I believe in the human capacity to change for the better. As a vocational rehabilitation counselor, I work with many clients who have mental health problems, drug and alcohol addictions, and often major criminal records. I hear some of the most tragic stories imaginable, from ongoing sexual abuse to drug use at age eight to descriptions of voices in clients’ heads telling them to kill themselves. Sadly, for my clients, these tragic pasts have led to chronic addictions, multiple incarcerations, involuntary commitments to the psychiatric hospital, perpetual unemployment, in short so many brick walls on the path toward self-sufficiency that many of them see no point in even trying to go straight.
My role is to help them find and keep jobs, and in doing so, become stable, self-sufficient, tax paying, law-abiding citizens. Most people tell me they would hate my job because of how many clients take the low road and go back to their old ways. What these nay-sayers don’t understand is the immense pride I feel when even one of them succeeds. Actually, my role in clients’ success is really quite minor. Sure, I provide goods and services to help people get back to work. But I haven’t suffered through heroin cravings, explained my criminal background to employer after employer, or experienced totally out-of-control mental health problems. Most importantly, I never had to admit to an immensely flawed character and put into action a plan to change myself and my behavior, taking full responsibility for all that has happened to me.
I happen to have a disability myself, having been born totally blind. But I grew up in a well-off family with good and loving parents, had a privileged education, and am blessed with physical and mental health. And like most people, I have some personality traits I’d like to change. But I stand in awe of people who have successfully faced challenges I never had to face. And I glow with pride at their successes. Here are some examples to demonstrate why.
One of my clients was repeatedly abused in an orphanage during childhood, spent many years addicted to crack, battled severe depression all his life, was constantly in and out of jail, and has now distinguished himself as one of the best machinists in the area. Another client, who once sold all he owned in order to buy heroin, now runs a very successful construction business where he employs several of my other clients. A third client, who coped with the stress of reliving horrors of fighting in Vietnam with crack and heroin and who found it difficult to maintain any type of employment, is now on his way to becoming an excellent mechanic. Recently, this client made a presentation to over fifty people in my office about the terrible things he did in the past and how he has changed his life. The audience was in tears.
For every one of these success stories, I have at least five failures. But even if only one out of fifty cleaned up and went straight, I would still love my job. I have clients with many types of disabilities, but clients in recovery from addiction and mental health problems are my favorites because they often have the most to overcome. They help me keep my faith in humanity’s capacity to change for the better.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.