“I just got fired,” I said to my husband. My stomach was in knots and I thought I was worthless. August 2014 marks the final days of my 9-5 life. I realized I mention the fact that I got fired twice in a month, but have never really shared what happened during that time in my life. For brevity sake, I am going to split this into a few posts. Today will be the story of how I got fired, then I will show how to handle getting fired, and lessons learned from getting fired in the coming weeks!
How I Got Fired From My Dream Job
I remember like it was yesterday… November 2013, I still had two semesters worth of credits for my master’s degree when I landed my dream job as a substance abuse/mental health counselor at a local treatment center. The treatment center was my dream center. It was in a great location, beautiful, invested into their staff training, and I thought a great place to work. My first day I saw the clinical director blow up on another staff member in the morning meeting. Telling him to F*@# off as she stormed out of the room flipping him the bird. I should’ve known then what I was in for.
Instead, I chalked it up to him being a prickly character and her going through a rough time. As the months passed by, one by one I watched a my co-workers quit or get fired. Literally, every single month I was there someone from my immediate team was fired or quit. A few months in, I realized I was one of the more senior staff members. I couldn’t help but think, “How did this even happen?!? I’m not even done with my degree yet… I am still waitressing on the weekends! WTF is going on?!” I started to get this feeling that I was next in the line of fire.
Next In The Line Of Fire
Sure enough, the passive aggressive quips in the morning meeting began turning towards me. Late night emails and the demand to always be available continued to grow. My case load was three times larger than the other therapists on the team. I was over worked, under payed, and beginning to feel unsafe by the way I was being treated and talked to. I did what anyone with anxiety and a history of trauma would do: I began to withdraw.
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Every night I struggled to fall asleep. When I did fall asleep, it was disturbed by work related nightmares. I awake in a pool of sweat, with knots in my stomach. The feeling of dread grew each morning as I dressed and headed to work. Cried in my office and between group sessions. I started to think I needed to quit.
Obviously, I was going through a rough time at work, and in my personal life, things were also pretty unsettled. Per her request, I took a couple of days to take care of my mental health… A couple of months later, I was in my HR file for something and found an email that was printed to the executive team where she was laying ground work to fire me for my instability around that time.
The Moment I Realized It Wasn’t In My Head
A few weeks after that, I got a text message to go to her office. Something had happened with one of my client’s parents that caused my boss to snap. She hysterically cried in my arms about the struggles she’s had as a woman in a leadership role. While I empathized with her in that moment, what she said next sent chills down my spine. As I continued to hold her in my arms and she chocked out the tears and between sobs said, “I am so sorry I am so tough on you, I have a lot of counter transference issues with you and it’s hard for me.”
For the non-therapists in the house: counter transference means she has is having a strong emotional response to me since she sees so much of herself in me. Someone experiencing counter transference has difficulty being objective, and often times will project their own experiences, thoughts, and feelings onto another person.
Awkwardly, I excused myself to go to my lunch time yoga class and let her pull herself back together. The anxiety continued to rise each day for the next few weeks. Things continued to get worse. She called me into a a meeting with the other female therapists where she stated she was concerned about my emotional well being and basically “staffed” me.
In the treatment world you often “staff” a patient is has gone off the rails or is about to engage in a harmful activity. The entire clinical team sits down with them to give them feedback. It’s supposed to be a very “come to Jesus” moment and push them to a breaking point where they can rebuild themselves and make progress forward rather than continuing the regression. It’s a practice I rarely agreed with while working in the industry.
When I realized what was happening, I excused myself from the meeting. The other two therapists came up to me saying how embarrassed and awkward they felt. How absurd and unprofessional the entire exercise was. Even writing this right now, I have knots in my stomach about that day. The anxiety and tensions continued to get worse and worse.
At this point, almost every day I had a staff member or client come up to me asking what was happening with her, and why she had it out for me. Finally I decided I needed to set some clear boundaries with her. I wrote out what I was going to say and practiced it with my husband for weeks. I wanted to remove all emotion from it and stick to the facts of what has been done, what I needed from her going forward.
