As many of you know, The McShin Foundation was founded as an authentic peer to peer organization, with the knowledge that the best way to help an individual searching for recovery is to share one’s own lived experience with Substance Use Disorders and Recovery. Because of this, everyone who works at McShin is in recovery, everyone besides me.
Because I’m not in recovery, I’m constantly questioned about why I work here or why I want to work with people with Substance Use Disorders. This question has started to frustrate me – why wouldn’t I want to work here? Why wouldn’t I want to work with people with Substance Use Disorders? Why shouldn’t people who AREN’T in recovery care about people living with a disease, fighting for a better way of life?
This care, motivation and passion started from witnessing the wreckage that Substance Use Disorders caused in the families of some of my best friends. Since then, and through my experience working at McShin, it has grown into so much more.
Four years ago, I was visiting one of my friends in Boston, where she was living for the summer. She had been volunteering at a recovery organization called New Directions, working with men with Substance Use Disorders. It was the summer after my sophomore year of college, and I was a psychology major toying with the idea of focusing on Substance Use Disorders and recovery. The day I visited New Directions happened to be a graduation ceremony for five men who had completed the program, moved out, and stayed in recovery for at least six months. I toured the house, spent time with some of the residents, sat in on a group and was able to attend the graduation ceremony.
Being part of this ceremony and hearing about the transformation that took place in these men’s lives was like lighting a fire inside me. I spent time after the graduation talking to the director of the program, asking how she got into the field. Over and over she kept saying how yes, it is great to see the successes, but the job comes with countless disappointments as well. I told her that I was aware of the statistics, aware of how many people relapse or go to jail or die. I knew all of this, but was frustrated at why people thought that all of this should discourage me from wanting to help.
I returned home from my trip to Boston and told my family that I had an epiphany about what I wanted to do with my life. Immediately, my parents were worried and tried to talk me out of it. They worried about me getting too
attached, being put into dangerous situations, or getting burnt out because of disappointments. They tried to talk me into working with children, or the elderly, and I kept insisting that this is where my heart was.
I knew that because I am not in recovery, I would be met with skepticism and the assumption that I shouldn’t care about this population. I adjusted my psychology courses to focus on Substance Use Disorders, learning as much as I could from books, articles, movies, shows, documentaries, scientific research, and recovery literature. Working at McShin, however, has taught me more about Substance Use Disorders and recovery than I could have ever learned from any class or book. Nothing compared to spending day in and day out with people working through these issues.
I am a worrier. I worry about absolutely everything. This was not a good trait when I started at McShin, I struggled with getting too attached to people, then having my heart broken time and time again whey they would return to using. I felt overwhelmed and powerless. I had to come to the realization that I can’t keep anyone in recovery, it’s not up to me. As much as I wish I could do it for them, or take away some of the burden and the challenge, I can’t.
After I accepted this, I started to pray every night, probably for the first time in my entire life. I would ask for everyone to stay safe, be willing to work for their recovery, and be there when I went back in the morning. These prayers were probably the first true, unforced relationship I had with any God or Higher Power. I had to believe there was something greater than myself out there, because I had to accept that I don’t have the power to save people. Prayers and having faith in something more was as much control over the situation as I could get.
When I was visiting my friend in Boston, the director of the recovery organization asked me if I had ever heard of “The Starfish Story.”
One day a man was walking along the beach, when he noticed a boy hurriedly picking up and gently throwing things into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, "Young man, what are you doing?" The boy replied, "Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them back, they'll die." The man laughed to himself and said, "Don't you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish?" You can't make any difference!" After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, "I made a difference to that one."
So, when I get asked questions like “How can you work in this field?” or “Don’t you get discouraged?” I think back to the Starfish Story. I think about all of the amazing, resilient, strong, talented, dedicated, incredible people I’ve met through McShin and the recovery community. I think about their families, so desperate to see their loved one do well. I think about all the changes I’ve seen in people. I think about how amazing it is when the lightbulb goes off in someone and the miracles that happen when someone truly chases recovery. I think about families being brought back together, people getting jobs, rebuilding relationships with their children, and reaching out to the people who come after them. I think about all of the people I love and care about celebrating the milestones of their recovery, creating beautiful lives, and having such a profound impact on my own life.
How could I not want to be part of that miracle?
About the Author
Alden Gregory Director of Development
Alden grew up in Richmond, where she attended Collegiate School. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in Psychology from Miami University of Ohio in December of 2015. In the fall of 2017, Alden began the Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling Master's program at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alden aims to use her voice and time at The McShin Foundation to reduce the stigma of addiction and offer hope to the families and individuals it affects.