This interview was done by Chris Budnick. Thanks Chris and Jude!
Who are you?
Well, I will first start by saying I’m a woman in long term recovery. What that means is that I haven’t found a reason, since June the 13th, 1991, to use any substance. I’m also a mom, a grandmother, a wife. I am a therapist. I work in the [addiction and recovery] field. And what else? Oh, I’m a minister. I don’t want to leave that out. And I’m a life coach.
What do you do professionally?
So professionally, I work with women and children. I serve as a coordinator for the Perinatal Substance Use Project with the Alcohol and Drug Council of North Carolina. I also serve as a consultant for the division of Mental Health Development Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services, and also Public Health, the Women’s Health branch, that’s one position. I do capacity management with them to make sure that the programs are reporting their weekly beds, and that I compile those numbers into a report that goes out to over 600 people in the state of North Carolina. I do technical assistance around gender responsive treatment. I also have a private practice. So I see clients… Now it’s virtual, but I see them in my office in Holly Springs when I’m seeing clients in-person. So that’s what I do professionally. Also, I do some ministerial work at Victoria’s Praise in North Carolina. I’m a part of the ministerial staff there.
And we’ve been fortunate in Healing Transitions to have you do some mentoring for our staff.
Yes. And I love it. It’s been such a great experience.
So you already mentioned that you’ve been in recovery since June 13th, 1991, do you have any additional experience that you’d want to share about your addiction and recovery?
Well, you know what, the one thing I will say is that when it comes to recovery, some people have the idea that things are gonna be perfect once you come into recovery, that is not the case. Things are gonna continue, life happens, that’s the bottom line. It rains on the just and unjust. So that means that things are always going to be going on, and it’s up to you to personally take care of your recovery. As I would say, especially for people that work in the field, there are often people who come in the field, might have their own personal experiences with addiction or personal experiences that needed counseling, and they think, “Well, I wanna be able to give this back.” And that if they come in, and they help other people, that will help them. It may help you a little bit. But the bottom line is your personal work that you do for yourself is what stands. I mean, you do your clients and anyone that you work with [a disservice], if you don’t take care of your own personal recovery, it’s just like when you get on a plane and you see the stewardess say, “Put the mask on yourself first.” So if you don’t have that mask on yourself first, you can’t help those that you serve. So I think that is very important to know.
Tell us about your professional experience in the area of addiction and recovery, maybe you could get into a little more detail about what aspect of the work that you’ve done and what’s been meaningful about it.
Okay, so I’ve been working in this field for over two decades. I used to work as a lab technician. I initially started volunteering, again, trying to help my own recovering. So I started with teenagers because I was very young when I came into recovery. That worked for a little while for me, but that just wasn’t my fit. Then I worked in a halfway house with men over 80 men in this facility. That was nice. I learned a lot there. But that just wasn’t my fit either. So, I think in 1998, I was a part of a major project that was about bringing gender responsive care in my area. I’m from New Jersey, and this was one of the first women’s programs, and we had an opportunity to do partial care, where the women was with us all day long and it was an 18 month program, which was very long, if you think of it, but they needed that. So, it was an 18 month program, maybe 22 women at the most, two clinicians, and we had case managers.
So that was where I found my love. I grew so much, I was able to really be able to pour into those women, but also grow myself emotionally, physically. I did that work for a long time and that program was very successful. They were there in place for over 20 years. Then, something fell into my lap, it was a position, and I wasn’t qualified for it. I didn’t have a master’s degree at the time, but it was being the coordinator of FASD, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. So I went in that direction and it is pretty much the work that I do today, the only difference is it’s not specific to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. So that allowed me to be able to do public speaking, technical assistance, work specifically with the providers that were able to offer those services for the women.
So, I love working with women, and in my private practice, I have now been working a lot with the children. I’m not specifically working with FASD, but I do have some clients with that particular diagnosis.
I went back to school, got my graduate degree, and I’m a licensed clinical mental health counselor, associate, because I’m new to North Carolina so I had to get those 3000 hours. So that’s the work I do today, and I absolutely love it. There’s definitely a need for someone that has the passion and to show compassion and love for the work that we do.
What are you most proud of, professionally?
Well, I am most proud of that, the work with the women, I really… I love it. Some people burn out in this field. I haven’t because I’ve had great supervisors that taught me through supervision that I have to take care of myself in this work. So what I’m very proud of is that I never allow my love for working in counseling to wear me down. I really knew and learned that it’s important for me to take care of myself in order to be an asset to those that I serve. So I’m very proud of that, that I’ve been in this field for over two decades.