The day finally came, where I shared with her what I needed to move forward as a “positive member of an interdisciplinary team” (the feedback she had been giving me for weeks). She immediately became defensive, cut me off, and tried to transfer me to another one of the companies offices. I really loved my clients and teammates so I didn’t want to switch facilities. I just wanted her to act professional towards me and for things to go back to how they were. She denied ever saying the piece about her transference issues with me. I avoided getting into a she-said-she-said exchange, and moved forward. I thought we had talked it out enough that we were in a good place…
… until a week later when we magically had a new therapist on staff (when we weren’t hiring). I knew she hired him to replace me, so I began putting feelers out for a new job. A couple of weeks later she invited us all out for a team lunch. My co-worker and I were already eating so I said “thank you, but I didn’t bring my wallet today,” to which she replied she’d pay for me. My other co-workers replied with the same message as I did, to which she replied “ok! Enjoy your lunch” I begged my co-worker to head over to the restaurant with me anyway.
The Final Day I Got Fired
We ate lunch, and walked back together while the rest of the staff drove. We knew one of us was next up to get fired (she had been having difficulties similar to mine but not to the same level). I joked it was me and that lunch was just “fattening me up for the slaughter.” She said “no way, she loves you, you’re here mini me!”
Fast forward three days. I left during lunch to interview for a new company and got the job! I went back to work that afternoon when my boss came into my office. She had no idea about the interview. She sat me down with another staff member present and said that she was letting me go due to “maturity” and that I was “too unhappy” there.
I packed up my office and felt completely ashamed. Even though I had another job secure, my ego was crushed. Knowing what she had put in my HR file, and the ground work she had been laying, I couldn’t help but worry what other’s would think of me.
As a side note, I heard through the rumor mill several months later (and several fired/quit employees later) that the company did an internal investigation and the reviewer ruled my bosses uncared for mental health issues were the cause of the toxic workplace and she was let go.
The Industry I Worked In…
Since I had already told the new job I couldn’t start right away (I had to give notice), I decided to not jump right into work. Instead, I took a little time to decompress from all the drama. Before I get into what happened with this second job, I want to make something clear, the substance use disorder treatment industry has a very dirty underbelly. Particularly where I live, “The Rehab Capital of America.” People actually will buy and sell patients, a practice known as “patient brokering,” to rip off insurance agencies. The center I had just left was very ethical and a great place. I thought my new employer was too…
My First Day At The New Job
Until I got there. Within hours of being in the offices I put together a census. They fact they didn’t even have a patient census before I got there should’ve been my first red flag. Looking at the census, I quickly realized why: it was clear they were involved in some shadys. I knew the CEO for years and always knew her to be an upstanding ethical woman in recovery. Embarrassed and ashamed that I had been referring fragile women her, I confronted her.
Let’s just say, I can get a little too passionate on certain topics. The conversation didn’t go well. I told her to go F*#$ herself and tried to quit that day. She convinced me stay saying, “this is why we hired you,” promising they wanted my help with turning it around.
… And then I was fired again
Over the next couple of weeks, a few power struggles and ego spats later, I found myself fired again. Basically, they weren’t as ready to hand over the reigns and clean up there act as they claimed that day. I was a little too aggressive in wanting everything to change over night and they were a little too slow with wanting nothing to change at all. Ultimately power struggle came to a head when they wanted me to sign an HR document that was completely untrue. I told them I wouldn’t purger myself and they could fire me. And they did.
That time, IDGAF. I was honestly relieved. I was so embarassed to work there. To this day, I’ve never put that job on my resume, linkined profile, or anywhere. I had a good reputation in the community and the day I left I made them sign a document they would remove me from all marketing materials (website, pamphlets, social media, etc.) within 24 hours. I erased them and they erased me and we never crossed paths again.
Later that week, I got a call from a colleague saying they heard I was on the market again and offering me a job. This time, I turned it down.
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I finally realized, it wasn’t a bad boss or a bad facility making me miserable. Looking around at my co-workers and mentors, I realized they were all miserable in their personal lives. I am forever grateful for both of these experiences, but especially for the boss in my original story. I once admired her, but never want to become her. She was a catalyst for figuring out my life. While I loved my job and my clients, I kept telling myself I couldn’t quit because I couldn’t leave them in the middle of their journey. I needed to get fired, twice, to finally figure out what I was meant to do.
Stay tuned next week when I talk more about how to handle getting fired in that moment!