Community Field Study Internship with UC Irvine – Allison D.

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New Directions for Women proudly celebrates another opportunity to share the results of partnership and research. Another UC Irvine student has taken advantage of the opportunity to perform field education at New Directions for Women. For participating students, we provide a real-life agency setting where students of various disciplines can come to study, observe and practice their skills while broadening our community presence. The paper presented here is a testament to how a student can be exposed to the problems that women with addiction face and also educate the student on how New Directions for Women treats women, pregnant women and women with children. Read and enjoy.

Field Study Project

            “My field study project reflects upon my time spent at New Directions for Women, a rehabilitation center for women with drug and alcohol addictions in Costa Mesa, California. I shadowed and interacted with a group of about eight patients, ranging from ages 20 through 55, during their clinical trials, meetings, outings and intervention programs. The last four years as an undergraduate in the school of social ecology and in the criminology, law and society department has helped me integrate much of my studies to my field site. Through classes such as “Legal Sanctions”, “Prison, Punishment and Corrections”, “Race, Ethnicity and Social Control”, and “Crime and Public Policy”, I have incorporated my academic learning and lessons into a tangible and direct life study.

Not only was I able to relate my academic studies to my internship site, but I was also able to learn valuable life lessons as well as develop a deeper understanding of life and provided meaning service to the public and community. In a sense, the patients at the rehabilitation center taught and guided me through life’s complicated mazes through their personal stories. During the past 8 weeks, I have learned and grew a lot as a person due to the life lessons the patients reflected on and their personal struggles and problems. One of the main things I learned during my stay at the rehabilitation center is understanding, compassion and fearlessness. I became aware of the problems people in society faced that I was never exposed to, such as addiction, poverty, violence, the lack of family and moral support. Through these women’s support system for each other and the rehab’s staff want and passion to help these patients, compassion was easy to find in every corner of the rehab center. The patients exposed themselves physically and emotionally to life’s harsh reality, many of who questioned why they are still alive and breathing today. The ability for them to wake up every morning and face what life has to offer after their addictive and obsessive past describes them as having an un-daunting and fearless nature, something I seldomly posses.

I integrated my academic training and knowledge from school through my field placement site. The last year and a half of my studies under the Criminology, Law and Society department has taught me much about legal policies, governmental organizations, the effects of gaps between governmental institutions (such as courts) and institutionalized programs (such as rehab centers), the lack of funding in programs, conflict theory, racial and gender conflicts and setbacks within the institutions, and the role of women in society. I noticed that these lessons and problems were reflected upon and brought up through my field site.

During my studies with Professor Turner in her class, “Prison, Punishment and Corrections,” she noted that aside from the rehab program, patients also need other factors to help them succeed recovery and in overcoming relapses. Family support, moral support, a goal and a want to live sober, and moving away from triggers are the best cures to become sober.

“Triggers” is a term used at the rehab center and it means anything that would bring back or remind patients of the addictive substances. For example, the thought of bars or their drug dealers are trigger because they are accessible and can make the patient relapse if they are not strong enough. During my field study, a handful of patients were released because their time at the site expired due to money and insurance, or the court order specified a certain amount of time they were able to stay. I contemplated on the effect of these patients returning home back to the place, area, friends and people that made them become addicts in the first place and realized that they are going to be “triggered” as soon as they return back to the place it all started. By returning back to the root of the problem, these patients are entering (what Professor Turner lectured as) into a “viscous cycle” because they will keep churning in and out of the system unless they relieve themselves of the same friends and area.

The lack of funding is another substantial dilemma. This is the only gender-specific rehab center in Orange County that is accredited by CARF, Commission of Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, and it only houses 30 people. There is a waitlist of patients waiting to be admitted into the site because of their accreditation and they cannot admit more than thirty. This nonprofit rehab center is funded by programs, fundraisers, and a thrifty boutique shop in Newport Beach that sells used items to support the facility. Lack of government funding in California and the country means fewer programs, fewer beds, fewer services and staff, all of which are highly needed to treat people and keep them out of prisons and jails. I learned in Professor Wakefield’s class, Legal Sanctions, that the more people being sent to jails and prisons, the more people being churned in and out of the system with no end to the vicious cycle. Intervention programs such as rehab centers work well, but generally the state’s funding in California are being put into building more prisons instead of programs to help people deal with their behavior and attitudes. Therefore, today there is less money provided for school, governmental programs and assistance and housing. Rehab and intervention programs and institutions are cheaper, and in the long run, less expensive than shoving people in prisons and jails.

