I always knew I wanted to be a helper. In high school while my friends were flip flopping about what they want to do, where they want to go to college, I was convinced I knew. I distinctly remember a conversation in our kitchen my sophomore year with my mother and one of my best friends. I said I wanted to be a social worker, I wanted to help keep kids safe. At this, my mother and my friend laughed at me. They said things like “you’ll never make any money,” or “you don’t like kids!” I thought “whatever.” I knew there wasn’t money in social work. Everyone knows there’s no money in social work. I was going to save a child’s life and change the world. Like a typical teenager I changed my mind and decided I was going to go into accounting. I had taken several business and accounting classes Junior and Senior year. For the first time in my school career I excelled at something. All of these classes came so easy for me. Senior year my accounting teach encouraged me to take AP accounting and I aced it with my eyes closed (quite literally, it was my 8AM class)!
I had been convinced to forego my desire to change the world and save children and enrolled in an accounting program at a Business College. It was one of those programs that only took less than a year for some bull shit certificate and they’d help you find a job. If I only knew then what kind of a crock those things were….Anyway, I blew through that program with my eyes shut as well. I had a GPA of 4.98 because I ended up with one B.
By this time I was 19 and I knew EVERYTHING! I struggled to find a job. I couldn’t figure out why, I was young, I excelled in this program, I could do accounting like it was nothing. In hindsight I get it. Who on earth would want to hire a 19 year old kid who thinks she knows it all and has no experience. My parents were tired of me staying home all day sleeping and being awake all night on the computer, so I got the typical ultimatum. “Go to community college or get a job and pay rent.” Well, I didn’t want to do either of these things. and I did not want to continue in accounting either, because honestly, I couldn’t stand it. I learned that just because I was good at something doesn’t mean it’s what I was meant to do.
So there I was, in the little closet room we kept the family computer, at 2AM surfing the internet and chatting in chat rooms. I needed to do something with my life. I needed to get out of that poedunk town where everyone was nosey and knew your business. The town I lived in was a whole 2 square miles. Everyone knew everything. Hell, I’m convinced the old lady next door knew I when I was going to take a shit before I knew! So, what’s the best way to get away when you have no money and no prospects and your country is in the middle of a war no one wants? Well, you enlist in the military that’s what!
I remember when I was a little girl in 1991 when the first Gulf War started. My father eagerly asked my (much) older brother if he was going to enlist in the Navy and continue the family tradition. “No fucking way” my brother answered. What my father said next really hit me, even at 5 years old. “I guess that’s the end of a tradition.” I’m not sure why that bothered me, but it did. So, at 2AM I found myself on a Navy Recruitment website and this memory had flooded back to me. I submitted a request to be contacted by a recruiter and went on with my chats. I ended up going to bed around 4:30 in the morning and at 7AM my cell phone rang. This recruiter wanted to meet with me the next day to discuss my once in a lifetime opportunity to join the Navy.
Holy Shit. I’m actually going to do this.
I got up and met my mom in the living room. “Mom,” I said “I’m going to do something very drastic with my life.”
“Oh My God, you’re pregnant!?” She yells.
“No. But glad that’s what you think of me. Tomorrow I am going to talk to a Navy recruiter and I’m going to join the Navy.”
“You’re going to get married and never come home!” At this she jumps off of the couch and runs to the wall phone (Have I dated this story enough yet?) She calls Dad at work.
“Do you know what your daughter is going to do!? She’s going to join the Navy.”
“I figured that,” he said “I saw the recruiter history on the computer.” This is where my memory of this conversation starts to get fuzzy, but I’m pretty sure she hung up on him.
Once she cooled down I remember she said something about if I really wanted to do it I would see the recruiter today. I told her I have the appointment for the following day, but I would be willing to drive four towns over to the office to see how long it will take me to get there. She wanted to come with me so off we went. The drive, the rest of the day, must have been so mundane because nothing sticks out in my mind. Actually the next memory of the situation I have is going to see the recruiter the next day. Again, she demanded to go with me. Even at 19 I couldn’t stop her. We’ve always had a great relationship, and at this point we were more friends than mother/daughter.
