17 November 2013

November 2013 Reflection

Rule 1: Everything changes.
Rule 2: We suffer to the degree that we forget Rule 1.

It might appear that this is the last time I will feel free enough to compose my second newsletter of the year. Events since my last one, in March, have defied prediction. You may recall me reporting on being a student of Human Services and anticipating beginning an internship as a Chemical Dependency Professional. Yet I also wrote of hearing from a Catholic school principal who I felt so comfortable being around that I once again considered returning to the path I was on. . . Do I sell of all my music teacher texts or my Human Service ones? It is difficult to come across convincingly in an interview when you’re struggling to convince yourself it’s the right position for you. 

My priority shifted from finding a paid internship to finding paying work, whatever it may be. The applications I sent out—preparing applications constituted a full-time Summer job—netted interview requests from perhaps ten school districts before I heard from any addiction treatment centers. The closest call was a nearby private school, where I had five interviews (if you count the demo class I gave to their Summer camp children). It ended with them telling me I ran a close second to someone with International Baccalaureate experience. The process did, however, rekindle my desire for teaching music—as that particular school posited a new situation I felt I could succeed in. But I did not click with the schools that called me in after that, and apparently the feeling was mutual. 

Finally, I heard from a treatment center. My first interview with them did not end up with an offer; they had another applicant with professional experience. As my experience was zero, I couldn’t take it personally. But then someone in our parish who I had given as a reference—but who had been away and unreachable—gave them a call. As this man had worked for the same treatment center himself years ago, his word carried weight—and I shortly got a call offering me a position (the same or another I do not know). Problem was that this agency office was up in Seattle and I did not want to go that far in traffic. But I had seen their branch office also posting a CDPT position and I was able to use the offer from the first place as leverage to see the clinical director in the nearer location right away. As they were having a staff meeting there, she had everyone grill me and then took a vote. I averted my gaze. . . poof! I was in.

Except for Friday afternoons, my hours [11-8] are such that the drive time is 30 minutes. How well accepted I am as a rookie is evidenced by (we regularly use the abbreviation AEB in our assessments) the way every person there drops what he or she is doing to offer me help or answer my questions. Never is there an exasperated sigh or rolling of the eyes. And these are counselors who are rarely allotted sufficient time to get their own paperwork completed. Another revelation: this is not work you take home with you. I have been able to truly relax on weekends and not obsess about how to plan lessons so they will go better. Instead, I prepare guitar recitals for local audiences. 

The boss has been cheering me on, and after four weeks started me working with clients unsupervised. She is not someone you can keep anything secret from—dealing with addicts will do that—so when she asked, “So how’s your wife’s job search?” I had to let on to the fact that Monica has been courting a position in the Caribbean. I was feeling guilty about this possibility developing because it would take me away from the agency at a point where I had been given more than I could give back. (Although they wouldn’t have started paying my health benefits till 2/1/14). I had, after all, promised I would do my best to stick around. 

But the boss was not going to let me feel guilty about that, or about anything else for that matter. And this is where one of the most important lessons comes in. Not only have I been given a chance to develop competence in a whole new field—as counselor, group leader, record-keeper; not only have I been affirmed for being creative—counselors requesting that I do my guided meditations in their groups; I have been given an unequivocal vision of how I deserve to be treated by a supervisor. Most of the people I work alongside of are addicts in recovery and the clients are, of course, addicts we are steering towards recovery. People with good recovery understand that when they view themselves as a victim, rationalize acting out of anger or resentment, they are in relapse mode—resorting to a drink or a drug could easily be the next step. Likewise with believing that you are your own “higher power”, invulnerable. Maintaining a positive and humble attitude then becomes a matter of survival. 

People not prone to addiction are not offered this exclusive choice. They can get by muddling along with acting like a victim and will frequently initiate interactions with others based in this role. How good can a friendship rooted in common victimization feel? Addicts cannot maintain pretense either; it’s too close to the denial they used in the past. As our boss says, “I wouldn’t be here if someone hadn't given me a chance.” We shouldn’t ever have to pretend to be something other than who we are.

Meanwhile, back in the Caribbean, Monica just visited Sint Maarten—“the smallest country in the Dutch Kingdom”—where she was hosted by the Catholic church. The latter is apparently offering us both employment in their school system as its sole full-time music teachers—actually I will be the only one because Monica would also be a part-time music minister in the parish. They have already invested in her hotel for 10 days and plane flight for the visit (certainly more than any prospective employer has done for most of us). Monica visited all the schools (eight, I think) where students sang for her songs learned from their classroom teachers. Our work will be cut out for us, as they have had no formal music instruction up to this point. The parish wants to invest in mallet instruments and textbooks, or whatever we believe will enhance the music program. They expect a three-year commitment. I have been exploring online about Caribbean music and traditions as well as digging into the textbook series referred to in my last newsletter that maybe I wasn’t so foolish in purchasing after all. I’m trying not to think about the fact that I could go snorkeling year-round as that just sends my head spinning. Monica even connected with the director of a treatment center there, who is expecting to hear from me after I arrive. We should be moving between Christmas and New Year’s—as the next semester begins 1/6/14. What will happen with our house here we don’t even know yet.

And so now I know the answer to the question “Am I an addiction counselor or a music educator”: YES.  Given supportive circumstances, I can succeed at either. In fact, each vocation makes me better at the other. Work did not find us in Puget Sound because we are apparently meant to work someplace else. AEB all of the above, to thrive I need an unconventional environment where gratitude runs high, where I don’t have to pretend to be anything I am not. To learn if that is what St. Martin island ends up offering, stay tuned.