I spend 40 hours a week in an all-male residential program for recovering addicts and alcoholics. I have a revolving caseload of 12 men as young as 24 and as old as 51 (the average age of the 30 men in the program is 33).
I am not an addict or alcoholic, and I have a degree in journalism, not social work. I am a woman, and through a series of unexpected life events, I’ve become a substance abuse counselor and have learned more about struggle, patience, compassion, and generosity than I ever expected.
Like all of us, these men have their backstories. Unfortunately, a large percentage of these stories contain parents who have handed them a crack pipe or a needle at an incomprehensibly young age. Many have endured physical abuse so unfathomable that my stomach lurches when I hear about it.
Others have had athletic promise cut short by an overzealous doctor prescribing unnecessary amounts of painkillers that led to a lifelong opiate addiction. These are the themes I hear over and over again. I often wonder how these men are still standing. And when I ask them about their difficult lives, with experiences so tragically varied yet somehow universally similar, I never cease to learn life-altering lessons.