An old site supervisor at an internship 12 years ago shared the story of him asking a needy client who was knocking yet again on his door for a solution he didn’t have regarding something outside of his scope (billing or housekeeping or something he didn’t do) and he asked his client in a frustrated tone, “WHAT DOES THAT SIGN ON MY DOOR SAY?!”
“WHA–oh wow, yeah I guess it does say that doesn’t it.”
And he went on to share his experience in finding humor and instant change of mood and found connection and broke barriers of discord by fostering connection through humor and understanding rather than feeding into his frustrations further and driving distance between this client and himself. I’ve never been able to “unsee” “the rapist” ever since that day.
It’s also a funny disturbing therapist/counselor joke I’ve seen across my years after that story was shared with me, working in this field with those words written on a door and the dialogue of a man yelling at the maintenance man providing the lettering for his door sign, “NO SPACES! IT’S ONE WORD! PSYCHOTHERAPIST IS ONE WORD!” Or even just “the rapist” which my office doors across the years have often displayed this word with no spaces and I laugh internally as I see clearly it reads the rapist but with no space. “Therapist”
I just want to take a moment and reflect to express gratitude right now, as I feel my soul needs to remember to see the many things I have, and for me personally, this keeps me outside of me rather than in self-pity. I want to share this too, because I think in doing so not only am I helping myself in healing and growth through my best coping skill, exploration in writing, but also to educate and/or empathize with whoever is reading this as an outsider with whichever connection they have to this.
I want to first off say that I feel like any helping professional working in addiction inpatient treatment right now, in this very moment, can agree with me that it’s a lot. And I want to be sure I am clear when I explain what I mean, because I want to break stigma through this too, as I see it as an ignorance, not by choice, but rather lack of experience and connection to something stigmatized by what sometimes seems like the majority of the world, and I understand some reasons that seem to remain undiscussed and buried away for whatever reason, and typically I just see fingers and blame and divide when it comes to arguments about Addiction. And the loud obnoxious and hateful voice stands out from the others in criticizing and placing judgments and bias on a “label” based on opinion, and merely opinion. Individuals typically don’t care to be educated on addiction because of the stigma attached, and so much bias and divide is ignorance along. The finger pointing is senseless and outplayed… there’s no solution in that.
I will say that I see an unspoken truth that probably leans into a huge factor of answering the real WHY people who are inexperienced in living with addiction involved in their personal daily lives somehow, they don’t understand and they merely know what facts they see— news, gossip, arrests, media… the drug charges and associations with the various consequences are there… neither side can disagree on that…. Drugs are often involved in reports associated with consequences and “awful things” that none of us would do in our right minds, sober, and mentally sound.
We all can relate to the “Oof” feeling in the gut when we hear about bad news or something terrible… we relate and empathize with the “victim” of the story. All of us do. We all know pain, whatever it looks like, each of us knows how it feels… and it’s natural to become slightly angry and defensive when we are reminded of things that we are deeply connected to through our own experiences of this word/: PAIN.
It’s so fascinating to see such incredible and wise individuals become so enmeshed and absorbed in themselves and their own connection to the pain that underlies their fuel that lights this fire to prove their points AGAINST other people… And visa versa… There are these individuals on both sides of the arguments… and each side has valid and experience fueled reasoning behind these strong beliefs or “Facts” that are created by self…
And it’s just baffling looking from the outside seeing two incredible individuals who have so many things in common and both are passionate and driven by pain from their personal lives and instead of seeing the connection they are hurting one another and continuing to add to stigmas and bias that is all in existence merely due to misunderstanding. That’s what it boils down to… Both sides feel they are not being heard and are misunderstood.
We are misunderstood.
And we push one another away based on difference and fear of furthering this instilled fear that we cannot be understood or heard- unwilling to openly listen and connect to someone, anyone, with no reason outside of a desire to understand and connect and grow from this individual.
Man what an amazing world we would have if everyone could be excited by differences and lean into that discomfort of somebody being different than what they know and who they are with a yearning to grow and learn from this person who obviously knows something you do not, and has lived life differently than you have— there’s endless things that we could accomplish and learn from anyone and everyone we cross paths with every day… No one is insignificant or more important than another if you realize that there is only one copy of that individual as they are exactly in the world… and you get the opportunity to cross paths with so many beautiful and original rare beings, DAILY, through everything you do… How do we not see this? How do others not strive to admire the beauty in others uniqueness and appreciate those differences — isn’t that exactly what we wish others would see in US?
