Ron Isaac’s Commentary: A Student’s Ruin to Redemption From Drugs

Jun 23, 2021 by

Most of the time, academic credentials are required to obtain professional certification in areas related to psychotherapy, but that doesn’t mean that these qualifications surpass personal “street experience” and hardship as important tools for success. 

That’s especially true when the clients are in recovery from opioid or other drug abuse. Such a person recently requested a letter of reference from me. 

He had been turned down by several other of his other former teachers, despite his conquest of his demons in recent years. They felt that entrusting a person with an opioid abuse history to help others with a similar past, was the proverbial entrusting of a fox to guard the hen house. 

Or a bull in a china shop, or some other ridiculous analogy.

There are many New York City students and alumni ( and no doubt current staff) whose lives have been torn asunder by the drug plague, much of which was caused by psychiatrists and the pharmaceutical industry.

Many of these victims succumbed, emotionally or physically, and many others were able to triumph over adversity after tribulations that could have gone either or both ways: redemption and ruin.

It used to be the general feeling that when drug abusers fell on hard times, their ill-fortune was their own doing entirely and a reflection solely of weak character, lack of self-discipline and wholly deliberate choices of hazardous lifestyles and relationships.

This view extended also to formerly incarcerated people.  They were “low lives by choice”, and parasitic, narcissistic societal elements who pose perpetual risk.

Fortunately, there has been some movement towards enlightenment in this area and occupational training, voting rights, and other viable and sensible restorative legal initiatives are increasingly in effect.

When a former student asked me to for a reference that might help him get a position as a team member of a group of mental health hygienists, I jumped at the chance.

I needed to be completely honest.  Something even more compelling than the call of integrity drove me to be candid. It was risky.

In the letter I referred to my former student’s turbulent home-life and impressive school record, prior to his downward spiral. But my emphasis was on his tapping into his inner strength, after hitting bottom,and making immense and sustained progress with no relapses.

With the student’s breaking free not only from hard street drugs, but from prescribed “medication”, his mind and personality re-emerged clear and defined as it once was. 

The brain never forgets.

I noted that he is insightful, discreet, diligent, and articulate.  He has idealism and empathy in spades and his prior, transformative struggles have elevated his perspectives and given him direction.  He has a gift for conveying these lessons sensitively and professionally.

The student himself described how he envisioned his perspective job:  ” I would call it turnkey healing and self-discovery”, he said.

This grown-up kid would be an asset in any situation in which an informed “human touch” can be applied to life’s wounds.

The honor of helping students help themselves is one of the glories of being an educator, in New York City or elsewhere.

Ron Isaac

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