A very large percentage of the Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors in our country are also Recovering Addicts. This especially pertains to those certified by agencies created specifically to improve the qualifications of those working in a previously hugely unregulated field. This certification became necessary, as so many Addicts inspired by the 12 Step Concept, want to “give back” what they have acquired that changed their lives for the better, and in many cases “saved their life”!
I can only speak for myself, but approaching 10 years as a counselor, I believe myself to to represent the profile of very many counselors.
I definitely have had issues that relate back to childhood personality problems like, shyness, insecurity, and fear. As a child I was very small. I began school, 1st grade, at only 5 years old, in rural Missouri. My family relocated from there to California whan I was eight. When I graduated from 8th grade I was 4’8″ tall and weighed a mere 78 pounds. I had already spent 2 years in over-achievement, with a great degree of success. In 8th grade I was a starting line member in every sport. A benefit that came with that success, at that time, was that girls approached me, in spite of the fact that I was still so lacking in self-confidence that I could not approach them. So, at 12 years old, in 8th grade I won a popularity test at the annual Carnival and was crowned King of the Carnival. This was a very small rural school, though. My problems really surfaced in the next, or 1st year of High School. I was cut from every sport I entered in my Freshman year. This was a major blow to my somewhat bloated ego. I did still maintain a dominant role in my neighborhood, though. But school was important… very important to me as it is to all children. Thus I began my first associations with an alternative demographic and began drinking and smoking pot as regularly as an average 12 or 13 year old could… mostly Saturday nights. I also started hanging out with people 3 or 4 years old than I was. This period, I feel, set the trend for my life assuming the outcast or outlaw persona!
Between my freshman and sophomore years I grew from 5’1″ to 5’8″ and shot up to 145 pounds, which left me sort of with 2 left feet and hands. It was a disappointing time and I began to drink and smoke pot more, usually staying under-the-influence all weekend. This is in the 1960’s and a lot of social anxiety was going on with the civil rights movement many other societal tensions. The “underground” was forming and I was right there in the middle of it as much as someone my age could be. Remember, I had a tendency to associate with people older than me.
My junior year in high school started with a move to a high school that just opened that year. I tried to make it a fresh start. I went to class everyday, which I had not been doing recently. My grades improved and at 5’9″ and 160 pounds I had regained my agility and made the Varsity squad of the wrestling team. Somehow I found the strength to refrain from drinking and smoking pot and cigarettes. I now had two lives that I kept unbelievably well separated from one and other (honing my skills of deceit)! I had my “Jock” friends, and I had my “Hippie” friends. After wrestling season ended, the hippies gradually became my “comfort zone”. As was the course all through high school, I was not very popular with the girls, especially those expected to be in the company of an athlete. This was a real problem that I suppressed and eventually came to accept, on the surface, as not very important, though my libido told me differently. My senior year I went out for wrestling and inflated the seriousness of a minor injury so I could quit. Luckily, my academic performance had so improved that I only had to attend classes for half of the day. Sadly, it gave me more time to pursue my alternative lifestyle choice! I was using drug more frequently than ever and began involvement in politics, even attending demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, that were in their fledgling state, but would soon dominate the National stage. I graduated from High School at 17 without a clue regarding my future. In a matter of months the “Draft” would resolve that issue. I knew that my number would come up soon because I would be 18 soon, and everyone in my uncommitted status of life got drafted shortly after turning 18. So, shortly before my eighteenth birthday I went to the Navy recruiter, to avoid the Army Infantry. This was also truly an attempt to change my future as I was certainly headed for drug addiction, already a serious drug abuser, and full-well knew it! Wrong!!! Wrong decision!!!
Join the Navy… see the World! Guess what? That big old World out there had better, easier to get, drugs than I ever could have imagined. San Diego may very well have been the drug capital of California at that time, rivaled only by maybe, San Francisco. Of course I couldn’t use in Boot Camp; the first four months in the service. But, I stayed in San Diego, in schools, training in electricity and electronics and radio communications. The training schedule was arduous, but I found my first true love as a result… Amphetamines!!! This is an extremely addictive drug and you build tolerance to it rapidly. Starting with about 10 “Bennies” a week, I eventually found myself taking up to 100 per day. I had made a connection across the border in Tijuana and became a drug dealer to help support my enormous habit. In this precarious position, I was headed for an assignment in “Top Secret” classified communications at the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet Headquarters at Pearl Harbor.
