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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 3/5/21 - What Do I Want to Be When I Grow Up?

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” ― Kurt Vonnegut

Gratitude Friday, thinking this morning of the twists and turns of life. In many ways, life is a journey that is shaped in ways that we cannot easily predict along the way. Not sure how many of you started out life with a clear pathway in front of you and you pursued that path through the course of your life. That path was not mine. I wanted to be a roadie for a rock and roll band with all the trimmings. Through my mid-teens I did a lot of stage work including lighting, set designs and as a sound technician. I even was accepted to something called the PA Governors School of the Arts during my Junior year in High School way back in 1982, sort of like a summer arts school for young adults. I think Kevin Bacon was the most famous alumni. I caught a glimpse of an applied life even as events took a dark turn.

Addiction developed a greater grip on me as the early 80s unfolded. My goals became smaller and hopes and dreams of a positive future fleeting. Some of the worst moments of my life involved looking in the mirror and seeing what stared back at me. The apparition I saw was not consistent with my beliefs or values. Hell on earth from my perspective is not being true to yourself and not even being able to focus on anything beyond attempting to satiate an unquenchable thirst for poison. One of the most powerful lessons of that era was that not attempting to succeed is far worse a loss than failing. Failing to try is definitely much worse than failing. It leaves haunting, and unanswerable question marks.

The story unfolded in a different direction than roadie. I got help and I got better, I looked at those helping me and realized that this was a pathway that made sense for me and I started down it. It is a continual, meandering uphill trail rife with cliffs and barriers. Things I had rejected in early life, like education and hard work became my new foundation. There have been many failures on this path, but each one also offered new opportunities. skills and insights. Life is like sailing, we do not hone our skills when things are calm and skies are clear. Tempests are the norm on these seas so there has been plenty of opportunities to learn to navigate treacherous waters.

Still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up. I dreaded this question in my youth. Not so much now, although the question is not fully answered. Doors never easily opened along the way and our care system more often than not makes it harder to do this work. There are reasons that the addiction care world has an exceptionally high turnover rate. As this article notes, studies consistently place the annual turnover rate in the addiction service realm is between 19% and 50%. Annual turnover rates for counselors generally hovers around 33.2% and clinical supervisors typically experience a “churn rate” of about one in four annually. People like me who do this work over many decades are becoming as rare as unicorns, which is going to decimate our ability to strengthen our efforts over the coming decades. We have never been needed more. Federal and state substance use service system workforce policies should really consider who does this work despite the hardships and grow that element. I suspect it is largely made up of people like me who have lived experience. More typically, we make it harder for person in recovery to get into the substance use care field, which deepens our long-term workforce crisis. It is a result of implicit bias against persons in recovery more than any else.

I am still very much a student of the field, somewhere in the process of a career and the concentric arcs of learn, earn & return. The entire substance use career sector is a very high stress environment. None of what makes it stressful relates to the persons seeking help, a fact that the vast majority of my colleagues I have spoken with agree on. Like me those who stick and stay over the decades do so because of dedication to the persons served despite the system of care, not because of it. Much of what I gained along the way was from people who wanted to ensure that the work of recovery was passed on to the next generation and now I find myself increasingly focused on this facet as well. I want the next generation to get what I got - a chance at life. I stay because these are my people. As it has been said, “one must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Writing has been one of those turns I did not see along this path. In hindsight, it should not have been a surprise as I read a great deal, roughly a book a week since age 10. Writing has become a daily practice. Writing has connected me with like-minded people from around the world who are excited about recovery, building recovery community and expanding opportunities for persons to recover over the long term. One of my highlights this coming weekend will be a call with such like-minded writers and researchers from the US and the UK. Honored to be included, it will enrich me.

Grateful this morning for the opportunities that life has presented to me to write and connect with others who share the life mission of helping others find and sustain recovery. We are an unstoppable force when we come together. Grateful I did not end up a roadie for a rock and roll band, I would never have lived to see 30. Grateful for a life of purpose, even if it is one with significant challenge.

What are you grateful for this morning?

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