By Belinda Morse
I attended community college right out of high school, but I was already active in my addiction. After three semesters of increasingly worse grades and dropping more and more classes, I dropped out of college altogether. I continued in the battle of addiction for 7 years until May 11th, 2012. On that day, my family staged an intervention on my behalf and told me that if I didn’t get treatment, I’d be kicked out. I promised I’d go to treatment and immediately checked into a detox facility. After six days in the detox, I went to a residential treatment center for 21 days. That was followed by 14 months of transitional living and two months in sober living. From the day I entered detox until today, I’ve remained sober.
Two years into sobriety I attended massage therapy school, which was very challenging but also motivating. Massage therapy is something I have been interested in since I was young, so it was exciting to be able to make my goals and dreams come true. Coming into my 6th year of sobriety, I felt a plateau in my career and I decided to get back into school to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW).
"They’ve inspired me to pay it forward, and I want to be able to give back the services that were provided to me and my family."
I am not interested in the medical field as far as becoming a nurse or doctor, though I currently work as a medical technician. I have had the privilege to experience many different job positions working in the treatment field, but social work has always been what I’ve been most interested in. When I was about 8 years old, my father was diagnosed with Hepatitis C. There was no cure at the time so my father entered an experimental trial to treat the illness. Because the treatment was so intensive, our family was provided with support from social workers. The children were separated into our own group and aided by one social worker while the parents received support from another. The aid these social workers provided was very helpful for me at the time. Social workers have also always been there for my brother, who has suffered from mental illness his whole life. At the difficult age of 13 I was facing a lot of struggles and began inflicting self harm. Again, a social worker was there to support me at the school. Her name was Julie, and at first I didn’t see the value or appreciate having to talk to her, but she completely changed my life. My life would look very different today, had I not been given the opportunity to work with those people. They’ve inspired me to want to pay it forward, giving back the services that were provided to me and my family.+
I am a full-time student and I work full time. When money is tight, I work as a Lyft driver to help make ends meet.. This also gives me the opportunity to meet people from all different walks of life. Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Portia. I picked her up from her retirement home to drive her to Walmart. After getting settled in the car and taking off to our destination, we easily passed the time with friendly banter.
She shared with me that her daughter convinced her to try Lyft to get around town instead of the bus. She said that her children were telling her, “Mom, we know that you are not like most other older people, that you have experience with technology, so we don’t think that Lyft will be that hard for you to navigate.” I shared with her that I was very impressed with her willingness to try new things. She went on to share that her children were all established and graduated from college and are working on careers of their own. She said that when she retired from her last job as an LCSW she had the time and inclination to play around on computers and phones and different technology, but that every time you blink something changes.
"It was by divine intervention that we were brought together that day."
When she told me that she was a retired LCSW, I knew that it was fate that our paths had crossed. I said to her, “If you don’t mind me asking, what was your last job in social work? What kind of social work were you doing?” She shared that in the mid-90s the therapist licensing board of California was suing the state of Utah and the Federal Government for neglect. She was asked to join a team of other qualified LCSWs to come to Utah and help the victims that had suffered from the neglect. I shared with Portia that I am in recovery from drugs and alcohol and just started going back to school to become an LCSW.
While she shared with me her experience of going through graduate school it gave me chills. She said to me that she is by no means a religious person, but she is a very spiritual person (which is something I can identify with) and it was by divine intervention that we were brought together that day. She shared some of her journey and personal life experiences that led her to become a social worker and just as we pulled up to Walmart she reached for her notebook. She said I don’t usually do this, but I want you to have my phone number and if you are ever in distress I want you to call me. I lived downtown, I’ve been on the streets, and I went back to school and taught myself how to read again. You can do it too. They didn’t mess with me downtown, they called me, “Mama Portia.”
I’m not certain about exactly what type of work I want to do in this expansive field, and going back to school has taken me on a roller coaster ride of emotions; fear, insecurity, excitement, anxiety, and the list goes on. To say the least, my conversation with this stranger reaffirmed that I am doing exactly what I should be doing. I was overwhelmed with the fact that this person and I found each other in that particular moment, for a reason much bigger than either of us will probably ever understand. Thank God for Mama Portia.