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Dr. David F. Allen, a recent recipient of a Bahamian Icon Award, studied medicine at St. Andrews University Medical School in Scotland, and Psychiatry and Public Health at Harvard Medical School where he was a Kennedy Fellow. He studied theology under Dr. Francis Schaeffer at L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland, and did further work in Religion, Psychiatry and Ethics under Professor Arthur Dyck at the Harvard Divinity School. He was a visiting professor at Yale Divinity School where he was mentored by Fr. Henri Nouwen. In Washington, D.C., he was mentored by Dr. Gerald May of the Shalom Institute. Since then, Dr. Allen has taught Psychiatry and Religion at Harvard, Yale and Georgetown Medical School.
In 1987 he was awarded the Bennett Commonwealth Prize for his outstanding work in cocaine addiction. He was featured in the P.B.S. special, The Drug Wars, which documented his discovery of crack cocaine and its epidemic in 1985. Dr. Allen has established cocaine treatment centers in The Bahamas and Washington, D.C., and is a recognized expert in all types of addictions and their causes. Dr. Allen has taught at the Chautauqua Institution with Dr. Ross McKenzie and psychoanalyst Janet Gibbs in the field of Psychiatry and Religion and has been a regular facilitator for Young President Organization Group Forums.
Dr. Allen has published widely in the areas of Addiction, Spirituality and Psychiatry, including Mental Health Evaluation(1976), The Cocaine Crisis (1985) and Cocaine: The Broken Promise (1988). More recently Dr. Allen has been involved in the publication of a trilogy of books dealing with the integration of psychiatry and religion: In Search of the Heart (1993), Shattering the Gods Within (1997), Contemplation: Intimacy in a Distant World (2004), Shame: The Human Nemesis (), and most recently Daily Discovery: A Devotional (2013). Dr. Allen is a well-known public speaker whose lectures include “Spirituality and the Addictions” (2003) in Washington, D.C., “Contemplation and the Meaning of Jesus Christ” in Italy (2003) and “Grief and Contentment” in Chautauqua (2003). Dr. Allen gave a keynote address at the conference of Episcopal Priests in Canada in 2004. His widely acclaimed marriage, grief, and shame seminars have been hosted by churches as diverse as Dallas Bible Church in Texas and St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church, Washington, D.C. Broadcast throughout the Bahamas, his weekly radio program “Coming Home: Facing our Heart” and weekly television program “People Helping People” explore themes relating to anger, community, forgiveness and acceptance.
Aided by grants from the Templeton World Charity Foundation in 2013 and 2014 and donations from individuals, Dr. Allen directs “The Family: People Helping People” a program of free community-based therapy groups reaching into marginalized areas in The Bahamas. Using qualified therapists, “The Family” has now expanded to provide free group therapy sessions for adults and adolescents throughout New Providence. Currently 15 groups meet weekly to promote re-socializaton by developing anger management and conflict resolution, increasing self esteem, gratitude, contentment and forgiveness, while decreasing shame, depression, revenge and abusive relationships. The Templeton World Charity Foundation stepped in to fund a rigorous scholarly evaluation of “The Family” project leading to the publication of several journal articles and to develop a training program for therapist facilitators to further expand The Family’s outreach.
So, my dad’s a psychiatrist. At the dinner table, instead of being asked, how was your day? He would ask, “What’s on your heart?” And the response of “nothing” was not a viable option. So there were many evenings I would mentally run through a list of possible answers in order to be able to leave the dinner table quickly – not really paying attention to the question,
or my answer.
Along with being a psychiatrist, he married my mother – a beautiful California girl, Berkley graduate who became a Christian at age 18 and has since demonstrated an unwavering spiritual faith and academic commitment (she’s an amazing writer, English Lit Ph.D. & Professor). The two met at L’Abri – a spiritual retreat in Switzerland, and thankfully for me, became married after 2 years. My father is a “beige” Bahamian (a term in the Bahamas for light black, Tarpin Bay, Eleuthera descendent), my mother a white American, so I am biracial, bicultural, binational and everything in between.
Every morning after our breakfast served on china, cloth napkins folded in laps, milk and juice in glass pitchers (no plastic gallon bottles allowed on the table), my parents would lead us in daily devotions and the family would sing a rousing chorus of “This is the Day that the Lord has made, We will Rejoice and Be Glad in It!” and off we would go to start our day. At night, my parents would come into our individual rooms and after praying for us, would sing “Jesus loves me, this I know”, before turning off the light and whispering good night.
Forty-one years later, as a mom of 3 kids, therapist, school psychologist, and trainer, this memory comes roaring back to me, and it baffles me almost to the absurd – I just don’t know how they did it. My mornings many times consist of throwing bagels or bowls of fruit loops at my kids as we run out the door, sports bags, lunch boxes, water bottles and my sanity jumbled in a chaotic mess as we try to get to school on time. Most school nights consist of which kid goes to which sport, piano lesson, or youth group, figuring out dinner (thank you to my hubby), and me seeing patients or facilitating group therapy. It is not my parents’ house in any sense of the imagination.
I like control and I like predictability. I am hugely achievement oriented (two doctors as parents will do that to you). I have had goals my whole life, and my biggest goal, was to achieve all those other goals. Neatly, on time, and without conflict. I went to all girls’ boarding school at age 14 and by age 35 I was married with 3 kids, had completed my Masters and Ph.D. ,was a full-time college psychology professor, and clinician in private practice. Married – check, Babies – check, Career – check… Three years ago, I became the school psychologist at my kids’ school so I could spend more time with them (the pros and cons of the working mom – but that’s another blog..). The “to-do” list was complete… That felt good. For about 6 seconds…
I knew I wanted to do something more, but I didn’t know what. I started searching for new goals – new ways to achieve – I started a Girls’ Empowerment Camp, yet still didn’t feel I was using my full potential. Looking back, I ask myself “Why oh Why did I search for something more?!” Because more is what I got. I got more conflict, unmanageability, loss of control, anxiety, and depression. The recession hit, finances became impossible, crime and violence in our community escalated and the control, predictability and stability that I was so accustomed to was demolished.
Put aside was the desire to achieve. I was too obsessed, anxious, consumed to think about achieving – my focus was on surviving. Little did I know that I had just let go of a monkey bar, without having any idea how far the next bar would be, or if it even existed.. I had entered the period of transition. And I had to choose to either give up control (it was never mine to give up, but I didn’t know that), or surrender and let go in order to embark on the Discovery Pathway in front of me.
I have had to daily ask myself, “What’s on my heart?” and nothing is not a viable answer.
There were many days during the past year, that the answer has been despair, fear, anxiety, and confusion. Not great. However through this journey of releasing the defenses of my false self (control, codependency) in order to discover the characteristics of my true self (hope, strength, gratitude and love), I am learning that even on those days when I just could. not. rejoice., each day was indeed a DAY THAT THE LORD HAD MADE with a purpose that at the time I could not, but now am beginning to, fully understand.
However, what I do know is that Jesus Loves Me… this I know.
What’s on your Heart?
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