We want others to recognize what we have to offer and what our strengths, passions, and talents are…. But then we don’t care to dive into exploring this in others? That’s completely bonkers, to me man! I can’t understand it.
Addiction I think is given such a hard wrap and bad stigma is because of the behaviors associated behind those in active addiction and people have this intolerance for anyone breaking moral codes understood and agreed upon as being the unspoken but understood basic “Good” in trying to do your best and be kind to all. Things unacceptable for anyone no matter who you are or where you stand in this topic, I can guarantee your first thought of someone who seems to do something to intentionally harm you in whatever way that may be,… I think our human natural response is to be defensive and hurt and project… If I come home and someone has vandalized and stolen valuables in my residence, my home, I’ll be first to admit hell yeah, I’m instantly feeling anger, hurt, and confusion… and that’s instant. It impacts me and my life and I would not do such to someone else, so I don’t understand how someone could just hurt someone else for personal gain alone.
I have met and encountered people like this in my life,… and these individuals who this exists as a piece of who they really are,… I recognize and know this through understanding that this exists and is something I do not understand at all, and I will always distance myself from those which intend harm upon me, I think we all can agree on that…
Of the individuals who I’ve encountered in life who have shown me this piece of their characters, not even one of them were in recovery or working a program. And if you just need to know how many were addicts and how many weren’t… From my personal experiences (which are mine alone and not reflective of the world or anything else) I will say that based on this being a characteristic of their true selves outside of substances that the majority were not addicts but dangerous in the fact that they seem to be what they think you want them to see them as,.. and use this charm to lure you in and then strike when the timing is just right for them… and nothing they did or connections made were genuine or real on their side, and so it really hurts if you’re the one who gets blindsided and attacked and used and dumped for no reason other than being a good person who loves deeply. There were a few who were actively using drugs who did and said things that were awful- but time and time again the hurt was geared towards getting more of the substance that is keeping them alive or functioning in that moment… Am I saying that it’s justified or in any way right> Hell no. That’s screwed up no matter who you are… I think that for me, knowing whether or not an individual is striving to be someone different and acknowledging and owning up to their terrible awful and shameful behaviors and words,… that’s the person that I respect for being real, for no ulterior motive aside from trying to heal and be/do better. I’ll defend a person working on themselves and trying to better on that alone.
I don’t care who you are. If you are striving daily and actively doing things you’re not “required” to do in order to better who you are as a human being, make right what you’ve wronged, be willing to lift up that rug you’ve swept all that hidden away shameful dirt that none of us would just throw out there as HEY LOOK I COMPLETELY AND SELFISHLY HURT SOMEONE WHO DIDN’T DESERVE IT AT ALL FOR MY OWN SELFISH REASONS AND TAKE FULL OWNERSHIP OF MY PART AND MY PART ALONE…. Who does that?
I’ll tell you who.
Individuals in Recovery who are actively working a program. These individuals not only are already cast out and away from society based on an old biased stigma and judged for their mistakes and believed to be their mistakes in the process.. Those are the ones who have been told they are worthless and their actions and behaviors from being actively using are used as proof to those saying this, but also are believed to be true by the individual.
Can I say that I’ve never done anything in my life that I shouldn’t have been arrested for? If I were caught for every law I’ve broken and called out on all the harm I’ve done throughout my life to others, I assure you I’d probably have racked up a felony from speeding alone, not to mention numerous charges from poor decisions from the past that I was lucky enough to not get caught when doing. I’m no angel and completely take ownership that I could easily be locked up had the circumstances been different slightly in any of those situations. I got lucky.
Do I know what it feels like to watch someone you thought you knew or someone you love deeply suddenly transform into this hurtful, angry, seemingly careless, soulless, monster that has seemed to turn against me, and wondered what I’d done? Oh yeah. Have I been beaten down and belittled for unjust reasons by someone in active addiction? Often. I know what it feels like to be the ignorant one who doesn’t feel anything but hurt and anger and not understand why I deserve to be treated the way I was. I know what it feels like to see someone you love standing in front of you as a familiar face that holds memories and love but is no longer the person you knew them to be. I know what it’s like to cry and try to help and get manipulated and used each time and wonder why why why… I know that hurt, angry, betrayed, destroyed, used, belittled, taken advantage of side of addiction too, in many facets of my personal journey thus far in this world.
