Katherine M. reflects on her time in outpatient treatment and the pursuit of her goal of becoming a Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC).
Katherine, are you still in the Project Contact Outpatient (PCO) Program or have you graduated from it?
I’m in continuing care now.
How is continuing care different from the rest of PCO?
In continuing care, once you’ve completed a certain amount of time in outpatient, you reduce the number of scheduled times per month you talk to your primary counselor. I talk with my counselor Kim Sumner Mayer (Advanced PCO Clinician and Family Services Coordinator) about once per month.
When did you first come to the Center for Recovery and Wellness (CRW)?
Almost two years ago, I’ll be two years sober on April 23rd. I detoxed in the hospital for two weeks, went to in-patient at Arms Acres for 21 days, and then started outpatient at CRW in June 2019.
When you began your recovery process, could you share a bit about what was going on in your life that preceded that?
If I want to simmer down to why I was such a heavy drinker it was definitely stress related. There was a lot of pressure on me growing up. I was taking care of a lot of family issues and acting as the mediator or the calmer in the family. At the time I was a stereotype goody two shoes and had a high GPA. I went to a small high school and I wanted to go somewhere for college where I could have a lot of freedom. I decided to go to a college known for being party school and I started experimenting with all kinds of drugs. Nothing stuck besides alcohol but it’s not like I didn’t do other things in excess because that’s my nature.
Another major influence is that I worked in the service industry since I was fourteen when my mom and stepdad could sign my working papers in New Jersey. The service industry is hard on your body and it typically involves substance. I did every sort of job like waitressing, food running, managing, but bartending is what I ended up sticking with, because that’s the best money, and I’m good at flirting with people. I initially got into bartending when I moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn about ten years ago. I wanted to go into social work because I got my degree in sociology but I found it hard to get jobs and that was a huge roadblock. You have this undergraduate degree that you paid all this money for, but you have to have maybe a masters, if not a PHD, and five years of experience. I tried different things, I volunteered at Children of Promise to maybe get a job in the future, but eventually I got fed up and decided this is not money in my pocket, I’m going to go back to bartending. So, I didn’t go down my route of education per se.
Then I got into bartending and I got a job at a dive bar three doors down from where I live. The dive bar was great at first, I made a lot of friends and got into billiards, but that was the first time that I began drinking on the job. before that I was working at high end restaurants where you couldn’t drink on the shift. Bartending in Brooklyn became very social, I was making money, and the drinking was a lubricant for the mentality of interacting and working in a fast-paced environment, so the drinking and the bartending went hand in hand. I was also in a billiards league where there was a lot of drinking, so there was a social influence in terms of my increasing alcohol consumption. But now I can’t blame it on that, the drinking had more to do with my stress levels than anything.
Back to the topic of recovery, what was your experience like overall in the outpatient program?
It’s been amazing, a great and rewarding experience with CRW and with the whole process. But it hasn’t been easy, it has taught me a ton of patience. To get any of the goals in my plan accomplished and to feel like I had forward momentum, it took me so much patience which I never had developed before. I really had to be like, okay, this isn’t happening as fast as you want it, but it’s forward, and it’s happening. I think that perspective and that thought process really helped me. I had to get my head over the fact that do you have to wait, nothing valuable comes automatically.
Where are you at in that process now of getting your CASAC-T certification?
I started the CASAC Training program about six months after I began at CRW and I graduated on December 8th. Since the virus backed everything up, it took OASAS until February 1st to officially accept me. So now that I have my CASAC-T I can apply for jobs, and I was also lucky enough to get a scholarship through Access VR.
Could you explain a bit more about what Access VR is?
Access VR is a government program where you can get scholarships for disabilities and one such disability that you can use is a substance use disorder.
I didn’t want to go back to school because I was so diminished in my life, I felt put down by not being able to get a job in my field after getting a degree in sociology. I didn’t want to go back to school and spend more time and money if it wasn’t going to be worth it. But then my peer recovery advocate told me you can get a scholarship and go to school for five months and get this credential and be a substance abuse counselor trainee.
Through CRW, I got this idea, I went to their office in downtown Brooklyn and I talked to them, and I found out in the beginning of the pandemic that they were going to help me out. There was often something that would give me a road block so you have to have motivation and patience. But you can do it and it’s a wonderful resource to take advantage of. If you put in the work and advocate for yourself, they will help you.
When applying for the scholarship was difficult and was testing your patience, how did you overcome that challenge?
When I was trying to get the scholarship there was always something that I was missing or that I needed to do. It added another two weeks or another month to maybe being accepted or not. It happened a lot where I would go into the Access VR office and I would be thinking, OK this is the time where I’ll know if I’m accepted or not, but then it wasn’t. I just kept plugging along but it’s so easy to stop when you feel like, are you kidding me, I got held up another time? That’s what I would have done before, I would have been like let’s go to happy hour.
With the whole patience thing, I mentioned earlier that anxiety is a huge problem for me. The program at CRW has helped me to identify that and learn how to cope with that. I exercise a lot, I breathe, I mediate, that’s all part of patience and perseverance. I’m lucky to have a lot of support which I think is huge in recovery. I have family and friends and I know that isn’t always the case with everyone. Now I can ask them for help when I need it. I’m stubborn and I had to learn that I couldn’t do it all on my own. It’s a big thing to get to a point mentally where you are willing to accept help as someone who’s going through it. I’m so happy that I stuck with CRW because I continue to get so much support and help, and I think that is necessary and needed for recovery.
What do you think makes your current counselor Kim a great counselor, what does she do that makes her successful at providing support?
I think that the core of a great counselor is someone who cares, and Kim genuinely cares. I can tell that she is working on things all the time for clients, even when she doesn’t necessarily have to. When I email her she responds to me, she really advocates for me, and she goes out of her way more than I would expect as a client. I feel especially lucky that I got to be her client.
And what about your Peer Recovery Advocate Frances, what has been your experience with her?
Frances is great, I like her a lot, she’s very proactive. Whenever I’m struggling with some part of becoming a CASAC, she has sent me a bunch of links with stuff to study. She even sent me her practice exam in the mail from when she was studying to become a CASAC. She really tries to help you out.
If you could give someone early on in their recovery some advice, what would you tell them?
Stick with it! That’s the onion with many layers. Reach out to people and take advantage of those who want to be there for you, even if you don’t know them. Talk to people and listen. I liked going to the groups a lot because hearing other people’s stories made me feel less alone. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. Try to be patient and stick with it. And if you know if there’s a roadblock, so be it and we’ll think about how to deal with it. Take in the support this around you.
Is there anything else you’d like to share as a closing thought?
I really hope that in my career I can work for a program like CRW. Everyone cares about supporting the clients and the program actually does a lot of good. I want to help people the way I’ve been helped and I’m baffled how much help I’ve received through the program.