It was one of my first cases. The early days of this job felt like more of a summer camp with a focus on friendship and metaphorical s’mores.
The secret to creating rapport at that time was taking a client to coffee while sharing a personal story peppered with curse words and urban dictionary references like junk and rigs….
With my history of street-trauma and neglect I knew I could be an example of hard work and show the the pay off it could have. The women who had shown me that nothing was impossible had handed me the next chapter in my own journey. The client was me, and I was looking in a mirror. It was my turn to be a sieve for the grit in this client.
Her original case manager had given up…and given in. Her palms out, a shrug, and a statement somewhat close to,
“I just don’t get it,”
This was something that floored me. What’s to get?
The staff at the time, did a simple deduction of her tattoos and punk-rock gutter look. The connection was immediate. I could sense her terror and unwillingness to connect and let go. Her arms told a story of fear and loss. A ladder of scars like a prisoner counting her days. She was dark and dangerous on her strongest days. She was confused with wet palms on most days.
She spoke of her life in a icy town where the extent of her spectrum of possibilities was a life of spare changing and drunken evenings sharing plans and goals with empty people in abandoned houses.
All I could think was, me too.
She was angry with her past and paralyzed by her future. I remember her glowing smile when she was hired at a local Halloween store-a holiday we both agreed was the only one worth shopping for. She was immediately swallowed up by her new role and her first attempt at a life of legitimacy. Nobody believed this was the seedlings of a career. The job was so symbolic and so perfect: so safe and so transient.
A temporary job for a transient girl.
It was a position for someone who couldn’t imagine committing to a life of paying taxes. We would shop next door at a silly pace during our sessions. The seriousness of the situation would hang in the air as we smoked together while talking about the next steps to growing up. Neither one of us truly believing it would ever happen.
When she was ushered in as a house manager at a local sober living, I watched her navigate a few tricky friendships. Her frustration surrounding her peers tumbled around her. She would stand proud upon her soap box of ethics whilst questioning her purpose. She would ask for clarity without asking. She would answer her own questions with words of a seasoned sage. She was ready to fly but didn’t trust her wings.
The journey turned into a leadership role. At first fumbling with her newfound accountability with a naive, nervous anxiety and eventually with wise, and practiced indifference. I watched her timeline evolve from Alaskan gutter trash- to girl in rehab- to woman in recovery-to 2 years clean. To someone I am honored to know and cherish.
When she became a co-worker- I watched her try on the newest coat. This jacket was stiffer than all of the others. A new accountability was created by a professional connection and our relationship changed again. The nervous young lady I met 2 years before had become a grounded young woman and peer. We would have conversations about ethics and values and how to be a woman with a message of honesty and recovery in a company that felt
Strangely at odds with the ideas that a radical and passionate young woman has.
The evolution of our relationship was now the mirror I envisioned in our introduction. It was as though she was finally walking beside me and I would be able to hand her the key with the faith she would know which door to open-and be able to open it without the fear of rejection.
I consider her to be a great success. It would be hubris for me to take any credit for her journey…I was just a bystander who showed up with a flashlight to light the way out…and she was the one who took others’ advice and climbed her way out.