Again, I would make an attempt to arrest my drug abuse problem, and it wasn’t too difficult for a while. At the Communications Center, we worked 12 hours on 12 hours off, seven days a week, for the first ten months I was there. Still, I managed to make some minor drug connections at Pearl Harbor. After that first 10 months we were allocated almost a 50% increase in personnel and I found myself with a lot of free time and also moved off base. It was easy to get Navy pay for off base housing because of their fear of “shop talk” in our off hours at Pearl Harbor. Well, folks, Pearl Harbor, as you know, is in Hawaii. I found myself living only blocks from Waikiki Beach. Now, I was able to return to a very familiar scenario; living a dual life, with my Navy friends and my Civilian friends becoming two separate lives. Somehow, I managed my Navy life. There was no drug testing back then, fortunately for me. Or, maybe unfortunately for me, I don’t know for sure. I made civilian connections and begun selling drugs to a dealer at Pearl Harbor that I had used for my own needs, previously. I also went to a lot of rock and roll music concerts, taking LSD, experimenting with Cocaine, and even getting my first taste of Heroin. I started helping the “Draft” resistance keep people out of the service and even worked with a Church that was a sanctuary for “deserters”. This led to a relationship with some local American Civil Liberties Union people, who offered to help me desert to Canada, but I couldn’t go that route. My love for my parents definitely had something to do with that decision, but truthfully, I was just plain old scared to make a move that big and bold and serious. I still had enough sense to see a “Dishonorable Discharge” as too high a price to pay for any reason. My family has a long history of service to this country going all the way back to Charles Carroll of Carrollton signing the Declaration of Independence. Anyway, by the Grace of God, I did get an Honorable Discharge, and make it through the whole ordeal of the United States Military.
I may not have indicated it, but I was raised on John Wayne and have always had a true love for and pride in my Country. If not, I never would have seen enlisting as a solution to my drug problem. It’s true that the ’60’s made me question a lot, but I’m tried and true, red, white and blue, at heart. The biggest blow to my patriotism came as a result of working in Top Secret communications, though. I am a patriot and will not mention any details of my work, to this day. It must suffice to say that I could confirm that the President of the United States was telling the American public lies, period… outright lies!!! This is what led me to the draft resistance, and became a perfect excuse to become a full-blown Drug Addict. I did some other duty in the Navy but it’s mostly irrelevant right now. Let’s just say that I came home to California, disenfranchised, angry, and a regular dumping ground for drugs. I came home using anything and everything in almost every combination conceivable. On top of that, I had lost all faith, and for many years claimed atheism as my chosen belief. I drew unemployment compensation the first year I was out, growing my hair and trying to be as much of a “hippie” as I possibly could. I did anything that would distance me far from the military!
I have to admit though that right at first I screwed up big time and found myself in jail 28 days after leaving the military. I had a succession of drug arrests until my unemployment checks ended and had to go to work. I got my bearings and after living a dual life in the Military, doing it in civilian life became a piece of cake. From 1974 to 1991 I was what some call a “functioning addict”! I had good jobs and learned the trade of pipe welding and became a Union member with my own portable welding truck. Drug testing still wasn’t very prominent. I made well over a million dollars over that period but by the time of my next drug arrest in 1991, I owned no property, lost my welding truck, had to divorces, and had no money in the bank. I had specific addictions to alcohol, cocaine and methamphetamines. The “Meth” was the closer. From 1991 to 1995 I spent about half of my time homeless or in jail. Between 1985 and 1995 I did a lot of things I am ashamed of to this day. Worst of all was deserting my children, choosing drugs and addicted women over them! In 1995, at 45, with my last trip to jail, I fell completely apart mentally and spiritually, and no longer had the desire to live, but had come to hope that there was a God. In lieu of a 3 year prison term, and incredibly compassionate Judge looked at my Military Service, my deceiving job history, and I think my obviously apparent declining physical condition and sentenced me to just jail time, and coupled it with a sentence to a drug rehabilitation program. That Judge named “Felice” saved my life, surely under the direction of God and by recommendation from the assistant DA. I now like to say the DA, the VA, AA and NA saved me. During that last arrest, I began praying again. When I got that last sentence I had already come to believe in God. About 10 days after becoming incarcerated, on the eve of my father’s (who was in the hospital) birthday), I had a radical religious experience, and my life was changed from that moment on!
I did my jail term. Successfully completed a drug rehabilitation program and the VA Hospital in Fresno, CA. Remained clean as a member of AA and NA. Went back to a full-time job (notice that I did not go directly into training for counseling). Went back to school for office skills. Went back to school at Cal-State University Bakersfield, Drug and Alcohol program and became a Certified Counselor through the California Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (CAADAC) and have worked as a Counselor since. I was working in the field before, and during my schooling, close to 10 years now.
This I believe is a very common scenario of personal history for drug counselors, as I stated at the beginning of this article. My total acceptance of the help provided me in “Treatment” helped to make it successful for me. I must mention the loving caring staff at the VA program, too. I hold one person in the highest regard and that is my personal counselor, Sally Belle, who understood me so well. She gave me the initial inspiration and suggestion to become a Counselor.