What keeps you working in addiction and recovery as opposed to something else?
Well, I would say that one of the things that when I did go back to school, I did wanna have that opportunity to work more specifically with the children that may have been affected by [addiction] or are affected by other things like divorce. So I would say, continuing to grow in this process, always keeping myself educated, always staying on top of the next thing, not keeping myself at a place where I started because things are forever changing. When I came to North Carolina, I had 19 years in recovery, and I actually had been working in the field for 18 years at that point. I was on a trajectory of really climbing in my field… people knew me. So, when I came to North Carolina, I felt I had to start completely over, but I’m glad I came in with a mindset, being open, willing to learn, not coming in as if I knew it all because I had been in the field almost 20 years at that point. So I allowed myself to come in as a sponge and I learned that I didn’t know all that I thought. North Carolina is doing great work when it comes to recovery, and not putting down North New Jersey where I was from, but the work was different here. So I am glad that I allowed myself to come in and be open, be a student, and continue to be at that place where I’m willing to be a student, not ever getting to the place where I have arrived.
So I would say that’s what keeps me here… It’s always growing and changing, and we’re doing great work when it comes to working in the field of addiction, being able to have peer support specialists that are able to help the clients that we work with. So I would definitely say, being able to never allow yourself to get to that place where you feel you have arrived or that you know it all, or that the way you got it was the way that every client you serve is going to get recovery, because it’s not.
How has the pandemic affected your work?
I would say it’s busier than ever at this point. For the women that I work with, what we’re seeing now is a lot of primary mental health. If your primary is mental health, if you have a diagnosis of schizophrenia, then that is your primary diagnosis and, if you’re using substances, then that would be your secondary. So we’re not able to refer that particular woman to the women’s programs because she doesn’t meet the qualifications and might not be able to keep up with the groups that are going on, being unable to get along with her peers and the staff. So I would say with the pandemic there has been an increase in mental health, there’s definitely been an increase in our calls at the Alcohol Drug Council. In my private practice, there is an increase in clients that I’m seeing.
What effects of the pandemic are you observing in the people that you serve, particularly women in need of perinatal substance use services?
Well, when it comes to them being able to access the services, one of the concerns that some of them have or many of them may have is that if they are referred to a residential program, are there protocols in place? Now, some may say, why would they wonder if there’s protocols in place if they are homeless and don’t have anywhere to go, but they have every right to wonder if there’s COVID protocols in place, and wonder if they and their children are going to be safe. They have the right to know that. Some people will believe that every person that uses substances, that they are neglecting their children or that they have lost all of their humane decisions. That’s not always the case, and some of them are concerned about that.
All of the programs have COVID protocols in place. We are meeting with them… there’s a management team meeting that we meet weekly. My leader, Starleen Scott Robbins, is making sure that she keeps us abreast of what’s going on. That’s what I see a lot of, but once the women know that they’re gonna be fine, it’s a great resource for them, then they’re excited that there are still choices, because that’s the other thing… folks are thinking because of COVID that there are no resources available at this time, or that they stop taking referrals when that is not the case. We’re still taking referrals, and there are actually a lot of beds available at this time.
What, if any, long-term effects do you anticipate on the field?
Well, as I said, there’s been an increase in mental health [problems]. I think about how it will affect people socially, when you think of people that have connected themselves to 12-step meetings, not having that in-person relationships that are able to bond as opposed to doing virtual, I think that that will be a long-term effect. I believe that financially, we’re gonna see a big change when it comes to hotels and restaurants and all of the things… Even when you drive downtown Raleigh, just what has happened there, I believe that we’re gonna be seeing years of this effect in our country, and our state of North Carolina. So I do believe that will make a difference. One of the things I appreciate is that if this would have happened 10 years ago, we might not have had platforms like Zoom and be able to still do training, and still do conferences, and see clients. That has been good. That’s a nice thing, and I hope that the boards that we work with, the addiction board, the LPC board, the Licensed Clinical and Mental Health Counselor board, the Social Worker boards, allow this to continue. I hope that this is something that is here to stay. Because, if you think about it, we’ve had clients that are in rural areas that are unable to access services, and they’re able to do it now.
That kind of goes nicely into the next question about any benefits or new opportunities in the pandemic, so anything additional to add to that?
I would just say that I hope… I put my plug in at the board, sent a email at my board, and I’m hoping that that is something that stays. I think even when you speak to the programs that have clients that have been able to access meetings or access groups via virtually, they loved it.
You also have your people that have issues with social anxiety, so they might not even come out and say, “Well, I don’t wanna go to the meeting because I’m uncomfortable with being around people,” and it just gives them that opportunity to take away that fear of facing someone head on, especially, when you’re at a place where you’re pretty vulnerable right now. So I think that is something that’s been nice.
