father who had become a drug dealer while studying psychology in a doctoral program. He met her mother selling her drugs.

"It was the '70s and they had a party lifestyle," said Murray. "But when the party was over, there was the shadow of addiction."

The family became homeless after they were evicted for not paying their rent. Her father went to live in a shelter, and her mother moved in with a boyfriend she met in a bar.

"It wasn't a stable place," said Murray. "My mother was in and out of the hospital."

Both her parents developed HIV from shared needles.

While at Harvard, Murray was "going back and forth to New York City on a Greyhound bus" taking her sick father to doctors' appointments. She convinced him to move to Cambridge, where he died at age 64 in 2006.

"It was peaceful between us," she said. "Before he died, he wrote a little card to me that said, 'Lizzy, I left my dreams behind a long time ago. Now they are safe with you.'"

"Forgiveness came very naturally to me," said Murray. "People can't give you what they don't have. My parents were mentally ill and drug addicted. I understood they were not really malicious toward me. They loved me and I loved them."

She echoes that message to her students at Covenant: "Bad things happen, but it's not someone's fault."

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