I help people escape the bonds of drug and alcohol addiction. Some days that makes me a hero, other days it makes me a villain.
A while back, someone asked me what I do for a living; for some reason (this particular time, without hesitation), in a tongue and cheek-like manner, I uttered, “I’m a Hero and Villain.”
Both *Hero* and *Villain* have connotations insomuch can be taken out of context. I’m neither; let me be clear and get that out of the way! My overall point is others have seen me that way. I’ve been called, and seemingly regarded as a Hero, and seen as a Villain in my professional life—so context matters.
This article is incredibly personal to me. I feel as though I’m taking a risk by sharing in the abstract and more philosophically but as it relates to me (not only) professionally, but personally too. The work has formed me for the better, but you be the judge of that. After scores of crisis-laden interventions, companion/coaching excursions, where a day feels like a week, and weeks are like months, and at times conversely, months feel like weeks, etc., all spent with clients and their families for the last sixteen years has shaped me to the ground. This is where I hope to stay. Grounded. I am both a Hero and a Villain. Can I begin to define such a path in any other way? Of course, this is, but just an anecdotal glimpse. I’ll let you decide, though.
When treating a person(s) or attempting to intervene on someone suffering from addiction, be prepared (at times) for a villain’s role but a heroic cause. What does that mean? People will do just about anything to protect their drug or alcohol addiction. They’ll behave like the drug is akin to survival. Why is that? Addiction is a survival action, Meaning: craving and the subsequent demand for the chemical or behavior is involuntary. In layman’s terms, ” the midbrain.” The purpose: eat, kill, and sex part of the brain runs the show. This makes for some bad episodes for the addict and their loved ones. I, as a counselor, have to contend with that; you’re damn right I’m a villain. I have a history, though distant; however, the memory is fresh of being on the other side when in the clutches of my addiction. I came across a few *Villains* when dragged in and a-rhythmically skipping out of treatment. Today? (I know) those once-perceived Villains were trying to help me. I disagreed with the support. In retrospect? My attitude was, “How dare you help me or make me uncomfortable with the truth, consequence, or accountability.” I was a king, a ruler of my world, lets’ call it *baby-dom.*
A while back on a sober companion job, I grew very close with this family and their son, of whom I was responsible. The son thought he was more intelligent than his problem, so he became indifferent to the routine and grew skeptical of the model he once was “grateful” for. He thought he could use cannabis after just a few months of abstinence from heavy opiate addiction, which ravaged himself and his family on and off for the previous five years. He was 22 years of age. His parents and I wisely disagreed with his newfound idea. Based on his history of use? There was no chance that he could use any drug successfully at that time. Shortly after, his parents and I had to intervene after he tested positive for THC. Note: this young man and I had a pretty therapeutic alliance up to this point.
During the intervention, I made suggestions in assisting the parents and reestablishing boundaries. Reader: do you know where I’m going with this? In short: I’m now a threat to his plan and his *freedom* to use. I’m aligning with the parents and asking them not to compromise right in front of him. Bye-bye, Alliance! He (client) fired me an expression and said, “you mother******.” If looks could harm…I tell ya! At the moment, I went from Hero to Villian (dun-dun-dun-dun), in his squirrelly state. Long story short…This young man has had a few relapses since then and is now thankfully doing well, and I’m still very close with him and his whole family, for which I’m sincerely grateful.
My professional experience’s anatomy is mystifying, with all the circumstances that have colored the last decade and a half. Juxtapose a heavy but gratified heart, both in my thorax and mind’s eye. There’s a coexistence within. Frankly: I hurt with people, and for people, I too celebrate with individuals, and gratefully have many times. I haven’t always used the right words or listened with the kind of activity commensurate with the challenges before me, but yet I must remain sanguine and stoic. The difficulty is always humbling. It’s called “practice” for a reason.
“Those who exalt themselves will be humbled; those who humble themselves will be exalted.” ~ Jesus
Most nights, I can sleep knowing I endured acute symptoms and manifestations of a person(s) addiction/substance use disorder; I stand up for their humanness, which sometimes means I have to stand up to them. When I disagree with my clients where their substance use is concerned, it’s usually in their best interest. I’ve witnessed people willing to fight like their lives depend on it, only to see them take their own lives with the same unconscious and misdirected fight. People who are stricken with such a disease/disorder like addiction will do next to anything to protect it, so I’m a perceived threat by that logic. When met with such a scenario? I’m no hero in the eyes of…in these tense but imminent moments; I’m a villain, but always with the intent to help aid them to recovery.
There’s an age-old motto in the field of treating Chemical Dependency: “If your clients like you, you’re not doing your job.” Positions like that set a lousy standard, so I can’t entirely agree. In this profession, people, their loved ones, and families desperately need objective psychological and emotional support. I’m hopeful about where the authentic person is concerned, even if their addiction and ego are gargantuan—their conscience and humanity are ant-sized by the time I come into contact with them. I’m called on to encourage and assist when people are at their most vulnerable (whether they know it or not); to bring clarity where the soot of madness, sadness, and badness have blurred saneness, truth, and love. If or when I’m successful, an alignment has developed with a person(s). I usually spend a significant amount of time with my clients, especially while chaperoning (not like a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist where at most it’s a few hours per week).
Ever hear of the adage: “Familiarity breeds contempt?” That can and does happen in my profession and burnout, which all begets resentment, ineffectiveness, and confusion. My job is to coax an atmosphere of healthy communication (if or when possible) and to honor another’s boundaries as well. If not capable or willing? I must honor mine and their limitations and stay within my scope.
Conversely, If I’m looking to be liked or seeking approval, then I’m not doing my job. My mission is to safely present truth and show *spine* to deliver support without spin or overly parse words. It’s a balancing act for sure, especially when entitlement is a salient feature within the population. Presumably, if I’m liked all the time, probably, the plan will be inadequate. That’s the expected kerfuffle in this field of practice.
“Behind every Villain is a truth, whether it be perceived or actual.” ~ Dalton Frey
In truth, the message is “I’m not your enemy” it just feels that way.
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Written by Billy Schreurs