By Megan Milligan
Before her work day officially starts, Bianca Smith (not her real name) can be seen sitting at her desk comforting her residents. “Today is a new day. Let’s put yesterday to bed,” Smith says between sips of coffee.
On her desk is a worn book dealing with different strategies for therapeutic counseling, and her computer is loaded with information about her residents and their progress.
With no sign out front indicating what’s inside, the old Victorian house gives off the feeling that you are home. The house is in southeastern Pennsylvania, and it is a drug treatment facility. Here, up to 10 women at a time live and heal together.
Inside is the layout of a three story house, complete with living room, kitchen and a dining room which has been turned into an office for staff.
The walls have inspirational messages written on them.
It is also where Smith has worked for the past seven years. At 28, Smith has worked her way from an intern Adult Daily Living Consuler to a therapist, running group meetings for the women living there, and doing individual therapy with them as well.
“I feel very connected to the women here.” Smith said. “They have a lot of respect for me, because of the way I interact with them.”
She attributes her connection to the women to her own battles with addiction. In fact, she uses her past addiction problems to help the women that live there. When talking to patients and hearing a thought that parallels her own mindset during her time of addiction, Smith draws on her
experiences to help that person, without their even knowing what she has dealt with. Smith runs the morning business meeting with compassion, at the same time holding a degree of authority. It’s held in the living room, filled with couches for comfort,
and one can imagine security. After reading the Serenity prayer aloud
the women go around the room, saying numbers corresponding to the number of days they have been sober, their goal for the day, and what they are grateful for. The highest number is 232.
A woman who is leaving that week had a goal to start packing her room up. One of the women says she was thankful for the staff at the facility.
They talk with angst about an incident that happened the day before. One woman tells another, “I don’t want to see you get caught up in a situation that could put anyone in this house at risk.” The woman who has been criticized then gets some uplifting advice and some tough words on how to make better decisions by the other residents.
During the meeting Smith tries to encourage a woman to be happier and hold herself higher. “Get into it girlfriend. This is how we begin our day,” she says to the woman. She fist bumps a girl who has the least amount of days sober. “Keep it going,” she says.
The meeting ends with the facility’s personal philosophy, their creed.
Even on Smith’s break, she is seen standing out in the cold rain, talking to a woman and consoling her. “Message received,” she says in regards to the resident’s complaint.
Smith graduated from Cabrini College with a bachelor’s degree in social work.
Originally she wanted to work with youth who were high risk for HIV, because of her internship at an HIV clinic. “Along with HIV you have a lot of drug users,” Smith says, explaining of how she came to be a drug counselor.
Smith started working as an Adult Daily Living counselor. As an ADL she was in charge of everything from handing out medicine to handling patient appointments. “Basically anything from the neck down I was in charge of,” Smith says. She explains that the only thing she wasn’t allowed to do was psychotherapy, which is one-on-one counseling.
After a while she was promoted to counselor’s assistant and after a supervisory period she achieved the title of therapist. “I felt like I connected more with the women here, than I did when I worked at the HIV clinic,” Smith says. “Like I made more of a difference.”
During the group therapy meeting led by Smith, she gives the group an exercise. She hands each of the women a piece of paper with eight columns on it, while they sit in a circle of couches.
Each column has a list of words and sentences both positive and negative. The women are told to circle one word or phrase that stands out to them, so it eventually would make a beautiful poem.
“Usually when I do this exercise I see a common theme: Accepting who we are,” Smith says. “Using drugs or alcohol is a way to get away from yourself learning to live with who we are is a big part of recovery.”
Throughout the session Smith reiterates this theme in different ways. “Who you were or what you did while you were using does not define you,” she says. “Each of us is born
to be who we are meant to be, drugs and alcohol make us someone else.”
Her voice speaks of somebody who understands what it’s like to be defined by past actions, and someone even more determined to change that.
“Sometimes, I get drained,” Smith says after the session. Her favorite part of the job is when her clients say, thank you. “To know that I actually made a difference in somebody’s life, that I am in their memories makes me feel really good,” she says.
Smith sometimes gets worn out by all the paper work, insurance companies and funding issues that she has to deal with on a daily basis. She says that there is so much paperwork, it’s difficult to complete because she is supposed to be helping people.
Smith spends a lot of time with her fiancé and her animals to unwind from her hectic days. She also is an accomplished lead singer in a local folk band. Even though it is hectic, she has to take a train to work, and she eventually wants to go back to school, she still doesn’t want to leave her job because of her connection to the women that come through there.
“My style really works well here,” Smith says. “One of the best things of this place is that the people who come here have had significant traumatic experiences and just bad lives in general, and then they come here and say that this is the first time anybody has treated them like a human being. I like to stress that in my eyes… that I don’t see us and them, we’re all in this together, and we have to work as a team.”