›› My Experience In The Field Of Addiction

        by Rebecca T. Balko

My name is Rebecca Balko and my first exposure to the field of addiction came as a resident in a long term treatment facility in Birmingham, AL. (The Fellowship House). I was quite a mess! I couldn’t find employment, (as I was not really “employable”), and they stepped in and gave me a job answering phones. (They were so good to me and the most wonderful group of people I have ever known in my life.)

My first year the only responsibilities I had were to answer 3 phone lines and use a big rubber stamp for the food stamp books. I cried every day of that first year because “it was so hard”. Well, they gave me the room to have my daily “break downs” and eventually made me the secretary to the Executive Director.

Now, you have to realize that I was only a “little” better than the previous year and my spelling, well to say it was bad would be putting it mildly. So, they got me a dictionary. Of course, I thought I spelled just fine, so I didn’t really like to use it. Then they got me a typewriter that beeped when you misspelled a word and would watch me to make sure I fixed it. Eventually, that began to improve.

I would later begin training to be a counselor, which I was excited about because, “I just knew the clients would love me and I would be great!” (ha) Well, I got my first client and set out to do two things; 1. Be her best friend and 2. Have a “perfect” client! Needless to say it was a TRUE learning experience. She broke just about every rule in the book, ultimately leading to a staffing, at which point she proceeded to cuss me out to my boss and tell me I was “the most horrible counselor in the world." I was devastated! I cried, “licked my wounds” and declared that “I never ever wanted to be a counselor!”

My employers were so good to me and they were so wise in the direction they gave me. In time I gained a better understanding of my role as a counselor. I would learn that I was not there to be a friend, or to say what they wanted to hear or to try and make them do what I “knew” was best. I was there to educate, guide and support.

Over the years I have seen so many things and learned even more. I would say the most difficult experience, (in my early counseling career), was a female client that I had twice. She had left treatment again shortly before this particular day. I was standing outside my office one morning and her fiance came to me and said that she had been murdered 3 blocks from where I stood, only a few hours earlier that day.

I had never in my life felt the way I did at that very moment and even now I can not accurately describe those feelings in words. “I felt responsible.” On several levels I suddenly felt overcome with an incredible sense of guilt. “If only I had been there for her.” “If I would have done a good job, maybe she wouldn’t have left”. Rather than talk to anyone, I opted to keep it to myself. I thought, “These things probably just happen and other people, (counselors) don’t fall apart.” (This decision would prove to be wrong and lead to a great deal of pain).

Fortunately the day would come where my pride would hit a bottom and I reached out for help. I came to understand two things; 1. Pride that causes me to alienate myself from acknowledging my own humanity would ultimately destroy me in this field and 2. That I am limited and finite, even at my very best, but that God is infinite and always able. I came to find that especially in this field, my reliance upon Him for everything, was the only way to accomplish anything. By a total reliance upon Him, there would not have to be the struggle with pride related to accomplishment, because I would know it only happened “because” of Him, nor would I have to be devastated by loss, because of the faith that He is the one in charge.

I had another client who had all of the proverbial cards stacked against him; He drank for 40+ years, had come out of prison after 8 years, was functionally illiterate, was diagnosed as a Paranoid Schizophrenic and was homeless. He would come through treatment twice as my client. The first time he was in treatment he had gained the information, but was not ready to apply it and left, eventually leading to a relapse. The second time he said he “was ready”. I watched as he became proactive in his recovery and gained sobriety. He changed right before my eyes and became an influence on others around him.

I came to realize that counseling was not just an experience, it was not just an opportunity to try and help others, but rather was and is an incredibly humbling honor and privilege. I realized that people let me in to their lives, there most private experiences and sometimes their deepest secrets. God has allowed me to be “His” vessel, through which “He” would reach inside of the broken hearts of the addicted and make them new, allowing me to be a witness. It causes me cry even writing this now.

The process of learning how to be a counselor began in 1991 and continues to this day. It is the single greatest experience and honor I know that I will ever have. I recently relocated to Palm Beach, FL leaving my job of 17 years. God is so good! He led me to a facility called, The Watershed, where I have been given a job full of creative freedom and the privilege of continuing to work with recovering addicts and alcoholics.

Life is so good and working in this field is truly an honor!


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