I also know how lucky I am to have stumbled into the one field of counseling that I had initially had no desire to even attempt looking into as something I had any interest in doing. My bias came from an addiction counselor from my first “big girl job” in outpatient counseling. Being a newbie fresh in the field, I absorbed and took in experienced seasoned counseling professionals and their wisdom and perspectives….
And the alcohol and drug counselor for the company I worked in happened to tell me that Addiction is the field in which counselor burnout is the highest, and that the constant overdoses and deaths leave you feeling as if you’re ineffective and not helping anyone. He encouraged me to NOT go into the addiction field because it was hard, high burnout, and therapists specifically working in addiction often give up on therapy, give up on themselves, and if they do decide to continue counseling, they never go back to A&D counseling as a specialty.
Newbie counselor little terrified 10-years ago version of myself believed this man must be telling the truth, this is his JOB, and he’s the one person here that is working in that field, surely he knows, after doing this for longer than I’ve been living, he’s knowledgeable far beyond me. And in that moment I closed the door to the idea of even exploring that population… I had interest and motivation which fueled my questioning him specifically but he shut my interests and inquisition down QUICK with how terrible it sounded. “Never work in addiction” was the message overall that he offered to me. I had no intention of looking that direction again for a while, and while I felt sad and hurt that the field I thought I would enjoy learning more about was a nightmare apparently that counselors dread and hate and become hollow shells from doing- WTF why would anyone CHOOSE that?!
Two and a half years later I was placed in a predicament in which I had to choose whether to leave a situation I was miserable in,… because an opportunity presented itself effortlessly in my path merely based on my connections, and it was back where I’d just moved away from and not where I wanted to be, and the facility was an “Adolescent long-term alcohol and drug treatment facility”
(Insert bad word of choice here)
Had it not been for a colleague I admired and valued his wisdom and genuine feedback asking me a simple question, “Yes, Resa, I know it’s not where you want to be, but is it closer to where you want to go?”
I didn’t know the answer to where I wanted to go… Arkansas was where my mind went, and yes, Arkansas was closer and more desirable than where I was and the misery I was existing in back in those dark years.
I was so terrified.
And I quickly realized that this was exactly where I THRIVED and found passion and desire and fight against the very thing that took away people I care deeply for and replaced them with strangers and I knew I tried to always wake those people up and get back the people I knew and remembered and felt defeated, hopeless, invisible, and worse off for pointing out an elephant in a room that apparently nobody else can see.
Everyone here was pointing at the elephants…. And suddenly I realized I’d always had purpose I just never understood any of those experiences for what they were. I learned an grew so much and was so naturally good in this population, age group, and with addiction inpatient being my primary population I know today that I will always strive and love and work in. Had I not leaped into the unknown and been placed in a situation in which the fear outweighed the pain then I probably wouldn’t have the knowledge to be writing any of this. I’d also likely not be doing counseling today had I not found inpatient substance abuse counseling. I didn’t belong anywhere else, I stuck out like a sore thumb- and it was the most uncomfortable “mask” I was asked to wear in order to ask others to take off theirs? Made zero sense, and I couldn’t bring myself to do that- I was miserable. I thought my conception of what counseling was all about and my excitement was all a let down and falsely illustrated in my handwork and schooling… all of that fight and desire for this? No, this is not the field I think I belong in.
I was not made to be an outpatient therapist… I can’t wear the business attire and keep the tidy spotless desk and office and sit in a box all day long that’s uncomfortable for me and I know good and well is for the person expected to lower their masks when clearly I have multiple filters of my own on. That’s not me or what I’m about. Never will be.
Don’t get me wrong, some people are comfortable and themselves in being dressed nicely, and order and structure and organization is their zen.
I wish I had any ounce of those strengths in these incredible unicorns who enjoy and are naturally those people they display.
I’m a mess. I hate being fancy, I don’t feel comfortable when someone seems intimidating to me by powerful impressions displayed by clothing, desks, order, perfection….
