Today marks the conclusion of the busiest week of my entire life. School officially started, and so did practicum. I wake up at 6:20 every morning and the day passes in a flurry of bus rides and classes. Every morning that I get off the bus, I am greeted by a cheery homeless man who says “good morning!” with more enthusiasm than anyone else can muster up at 7 am. I smile every time I hear it. I hold my head a little higher. It is, in fact, a good morning. I resolve to buy him a pastry sometime from the corner bakery. The walk to class is a grim one, though, because of how many homeless people are sleeping on the sidewalk. It makes me sad. But getting into the building is another pleasure, because scanning your name tag into the elevator and then again for the security guard makes you feel like a high power executive.
When I get to my school early, which happens often, thanks to lightning speed of the subway, I walk the 2 blocks to the gym. I like to ride a stationary bike and lift weights– I genuinely look forward to this time in the day, because I’ll be “stationary” during class, and this is my main source of movement. Dressed in business casual, I walk the few blocks from the gym to my school, and that’s how my day starts.
I’ve started cooking lunch and learning the hard way that certain things taste better (and fill you up more) than others, so this healthy Californian is getting a bit of a reality check.
My favorite class in school is with a professor whose degrees and certifications could easily fill a paragraph. “Did he ever leave school?” I heard one of my classmates say in a carrying whisper. Maybe he didn’t ever leave school, but just switched from the role of student to professor. In any case, I adore the way that he teaches.
As for who I study with, my classmates naturally divide into several groups, and the first day, I mourned the fact that I seemed to belong to none of them. I’ve been using our hour and a half lunch breaks to catch up on reports for work. Most of my classmates quit their part-time jobs in this second year, which I can now understand, as a person who is bearing the brunt of an overbooked schedule. So, of course they have time to socialize. The second day, I realized that it wouldn’t kill me to have a conversation once in a while, so I sat next to a large group of classmates and talked with them during the lunch break. I’m still figuring out a balance, I guess.
That brings me to the next topic: practicum. Somehow, a girl from my school and I managed to land our 2nd-year-selves in an advanced practicum site, where we work with dual diagnosis patients for 20 hours a week. The word “dual diagnosis” patients seems to suggest two diagnoses (your run-of-the-mill substance use disorder and depression, for example). But most people here have more like four or five diagnoses. This is an outpatient center for patients with addictions.
On the second day, when I saw my schedule, my mouth fell open. I was leading group therapy for two separate groups. Guys. I took only one group therapy class EVER, and that class was at a community college. The girl from my school and I looked at each other, concerned. But clearly our supervisors chose us because they saw something in us… Right? We had to have gotten this far because we have some level of expertise… right? Since I only got my schedule that morning, there was not a moment to waste. Here’s what I did in my first group: I started off by asking everyone why they were here and if they wanted to be here. Then, I asked them for a positive source of support that they had this past week. Last, I asked them if they believe that addiction is a disease or a choice, which spurred an interesting conversation.
One of the clients turned the question around to me. I was not prepared (I think we’re noticing a theme here, y’all), but I did my best. I believe that addiction is a mixture of choice and disease. When you first pick up a drink or a substance, you have more of a choice than when your brain is already dependent on it. And quitting is also a choice that you make; it’s a choice you continue to make every day.
I was flustered and I think that was showing. But the therapist observing that group said I did “excellent, fantastic!”. The second group was definitely harder to run. I came in with a plan, but the group members had another topic that they wanted, so, on the fly, I decided that we would be comparing the “sober self” with the “using self”. When I think back, there are a million and a half things I feel I could’ve done better. I immediately called my grandma at the end of the day and vented about how I felt I didn’t do as well as I should. I had a meeting with my supervisor yesterday, and to my utter shock, he told me I was doing amazing. He complimented my notes. I showed him the notes for the group that I did at the end of the day, the one that I felt was a catastrophe, and he said that if this was what I consider to be a “bad group”, then I really need to be easier on myself. I went straight home on both days, my thoughts racing, and did as much research as possible.
I didn’t expect to care this much about every single client, but I genuinely feel invested. I went on the website that we use and stared at the screen until I could commit every client’s name to memory. Even at the gym, I listen to podcasts on substance use.
As I write this post, I am listening to yet another podcast by “That Sober Guy” called “40 Steps for Staying Sober”. I discuss group strategies with my mom, who is a psychologist. For next week, I mapped out four solid strategies and took notes on everything my supervisor had to say, taking his suggestions to heart. He gave me advice on how to end a group and how to redirect group members, as well as how to keep the conversation flowing. That man is truly talented.
Another welcome surprise was receiving a small monthly stipend for practicum. I think because we spend 20 hours a week at practicum working with complex cases, as well as working all year (we don’t get a summer break), we are lucky enough to be getting paid.
I was about to finish this blog post, because it’s looking quite lengthy, but I don’t think it would be realistic to only talk about the triumphs. One problem I’ve been having all week (and it’s carried over to today, which is the weekend) is that I haven’t been sleeping. Whenever I am stressed, it manifests itself in lack of sleep; as I type, I have a headache due to sleep deprivation. Maybe because I now work at an addiction facility, but I am more opposed than ever to starting myself back on sleeping pills. Then again, 6 hours of sleep a night is not ideal, especially when you have a 30 minute commute and want to be thinking clearly for that. Like with everything else, my answer is “I’ll figure it out in time”.
As the title suggests, my days have certainly picked up their pace, but I’ll talk to you when I can next write!