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capturing the extrordinary moments in ordinary life

My first job {W}rite of Passage: Challenge #5

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Prior to the first day of my first “real job “ I had a long employment history, the usual list:babysitting, waitressing, retail sales, etc. None of those even remotely prepared me for my first “real job” . In fact I don’t think anything I learned during my four years in college prepared me for what I was to encounter.  I did, however,  learn more about myself and my place in the world on that job than on all the others combined!

On the  first day  I was terrified.  I had just spent two weeks in intensive training learning various things like how to talk to a teenager who want’s to kill themselves or beat up another patient. And even more fun, how to “restrain” a person single handedly in case they actually try to hurt themselves or someone else.  I had a lot of fun practicing the “restraining” thing on all my friends and family.  It was quite a different thing to face the very real likelihood that I would have to do it with someone who might want to hurt me.

 My official title was “sociotherapist”(I should have known from the job title it wasn’t going to be pretty) and my responsibilities included crisis intervention, conflict resolution, and although it wasn’t stated this way, all other care giving that a child without parents would need. We pretty much did everything but cook the meals.  The children and adolescents I would be caring for lived in an “emergency shelter”.  At the time I knew very little about the world of psychiatric care. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a clinical social worker(what I am now).  I now know that this “program” was actually a holding unit of sorts for very emotionally disturbed kids when there were no beds available in the psychiatric hospital. This meant that we had to keep them physically safe until someone could treat them who actually knew what they were doing.

I still remember the faces of some of the children. When I started I was a “one-to-one” which meant I would spend my entire shift with one child who was deemed particularly needy, translation, most likely to try to run away or hurt someone.  My first day I met a young girl, about 14, beautiful but already visibly worn out by life.  All the children, including her, had truly horrendous stories of past abuse and neglect.  This particular girl wore her pain on her sleeve.  Almost every exchange with another child ended in some kind of a threat from her.  And at bedtime, she became so loud and agitated, pacing the halls, that we had to call in more staff, the big and burly ones, to escort her to another building.  There I sat with her it seemed for eternity while she screamed in my face. Somehow I knew even on that first day to remember that inside that teenage body was a hurting child, terrified and alone. I would soon learn that this was her nightly routine.

Even though I became very skilled at spotting the sparks and snuffing them before a fire started, fear was always hanging over me. Not fear of the children but fear of their rage and hopelessness.  Every child had a good reason for the way they behaved given what life had dealt them.  We tried very hard to let them know they were safe but most of the time they just couldn’t believe it.  What did I learn at this first “real job”? Most of what I learned is very hard to put into words, especially now twenty years later.  At a time when I wasn’t sure what I had to offer the world, those children taught me to be humble, to listen,  to be compassionate, and most of all to be real.


Written by realmom

January 21, 2010 at 6:41 am

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