“Happy Mothers Day! Thank you for everything you’ve done for me. Have a great day today.”
I received these words via Facebook messenger. I saw them while my daughter was still asleep and my husband was still out buying me flowers. I smiled widely while a tear may or may not have been slowly gliding down my cheek.
The message was from a former client in my job as a substance abuse counselor and in many ways, the son I never had. And, because his mother died when he was very young, who knows, maybe I had become her understudy. Either way, we have a bond that came out of nowhere and took us both by surprise.
My job has meant the absolute world to me. It has become part of my identity. I have thrown myself into it with a bit of uncertainty and a whole lot of faith. In one year, I have marveled at how I have been able to draw out the men on my caseload in ways that they have admitted that no one else has done before. It’s an innate skill of mine. A friend once said to me that I can learn more about someone in 15 minutes than he could in years.
The halfway house is an incredibly welcoming place. When the guys come home from work they come into the office and sit and chat about their day. They ask about our days. There’s no push to get them out. As a matter fact, it’s those who don’t do this that gets the attention of the house manager. When he sees one slip into the house without stopping to say hello, he’ll bellow, “What the hell are you hiding from?”
On the flipside, with so many overdoses and deaths, I found myself beginning to have anxiety and panic attacks every time I parked in front of the house. This has never happened to me in my life. When I heard over a weekend of the death of a 25-year old on my caseload my husband held me as my body shook. When clients saw me in tears after a death, they would ask me if I’d be okay. Others would warn that getting too attached was a liability in this field. When I just saw my doctor she said that the stress was throwing my body out of whack and gently advised that maybe this wasn’t the best environment for me to be in.
Recently under the very watchful eye of a new supervisor, the mood of the wonderful, somewhat fluid boundaries of the house began to change. It was strongly suggested that the guys don’t come into the office for too long, that they should be redirected when they asked about our days into us saying things like, “It’s not about me. How was YOUR day?” When graduates stop by to say hello, instead of greeting them with our customary hugs, it has become this very stilted dance of a non-physical greeting, or I tell them to come outside where I could hug them, as always. I didn’t care.
As this continued down a path of more and more restriction I would come home and vent to my husband. A few weeks ago, as we lay in bed and I was getting more angry and upset, he said, “Your heart’s too big for that place.” And he was right. It was at that moment that I knew I couldn’t stay.
I’ve been walking around for days mourning the absence of my old identity. I have part-time writing work lined up and am doing everything in my power to find a volunteer opportunity in the field where I can interact, freely, with those who struggle with substance abuse. I will continue to fight the good fight in any way I can as this crisis of addiction gets worse every day.
The day after Mother’s Day, I came into work to find a card propped up against the phone on my desk signed by all of the guys in the house. Front and center was this:
“While we are here, you are a mother to all of us. Thanks for the love and care.”