Women's History Month Spotlight: Dori Bowling-Walters, LCSW
Today is International Women's Day, when we celebrate the incredible women who inspire us in our personal lives as well as at work and in our beloved communities. This monumental day also celebrates the movement for women's rights and every woman's incredible achievements — from climbing the corporate ladder and leading their own companies to raising families and changing social, economic, cultural and political landscapes.
This month, Eating Recovery Center and Pathlight Mood and Anxiety Center will be spotlighting a few of the women who empower and encourage our staff and community every day.
First up, we're highlighting Dori Bowling-Walters, LCSW, Senior Director, Admissions. Based out of Chicago, Dori has been a part of the ERC | Pathlight community for about 10 years and was inspired to explore psychology in high school where her journey toward helping others began.
What does Women's History Month mean to you?
Celebrating Women’s History Month allows for the time to reflect on the impact that women have had on society and on individual lives. I personally take time to reflect on who I am as a woman, a mother, a sister, a friend, a boss. As I have aged I have come to appreciate the different ways that I show up as a “woman” and how my gender does not put me in any box and it does not have to dictate how I behave, what I say or where I can go.
Tell us about the women who have inspired you and continue to inspire you.
I have always been inspired by my grandmother who did not have an easy life or even graduate from high school, but she still managed to teach me a very important lesson: “Treat others the way you would want to be treated.” We can all choose to lead with kindness and empathy; I hear her voice whenever I make that choice.
I have also always been inspired by Whoopi Goldberg because she has never seemed to limit herself. We all know she did not have the “look” of a famous woman, she did not represent the majority race, she was an unwed teenage mother, she was poor…she was all the things that people think lead to failure, and she chose to succeed anyway. She seems to always show up as her authentic self and does not apologize for what/who she is “not” but chooses to embrace her gifts. I think this is the way all women should celebrate and honor themselves.
Why did you feel called to work for a mental health and eating disorder treatment organization?
I grew up on the Southside of Chicago, in the “hood.” We were very low middle class — on a good day — and just plain old poor every other day of the week. Both of my parents were addicts and because of this, I saw and experienced things that children should not experience. God saw fit to bless me with intelligence and forethought, and over the course of my life I had teachers/educators who looked out for me. I was bussed out of my neighborhood to a better school.
In my sophomore year, I discovered psychology class and it felt like where I belonged. But even more than just being in the class, my teacher had us complete a journal and she would read it. One day after class she asked to speak to me because she was alarmed by some of the things I was writing about in my journal, my everyday life, my thoughts and feelings. To me, finding a parent passed out in the bathtub was normal; to her it was alarming. It was those conversations with her that let me see that I could have a different life, that I could push myself beyond what I saw and knew. I remember feeling seen for the first time and I remember years later when I was able to love myself and feel real happiness, I knew I wanted to help other people get there too.
How has being a woman influenced you as a leader and your thoughts on leadership?
Long answer short, I just see myself as Dori and Dori just happens to be a woman. I am tough. I work daily at being a good person. I love being able to support others. I can sometimes be a jerk, but I am the first one to call myself out about it. And even when I am worn out, I try my best. So being a woman and a leader means all those things. I like to think those things have led me to be blessed to be a “leader.” I give tough love, I have high expectations of myself and others, and because of that this woman will always try to lead by example.
What is a belief about womanhood that you have had to challenge and overcome?
Truth moment: As a black woman, I have always worried that people will see my toughness as anger. We have all heard the stereotype of “angry black woman,” but in general when women have a voice or command, respect it is as seen as being emotional, so either sensitive or angry. I don’t assign emotions to gender, but I know historically society has, and this has led me damper my voice or feel that I would not be offered a seat at the table if I did speak up. In recent years I have had very honest conversations with friends, colleagues and with myself to overcome that worry and to become comfortable and unapologetic in my toughness as a black woman.
How do you support your own mental health and unwind after a long week?
I wish I could say something cool, like go for long walks or yoga…but honestly, I just sit. Again, as I age, I appreciate silence and I am learning to give myself permission to do NOTHING. I watch Food Network or "RuPaul's Drag Race," I play with my Munch and just watch him love life, I laugh with my friends and fellow CATS, and I remember to breathe. I started in the field as a crisis worker, so I am pretty good at stepping away and turning it off — so the work does not consume me.
What have you learned in the past year about yourself while experiencing the Covid-19 pandemic?
The pandemic has reinforced my understanding of needing to just sit and breathe. It has taught me that it is okay to turn off the news or to look away when I become overwhelmed. As an innate “helper,” I had to admit that I cannot fix everything for everybody, and I really can’t do anything if I am falling apart. I also learned that even though I do not have a lot of biological family, I am surrounded by so many amazing women who show up for me and support me, more than my “family” ever did. This past year I learned how to accept help, and I am so grateful for those women who literally showed up every morning at 9:30 a.m. CST and provided that.
What’s one personal goal you have for 2021 that you’re able to share with us?
In 2021, my personal goal is to choose me a little more. As a woman and a mommy to an amazing 6-and-a-half-year-old who is on the spectrum, I have spent the last four years making sure he had every service known to man. He has now graduated from the therapeutic day school to the general education population and even his ABA therapist discharged him because he is doing great. Now I want to take some time to pat myself on the mommy back and remember who I am and what I like to do. Hopefully the world continues to open up so I can explore it and be happy.
What is one thing not many people know about you that may surprise them?
I am kind of an over-sharer so this one is also tricky. If you were to ask anyone that knew teenage Dori, you will hear that I was a bit of a bully and pretty mean. I was often told to smile more, which just made me frown more. Thank goodness for growth and therapy.
What would you tell your 18-year-old self that would have better prepared you for your life today?
I would tell her to always remember her value and that no matter what. You will be okay, so just go for it. God made you strong...you got this!
What advice would you give to the next generation of women leaders?
Ladies, take your time. Learn you, love you, make choices for you…you do not have to be what anyone else labels or expects you to be. When you really learn to love yourself, you will find a peace and comfort that will guide you in the right direction. And in the words of Whoopi Goldberg, “I am where I am because I believe in all possibilities.” Believe in you and choose wisely.