My Kind-Of Stint at Rehab

I love these unusual hibiscus flowers my mom got from a friend.

Miles run yesterday: 4.5

Words written in novel so far: 32,655

Years I have been a freelancer: almost 12

As I prepare to head back to “traditional” work this fall, I thought I’d do a series of blog posts about my illustrative early work. Hope you enjoy it!

I spent some time at drug and alcohol rehab.

Not in an Amy Winehouse kind of way, but as a “staff” member.

Back in the ’80s, I was a goody-goody. I guess I’m still kind of a goody-goody, and I’ve made my peace with that.

The summer I was 16, I needed work. Word got out, and my parents asked around, and before you could say, “Paycheck,” I/they had something all lined up.

What I pictured for my 16th summer: me, as a lifeguard at a water park, wearing a bathing suit and flirting with new and exciting teenage boys from exotic high schools across town.

What I got: a stint at drug and alcohol rehab.

The woman across the street was a secretary for a local drug and alcohol rehab clinic, and she discovered that they needed someone to cull the files so the center’s building was not overrun with papers.

Why not get a goody-goody to do it? Yep. You guessed it. I was that goody-goody.

Guess what that teenage goody-goody got paid? Hold onto your seats, now… Six dollars an hour! I know. It was like winning the lottery. I was destined to be rich forever with such an auspicious beginning.

I did half-days, so about 10 a.m., I would drive over to the seamier side of town with the windows down. I would not be exaggerating if I told you that Mariah Carey’s “Vision of Love” played on every single trip to work. I came to think of it as my theme song. Would you like for me to sing it for you?

When I arrived at the nondescript rehab center, I couldn’t decide if it was a good thing or a bad thing, but no one questioned my badge or my reason for being there. I flashed my badge authoritatively and strode to my office like a champ.

The front part of the rehab center looked like an office complex. The back? Who knows? I never got to see it.

I walked in, down a narrow hall to the right and into a file room with no windows. I spent my hours at rehab in a gigantic, vanilla box. The file cabinets were beige, the walls were beige, and the files themselves were beige.

I started to think that rehab might not be that interesting.

And then, when I started reading the files, I reconsidered. These 16-year-old kids who played basketball and ate lunch and went to group therapy just on the other side of my vanilla wall had, in fact, had very interesting lives.

People even took the time to write long tomes about their experiences. Longhand. Like, not using Microsoft Word.

The administration must have known that goody-goodies read things. Unlike renegades, who might merely trash random papers and hope no one finds out, I felt compelled to read the provided materials. In great detail. What I learned: Parents had not been parenting, kids had devised creative plots to obtain illegal substances, and rock bottom meant much more than it had in Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” drug education program.

My job was to get rid of documents B, F, and M (or whatever) and clip the bare bones, most dire documents back into place.

My job was fraught with injury. Can you say “paper cuts”? I learned to employ Band-Aids as a sort of thimble.

My job didn’t require me to be there full-time. I learned why: it wasn’t because they didn’t have the money to pay me.; it was because they were afraid I would die of boredom. And they didn’t want any blood on their hands.

The lessons I took away from that job were:

1. I needed a job that included other people. I would have settled for one other person. Who breathed.

2. I needed to learn how to type. I did not want 50 pages longhand to be part of my future career.

3. I needed to find a job that people cared about. The kind of job that made people say, “Now, that was helpful.”

4. I needed to learn to take a better photo for my badge. My badge photo rivaled my driver’s license picture for awkward supremacy.

5. I needed to remember to “Just Say No.” Rehab sounded all fancy when celebrities did it. But a vanilla building in the suburbs wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. And I didn’t want some 16-year-old goody-goody reading about my exploits.

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32 thoughts on “My Kind-Of Stint at Rehab

  1. Daryl says:

    Boy, from my knowledge, your “rehab” file would have would have been trashed by the most conservative intern. I can see the sentence on the page, “Substance abuse: Sweet tea & Shot Blox”. You go goody goody, it’s why I married you.

    • annewoodman says:

      I do have some vices… it’s why I respect people who give up far more addictive substances. Making major lifestyle changes is tough. Don’t make me do it.

  2. I’ve been on the other side of that vanilla wall….(twice over the past 10years in fact) and always wondered how we residents were perceived by the non-mental health staff with whom we came in contact.

    • annewoodman says:

      I really didn’t know what to think… the place where I worked handled teenagers, not adults, so it was a little different in that way.

      I hope you are OK now. I have friends who have been to rehab as adults, and I understand that it is an everyday battle. Best wishes and my respect for making the changes you need to live a healthy life.

