Straight Dope Excerpt 2 – Susan

Posted: February 19, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Susan, 36

Caucasian, smart, reflective, drug counselor

If you want to change, you will
have to do it for yourself

            I have always liked talking to people. I am the oldest cousin, so my younger cousins always liked talking to me and from that, I think I was drawn to working with kids and helping people. Originally I was going to school for physical therapy, but at that time it was really hard to get into school. I was on a waiting list three years in a row and I just decided that it was not meant to be, so I decided on something else.

My first job as an undergrad I worked at a drug and alcohol treatment center in Santa Barbara. It is very beautiful, but such a tourist spot. I have heard from a couple of people that it has the most bars per square inch (laughs). Man I need to live there. What would frustrate me about working in Santa Barbara is that when a crime is reported by the newspapers, it was in a way not to deter tourists. For example, if there was a rape that happened two blocks from State Street, they would report it happening on the West Side, because when people would read West Side, East Side, they would think of the gangs. So the newspapers would report it like that to not deter tourism. It’s probably like that in a lot of tourist spots. All my patients were probation kids mandated, very few were voluntary and most were drug related. What was interesting is that often when it was a mandated program and when they are not ready to stop using drugs, they will switch to alcohol because it is out of your system quicker. So they will go drinking on Friday night and test clean on Monday, whereas coke, meth, especially marijuana, you have the chance to test dirty on Monday.

The sessions with the kids were always after school. I would have two programs: The first one would be an early 45 minute group then a 45 minute acupuncture. The acupuncture is to decrease cravings and improve relapse prevention, which is a really cool aspect of the program. It exposes them to an alternative way of recovery.  The kids would also get acupuncture seeds sometimes for the weekend, and it was great for me because I got free acupuncture (laughs). A lot of kids were either against it or nervous about it and didn’t think that it would work. They were just not open to it. But it is a proven and some kids really liked it, and if they had a headache, or stress, or anxiety, we would give them extra points.

In Santa Barbara, marijuana was one of the most popular drugs. Meth had increased and there were different opiates. Most of the kids in the program were on probation and had tested out, some for possession and some for intent to sale. About 20% of the kids were out of drug court and had to come. They were the most intensive. In Santa Barbara for boys, they have a camp and you just get sent away anywhere from four to six months like prison.

When I would run a group, there would be many different topics such as stress management, relapse prevention, and recognizing triggers. We would walk around the neighborhood and I would give them post-its to write down things that could potentially trigger them to use. That made them aware of how many triggers there are, how many things they can associate with using. From McDonalds when they would get the munchies to just drawing their attention to the cravings.

Everyday was different. A couple of days a week I had two groups with about eight to twelve kids. Monitoring a group that size is always tough because of the different personalities. Just the sign in sheet alone would take awhile (laughs). Some of the kids would make their “B’s” look like “13” because of the letter “M” and the association of the Mexican Mafia. They would cross out Eastside, Westside and letters of the other gangs. So like if they were Eastside, a kid would cross out all the “W’s” and “G’s”. Anytime I see something like this I would tear up the sign in sheet. There would also be issues with what the kids wore and if it signified gangs. If a kid wore a North Carolina hat, he was from the Ninth Street Carpas and if someone had a Green Bay hat, it meant they were with the Golina gang. So sometimes in the beginning it was baby sitting because teenagers would test your boundaries. When I first got there, the person whose group I had taken over had no boundaries. She would take them outside and smoke cigarettes with them, so when I came in, all of that stopped. At first it was tough, but as time went on it got easier.

Any one situation get hairy?

Well, just the kids on their way to see me it would be an event. Sometimes they would get shanked in the hallways and get into gangfights. A lot of the fights were mainly due to drugs and the gangs controlling them in prison. Thats something that I had to get used to.

For more, pick up, “Straight Dope: A 360 degree look into drug culture in America on March 6, 2013 at


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