So far, it has been past three weeks since I first started my independent project in Providence, Rhode Island. The trip started off on not the best of feet, with the copious amount of traveling and not having much information on what exactly I would be doing during my internship. I had the idea that things were going to be hectic and extremely serious, and that every day I was going to face a depressing moment or story. I walked in my first day with all of my luggage and were greeted by smiling faces and reassuring words (though it turned out to be one of the busiest days they’ve had in months).
Since then, I have been slower to assume things about people, despite what every lesson and teaching has taught me to expect. This has trickled down to how I view the clients that come in. The textbooks and powerpoints have taught me typical substance use disorder behaviors, including twitching, forgetfulness, scratching, and the like. I have also been taught that substance use is more common among people who experience homelessness, have had childhood traumas/family experiences with illicit substances, and other holistic factors. And though this had been true for a number of the clients, there are a few that have come in that have genuinely surprised me.
I sometimes attend the various support meetings (Project Weber/RENEW has a women’s support group and a transgender support group), and in one of the meetings a woman, who I will call Jane, talked about how she got to her current life situation. Jane had owned her own building company for many years and had been the general contractor for at least 22 houses across 11 states. She had a big house, a supportive family, and the freedom to travel and enjoy herself. However, her husband left her and took the claims to her business, effectively leaving her with the hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt they had accrued. Within months she lost her job, lost her home, lost her children, and had moved from state to state looking for shelters and other places to stay. This fateful event happened 10 years ago. Her children have no idea that she has been struggling with homelessness this whole time, and because she doesn’t want them to worry she doesn’t plan on telling them.
The reason why her story is so important is that it not only shows that one must be grateful for their lives and for the positive things that they have been able to experience but also because it shows the power of hope and perseverance, two things that every client that has come in has in vast amounts. Even though she has gone through such a difficult time for so long, she still smiles, jokes around, and is delighted by each and every accomplishment she makes to better her life, no matter how small. She takes each day as its own and appreciates what that day has given her, and is constantly thinking of how each step makes her life that more fulfilling and positive. I am grateful to have heard her story because she taught me to not dwell on the past when the future is knocking at your door, to never undermine even the smallest of accomplishes, and to reach out for help when needed, even if it might hurt the other person.