4/19/2020 0 Comments
PTSD, Trauma, Survivor, Healing, Substance Abuse, Alcoholism, Drug Abuse
Sometimes it comes as a surprise to me when I realize that for the past 18 years, I've been working with survivors of trauma in some capacity or other. My first job was as a substance abuse counselor and case manager at a homeless women's residential recovery program. Over the three years I worked in that position, I interviewed at least a thousand women who wanted to become part of our program. We were the only recovery program in the city serving homeless women that allowed residents to have their children and pets on-site. We had around 10-12 adult residents at a time. Part of my job was to gauge how well the applicant would fit in with the community, and how serious they were about their recovery. We were also a harm reduction facility, meaning that if a resident used drugs or alcohol, we used that as a learning opportunity rather than automatically kicking her out. However, we always had to balance the benefit to the relapsed resident of staying in the program, versus the harm to the community if she stayed. Sometimes the resident had to leave if it was in the community's best interest. Over my three years there, I saw hundreds of women come and go. Some returned to life on the streets. Some passed away. Sometimes my work was heartbreaking.
But then there were the few shining success stories.
I'm thinking of one woman in particular who completed the twelve-month program and graduated around the time I changed jobs. I lost track of her, as I was then working for a different organization. About nine years into my new position, we moved to a new office building. Imagine my pleasant surprise when I heard someone in our new building calling my name - and it was my former client! She was ten years sober from heroin and other drugs and working in a University-related substance abuse research program - her baby son she had just given birth to when she entered our residential program was ten years old and doing well! Holding her head high, she exuded an inner strength that comes from meeting challenges head-on, no matter how painful - tenaciously holding onto an intention of making big life changes - accepting her past, but not letting it determine her future. She had moved from victim to survivor.
Over the course of my career, my clients have taught me so much more than I ever learned in graduate school. I've seen first hand how often childhood trauma leads to substance abuse and other mental health disorders. Often the adult experiencing the effects of trauma ends up in abusive relationships, homelessness, and legal problems. They become victims of their past - until they decide to make changes in their lives, one small step at a time. Is change possible? Yes. Is it easy? No!
I'll end with some food for thought from Walt Disney, who was a survivor of childhood abuse: "The past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or learn from it."