I believe it’s gonna be here to stay. I have a women’s conference that I participate in every May in Asheville. I was really upset that we couldn’t go this year. And I remember a few years ago, when I first started participating in that conference, it was at Kanuga, which is a lake in Hendersonville, and so many people were very upset about us not being at Kanuga when we moved it to Asheville to the MAHEC, but it was easier for us to maintain and work on the conference there for the people that were a part of the conference planning committee. So we went through that transition, and what we saw was little bit by little, our numbers started coming back up, ’cause we did lose quite a few because people wanted that place to be able to come to the campgrounds and unplug.
So when this happened, and our conference was cancelled, it was almost like that same kind of feeling, “Wow, the conference has been cancelled.” I remember that week I was really mourning not being there because I looked forward to it. And so that day, I had a training, and the training was with FIRST at Blue Ridge, so they’re out of Asheville. And so when I got on the conference, one of the things I saw was a couple of the women from the women’s conference, and that allowed me to plug in, be present, and participate in some different breathing exercises, so that allowed me to plug in to that and participate.
We had our women’s conference in September, it was successful. I mean, we kind of felt like, “Wow, how is this gonna go off?” But it did, it went off, and it was a successful conference. And so, I hope that as time moves on and we’re putting things back into place, that we will allow virtual platforms to be a part of what we do.
If you were able to work on a fantasy project to improve treatment and recovery support, what would it be?
I would say, an opportunity to help those women that have that primary mental health diagnosis because… Okay, imagine you’re getting a call from five, six, seven, eight women that have mental health primary, but they’re pregnant and they’re using substances, but we have no resources for them. What do we do? Even if we find a way to put them in, maybe Walter B. Jones, which is one of your alcohol-drug treatment centers, they are very helpful when it comes to that difficult population, but once time is up, then what? Her time is up once she delivers her baby. So is the plan that she’ll deliver her baby, and automatically that baby is gonna go into the system? So if I could have any project that I could work on, it would be a project that look at how to help that population because it’s pretty sad when you think about it. When you have a woman that, even if she’s in a state of psychosis, there are times she has her moments of clarity. And so it might be at her moment of clarity she is reaching out to your agency for some help. And so the answer is, “We can’t help you because your primary is not substance use.” And so that would be the project that I would love to work on.
For you, as a woman of color, I could see these questions being asked in a different way, what effects of the recent racial injustice have you been observing on the people you serve? Do you have any thoughts or reflections about how some of these questions that we’ve explored about the pandemic and its impact on the people that are being served that would apply to the racial injustice that’s been going on in our country?
Well, I would not say that we’re seeing that in the population… Of course, it is something that is pressing for people of color. A couple of years ago I had an opportunity to go to a training. I think it’s REI, the Racial Equity Institute out in Greensboro. Every person that is in North Carolina should participate in that training, black, white, whatever. Because in that training, some of the things that we feel as a person of color… See, when you see me, if I’m presenting, I’m always dressed a certain way. I have that mentality because of my parents told me that I had to always dress a particular way, I had to speak a particular way, and I just had to work harder than my next white counterpart.
Now, that was the message that I got. And so as we go through these times and… I mean, it’s horrible. But what we people of color is that we’ll say that we’ve been feeling these injustices for a long time. In the programs that I work for, because of the leader that I’ve had and Starleen Scott Robbins and Flo for the many years, every woman no matter what her color is, is treated fairly. I know that. I could say for each program that they’re in. I think that that makes a difference, the leadership and understanding that, even if you don’t recognize it, that there’s something that we feel different on the inside.
I grew up in a town, Asbury Park, New Jersey. So it’s on the shore. That’s where the boss [Bruce Springsteen] is from, right? We were sandwiched in between some pretty wealthy towns. And so I was next door to this town called Deal. I mean, they were filthy rich, and we went to school together. So I never experienced that at school because we had that multicultural thing going on at my school. But when I got to college in Buffalo, New York, I experienced racism like I had never experienced before. Oh my god, I was devastated. It happened a few times. Even though my parents gave us that preparation, they didn’t prepare me for that.
So I will say that your leadership matters. The way you lead and how you treat the people that you serve is what matters. When it comes leadership, we know that trickle down. It trickles down. Everybody should have that same message. So that means that if your woman at the front door is not trauma-informed, then it doesn’t matter, because she might be the first person they see. So it’s the same way. If you’re at the top and you have a very present issue with racism, it will trickle down all through your organization.