Anyway, I distinctly remember him asking me my religious preference. I can count on both hands the number of times I was in a church as a child. My Dad’s Italian and was raised Catholic. My Mom is French and was raised Protestant. General Christianity was the theme in our house, and at this point in my life religion wasn’t a thing. I never thought of it, aside from Easter and Christmas. So my answer to his question was “No preference,” to which, however my mother yelled that I was Protestant. Aside from being mortified at this moment I didn’t think anything of it. Until 6 months later I find myself freezing my ass off in Great Lakes, Ill. and I get my Dog Tags. “Make sure its right” yelled the Recruit Devision Commanders. “LAST NAME, FIRST NAME, SSN, PROTESTANT NO PREF.” That’s what my dog tags said. My religion, according to the United States Navy was Protestant No Preference. I couldn’t help but try to stifle a laugh because I thought of my mother (whom at this point I missed terribly)! For the record, I still have my Dog Tags, and I still chuckle at this memory every time I look at them.
So I went through Boot Camp and “A” school and was off to Virginia to the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (CVN 73). I had been on my ship for maybe 2 months when I turned 20. One of the first people I met was a guy on another carrier at the Rec Hall in town. Instantly I was head over heals and would do anything for him.
Long story short, we were married before I turned 21. It wasn’t supposed to last. Hell, we shouldn’t have even gotten married. The entire relationship was toxic, but I didn’t know any better. I had several miscarriages and was told I was not ever going to be able to carry a pregnancy to term. This was a dark time in my life. I fell into a deep depression and almost got my ass kicked out of the Navy, but I had great leadership that decided they were going to help me. They sent me to the on base substance abuse rehab program where I learned why I was drinking so much and started therapy. I came to grips with the idea of not having children. We could travel. See the world together. Adopt in a few years.
Then I got pregnant again.
And was put on bed rest of SIX MONTHS!
But I had my baby. A beautiful chonky 10lb turkey! Who had a rough start to life. He had seizures so bad they couldn’t stop them. He was in the NICU for two weeks. He was put on Phenobarbatol and we were sent home. I worked with our baby to help him reach his milestones and by the time he was almost 3 months we had him almost complete weened off the meds because he hadn’t had any more seizures and was doing well.
Until that fateful day in July. I don’t want to get into details, but long story short Cam was diagnosed with Shaken Baby Syndrome. This was a darker time in my life. Who would want to hurt my innocent beautiful baby!?
I was still on Active Duty, my Husband had got out of the military and was working in one of the Shipyards. I swear everyone and their brother was now involved in our life. Law Enforcement, Child Protective Services, the Navy’s Family Welfare. FUCKING EVERYONE.
Of course they took Cam from us and my mother was able to come to Virginia from Florida and take care of the baby.
The super short version is I was in denial, my husband did it, they gave me custody back and when we got the letter saying he was Founded of child abuse I never saw him again. At this point it was October and my mother still was in Virginia. She risked losing her job so she could stay with me and help take care of Cameron. My enlistment was up in January of the following year, and with the amount of Leave I had saved up, I could afford to take 30 days leave, so that meant a move in December.
My mother allowed me to pack all my shit up and move us in with her and Dad.
Shortly after my arrival in Florida President Obama signed into law the Post 9/11 GI BILL. The benefits to this GI Bill were unreal. Full tuition paid. Housing allowance given once a month. Book stipend to get text books. It took effect in July 2009.
My parents and I struck a deal. Stay home, take care of the baby. Bond with the baby. Get on Foodstamps and buy your own food.
So that’s what we did. And now I’m faced with the possibility to do what I want in life. I need to work hard to make a better life for my son, and I can still change the world. I’m barely 23 at this point.
