A Day in the Life

I decided not to post regularly about my time in Vancouver the way I did in Athens, because honestly, it began to feel like a burden as I succombed to my compulsion to impress people.  But I do want to share a little picture of what my life is like, so here’s a snapshot of my work experiences this past month!

I am the program manager of a recovery program for women with addictions who have been sexually exploited, which means that on paper, I’m responsible for making sure the facilitators deliver our classes effectively.  In actuality, every day is a new adventure.  I’m also co-house director of the second stage house, which means I share responsibility for the two women and one child currently in that house.  It is not a lot of responsibility until it is.  But nothing can really capture what a “typical” day looks like unless I give you a moment-by-moment breakdown.  Here’s a random day from a while ago:

I was woken up by my morning facilitator telling me she would be late to work.  When I got to the office, the woman who tested positive for opiates yesterday had solved the mystery by citing numerous examples of people testing positive for opiate use after eating a poppyseed bagel, which she had done.  I went in the bathroom with her to get a second urine test, which came back clean.  I wrote up an incident report, sent it to her social worker, and reiterated that so long as she kept testing clean this would be viewed as a bagel incident.

I led the AA devotionals by myself, then left the office with one participant to go downtown to Victim Services in the courthouse.  She filled out paperwork for a refund for medical expenses incurred when fleeing her pimp and confirmed the court date for her testifying against him.  We drove back to the office, and she made fun of me for not knowing a Justin Bieber song.  When I said I was behind on pop culture because I’d been in Greece for two years, she said the song was three years old.

Three people stopped me as I re-entered the office, and there was a note on my desk saying the women were out of coffee and “coffee whitener,” so I snagged the opportunity to drive to Safeway for a few minutes of peace and for a tea latte from the Starbucks in the grocery store.

Then two of my bosses pulled the participant with daughter problems (who skipped program yesterday without calling) into a meeting.  We all agreed that these temporary visits were more damaging than helpful, and that we would work toward her becoming healthy enough to bring her daughter into full-time care at a later date.  But that meant getting her daughter’s father involved, so we planned for a big meet up at a separate location on Thursday morning.  I was assigned babysitting duty at the house while that happens, thus wiping out my planned Thursday morning.

I went home and saw that my new housemate (who had said she was too sick to come in to program today) wasn’t there.  I texted, asking where she was, but by 10:00 she hadn’t come home or responded.  I conferred with my co-house director and my boss and texted her a final time to tell her we were setting the alarm and would see her tomorrow.  I went to bed worrying she had relapsed and wondering where she was.

It’s all very spontaneous and requires an enormous amount of emotional intuition, but I am loving the challenges.  It’s incredibly draining sometimes, but my housemates respect my need to spend most of every night in my room with my cat, so it hasn’t yet been overwhelming.  However, the effort is more than worth it when I have moments like a woman comes into my office to share an emotional breakthrough she had with a genuine smile covering her face.

I love the women.  They’re so smart and funny and hurt and earnest.  It is INCREDIBLY wonderful to speak the same language and develop relationships that go beyond body language.  I genuinely like them all and enjoy spending my days with them.  Their commitment and their honesty about their failures is incredibly refreshing to me, and I wish everyone had the opportunity to know them the way I do.

So for anyone wondering:  that’s my life!

 

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How Black Sails Equipped Me With the Empathy Necessary for My New Job

I am rewatching Black Sails with a coworker, and I’ve been thinking about the similarities between the show’s themes and my work with women recovering from sexual exploitation and addictions.

The overarching question of Black Sails is:  which is worse, piracy or civilization?  History has made pirates into monsters, but the show is determined to make us see that civilization deliberately painted them that way, because civilized people need someone to point to and say: at least I’m not like THEM.  To be fair, the pirates often do monstrous things.  But civilization did monstrous things as well, only they had the resources to cover them up or blame someone else.

I see a lot of similarities in how the world views women who are prostitutes and/or addicts.  It’s unfortunately common to insult or dismiss them, to call them names or use them as examples of The Bad (I’m looking at you, Proverbs).  Adding addiction to the mix just makes it easier to alienate people and make monsters out of them.  At least we’re not like that, we think.

A while ago, I had a conversation with a friend about fostering.  I had always thought the hardest part of fostering would be knowing the relationship was temporary.  My friend said that the hardest part was that often you were not just saying goodbye to a child, you were sending it back into a bad situation.  I agreed with her, and then on my first day at my new job, I saw the “bad situation” children are sent back to.

On that day, a woman in the program tested positive during our random drug screening.  We had to call in her social worker and determine what was to be done with her child.  The woman was devastated, angry at herself for letting her addiction get the better of her, furious that she had jeopardized her relationship with her child for the sake of a temporary high.  An extraordinary solution was found, and since then I’ve had a lot of one-on-one time with the mother and child.  The thing is, she’s a great mother 90% of the time.  She’s attentive and loving and protective.  And sometimes she gets high and is wholly incapable of caring for her child.  I’m not at all advocating that women with addictions should keep their children no matter what.  But the story became much more complicated.

Perhaps it sounds silly to equate pirates with addicts, but if you think that then I have to assume you haven’t seen Black Sails.  Stories matter, and when we make addicts into monsters, they internalize that role.  Both the pirates in a tv show and the women I work with on a daily basis have done some truly horrific and criminal things.  But that is not all that they are, and when those are the stories we tell, we erase the goodness in them and the potential for recovery.

So we have to ask ourselves: why do we tell these stories?  To hide our worst impulses?  To assure ourselves that even though we lost our temper with our kid, at least we didn’t do this?  To make our sexual decisions seem better because at least we didn’t do that?  To minimize our own selfishness and pettiness and vindictiveness?  The thing that Black Sails tells us over and over again is this:  civilization and pirates are not all that different.  We all have the same dark impulses when pushed into a desperate corner.  And if we haven’t yet been pushed into that desperate corner, the least we can do is thank God for our privilege and practice empathy for those that made a bad decision in a bad situation.

Society spins narratives to make sense of the world and our role within it.  As someone who has always fared well from those narratives, I haven’t had to question them.  But there are women and men who live behind the labels “prostitute” and “addict,” and if we don’t take the time to understand their reality and see them as whole people with stories and contexts and futures, we make them into monsters.  And isn’t that a monstrous thing to do?