When people asked me where am I doing my field study, I told them that I am volunteering at a women’s rehab center with patients ranging from 18 to 55. Many people asked if there were such a thing as a women’s rehab center because they thought that only young celebrity women or really impoverished women were prone to addiction. I replied that women of all backgrounds are just as likely to succumb to addiction. I believe that people are more surprised when they find out that the women in today’s society can be admitted to a rehab center, especially the older women. The image and role of women in today’s society has changed somewhat because a lot of people seem to believe that women are those who “hold down the fort,” and who are the homemakers, usually depicted as raising children and the caregiver, therefore realizing that women can also go to rehab shocks some of the older people I spoke with. In reality, women have changed a lot in the past few decades such as working, becoming independent, divorcing their husbands and becoming a single parent, and there are even female politicians and female in higher governmental offices and running corporations.

I chose to intern at a women’s rehab center because I wanted to learn and understand why people have addictive behaviors and how people become dependent on substances. I wanted to figure out whether or not it was nature or nurture that make people succumb to illegal narcotics and alcohol and if people are able to change. My goal was to understand why people turn to alcohol and drugs as a pastime or as a support system. Through providing service to the rehab center, I learned a new level of knowledge about people and myself. I learned the different backgrounds people come from, how they are able to change in a positive way, how they are fighting a battle with a chronic disease,  and I became a better citizen through the act of service, reciprocity and meeting these patients.

By volunteering at the rehab center, I am helping these women cope with their addiction and to make them realize that they do not need to resort to drugs or alcohol. Yet at the same time, through interacting and opening up, they have taught me to understand that people with addictive behavior or not “bad”, they are normal people with different issues that I have never been exposed to, and experiencing a disease. It made me realize how fortunate I am to overcome peer pressure, to have a loving family and a grounded, strong support system. After a few days of coming home from the rehabilitation center and as I walk into my home and see my family, I am thankful and grateful to live my life without violence, abuse, or neglect.

I have learned and grew a lot as a person due to the life lessons and stories the patients spoke of. Before interning, I never understood why people would want to resort to drugs and alcohol as an escape from their life’s trouble. I never had an addictive personality or behavior even through my teenage and trial phases. I never wanted to try drugs because I’ve seen the effects of drugs on the brain and people’s dependence on it, however I never understood why people would still try drugs even though they know it is bad for their body and their lives. After working and speaking with the patients, I started understanding that other people have different measures and ways to cope with their troubles. Some people have no control over certain situations and  by doing drugs or drinking, they feel that they can control the amount and control what they put into their bodies. There is nothing dramatically different about these patients, they are not mentally insane or physically different, they just have a coping problem with their addictions but they are just as sane as anyone in my family. It made me realize that these patients are not  atypical, they are people like me but with different life problems thus I should not discriminate or look down upon them. During a clinical meeting, I learned that becoming addictive to drugs is a disease of the brain. Just like liver disease, by consuming too much alcohol, it will start to deteriorate your liver, drugs and brain are the same thing. I never knew that the brain could deteriorate because of drugs and I always thought that becoming a drug addict was not because of your brain but because of your own personal choices. I then started to look at addiction and people with drug addiction in a different way, it is not necessarily their fault, it is also their body functioning in ways that they cannot control.

There were times I felt vulnerable and faced challenges and difficult obstacles during my field study. I am normally an anti-social person; I like to be around my small, close group of friends that I am comfortable with. I takes me a while to open to people and it is normally very difficult for me to make new friends. I usually clam up in around new people and especially large groups. However, after my experience in the rehab center, it was I who had to open up conversations first, I had to make other people want to talk to me because I needed to get through to the patients and make them open up to me. I had to introduce myself to new patients and staff members, lead process groups where patients vent and reflect on their lives at the center, engage and start discussions and learned to let lose with the patients. I understood that if I were to act awkward, then the patients would not discuss and process their lives, which would lead to frustration and perhaps ultimately relapse because I am not doing my best to help them recover and speak about their troubles. I know that if I were to become a lawyer, I would have to speak publicly and try get people to open up to me when it comes to their problems and to retrieve information to process legal cases, interning helped me overcome my anti-social personality somewhat. It help start me on a quest to relax and open up to people without caring what they think about me, a valuable lesson that I am growing more comfortable with.

Through my service at the rehab center, there was a reciprocity of compassion. I showed compassion by wanting to be at the rehab center and wanting to help these women realize that are escape routes to life’s problems and it is not too late.

Towards the end of my field study, I noticed that I became attached to some of the patients and I yearned to be able to help them more and reach out. However, some of the women’s time at the rehab center was nearing an end and many of them are starting to transition into the sober living housing. I made some friendships along the way and taught some people but I felt that I learned more from them through their kindness, their problems and their stories. I feel that their teachings and my stay at the field site taught me about the workings, problems and politics inside a rehab center more than any course book could.”

 

Written by Allison Dang

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