I’m never ever ever ever going to be that person nor do I want to be and it makes me super anxious and uncomfortable… I am the thing out of place in that room- nothing else. LOL
Now put me somewhere I can obviously see “Oh hey, this person is human too,” and joke about the mishaps or imperfections with someone through their display of such,… yeah, I’ll vibe with them quick.
I’m more worried about dropping a speck of dirt on the perfect carpet of the other type A sorts.
And don’t get me wrong, that’s impressive, impressionable, and sought out by so many. I wish I had these skills and wants and comfort in this order and such… but it makes me more uncomfortable than anything.
I can do just enough to be acceptable level of professional with a semi messy desk with stacks of papers flipped out in every which-a-way, and sticky notes on the floor, desk, computer, and despite the misconception that this means I’m not organized, as many supervisors have stated to me in the past, those genuinely great caring supervisors who saw what I did rather than judge me for being different or lacking in the aesthetically pleasing areas — Those who know me well enough can tell you I’m able to locate anything of value or reference when asked to surface this information. I know exactly where to find things, in the midst of what seems like chaos. It’s how my mind works and I can either suffer in what I do by trying to hyper focus on what you think I should use to organize things, or I can do my job and do it damn well in my way while being respectful enough to understand not to be a slob and straighten up my stacks of papers from time to time. LOL
I know what it feels like to be an outcast and feel like nobody understands. I know what it feels like to feel hurt and invisible. I know what hurt feels like on both sides of the fence.
That man I was given advice to 10 years ago is a perfect example of a person who has no connection to this personally in a way that keeps them driven, deep, and motivated to push to their max in order to fight against addiction knowing the amazing incredible potential that has been covered up by the shell that drugs and alcohol have created. Unless you GET IT and have the education and understanding— which you won’t ever have truly unless you WANT TO UNDERSTAND TRULY, … those who end up working in addiction treatment without that drive and passion and fight and knowledge will indeed reflect a beat down, burned out, miserable in this field professional.
It’s not meant for everyone….
But MAN OH MAN, when you get a good group of people who are FIGHTERS for the good fight and are personally tethered to addiction in a close personal way whether it be they’re a recovering addict or a loved one of an addict, or have lost someone close to addiction… otherwise it would be exhausting and unfulfilling.
I do not hate those who lack empathy, I do not assume I understand or know anyone’s story, and while I personally will step back and away from individuals who are toxic for me in my life or bring me anywhere but upward, I set a boundary and am guarded, but I won’t stop believing in and hoping for and praying for them.
I understand that people (including myself) have done things in their pasts that they are not proud to admit to doing. In fact, rarely will you ever even know about those dark buried secrets that every person has somewhere in their lives…
Most people keep that locked up, and if they did something stupid or immoral in their pasts, they leave it alone and in their pasts, right? No one needs to see a side of us that isn’t really who we are based on a decision we made in the past that is shameful. Most human beings will keep that hidden away because we are afraid of being judged or mislabeled based on an embarrassing and out of character thing we did for whatever reason, whenever it was…. Why own up to something like that, right?
Working closely with those in recovery and in recovery, I practice the very principles behind the steps and I am willing to actively practice and grow as a person, and strive to be the best version of myself I can be, professionally, spiritually, mentally, physically (working on it lol), and in all facets of my well-being.
Had I not stumbled into an opportunity for growth and an experience that changed my entire life through taking the job 8 years or more ago at Sunflower Landing, initially for no other reason than feeling stuck and trapped and lost in my career and life,… had I never faced that fear and dove into discomfort there, I’d not know what I know, I’d not have found the peace and acceptance in life and understanding of myself and become openminded and able to constantly challenge myself to grow further and question how I can improve or what I’m still closed minded towards, I’d not have this drive, passion, desire today as strongly as I do, nor would I know the miracles and amazing things that recovery holds had I not been willing to step into it and be willing to practice and understand what I did not know anything about back then…
I am grateful that I found not only my passion and purpose, but through the last 8 years, I was able to finally do some healing and find myself and constantly work to be better than the version of me I was yesterday.
I see and understand the bias and stigmas this cruel world holds tightly onto beyond just differences… it goes deeper than that, …. It’s fear. Point blank deep cut to the core that’s the root. I think that the common underlying fear is from being uncomfortable. Whether our pride allows for us to admit it or not, if you choose to truly look deep down you’d agree that we as human beings do our best to avoid things that are uncomfortable, because well, that seems like common sense doesn’t it? Fear of the unknown, fear of being different, fear of failure, fear of being judged, fear of showing who you truly are, fear of whatever it may be… it’s all deep rooted in fear.