  3. Carrie Rubin says:

    There’s nothing wrong with being a goody-goody. It’s served me very well over the years. 🙂

    By the way, I thought of you on my recent trip as I had to resort to jogging for my exercise, my room too small to do my workout DVDs. I managed between 3-5 miles at a stint. I enjoyed the first 30 seconds or so. At least my knees withstood the tedium–no grapefruit-sized swelling, anyway. 🙂

    • annewoodman says:

      Ha! The first 30 seconds! I can relate to that. Some runs are better than others. You must be quite fit to do five mile runs without running as a regular workout. Kudos to you, fellow goody-goody!

  4. Can you really hit the high note in “Vision of Love”? Now I am impressed. As a former paramedic I got to see the other side as well. My hat goes off to anyone with the courage and strength to fight through it and come out the other side somewhat intact.

    • annewoodman says:

      No. But I thought I could (and I was 16). The folks in neighboring cars might beg to differ.

      Wow–as a paramedic, I bet you saw a lot you want to un-see.

      • If their windows did not crack, I think you were okay.

        You are right about things I’d rather un-see. However, there was a lot of really good memories too. My wife says I’m great at cocktail parties. I have a story for every occasion.

      • annewoodman says:

        Yeah, my jobs aren’t so great for cocktail parties. I might put people to sleep!

  5. Melissa says:

    Hmm…Goody, goody. I wasn’t one, but for some reason people thought I was. Never could figure that out. I guess because I had tons of friends that were. I was the bad influence 🙂

  6. David Gentry says:

    Funny. I don’t even remember your rehab job. I know your summer job in the retail loan operations department of a bank was thrilling, also. I think first jobs exist to tell us what we don’t want to do.

    Love, Dad

  7. jmmcdowell says:

    I think I was a goody-goody, too. Or at least a goody…. I certainly wasn’t on the other side of the wall in your rehab center. My first job was as a sales clerk in a small local downtown store that sold a bit of everything. It was a heck of a lot easier than waitressing, that’s for sure!

  8. Amy Mak says:

    Yes, I would like to hear you sing Mariah Carey’s Vision of Love, please. I’m sorry you couldn’t lifeguard with exotic boys but this job sounds far more enlightening for you and us. I’m anxious to read more about your career path as I am just starting out in freelancing and could use lots of help! Oh, and good work with the novel word count!

    • annewoodman says:

      I’m sending good wishes, then, on the freelancing front. We’ll see what happens with my “traditional” job search. It’s nice, these days, that more people are able to work from home to keep skills fresh.

  9. 4amWriter says:

    Very funny and enlightening. I was, and still am, a goody-goody–so I can relate to your feelings over this particular job. I never had an actual paying job in such a facility, but I did do a lot of volunteer work when I was in college at a crisis center and at a shelter for abused women and children. I think initially I thought I was dealing with people and problems from “the other side” but when I was honest with myself I realized it hit a lot closer to home.

    • annewoodman says:

      I agree… we all are touched by these situations. But I was quite young and under-exposed to life in general. I guess it was the beginning of waking up to the world.

      One of my close friends volunteered at a rape crisis center, and while she couldn’t share what she saw, her emotions touched me. God bless the people facing such dire problems.

  10. Ravena Guron says:

    I love the beginning of this post… don’t we all envision jobs like that lifeguard one? I couldn’t even find a summer job this year. I got one week experience in a solicitor’s firm and I can relate. The stuff I read about in the files (I don’t think I was supposed to but I always finished my filing early and I needed something to do) was very interesting, but I took from it exactly what you took. And being a goody goody rocks 🙂

    • annewoodman says:

      Wow! Goody-goody Power!

      I had a summer when I couldn’t find anything, either. It was a pretty boring summer… of course, I didn’t have blogging to turn to! Sounds like you’re being a little more productive than I was that summer.

  11. Holy cow. When I was 16 I was a cashier at Grand Union. I didn’t gather too many life lessons from the job, I’m afraid.

    Great post!

  12. juliaboriss says:

    Thanks for the congratulations on my new job! Kind of a weird coincidence, because my new job is actually as a substance abuse counselor at a rehab center. Hopefully a little less beige file-heavy than your gig. I totally agree with your #1 lesson about needing to be around people. That’s the problem with my current job- no adult interaction. it makes me weird.

    • annewoodman says:

      Ha! So funny! Bless your heart. It sounds like your new job will have lots of human interaction–a plus. I liked your pros and cons list. Just FYI… I think denim short-shorts might be a little bit of a distraction for the clients. ; )

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