Work that social work

In high school I read an article in a young person’s magazine, probably Teen People, about activism and inequality. I told my mom I wanted to be a human rights activist, her only response was to not end up in jail. While this lead to my vegetarian phase and habit of watching videos on PETA’s website, I like to think it led to something more.

When I decided I wanted to be a social worker in college, it seemed pretty natural. I remember learning about the challenges people face based upon the school they attend, a disability they have, or the language they speak at home. I  worked hard the next 10 years to push myself out of my comfort zone, I thought that would make me a kickass social worker. I needed to witness how others live.

This has carried me along. I’m not currently at my dream job. I always wanted to work with immigration. With violence. With Spanish speaking families and survivors. I don’t really want to be an outpatient therapist and the thought of having a private practice seems frightening. So what do I do with this expensive degree and license I’ve acquired? I don’t want to live in a marginalized society. I’m not a fan of oppression. But I also don’t want to do case management, or policy work. I don’t know how to be a community organizer. Am I being too picky?

A coworker and I were finally given the green light to pursue our LACs- to work towards becoming addiction counselors. While I’ve only attended 1/10 trainings, I think it’s exactly where I need to be. Our trainer repeats the phrase, “What is so painful that someone would sacrifice joy?” The reason that pushes people to turn to substances as a way to numb. Finding themselves losing their past self.

I had a few clients this week that were exactly who she was talking about. Often, at the point that someone willingly goes into therapy, they’ve hit a point of acknowledgement. And usually shame. Both clients I’m thinking of were vulnerable, curious, and paralyzed by their use. I respect their openness with me, a vulnerability I previously couldn’t find in myself. Seeing another person’s pain, hearing their hurt. Standing alongside without judgement. Maybe this is the social work I’ve been looking for. In the past, I didn’t think this was enough. Now it feels pretty powerful.