Is it surprising then, that I as a therapist PUSH my clients daily to step into discomfort and challenge them to sit in the uncomfortable? Not only that, but would it surprise you if I told you I cannot be effective in my work if I’m not willing, motivated, and able to work on the same things I ask of my clients, and actively practice these things in daily life and in all situations inside and outside of work? I constantly reframe my fears and challenges and change my words first to, “This is a great opportunity for growth” and find these opportunities not because BOY OH BOY I SURE WOULD LOVE TO NOT TRY TO JUSTIFY REASONS I SHOULD FEEL OVERWHELMED/FRUSTRATED/ANGRY/(insert negative emotion, thought, or behavior here). F- That! Of course I want to wallow in my self-pity because sometimes I want to feel like I deserve that and have earned every right to stay in my negativity with good reasons.
But I’ll call myself out from the beginning acknowledging that I recognize and realize the next words I say are fueled by emotion and self-pity and then I’ll admit and share those thoughts and feelings and FEEL them, but as much as I want to stay there longer than I do, I follow up with the opportunity for growth that is at hand for me in experiencing this…. And not only help myself, but can share with someone else an effective and healthy way to honestly work hard at trying to be better and being okay with owning my faults, as long as I’m able to recognize and change them to growth instead of self-destruction.
I feel like in a bizarre way I relate to what it feels like to be the outcast as most addicts feel. Not only from growing up as this person who was up front and angry for reasons both justified and not at all too… I also sometimes still feel that backwards sense of judgment as being the only employee at my job that is NOT in recovery meaning I do not regularly attend NA/AA meetings, I don’t have a sponsor, and I don’t work actively the steps with a sponsor… The other pieces I feel like I do strive daily to demonstrate and apply in life and am constantly hungry for further knowledge and understanding to be the best therapist I can be. With hearing that I’m not an addict there are those assumptions made about me sometimes such as:
> I don’t know what addiction is like and can’t relate because I haven’t experienced it.
— Fair jab and again ignorance lies between this assumption and the truth. No, I’ve never spiraled down into a darkness that led me to eventually be homeless and putting needles in my arm with nothing left and no belief that I can change. I’ve not hit a low like this, and I cannot relate to, on that level of experience, what it’s like to sleep on park benches or live out of my car and not have an option other than ultimately and eventually include jail, institutions, and ultimately death if not treated… I’ve never been to treatment either, although, again, being willing to WANT to understand, I’ve pushed and hinted to send me away to sit in the shoes of an addict in treatment and truly understand from that side what it’s like because I can’t say how I’d feel being away from my dog and my comfortable routines and thrown into an environment in which I’m forced to do things on someone else’s time, schedule, and expected to do homework and own up to those dark secrets buried away, then thoroughly examine, take ownership in my wrongdoings, and not cast blame outside of myself? Let me have an opportunity to go undercover somewhere away from anyone I would know professionally or work related and let me do it! No one has agreed to this plan yet haha!
— I have been convinced that there was something wrong with me and felt completely crazy that I felt so strongly and deeply out of what I thought was love and care for people I was very very close to and eventually believing this to the point of having this old belief system shape and hinder me from going outside of what I was told I was capable of. I know what depression is like, I know what it feels like to romanticize suicide, I know anxiety, panic attacks, and feeling like no matter what I do I will never be accepted, good enough, or right….
— I am fortunate to have ended up working in the field when I did, because had I not, I can’t guarantee I would not be dead or in treatment myself… I have had experiences in which I recognized SOLELY through knowledge by working in treatment and recovery that HEY I REALLLLLY LIKE THE WAY THIS MAKES ME FEEL… and wanting to take more- I know what withdrawal feels like from opioids— not years and years worth, but over a month of strong prescribed oxycodone post surgery I could tell already that the withdrawal was approaching and I’m thankful I pushed past the enabler who had no clue and had good intentions and let them know I would flush the pills if they were not taken from me,.. In retrospect, I should’ve flushed them as they ended up hurting somebody else for the very reasons I removed them from my path… Growth opportunities and lessons! I remember that feeling of brokenness, body aches, depression, and feeling like a hollow shell with high anxiety about getting out for any reason that would make me have to be around people… ESPECIALLY NOT WORK…. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and got through it.
