I'll Walk With You
“If you had told me in high school that I would grow up to be an addiction recovery therapist, I probably would have panicked and run away,” says Courtney Garcia (BS ’18). She first encountered the serious effects of alcoholism and substance abuse while serving in the New Mexico Farmington Mission. Those experiences pointed her in the direction of her life’s calling.
On her first day in one area on the Navajo Reservation, she visited a less active woman and her husband; he was completely drunk. “That was really my first time seeing someone who was that drunk,” Garcia recalls, “It was very intimidating.” He proved to be the first of many, as alcoholism was a serious problem in her area. Garcia found herself wishing she could help. “The gospel does help a lot,” Garcia says, “But there are also a lot of mental health components that play into happiness in this life, and I wanted to be able to help with that.”
When Garcia returned home, she began studying psychology in order to pursue her newfound goal. Although there were no professors on campus specializing in addiction recovery, Garcia was not deterred. She sought out other sources to learn from and eventually discovered Pomarri, an outpatient treatment center in Orem. Garcia spent almost a year working there, doing anything from urine analyses to teaching group therapy. “I looked forward to the time I spent with the clients,” Garcia says. Still, the job wasn’t always easy.
“There were definitely times when I got home from my internship and I just cried,” Garcia explains, “the hardest part was watching [people] go through these immense struggles and relapse.” It was difficult to see people she’d grown to care about have heavy trials, and Garcia ran the risk of taking these worries home with her. She learned to strike a balance by “being present in the moment…empathizing as much as I could, and then as soon as I left, just not worrying about it.”
As an intern who was just beginning to learn about addiction recovery, there weren’t always big ways she could help someone who was struggling. Still, Garcia has realized, “I feel like I just have to walk beside [people] and help them through. To be there when they need someone.” This act may seem small, but she’s found it helps. In fact, while Garcia agrees that it can be hard to continually stand by a friend or family member who suffers from an addiction, helping to grow an addict’s support system has huge potential to help in the long run.
She also learned that, in many cases, addicts “are people who have experienced struggles and haven’t had the right sources to turn to.” This can be true even for individuals raised in homes where parents tried to provide the best environment possible. Garcia explains that many addictions can start small, like abusing painkillers prescribed for a sports injury. She also points out that even though many addicts do have good support systems, addictions and the resulting consequences can deteriorate these systems quickly.
“One of the worst things [people] can do,” Garcia insists, “is play the ‘what if’ game and beat themselves up for doing or not doing something in the past.” Garcia also warns against comparing one addict to another. “There’s differences in people and biology,” Garcia explains, pointing out that there are complex reasons why one person might have a smoother recovery than another. To foster a better understanding, Garcia recommends friends and family should “learn what they can about addiction.”
In the fall, Garcia intends to do just that. She’ll be attending graduate school in New Jersey, where she plans to earn a Master’s in social work. Garcia has also been accepted to an Addictions Counseling Training certificate program, where she will become certified to practice addiction recovery. “Honestly,” she says, “I got into this field because it is where I was divinely guided to be.” Still, it doesn’t take a call from God, or even an advanced education, to help those who are struggling. “[While] the hardest part of working with someone struggling with an addiction is being patient and loving towards them,” Garcia says, “[It’s] also the best thing you can do to help.”