Roadblocks to Recovery

Lauren Johnson continues her guest posts about incarceration, recovery and life in general.  She interviewed one of her former substance abuse counselors for this latest installment. 

Sadly, relapse and recidivism are more of a rule than an exception. I like the people out there working to change that to have the chance to see they are making a difference.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with a counselor that worked with me at the Austin Transition Center, which is a half way house near the Del Valle jail. He no longer works there but we have kept in contact over the years and he agreed to allow me to interview him. We will call him Jay, and Jay had some pretty keen insights! Jay also used to bring his guitar to the half way house to play and sing us music which was very cool, especially after being deprived from the joy of music for so long.

Jay graduated from Texas Tech with a Master’s degree in Counseling and a Bachelor’s in Psychology, which he did while dealing with dyslexia. So he has first hand experience with overcoming obstacles.

When I asked him what made him get into the field of helping addicts in recovery, he replied very honestly that it was all that was available at the time. He had a choice between working with addicts or with kids, and he wanted something that challenged him. In the beginning, he worked in a facility that was very similar to SAF-P and was strictly male clientele. I wanted to know what the biggest difference is in working with men as opposed to women and he told me that the biggest challenge when working with men instead of women is getting men to tap into their emotions. Understanding and expressing emotions is one of the keys to recovery. Women tend to over identify with their emotions and not understand on a cognitive level how they are swayed by them. Interestingly, it is statistically proven that when men and women are treated separately they have a higher success rate.

From Jay’s perspective, the biggest obstacle to recovery is self esteem, which can be impacted by negative thoughts and self-talk. Even an underlying, unstated belief of “ I am not worthwhile” or “ I can’t” can be the hardest things to overcome. If someone doesn’t think they are worthwhile, then they won’t put in the effort. Once a person begins to recognize their value in spite of what they have done or how they have been treated before then they can heal and grow.

Those words reminded me of a speaker I watched once. Les Brown, a much lauded motivational speaker, said something that has stuck with me. He pulled a twenty dollar bill out of his pocket. Then he asked the audience how much it was worth. Of course everyone responded; it was a simple enough question. He then took that bill and crumpled it up over and over in his hands and threw it on the ground. He asked the question again. How much was that bill worth? Still the answer is obvious. It is worth twenty dollars. He then took it and stomped on it and asked again. The answer was obvious; it was still worth twenty dollars. Then he asked why it was so obvious that we can see the value in that bill no matter what it has been through and have such a hard time seeing our own value. We can be crumbled, stomped on and mishandled but our value does not go down. That is a message that Jay spent a lot of time teaching his clients. It is also a message that he felt was important for society in general to know. That addicts are not immoral, ingrate animals. They are only doing the best they can with what they have. They still have value.

One time, Jay was at a store in the checkout line. A woman approached him, held out her hand and said, “Thank you”. At first he thought maybe she was a little coo coo but politely said, “You’re welcome”, and then asked her where he knew her from. She explained to him that although he had not been her counselor, he had been one of the counselors on staff and he said things that made a difference in her life. She went back to school and was about to graduate. She was going to be a licensed chemical dependency counselor (LCDC) and could be passing that legacy on to someone else. “That is the payday, that is what makes it worth it,” Jay said. His favorite part of the job was seeing the light bulb go on for someone. When it finally clicks for someone it is really cool! He is no longer working in that capacity now and when I asked if there was something about the job that made him leave, his answer was honest again. He was unable to make a living and pay for the degree that got him into the job. He is still out there making a difference in the world. He still plays the guitar and sings regularly, and sometimes he even gets paid for it!

-Lauren Johnson



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