— I’m no goody goody— I’m a complete moron full of bad decisions and drug and alcohol abuse with poor decisions associated with using….
— I’ve for sure, 100% certain, definitely done drugs…. And though I am lucky I never tried IV, had it presented itself in my life at a younger age when I did make many poor decisions and experimented around, or even during that 2 year span of my “rock bottom” I believe 100% that I was broken enough during that 2 year span that I’d have done or tried anything to numb the pain and escape my hell at that time… I’m grateful today I didn’t have that then…
— I’ve used substances to numb myself and not cope effectively with my own shit, I’ve abused intentionally drugs countless times, smoked weed, hallucinated, I’ve done cocaine, sat at a table with people smoking meth in conversation, done acid, abused pills, huffed air dusted, snorted pills, binge drank, done whippets, huffed, etc. My “rock bottom” had me to the brink of becoming that lost soul who was very near life becoming unmanageable and not being able to get out as I was drinking myself to sleep each night, partying daily, and in one circumstance even drinking on the job…. I GOT LUCKY, that’s the only thing that separates me is decided I was tired of living that way being miserable every single day and so I changed that and part of that change happened to be that I had opportunity fall into my lap and I was able and willing to change every further and I understood everything I’d experienced as being someone who has a loved one in active addiction and suddenly it wasn’t my fault and I felt validated and heard and I found individuals who GOT OUT and I tried for a while to share my experience, knowledge, and what would turn into my specialty and preferred population with those I am closest with in active addiction and realized and accepted that I want to fight even harder for those willing to try and change and those who WANT RECOVERY and to do something different. I fight hard alongside every single one of them. I can’t change someone who doesn’t believe nor wants to see a problem in themselves or their habits, and so I refuse to be a punching bag today and work on what I CAN change which is ME… I don’t feed into my old role and don’t enable the destruction anymore. I don’t fuel fires for arguments and I demonstrate change and growth and have had to set boundaries… they are difficult and they suck but are necessary.
— I am knowledgeable of the steps and have worked in a sponsorship role with teenagers for almost 4 years with NA step-working guides and have completed numerous oral 5th steps… I may not work daily on steelwork myself but I practice and live by the steps daily as I ask my clients to try to do and benefit tremendously.
I work my ass off to better who I am as a person and as a professional and strive for this daily, just as I see those wanting recovery do daily through their hard work. I ADMIRE AND LOOK UP TO anyone who is willing to be vulnerable and expose their faults and truths and dig up and admit to old shameful things they’ve done and harm they’ve deliberately caused to others….
I get frustrated by people judging based on the simple truth of the fact that this person is seeking and working towards growth and betterment of self daily— while another is pointing fingers, judging, stereotyping, ridiculing, stigmatizing, and demonstrating what ignorance and irritability, restlessness, and discontentment look like. You can be the president, have lots of money, and appear to have it all together but if you’re contributing to the problem of separating and dividing rather than focusing on connecting and finding beauty and vulnerability- you’re not any piece of what I want no matter what you think you have, I SURE DON’T WANT IT if it means I would not spread hope, connection, and provide opportunity to better humanity through having these things—- If I can’t find compassion, passion, empathy, motivation, love, joy, inspiration, energy, and drive in my life and what I’m doing, … I’m either not looking for it, or else I’m not doing the right thing for me.
I felt I needed to write tonight… for myself but also in a way that I hope my reflections can reach someone and provide some insight or curiosity to ignite a flame that can help light and guide others towards what they cannot see- another lighted flame is able to spread itself and light up the entire world if it’s given the right atmosphere to do so.
BE THE LIGHT MY FRIENDS…
Be not judgmental, and when you find yourself doing so, allow yourself to step into the discomfort and explore and better understand not only yourself better, but allow others to show their truths and passions freely. Be that comfortable environment that anyone can come to and be themselves and that be accepted and valued over all else.
Strive to push yourself for continuous change in the positive directions and open your mind and your eyes to find “Opportunities for Growth” in any and every situation, ESPECIALLY the difficult ones.
That’s all I’ve got for now.
All my best,
Until next time,