I made the trip to the local junior college in June and met with an advisor. I realized I could still have the “college experience” I felt I had missed out on when I enlisted. My initial plan was to complete an AA and transfer to a 4 year school. I was also told that I could apply for Pell Grants, it didn’t matter if I was getting my GI BILL, so they helped me apply for that too. I was so excited I was actually going to go to college. I enrolled in the AA Psychology and started that August. I was shocked at how well I did in these classes as well. Near the end of my associates two of my mentors had convinced me to stay at the junior college and enroll in the BS of Human Services program. It was a brand new program at the school and I would be in some of the first classes.
This was where my soul searching really started. There were two choices for the BS Human Services program, and you had to pick one. You could specialize in Youth and Family, or Substance Abuse. Both of these I felt I had a fairly good grasp on what they were. Just a few years ago I was self medicating my problems away, and just a year ago I had my son taken away because my husband shook him. I had to look into myself and see what I wanted to do. I still wanted to save and help children, but could I really take a child away from a mother I know is innocent like I was? Could I really look at a father who harmed his child and not loose my shit? I want to make an impact on the world. I want to change someones life. How am I supposed to pick? I asked these questions to several of my mentors and the Dean of the program.
I went with Substance Abuse.
In three and a half years I had my Associates in Psychology and my Bachelors in Human Services with a GPA of 4.90. Highest Honors. I was so proud of myself. In High school I was a mediocre student who was happy with C’s and D’s and I had all A’s and B’s (and 2 C’s).
Then I met Brian. I knew I was going to spend my life with that man as soon as I laid eyes on him. And he was great with Cam from day one. I am, by far, the luckiest woman in the world.
I got a job shortly after graduation with a Substance Abuse Rehab in West Palm Beach. The office was right down the road from Brian’s so we’d get to see each other for lunch. I lasted about three months in that job, but only because it was an hours drive each way. When I was in college I volunteered at a local social service non-profit. Partially to help out in the community, and partially to obtain experience outside of my internship. The non-profit was much closer to home and offered me the same pay.
I worked there for almost two years. I helped people pay for their rent, electricity, medications, gave them bus passes, and ran the food pantry. I felt I helped a lot of people, but after two years my heart wasn’t in it anymore. I was getting the same revolving door of ungrateful people who demanded their monthly box of food, their annual rent payment, their bus pass because they don’t want to pay for it. I was burned out. And I still had a passion for helping folks using substances.
A friend of mine had informed me that he had started working for a brand new Rehab in the next city and they needed case managers. I applied and I got the job. WORST. FUCKING. JOB. EVER!! The client’s weren’t that bad, but it was the daily verbal and emotional abuse from the CEO, CFO, and Clinical Director. They would curse anyone and everyone out. I was literally sick going to work. And they made me put my work e-mail on my personal phone and would bitch you out if you didn’t answer an e-mail right away, even when you were off. It put a real strain on my relationship with Brian. He kept telling me to quit the job, but I couldn’t because we couldn’t afford it. Finally I had enough and walked out with nothing lined up. I ended up with a temporary job at another rehab facility doing Biopsychosocial assessments, but continued my employment search.
Reluctantly I applied for a job at the local Community Mental Health Center. I knew jack shit about Mental Health. I knew Substance Abuse. I did not know Mental Health.
But I got the job. I started with Orientation, and the last day my boss called and told me to go to my office in the next county. I was given my caseload and told to call if I had any questions.
No training. Just sink or swim. I thought “Well, damn it, I’m going to make this work.” I grabbed the bull by the horns and started making phone calls and scheduling appointments. I figured if I made a mistake I admit it and there’s nothing that can’t be fixed.
After a year I made the mistake of leaving for another mental health center, but returned to my old job in less than a month. They didn’t even change my date of hire. All I had to do was take a drug test and could come back. I had my same caseload and everything. It was great!
After three years with the agency I was promoted to Asst. Program Manager/Team Leader. I’ve been in that position for two years. There are days were I feel like I don’t know a damn thing and days where I think I can answer any and all questions.
I love my job.
I don’t want to do anything else.
I’m a helper. I am changing lives. I am making an impact. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.
Last updated June 19, 2020