A Deeply Rewarding and Intensely Challenging Job
The heart of our offerings to the community are our two recovery houses; 63 Washington and The Friend’s House. These residences are loving, supportive environments in which people can undertake the incredibly challenging work of finding, understanding, and healing from the deep wounds and traumas that drove us to addiction.
While some recovery houses are entirely self-run by the residents, we find that our residents both appreciate and benefit from the daily presence of supportive people who are there to help them. We call these people House Managers, and they are an incredible team of breathtaking people who give more than we could possibly dream of asking in order to make recovery more accessible in the midcoast. Some are paid and some are volunteers, but the work they do is the same and each and every one deserves our eternal gratitude and respect.
This work is hard to describe. It’s simultaneously very chill and easy, and also some of the most challenging work you’ll ever do in your life. Some days, all you’re doing is cooking a little food and cracking jokes with some hilarious people. Some days, you’re holding a 19 year old for hours as their entire body convulses with violent sobs and they tell you about traumas that are worse than any horror film you could imagine. They’ve never told anyone else. You are holding them tight and patting their head. They can barely breathe because of the depth of their sobbing. Some days, people are getting intensely triggered, and you’re de-escalating conflicts between people with extremely poor self-regulation and communication skills. Some days you’re welcoming new residents and helping orient them and weave them into the community in a healthy way, some days you’re helping the residents grieve a housemate’s relapse; someone they’ve lived with and worked with for months is now on the run, using and selling, and everyone’s heart is breaking. There but for the grace of the Divine go we all.
[In a personal aside, as I write this one of our residents is sitting in the common room with their father. The resident’s grandmother died last week, and they have been working hard not to relapse throughout this hard loss. They are opening a set of letters their grandmother wrote while they were incarcerated. Their father is also in recovery, and the two of them are doing the hard work of grief and trying to build a family out of intergenerational trauma, addiction, and recent loss. My job, in this moment, is to give them space. I am making tea which I will quietly bring in to them in a few minutes. I will pray hard over the tea, asking it to carry prayers for healthy grieving and healing. Asking this now-departed Grandmother to watch and guide over her progeny as they work to heal. This, too, is what House Managers do.]
If you’re thinking “I’m not qualified for that,” you’re 100% right; you’re not. No one is qualified for this work. The work that we are doing is creating a container in which people can find, process, and transform the traumas that lead them to addiction. We seek the best practices in the field and we listen closely to our instincts, but the nature of every situation is so unique that no one is really prepared or qualified to do the work that we do. Understanding this is integral to approaching this work in the loving, empathetic, open-minded, compassionate, creative, and humanizing fashion that we ask for.
Our job is not to process for them; no one can do that but them. Our job is to create and hold the environment that allows them to do their work. Even this is impossible to rigidly define. Our new staff often ask questions such as: “What do I do if someone comes home high? What do I do if someone hasn’t left their room all day? What do I do if…” and we, as staff trainers, can only refer them back to themselves and their spirituality. There is no right answer. No two parallel situations are actually the same, and any hard policy that we established would harm some people whom it effected.
This job requires a lot. Here’s some qualities that we have seen correlate with people being good at this work:
- Our policies and practices are research-informed, and the research is crystal clear: When people in recovery are treated with love, compassion, and respect; they do far, far better. The old-school “tough love” mentality of shaming, judging, criticizing, and otherwise hurting people has absolutely no place in research-informed, effective care.
- Able to hold good boundaries
- A lot comes up. Residents will ask for everything from help cooking to letting them sleep on your sofa. We must be able to celebrate and encourage their ability to ask for the help they need while simultaneously holding perfect clarity on what we can and cannot offer.
- We must be able to fully see the humanity of everyone we work with. We are taught to “other” people who are addicts, and unless you can see yourself in every single resident, you won’t be able to really see them at all.
- This isn’t required, but there are layers of addiction that are impossible to fully understand when you haven’t lived it.
- There is a counter-argument, and it is this: Addiction fosters certain thought patterns, and it can be very healthy and inspiring for folks in recovery to get regular exposure to non-addicted thinking. People who have never struggled with addiction must, however, have impeccable humanization. Any tone of ‘holier than thou’ or ‘let me explain’ is a severe breech of trust.
- We co-create schedules and we’re deeply flexible, but our House Managers must show up when they say they will. Our residents want to know who will be there, and it can have immense impacts when we break faith with scheduling.
- This work is not for the faint of heart. House Managers field a lot of intensity, both good and bad. The only ones who stick with it are people who really, genuinely care about the work.
You may notice a few things conspicuously absent from this list, perhaps most notably is any professional qualification whatsoever. To be blunt, we’ll hire a grizzled old elementary-school-dropout with 30 years of sobriety and a kind heart over some overconfident LCDC (or even PhD) any day of the week. Your training and licensure is meaningful to us only insofar as it informs and is informed by the qualities listed above. We deeply value higher education and professional training, and many of our staff hold varying, pertinent professional licensure from MD to Clinical Psychologist to Biology Teacher. The point is that the licensure isn’t meaningful on it’s own terms, it only has value in the context of our holistic approach to recovery.
On this note, we both train and mentor our staff intensively. Our training is grounded and informed by the best practices in the field and also the unique circumstances of Midcoast Maine. Our staff must work together often to make very difficult decisions that directly impact peoples’ lives. We are constantly evaluating and refining our work, and that is best done as a team. So while our staff are often working shifts ‘alone’, they are never really alone, and must always be functioning as part of the community.
Many people with great philosophies and deep love lack the grit to work with the demographics we serve, i.e. “She started swearing and yelling at me!” Conversely, many people with an abundance of grit lack a healthy, loving, or compassionate perspective, i.e. “He just need to pull himself up by his bootstraps and stop whining about the past!” or worse; “These guys are just damaged goods. Throw ’em all out and start new.” We hope it is self-evident why people making these kinds of statements are not a good fit.
Beyond this, many of the people who do have a reasonable balance of these characteristics struggle to really humanize the people we work with. They can sometimes view residents as patients more than people, or you can just tell when they look at a resident that they’re seeing the addiction before the person. In our experience, the amount of training and therapy needed to address this exceeds the scope of our organization. We will train people who have good instincts and bad practices, but the opposite is way more work than it’s worth for us.
Perhaps you begin to see why finding House Managers who are good fits is incredibly challenging. Our residences are stronger and more effective when they are supported by a vibrant, diverse community of House Managers. If you have read through this page and felt called to this work, we could really use your help. We are always looking for volunteers, either to regularly schedule or just to be on call to fill gaps. Volunteer House Managers are the unsung heroes of our little organization. They free up our more senior staff to further the work in more technical and broader ways while helping to cut down on our costs. It’s amazingly helpful and deeply appreciated.
We also need more regular House Managers, particularly at the Men’s house at the moment. We hire for 5-hour evening shifts, usually 4-9 or 5-10, and pay between $15 and $18/hr. If this is work you feel called to, we would love to talk with you. Please contact us and we will see what we can do to help address addiction in our communities together. Thank you.