I love my job. Working at a substance abuse facility with residents who are inmates and parolees at first was not exactly what I had in mind for my internship experience. However after a while I found my place, my niche you might say. More than that, I was accepted and embraced by all 70 men as a friend, a confidant, and someone they truly respected and enjoyed being around. I was blessed when just a month before my internship was over, the position as counselor (full-time) was mine. I spent time educating them about addictive thinking, process of relapse, and counseled an average of 27 guys individually as well as holding group therapy twice a week.
The year I spent there not once did I wake up and roll over, cover my head, groan, and complain “I don’t want to go to work.” Truth be told, for the most part it doesn’t even feel like a job. I enjoy going there on a daily basis. The residents made it so simple to consider their home my ‘home away from home’. It is definitely hard seeing them leave (it’s only a six month program) and you better believe bonds were formed. They kicked my butt at chess, looked forward to seeing what three guys I would play dominoes with, and always eagerly anticipated the resources I was able to share with them. From setting budgets, filling out FAFSA’s, printing off guitar tabs, and finding poetry, these guys recognized I LOVED helping them with practically anything they brought to my office. I as much as they thrived on the role I played.
So when I went into the chapel yesterday at 4:15 and waited for the guys to finish up there 12 & 12 Big Book Study (they were talking about humility during this segment) I looked down at my hands and saw that they were STILL shaking. They had been shaking since 9am that morning when I pulled into the parking lot. LOL I nervously anticipated the moment I would have to get up, go to the podium, and tell them the news.
I did not doubt my choice one bit. And yet, having to tell this room of guys who looked up to me, made me smile everyday, opened every single door for me every time I traveled in the building, anticipating asking whether they could do anything for me or get me anything, well, it was definitely not the most comfortable place for me to be.
The moment came, when I stood up, and took the podium. I didn’t stand there often. Only when they called me out during one of their studies to test my knowledge or seek my thoughts on something they had shared (and they always snickered doing so because every damn time they did it my face always turned crimson) did I ever stand on the stage. (Well, there was that one time I played Win, Lose, or Draw with them.)
Everybody waited, the room was hushed, and all eyes were on me. My voice trembled and I fought to not cry. And then I told them. After my very brief speech I looked out into the audience and all I saw was confusion. A whole crowd of ‘huh?” erupted all at once. “Can you repeat that?” One of my guys asked. I explained how difficult the choice was but just as they were striving to better themselves, I too did the same. They were crushed. I knew they would be.
As I dismissed them I stood to the side at the exit and one by one they all passed me, each stopping to tell me their thoughts. No one was angry but they were very sad. Throughout the rest of the hour before I clocked out, numerous guys approached me. Here were some of their comments:
“This place will never be the same once you are gone.”
“If anybody deserves such an amazing opportunity, it would be you.”
“You are the sweetest, most generous person I’ve ever met in my life. I’m sorry to see you go but I’m so happy for you.”
“Nobody has ever listened more attentively, been as open and honest with me, as you have been.”
“I’ll never again have a counselor such as the likes of you.”
I could go on and on…there were so many beautiful, heart-wrenching things told to me. Never in my entire life have I ever felt so loved, so appreciated, so important, so cherished, so needed, so….well, I doubt there are words that could accurately portray how I felt. It was in that moment that I had never been as sure of my life’s purpose. I had hit the proverbial hammer on the nail, bullseyed my life’s passions and solidified my efforts. It was not all in vain. My time was not wasted.
It is a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life. A moment that I will use to ground myself whenever doubt knocks at my door. A moment I’ll always have to remind myself that I have a talent, God-given I believe, to help people. My desire to be true, real, and constant in people’s lives, to listen openly, not judging them for their wrongdoings or weaknesses, and to simply embrace a person for who they are will forever and always be my life’s purpose. And by the looks and responses I received yesterday, I think I am doing that pretty well.